Net-A-Porter's Newby Hands on five years of beauty on the site
When you think of Net-A-Porter, is beauty the first thing that comes to mind? It may not be, but perhaps it should. Merged with Yoox in 2015, the leading online retailer has been steadily building its expertise and curation of its beauty section, under the guidance of Newby Hands. The former beauty director of Harper's Bazaar UK, Hands is known as the woman who knows beauty.
Warm, engaging and knowledgeable about the global beauty scene, she shares with us up-and-coming brands on the site, what items sell in Singapore, as well as her personal beauty favourites. As Net-A-Porter prepares to celebrate its fifth year retailing beauty, it is also launching limited edition beauty boxes and product collaborations sheathed in its signature black packaging. Find out more.
Which are the brands that do well for Net-A-Porter?
It's a real mix because obviously you have global successes like Charlotte Tilbury that do very well for us. What is special about Net-A-Porter is that we have a clear idea of what we want to sell because we have so much knowledge on our customer. One of the successes is the brand Vintner's Daughter, which is just one skincare product from a family that owns a vineyard in Napa Valley. They don't just make wine — but very exclusive collector's wine. The family's daughter, April, has launched one amazing, oil-based serum. We've taken that globally and that's become a huge success.
It contains an active phelityl. It's quite oily, so in this climate it will be very good as a face mask — just use a few drops overnight. And that one product, from a family business has becomes a global success. So it's very much fitting in what we know the Net-A-Porter woman needs in her life. She loves beauty, and has beauty in all areas of her life.
What do you think are the main selling points of Net-A-Porter Beauty?
I have to say in London [where Hands is based] we have a lot of choices. But we have don't have brands like Joanna Vargas — which Net-A-Porter has just taken on — which is created by a New York-based facialist. In a way we are constantly editing the world, finding something that we know will have the quality to last. Joanna Vargas has been a very established facialist for a long time with an amazing client list, and what is great for us is that we work with her and we take her globally. If you haven't tried it, it's a great range. She has lots of sheet masks — there's a peeling mask, and there is a hydrating mask and it's all different. So for us that's a very Net-A-Porter brand.
Even in a city like Los Angeles you would think they would have access to everything, but there's a lot of brands that they don't have, so we curate all those little brands. Some of them are very small, artisanal brands. The next step is making sure that we can take them global.
How do you scale up these smaller businesses for a global audience?
I think it's really difficult for a brand who is just starting out. Even with Vintner's Daughter they've had a very successful wine business, so they understand business. Joanna Vargas has been in the industry for a long time. She started up her range and its very beautifully done, so in a way, where we can come in to help her make it global, but the brand has already got that's structure in place. So it's not just necessarily finding somebody or a brand that is just starting out, because we obviously need to make sure they can fulfil the orders.
Now we have a lot of brands coming to us because our beauty section has been around for five years and we are now known for doing beauty. I travel a lot, so it's actually all about asking people, like you, which brands in a particular country we should take on. We also have to be aware of the smaller brands. Brands like Moon Juice in Los Angeles which is in Melrose Avenue and is based in a little health shop. To me L.A beauty is some of the best, it's quirky — but also the women there are so demanding. I feel that in the last few years, L.A beauty and Korean beauty have had a big impact on the world. It's about finding something that we know we can work with, and with brands that have that vision to make themselves bigger. And also, it's no good just having one idea, you've got to have many new ideas as well. So it's several factors!
What are the new brands that have got you excited?
One of my new ones that I am obsessed about is a company called Lixir Skin. It's made by French formulator who lives in London and she has worked with lots of brands over the years and now this is her own range. We launched it late last month. It has French pharmaceutical packaging, and what I love about this is that it is made by a woman, so she's not only got the science part down, but she's also got the passion for skincare. And it's very focused on female skin: You hydrate your skin, use a peel, and apply vitamin C. It's all the key things she knows we need, and I love that focus.
Also, Mimi Luzon, does a gold leaf mask, that we've just taken on and that is a 24-carat gold product. What I also love about that is that it looks incredible, so it's a loose gold powder and you massage it in and it has a really good effect on your skin. The actual gold breaks up and goes into the skin. We try everything and we are not just looking for fads. We’ve got Playa Beauty that comes from Venice Beach. Again that’s a small haircare range, very naturally-based. And what I love about it is that in a way it’s quite niche because it comes from Venice Beach and it’s very much for people who want to buy into that beachy look. Retrouvé, is another American brand, that is very luxurious and has just launched with us. And what I love about all these brands is that they are not necessarily famous, but they are all doing well and I think, when people see a new brand with us, they automatically know they can trust it because we’ve got quite a big beauty team who are very dedicated. We love our beauty. So it’s just having that element of discovery on our site.
What are the trends and patterns that you see among your global customers?
