How many of you beauty-obsessed girls have thought about making your own makeup line? Or have you ever wondered how beauty brands happen and how makeup products and colors get picked? We are pretty much always pondering these things like it’s our job (spoiler alert: it is!). When we had the luck of meeting Chelsa Crowley and Julie Fredrickson, the co-creators and founders of Stowaway Cosmetics, they explained how Stowaway came about and why. When they told us that this all happened in one year, we knew that these are definitely the girls to ask about breaking into beauty on your own terms. Chelsa began her career as a makeup artist before moving in-house with Clinique to work on product education. Later, she honed her editorial skills at Bobbi Brown, working on editorial and online content creation. Julie spent her entire entrepreneurial and e-commerce career in digital marketing. She had a startup company called Coutorture that she’s since sold to Sugar Inc. and then worked in-house at brands like Ann Taylor, Equinox, and Gap before Stowaway came to be.
For starters, Stowaway is a brand new beauty line that offers premium makeup in portable sizes that fit into your busy life (and full purses, no doubt). At the moment they have all the key pieces: lipstick, BB cream, concealer, eyeliner, mascara, and a cream lip & cheek rouge pot. Each one comes in 3-5 universally flattering colors and skin tones. The reason for the tiny sizes, other than convenience, is that both Julie and Chelsa realized that no one they know really finishes a product before chucking it or buying something new. They wanted to offer makeup that was small enough so you could use it up within the time before it expires. Anyone who’s held onto mascara or foundation too long knows that things get pretty gnarly past the due date. We picked their brains about what goes into building your own beauty brand, from concept to product, and Chelsa explained all about Stowaway to us.
How did the idea of starting a cosmetics line come about?
Chelsa Crowley: We were catching up over breakfast and Julie was showing me her makeup bag, asking me how she could get these smaller sizes that fit into her life better. I didn’t have a good answer for her on why you couldn’t find these small items. Both frustrated by not knowing the answers to this, we set out to find out why. It costs the same amount to make a “right sized” mascara as a “too-large-to-finish” mascara. The reason big brands and conglomerates sell bulk cosmetics is simple: they want to sell the items with the highest markups and the best margins for them and their retail partners. We founded Stowaway simply because no one else in the industry has an incentive to sell smaller items.
Were there any boxes to tick or questions you guys needed to answer for yourselves before you felt that starting a business was a great idea?
Yes, tons of them! We first set out to figure out why we couldn’t find the sizes we wanted. We wanted to figure out why cosmetics haven’t changed their form factors since the 50s even though women’s lives have drastically changed. We knew we could do this if we could get the formulas right. We had very high standards in what we wanted–EU compliant, paraben-free, phthalate-free, and cruelty-free. We also had high standards in the performance of the formula. I never wanted to put my name on something that wasn’t awesome. Once we found a manufacturing partner, we were all set to go. We had to raise money at that point because making products is expensive, so we went out to raise money and find an investor with our business plan.
Did you get any useful and sage advice from friends/family/colleagues while you were in the process of launching Stowaway?
We definitely can attribute our successful launch by knowing our flaws. It’s important to know what you can’t do and surround yourself with people who can. Julie and I joke that we are the yin to each other’s yang–we are opposite in every way imaginable, from our backgrounds and career experiences to things we worry about. It really balances us out and makes our partnership work. Another thing is never being scared to reach out for advice. There were times we just didn’t know things and were never scared about reaching out to someone more experienced to get advice.
So what happens when you’re actually setting out to make makeup? How does it “materialize” from your brains?
It’s an incredibly long process. First, we gave our list of items we wanted in our first collection to our manufacturers. We told them our ingredient requirements and even set standards by comparing to other products (ie. the matte-ness of one product with the “slip” of another. Or, this red lipstick is too orange but this one is too blue). The more you communicate your needs the better–I think that’s a good rule of thumb in life actually. They send that list to their factories to manufacture our products and then it’s tweak after tweak to get it perfect. For instance, the BB cream needs to be 5% more matte, the lipstick is still pulling too orange, etc. There is also making sure that your products work with your components (read: containers/packaging). Some creams work better in pots than in tubes and we had to make sure the eyeliner didn’t dry out and fall out of the tube. There are extensive tests they do to make sure it’s all working. They even do these crazy tests called “drop tests” where they put the product in extreme heat or cold and literally drop it to see if it cracks, breaks, or falls out of tube. Once we’re happy with the product we give them the thumbs up and I sign off on it. Then they begin the process of filling our components.
What is it like essentially hitting the ground running with a beauty brand you’ve just founded?
Our team is still quite small, so we are pretty heads down to make sure everything is running smoothly. Julie and I have been chatting quite a bit to the press but it’s all been good for us and lovely to see how everyone is responding. We are sussing out lots of different types of partnerships that make sense for us and I’m heading back to our factories to talk about new products (stay tuned)!
What’s the best part about launching your own cosmetics line with a friend?
It’s been rewarding to see the amazing response we have been getting from people (and all around the world–we are now trying to find a way to ship internationally sooner that we had expected!). We know that women’s lives have changed since the middle of the 20th century and their makeup should change with them to better fit into their lives because when you’re on the move, your makeup is too. Julie and I went out to solve our own problem; we wanted great products that fit into our lives and we did that, and that’s awesome! As small as the issue is, it’s one less thing to worry about as a woman, so you can just get back to your day and the things most important to you. We love that.