Free the birds

Beauty, Branding

Standouts Among the Indie Beauty Noise

The Standout Brands and Beauty Trends at Indie Beauty Expo NYC 2019.

My first impression at Pier 94 was – as befits the Big Apple – that everything was bigger and bolder: the stands, the people, the claims, everything. From a thematic perspective, here’s the indie beauty that really did stand out for me.




Cleanliness claims have been taken to the next level, incorporating extreme transparency and stripped back brand aesthetics or both. CBD brand, LA LA Leaf, has incorporated QR codes onto their packaging linking to a 3rd-party lab report verifying its ingredients, NYC brand Chemist Confessions fine detailing the function each active performs. Spa brands were playing heavily in this space: milk + honey from Austin, Texas and Sparitual, both providing ‘hyper-clean’ products and experiences in the spa professional space.



CBD and…

From skincare to ingestibles, cannabis is hot in the US and just in its infancy in the UK. The big question that kept coming up in conversations with brand owners was effectiveness. Too many brands have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years using token, ineffective amounts of CBD if at all! In addition to LA LA LEAF above, many of the newer to market brands are focusing in on transparency, certification and education to set themselves apart. BLNCD Naturals, which offers ingestibles and topicals, standing out on this front, offering in-depth lab reports and dosing guidelines.



Wellbeing Women

Women’s wellbeing was the single biggest overarching trend at the show and a delight to see; a stark contrast to the historic male-owned and run beauty industry of old. There were products for literally everything: mental and sexual health, sleep, menstruation and hormone rebalancing to menopausal support, which is only starting to take off in Europe. There really was a sense that brands were run by women, for women. Brands that stood out included Knours, an app-enabled skincare range tailored to women’s period cycles, Noniko’s Boob Balm, specially formulated to glide well over skin and help women monitor changes in their breasts and bootsy chuchu’s chaste tree berry PMS support supplement.



Grooming playing it (too) safe

There’s been a boom in men’s grooming brands over the past year. But even though there was a good representation of new men’s grooming brands at IBE NYC, I can’t help being underwhelmed by the lack of innovation. They were all playing it safe within their packaging, portfolio offering and messaging. But indie brands should never act safe, that’s for mass brands. Where were the proud male hair colour or concealers? Women’s beauty never stands still (more of that in a moment) yet men’s feels formulaic. This no doubt comes from an understandable nervousness that men’s grooming hasn’t quite right its tipping point. And – after speaking to a men’s grooming brand at the show who said they are taking their face mask line out of their portfolio as it’s the least popular – it was a reminder that men’s grooming still remains a Catch-22 situation.



Inside out

Supplements have historically been produced by mass pharma brands, so it was notable to see how many there were at the show: sleep aids, plant-based pre- and probiotics to traditional hair, skin and nails. Stamba’s range of plant-based superfood, adaptogenic and probiotic products were tailored to various needs states like post-illness and jet lag was particularly interesting amid a sea of collagen and CBD!



Ultimate Indulgence

With the current political climate featuring so much anger and division, leaning on brands to indulge and escape the everyday are needed now more than ever. Several brands were harking back to more traditional. sensorial luxury beauty cues. Gypsy Secrets cites ‘ancient beauty treatments’ from around the globe as its inspiration and Bija Essence offers a range of beautifully packaged body oils drawing on the Indian tradition of family and self-massage.



Fun is disruptive

It’s clear that standing out from the crowd as an indie brand is hard work. CBD anyone? There’s also a little too much earnestness from this irreverent Brit’s perspective. Sure, beauty is serious business, but not that serious. Innovative humour helped some brands set themselves apart, another way of dealing with a stressful in an uncertain world. Bawdy’s bottom-shaped, collagen butt mask Slap It, brought fun and efficacy; Dame’s organic, aloe-based lube Alu, comes complete with a cheeky face motif and choice of coloured bottle grips for those slippery moments, and The Good Patch’s Hangover product acknowledges that living a Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t always happen, relieving over-indulgence with a patch infused with hemp extract, B1, B Complex and green tea extract. Yes please!


What's next

What’s next for indie?

It’s not clear if these entrepreneurs will see a return on investment. But what comes across in leaps and bounds is the absolute passion and determination when you speak to them. It’s infectious and authentic, something major players L’Oréal, Unilever, Coty and P&G lack, in a world where consumers are looking for meaning.

I’ve rather wryly referred to CBD throughout my musings on the show, but it demonstrates something that indie brands themselves now need to be aware of: avoiding becoming part of a homogenous mass of ‘indie’ brand propositions and design. Some characteristics are simply now business as usual. Plant-based, green, ‘clean’, cruelty-free, vegan and sustainable could have applied to nearly all the brands in the room. Elevating a beauty brand in this space requires formats, packaging and communication that reflect a distinctive brand proposition way beyond hero ingredient (hello CBD) or ‘cleanliness’. A challenge for sure, but one we live to tackle with clients every day.

Nick Vaus, published in Global Cosmetic Industry.