The secret to the success of independent, digital-first beauty brands, as shared by Supernova founder, Emily Hamilton

The secret to the success of independent, digital-first beauty brands, as shared by Supernova founder, Emily Hamilton

Digital dominance

Text: Emily Heng

Image: Instagram | @cocoandeve

Real-life success stories are — more often than not — comparable to our some of favourite movies. They're led by characters we root for, they undergo compelling challenges, and their endings are (almost) guaranteed to be happy.

Lucky for us, the beauty world is brimming with enough materials to keep us sated. Indie Lee overcomes a rare brain tumour to conceive cult label, Indie Lee Skincare. Rea Ann Silva cut sponges in her trailer until she came up with the Beautyblender. Kylie Jenner is a 'self-made' billionaire (*snort*) thanks to Kylie Cosmetics.


Making the list in 2019 is Emily Hamilton, co-founder of Supernova wellness group which has SkinnyMint, Coco & Eve, Sand & Sky, as well as BodyBoss under its umbrella. Achieved in partnership with sister, Sarah Hamilton, the dream team has built an empire based purely on social media marketing.

A phenomenon witnessed as of late with labels such as Glossier, Colourpop, and Ofra Cosmetics, the rising popularity of independent, digital-only beauty brands is undeniable. Is this the future of the beauty industry as we know it? What determines the success of a brand in this new social media landscape? We find out more in an interview with Emily where we chat her favourite beauty brands, social media strategy, and the industry she is changing.

How did Supernova come about?
We saw the opportunity from consumers, and how we can connect with consumers immediately through social media. We also saw that consumers are open to experiencing brands with a mission or offering something different on the market, and we wanted to build brands to service that.


What did you and Sarah do before you started the company?
We were working on our first company, Bellabox, which is a beauty subscription service. We were doing that since 2011, and it's still operating in Australia, actually.

Do you still buy beauty products or do you make your own?
Yes, I do buy beauty products. Due to the nature of my job, I travel quite a bit to beauty fairs and ingredient expos in Europe, Hong Kong, America and Korea. I was recently in L.A. and I shopped up a storm at Sephora and Ulta — brands I got include Youth to the People, Milk makeup and Drunk Elephant.


You have four brands under Supernova. Was this always part of the plan?
The plan is to build these brands to be bigger; think more product ranges. We're also going to be building more brands because there's just so much opportunity out there, so many exciting things going on...

Anything about these new brands you're building that you can tell us about?
What I can tell you is that we will be replacing SkinnyMint with a new, positive wellness brand. Something really fun and new.  

What do you think about the rise of beauty brands on social media then, especially on platforms such as Instagram?
It's so exciting. I think if you're at a larger brand, there are a lot of people who have to make the decision when it comes to bringing the product to market. But when you're small, it really comes down to the power of the ideas. If you really focus on a niche, or you focus on creating something original and unique in the market then you can capture market share. Social media really breaks down that barrier — you can first see and experience the product through someone else you trust, whether it is your friend, or a minor influencer, or a celebrity. 


How do you use social media to the advantage of your business?
We could really test and experiment with social media. What we did was work with lots of different people to create content, and through it, we see what content is working through the views, the likes, and reach. From there, we evaluate and tweak our strategy towards success.

Is social media a sustainable marketplace? What are the pros and cons?
Social media will grow and dominate even more than it already has, especially in viral content. We also really believe social media growth goes hand-in-hand with influencers. We all follow those that are interesting to us and relevant to our own lives, and there are so many out there that we can learn from.

This can also be attributed to how social media — and by extension, Instagram — is so smart about where to place ads; they know which consumers they should feed them to. This algorithm is getting smarter and smarter and we really believe in that. We see no signs of it stopping. In terms of cons, research shows that the savviest buyer still buys 65% in-store, so it poses as a bit of a challenge when it comes to online-exclusive beauty labels.  


Has the boom of social media influencers helped or hurt the economy of beauty?
I'm positive on the whole movement to social media as a whole. I like how everything on the Internet is customisable to you and delivers the content you are interested in, and influencers are becoming more and more sophisticated. Their strength is in creating content — the better content they can create, the more working together with a brand makes sense, because they can create something consumers would like to engage with.

Who is a dream influencer you would like to work with?
Kylie Jenner. Best influencer ever. People basically buy whatever she advocates, that's why she has such a strong cosmetics brand.

Beauty was once a relatively product-driven industry. But it's slowly changing its landscape, becoming a more experienced-driven one. This month alone there are a handful of beauty pop-ups around town. Thoughts?
Glossier is the best example. Their products are not the best, but people believe in their mission. They believe that these products are made for them and with them, and not in a boardroom. It's quite common actually, where people have done research and found that it's not so much about product quality than people just believing in the brand and the experience.


Why do you think millennials are eschewing beauty conglomerates for boutique beauty labels such as yours?
What we try to do — and what a lot of brands try to do — is to create products for a certain segment. Take Sand & Sky. It is about a piece of Australia and experiencing and Australian product that is all-natural.

Has consumer behavior changed in the last five years?
There has been a huge move to discovering products on YouTube and through influencers. It's a big change. And as a result, customers nowadays are more willing to try new things.


I remember a time when there were about four beauty drops per year, per brand. Is the beauty industry mirroring the fast fashion model with time, with more and more products being introduced regularly?
For us, we want to have a simpler business model. What we want to create is something like the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturiser. It was created in 1962 and people still buy it. So, that is the power, that is the goal — for us to create these products that live on for as long as possible, rather than create products that are just on trend, or based on fads. You need to be able to identify trends, but really, the opportunity is to create something that is longer-lasting.

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