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The Accidental Beauty Marketer

With Winky Lux, Natalie Mackey is proudly disrupting the beauty business with product launch time frames of 45 days, avocado lipsticks and frank thoughts about influencers.

Natalie Mackey began her career in finance but switched gears to build companies. After success in fashion, she began to work on a tech platform tied to color cosmetics curation. During preliminary focus groups, she and a business partner found an audience only lukewarm to the concept. What she did uncover was when they asked women to empty their makeup bags, the participants apologized for the mass market products. She shifted gears to create an affordable brand women wouldn’t be ashamed to pull from a purse.

Natalie Mackey Is Out to Change
Natalie Mackey Matt Frisbie

Not coming out of the beauty business, she disrupted conventional wisdom when she founded Glow Concept in 2015, which includes the fast-growing Winky Lux brand. She’s been breaking the rules ever since — including launching new products in an eye-opening 45 days. She uses the term “fastige” to describe the nimble ethos of a business that can jump in and out of a trend at the speed of which it is happening — much least fast fashion.

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Mackey discusses how she’s shaking up the status quo.

WWD: How did not knowing some of the traditional strategies endemic to the beauty business benefit Winky Lux?

Natalie Mackey: We had no idea that lead times were often a year or more. The first manufacturer we met with laughed at us when we told him we needed the product in a month, so we kept meeting with new plants until we found a few that would buy into our strategy. We also spent time creating systems to reduce the creative approval process, packaging lead times and shipping issues.

WWD: You wear the term disruptor proudly. Why is the time right to approach beauty in a fresh way? How are you breaking some of the old margin rules? Is there a margin squeeze looming? What does this mean for the industry and what’s driving change?

N.M.: The consumer is driving most of the disruption. She’s exponentially more informed. Companies like Warby Parker and sites such as Reddit have lifted the proverbial curtain on industries that previously enjoyed extraordinary margins. Historically, the beauty industry has done a wonderful job of protecting the “it needs to be expensive to be good” narrative. But as she becomes more educated, that narrative starts to break down. It’s already happened in fashion with the advent of companies such as Zara. It’s starting to happen in beauty. To answer your question yes, I think a squeeze is inevitable.

WWD: You can bring a product to market in 45 days…and you are aiming to compress that. What’s the secret? You are aiming for almost “real time?”

N.M.: Speed is the DNA of the company. It’s part of every meeting we have and every product we create. Owning more of our supply chain could potentially reduce lead times to weeks.

WWD: Skin care is in the works — what will distinguish yours from the competition, Why online exclusive first?

N.M.: Our customers kept asking for skin care so we decided to test it. We launch the Dream Gelée next month. It’s a lightweight luxury hydrating gel that works on most skin types; 50 ml. will retail for $25 and arrive in a highly designed heavy jar that makes you want to photograph it. It’s high quality, high design for a reasonable price. The reason for an online launch is that we test any new product category with our top customer’s to gauge reaction and hear their feedback.

WWD: Discuss why it is important to have online and physical store presence. What’s your dream distribution goals? How can you keep people in stores? (Winky Lux is sold online and at stores such as Nordstrom, Fred Segal, Belk, Mecca, PacSun, Forever 21, American Eagle and internationally at Sephora.)

N.M.: Digital is the crown jewel of our business, but more than 80 percent of all beauty is still purchased in store. We can’t ignore that amazing opportunity for discovery and scalability. She buys in a multiple of ways and, therefore, we have to sell in multiple ways. Our distribution goals for this year are a blend of direct, wholesale and our own brick-and-mortar store in Manhattan [which opens in August].

WWD: What are your bestsellers?  What are your strongest markets?

Natalie Mackey Is Out to Change
Flower Balm

N.M.: Our bestsellers are Diamond Complexion Powder, the Flower Balm Stain and Avocado lipstick. Our strongest markets, in order, are the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Asia.

WWD: What’s your take on influencers? And how do you use them? What can go right or wrong?

N.M.: They are an amazing marketing tool. We’ve acquired a lot of customers through influencer collaborations. There’s still a lack of standardization in the business and I think you can easily spend a lot of money on an influencer who won’t have a positive ROI. They are typically young and inexperienced in business and often lacking the professionalism of traditional talent — their agents are even worse. For that reason, we believe it’s important to be in and out of collaborations quickly and efficiently. I also think you need to have someone on your team spending time vetting them and building direct relationships. Despite apps and platforms that claim to do the work for you, we have yet to find a way around it.

WWD: What are your passions outside of beauty?

N.M.: I’m a crazy dog lady, I’m fascinated with design and architecture and generally soaking up the magic of living in New York.

WWD: What companies in or out of beauty do you admire?

N.M.: Where do I start? There’s so much amazing innovation out there. Zara for their incredible supply chain, Kate Spade for reviving an iconic brand and making it relevant and Spanx for their no-nonsense approach to building a great organization.