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CEW at 65: The Indie Brand Boom

With 1,100 members across 700 companies, indie brands are CEW's fastest-growing membership category.

Bring on the indies!

While the organization boasts a core membership that includes well-heeled professionals from some of the world’s top beauty companies such as L’Oréal, The Estée Lauder Cos. and Shiseido, membership among indie brands is booming.

With 1,100 individual members representing 700 brands, indie brand members comprise 13 percent of CEW’s total membership, and are the fastest-growing membership category within the organization.

Indie brand membership has grown so much that CEW has been compelled to add resources tailored to the needs of indie brands, from a panel of experts made available exclusively to CEW members, to webinars, to a dedicated indie section of the CEW Beauty Awards and indie-only events held outside the confines of traditional venues like New York City’s Harmonie Club, where jeans are banned from the dress code.

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CEW’s indie growth spurt is only three years old, said Leslie Hutchings, vice president of membership for CEW, but the organization has quickly mobilized to provide resources for its newest member group. Those needs can vary widely, said Hutchings, as indie members span from early-stage brands to more established ones, such as Supergoop! and Laura Geller Beauty. Whatever their stage of development, making industry connections is of utmost importance for all.

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“Networking with other brands and learning from each other is huge to the indies,” said Hutchings.

Thus was born in 2017 the Indie Advisory Group, a faction of industry experts from various sectors, including brand marketing and sales, finance and retail. The group was designed to provide a network of experts for CEW’s indie brands to easily access. Advisory Group members participate in a number of CEW events throughout the year, including the Indie Learning Lab at the Beauty Awards Product Demo, Indie Beauty Live Events such as the Indie Networkshop and various webinars focused on specific topics.

“CEW historically has done a really good job of reaching out to people who work at the big companies, but in this day and age there are a lot of interesting upstart brands, and for those people it’s hard to know how to get started or what to do,” said Vennette Ho, managing director at Financo and a CEW board member who also serves on the Indie Advisory Group. “It’s everything from, ‘What kind of people do I need on my staff?’ to ‘How do I raise money?’ to digital expertise. [The Indie Advisory Group] has so many different resources, all the tools and components are there for this to be a platform for folks who are building their own businesses.”

“I always said I wished there was something like this when I started the business,” said Laura Geller, makeup artist and founder of Laura Geller Beauty, who also serves on the Indie Advisory Group. “There was none of this kind of networking that CEW offers to its members.”

When Geller was approached to join the Indie Advisory Group, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I was obviously one of the first to come on board,” she said. “I jumped on it because I saw how important it was for brands, not just because they now have access, but also because I’ve always, through the years after starting my own business, had people coming to me [for advice]. Very often I would talk to people and think, ‘I don’t even know where to begin — they need so much help.’ When I heard they were putting this advisory board together, I thought, ‘This is exactly what is missing in the cosmetic industry.’”

For Geller, the most compelling aspect of the Advisory Group is that it pulls together experts with different skillsets. “It’s a powerhouse group of people in one room,” she said. “I encourage everyone to become involved — the reality is you may not have the funds to hire PR or marketing but, boy, oh boy, within one night of [an event] you can come away with so much information and you could probably pivot how you’re doing your entire business.”

As a finance professional specializing in global M&A advisory, Vennette Ho has found that participating in the Indie Advisory Group has strengthened her visibility in the beauty world. “A huge part of what we do [at Financo] is about founders and entrepreneurs, and CEW gives us a visibility to be known as a resource for founders,” she said. “[For brands], to have somewhere you can go to ask questions about a particular situation and have direct feedback versus just reading articles online, it’s helpful to be involved.”

Lisa Price, founder of L’Oréal-owned Carol’s Daughter and also a member of the Indie Advisory Group, decided to get involved because she remembers a time when she, too, was a small brand owner just starting out. “Being an entrepreneur, being someone who started out really tiny basically not knowing what I was doing — it was not as if I had had a career in beauty and decided to branch out on my own,” said Price. “Everything about it was new — being in business as a woman and as a woman of color. Any time I can answer people’s questions, help allay fears and say yes, ‘Sometimes you do not know and that’s OK because you are learning as you go…it’s critical because we were all there once, we all know what it feels like to be confused and scared and embarrassed and hesitant.”

Price referred to CEW as a kind of all-inclusive, crucial “sisterhood” for the beauty industry that she feels compelled to give back to. She showcased her brand at her first Beauty Demo event over 10 years ago, before she had even hired a public relations firm, after a CEW member cold-called her and encouraged her to come.

“That was my first introduction to [the beauty] world,” said Price. “I’m a firm believer in ‘each one, teach one,’ she said. “[Women] don’t golf — well, we do, but not to the same extent [as men.]”


When Big Meets Small

WWD spoke to three members of CEW’s indie brand community on their individual experiences as young members of the organization:


Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant

Tiffany Masterson
Tiffany Masterson Courtesy Photo

“For me, it’s like I’m so far removed from the industry — I’m in Houston — and I’m coming from left field here…I wasn’t in the industry before and I’ve only been involved for four to five years. As I’ve been to more CEW events, it’s been great. You start to get to know these people who live in New York and have been in the industry, and you start to become friends and you commiserate with them. Most likely they’ve been there, done that. They’re helpful and accessible and they’ve been so kind to me. It feels like with the things I deal with now every day, I have a group of friends I can reach out to when I need advice.”

Francesco Clark, founder of Clark’s Botanicals

Francesco Clark
Francesco Clark Courtesy Photo

“When we launched [in 2009], CEW named us Best Indie Brand [at the CEW Beauty Insider Awards], and Linda Wells was the person who gave me my award. We spoke for an hour and a half at the luncheon and she became one of my instant mentors. In the same day, she introduced me to Lynne Greene, who was the head of Clinique. Five months [prior], I never expected to have a brand and all of a sudden I’m meeting the most powerful people in beauty. [Someone at CEW] told me that if you can convert anybody from whatever moisturizer they’re using to the one you make, you know you will have longevity in the field. It’s something that’s stuck with me for a very long time. Our Smoothing Marine Cream has always been our top seller. Nuggets of wisdom like that are enough to change a brand from indie and fledgling to long-standing and strong. It really shifted who we were. The networking you get [at CEW] is not just events and drinks. The networking I’ve experienced is direct, one-on-one relationships and connecting the dots between what you’re doing and what you should be doing.”

Amanda Baldwin, president of Supergoop!

Amanda Baldwin
Amanda Baldwin Courtesy Photo

“I pretty much owe my job to CEW. I started in finance, working on Wall Street, went to business school and was looking to transition into the beauty industry. Someone told me I needed to join CEW, that it’s the lynchpin of everyone working in the industry. I got my job at Dior because I went to a CEW speed networking event and sat down next to someone who it turned out would be my future boss at LVMH, and who put my hat in the ring for the Supergoop! position. I wouldn’t be where I am today had CEW not provided that opportunity for my career. When I think about being an indie brand leader [now], they’ve done a really great job opening the networks and resources to these smaller up-and-coming brands. It’s been really fun for me — last year I was an attendee at a panel talking about how to build an indie brand, and the next year I was on the panel talking about my experience. At Supergoop!, we’ve hired from the beauty industry, but a lot of our core team comes from outside beauty. When people ask ‘What should I do to get involved?’ I tell them the first advice that was given to me — sign up for CEW. Because I’ve hired across different industries, it’s something that has helped integrate our team into the community.”