Powerful Women Driving the Beauty Business

Sadly, it is unlikely to surprise us that, regardless of its overwhelmingly female-dominated consumer base, the upper echelons of the beauty industry are still governed by the Boy’s Club that comprises the majority of the business Big Leagues. Beauty, however, remains an industry both conceived, spearheaded, and continually bolstered by the expertise and relentless determination of a group of inspirational women. This week, we direct the spotlight at just a handful of the female powerhouses driving the beauty industry.

Estee Lauder

Arguably the most famous name in beauty, Estee Lauder needs little introduction. Fascinated by her chemist uncle’s business, Lauder began to work alongside him, concocting creams and lotions in the family’s kitchen. Though it was in the selling that she really flourished. She set about naming her uncle’s blends and selling his products to friends. Her technique, to have consumers try products themselves before buying, has since revolutionized makeup sales worldwide, and remains standard-fare in high-street stores to this day. Her tenacity unwavering, Lauder soon convinced local beauty parlours to stock the products themselves and by 1953 had separated forces from her uncle to introduce her own fragrance, Youth-Dew. Women flocked to buy it by the bottle, selling 50,000 in its first year, growing to 150 million sales by 1984. Just over 10 years later, Estee Lauder featured as the only woman on Time magazine’s 1998 list of the ’20 Most Influential Business Geniuses of the 20th Century’. In its obituary of the entrepreneur, The New York Times described her as "the last great independent titan of the cosmetics industry." Need we say more?

Elizabeth Arden

A true pioneer of the beauty industry, Elizabeth Arden (real name: Florence Nightingale Graham) near single-handedly transformed attitudes surrounding makeup between the 20s and 40s. At a time when the only ladies painting their faces were readily labelled as prostitutes, ‘loose women’ or lower class citizens, Arden re-established makeup as proper and enabling for a ‘ladylike image’. Arden tailored her focus to the tutelage of women steadily filtering into employment, providing demonstrations on how to apply makeup and dress for the working world. One of her trademark lipsticks of the time: ‘Montezuma Red’, was specifically designed to match the uniforms of women enlisted in the armed forces. At the peak of her career, Arden was one of the wealthiest women in the world. She owned 150 upscale salons across the United States and Europe, with 1000 plus products being sold in 22 countries across the globe. Though incredibly rare for women of the time, who often joined forces with their husbands or a male business-partner, Arden also held sole-ownership of her empire. Impressed yet? We are. 

Anastasia Soare

Beauty pioneer and powerhouse entrepreneur, Anastasia Soare, is the founder and CEO of Anastasia Beverley Hills – one of the fastest-growing beauty brands in industry history. Soare emigrated from Romania to the USA in search of economic opportunity and a better future for her daughter Claudia Soare (now president of ABH). Having known very limited English, Soare found work as an aesthetician of the lowest pay-grade. Within 2 years, she had opened her own business, operating from a small rented room in Los Angeles, where she worked gruelling twelve-hour days, 7 days a week. Soare’s resolve remained unwavering and by 1997 she had launched a Beverley Hills flagship salon, followed by her first namesake product line in 2000. By 2015, the brand had been ranked at number 10 in the US for total online makeup sales. Soare has since formed the Anastasia Beverley Hills Brighter Horizon Foundation, which assists young women in the foster care system to build and achieve a career in the beauty industry. The foundation provides education in basic business skills, assistance in the licensing exam process and job placement support. What a woman.

Charlotte Tilbury

Lauded as “the woman who made rock star beauty accessible”, British make-up artist turned business-mogul Charlotte Tilbury is the founder and creative director of eponymous beauty brand, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Ltd. As if 20 years of success as a makeup artist wasn’t enough, Tilbury has spent the last 4 years meticulously building her own beauty empire, now comprising more than 200 products sold in 39 countries. Her vision? To create a line that “helps women be their happiest, most confident selves”, and self-confidence, it seems, she has in abundance. “I don’t understand the meaning of ‘no” she told InStyle. “I have belief, and I will get there. Nobody will tell me that I won’t.” We want in on that fabulous gumption!

Balanda Atis

Growing up, chemist Balanda Atis witnessed her family and friends’ continuous struggle to find a foundation shade that matched their skin tones. It was an issue that women of colour had been confronting in the makeup aisle since she could remember. Though L’Oreal had fairly recently launched a product line of shades to address this gap in the market, Atis couldn’t help feeling like it just wasn’t enough. She noticed that there was still concern over the new colours being too ashy, too red or simply not extensive enough to fit the requirements of the diverse population of the United States and beyond. When she raised her apprehensions, Atis was told “if you don’t like it, then fix it.” So she did. Atis travelled the length and breadth of the United States, gathering skin tone measurements with the use of specialist camera equipment able to translate colour pigment in the skin to numbers. Atis’s information generated breakthrough results and her team at the L’Oreal Women of Colour Lab have since created more than 30 new shades across various associated brands.

Anita Roddick

Anita Roddick was among the first to demonstrate that business and philanthropy could be combined. Founding The Body Shop in 1976, Roddick’s ‘mission statement’ advocates their commitment ‘to dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change’. Since then Roddick has stayed true to her word, using her stores and products to communicate global human rights and environmental issues. Each year, Roddick travels personally to the communities involved with The Body Shop’s community-trade initiatives, geared towards ensuring the producers of product ingredients are getting a fair deal, on ethical grounds. The deals Roddick builds through The Body Shop are not going to make the farmers financially rich, but she operates on the hope that they will “enable them to maintain their chosen way of life, and through cooperation achieve autonomy.” She now works with 29 such projects in 23 countries, aiming to develop more. Alongside these strategies, Roddick champions the use of reusable packaging wherever possible and boycotts environmentally damaging PVC in her lines. Pretty inspirational!

Though such women occupying the top-spots still represent a minority in the beauty industry and beyond, a burgeoning trend of female-led beauty startups is beginning to challenge the current climate. Birchbox, Glossier, and Ipsy are among the names that are hot on the scene, each with women at the helm and catching increasing attention. In light of their recent explosive success, female-led beauty start-ups are attracting more and more money from venture capital funds; shareholder groups are putting increasing pressure on existing companies to diversify their leadership. The future is female, and we can’t wait.