It is interesting to see the brands that always do well globally, and the ones that do particularly well in certain countries. In general, in Hong Kong and Singapore we saw the K-Beauty trend take off, but what we also saw, particularly in Hong Kong and Singapore, was the rise of luxury beauty. So while K-beauty was a bit younger and more fun with cheap sheet masks, in this region, it's definitely more luxurious and results-driven. So lots of serums, lots of masks and the brand 111SKIN, which is from a doctor on Harley Street, London, has done well for us. 111SKIN has a mask that has to be left on for 90 minutes, and it sells really well in Singapore — it just shows the dedication that people have to their beauty.
We have acquired unusual facts. Like, if you ever produce a beauty gadget or a beauty machine, they sell really well in Canada. I don’t know if it’s the geography... I don’t know what it is, but maybe there’s just no dermatologist to go to because it’s a big country. New York and L.A are very different. New York is very hands-off, very much machine-based and quick, quick, quick. L.A is a bit more natural. Overall, we’ve launched the clean beauty section in December 2017, and that again was because of customer demand, and that has been really successful.
Tell us about the clean beauty section on Net-A-Porter.
Clean beauty is a very difficult category because it means different things to different people. So we’ve just categorised all these brands together in a section. Tata Harper does really well for us. And also what has been moving the clean beauty section forward for us has been the makeup. Clean skincare got really good in the last few years, but the makeup has never really been good.
Now we've got a brand called Rituel De Fille which is created by three, amazing sisters. Two of them are makeup artists and they’ve done naturally-based makeup with incredible pigment. This is the kind of real quality we wouldn’t have gotten just a few years ago. And then there’s RMS Beauty which is all-natural as well. I think the makeup segment has really grown in the last couple of months — we’ve got some brands that have good quality, natural makeup. I think it’s very good because if these natural makeup brands can do it, it means all the other big brands can look at what they're doing.
What are the challenges with selling makeup online?
They always say that you can’t sell a foundation online, but foundation does well for us. One thing that can be difficult to sell is perfume, because there is an emotional element to it. But on the foundation, I think that women now are much more aware of what is going to work for us. I mean colour and skincare are huge for us. It was skincare that did well first, and then colour came up for last year — lipstick is always our number one bestselling item.
What do you think are Net-A-Porter Beauty's main selling points?
We are known for our good customer service which is available twenty-four seven, and we are in 22 languages. But also what sets us apart is that we can find products, that even if you lived in New York, you are not able to find. So there is always that element of discovery. And we also edit it down. People who have shopped with us for a long time always want to know, say with certain big brands where we don’t take the whole range, why we've chosen those particular products to sell.
What are your plans for your fifth anniversary in terms of collaborations?
We have got quite a lot of exciting things. One is the beauty box. It's a curation of some of the buying team's favourite products from the last five years. We’ve worked with some of our favourite brands and we have some exclusives. Vintner’s Daughter has done special packaging for us and Natura Bissé has done its lavender-scented cream which is so beautiful, in a smaller size and in Net-A-Porter's signature black.
What are the beauty products that you personally love?
When I travel, I bring loads of sheet masks. I bring Joanna Vargas sheet masks and I love Dr Lancer. Because he’s an LA doctor, he has a really tough clientale, so his stuff has to work and it has to make you look good fast. His Nourish Body Cream is one of the best body creams because it peels and it makes your skin look glow-y straight away.
I have some Charlotte Tilbury products with me — the Magic Cream is great. I like the new Sisley Hydrating Serum... it’s incredible. I always travel with the Dr. Sebagh Vitamin C powder, but this time I brought the Lixir Sea Paste which you put on for 10 minutes and then you take off. I also love the Dr. Babara Sturm hydrating ampoules. So I’m like everybody in that I mix it all up. I also love Supermodel Body from Charlotte Tilbury because I think it just makes the skin look very smooth and clear.
As a beauty expert, do you have any tips to share on using the products in an unusual way?
Sure. When I use sheet masks I layer things underneath. It’s something I learnt from an amazing facialist in London. I put vitamin C powder on or the Sisley serum that I mentioned, and then I use the sheet mask on top. Because I was told that with the sheet mask, the natural pressure that it exerts helps the product you've put on penetrate. It warms up your skin so you get more penetration and you just massage it all in.
I mentioned that I love Supermodel Body but I add in a little bit of foundation when I use it for my legs. The idea actually came from Korea — mixing things up. I think you have to use stuff that works, and use it how it works for you. It may not be how it works for me or how it works for someone else. But you can’t really go wrong as long as it’s not an aggressive peel or an aggressive product.
What are some interesting anecdotes about your customers that you can share with us?
My absolute favourite is the American woman who loves Net-A-Porter Beauty because she can now buy three of everything: One for the house in Connecticut, one for the apartment in Manhattan, and a third piece for the boat. It’s just that element of elevated luxury that is also very practical as well.
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