LONDON — With Trinny in the room, who needs an influencer, celebrity or makeup artist to move product?
Whether she’s telling TV audiences how she would lie on tin foil “and fry like a chicken” to get tan; blasting her grays with touch-up spray in an online “hair zhuzh” tutorial; or smushing her bestselling Miracle Blur into the little scars and wrinkles on her upper lip, Trinny Woodall is proving a singular force in beauty — and she’s building momentum by the month.
The 57-year-old Woodall was already leaning into her physical imperfections and difficult past — on TV, YouTube and online — long before Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book, and has been building a multimillion-pound makeup and skin care brand inspired by those flaws, and helping other women overcome their own insecurities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that growth: Trinny London is set to report revenue of 45 million pounds this year, and was profitable as of September. The pandemic has also proven how forward-thinking Woodall has been with regard to diversity, inclusion, individuality and personalization in the beauty sphere.
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On the Trinny London site there are portraits of more than 100 women, aged 18 to 80 with a variety of skin tones and textures, eye and hair colors. Her how-to and makeover videos are wacky and self-deprecating, but also informative and comforting to anyone who might be feeling bad about their puffy under-eyes, spotty complexion or apparent lack of cheekbones.
Woodall is a big part of the brand’s marketing, chatting with makeup artists or advising women about a makeover. Often, she just talks to the camera as she scrubs, rubs, dabs or blow-dries. “Sometimes we all wake up feeling like s–t, so it’s about not trying to be too polished because that’s not the life we live today,” she said of her videos.
“I will have pictures of me looking absolutely s–t, and those are the ones that perform the best, rather than the ones where I’m all polished,” said Woodall during an interview at her sunny open-plan headquarters off the King’s Road in Chelsea. “We are a premium brand, but I want people to immediately see approachability.”
She noted that while her chief marketing officer may want to acquire more customers, Woodall’s own goal is for a woman to feel better about herself after she’s interacted with the Trinny London brand.
From the start, she said she always wanted a “solid returning customer who really is vested in the brand, who wants to grow with us. My question always was ‘How do I create that?’”
During a face-to-face interview she’s aglow: no spots, no under-eye bags and a halo of messy chic hair. She’s dressed in a long baby blue coat and wide-legged, cropped jeans from Zara, a floaty Roksanda blouse with statement sleeves, and platform sneakers.
A maelstrom of energy, glamour and throaty talk, she believes this is a pivotal moment for the brand, which she launched in 2017 with money from friends, family, former colleagues and Unilever Ventures, the private equity and venture capital arm of Unilever that finances early-stage companies in personal care and digital.
Her vision is to be “the leader in personalization,” a segment of the market that Woodall argues is underdeveloped. She said there are launches in the pipeline for 2022 that will not only accelerate sales, but also break new ground with regard to personalization in beauty.
Woodall, a household name in the U.K. who’s had multiple professional lives — entrepreneur, TV personality, YouTuber, author, newspaper columnist and fashion makeover expert — believes it’s her moment, and Trinny London is the business she was meant to run.
“This is the one. I was getting ready for this, everything else was a dress rehearsal,” she said.
Woodall has always wanted women to take control of their makeup choices, and launched her direct-to-consumer business with a color test called Match2Me, an online questionnaire that helps people pick the right products for their skin tone, hair and eye color.
Prelaunch the company had researched and categorized various skin tones, based on 5,000 women, and came out with a initial look book of women, with skin tones ranging from “Lightest” to “Deepest.”
She packaged the cosmetics in small stackable pots, and also launched BFF Cream Skin Perfector, a primer in a tube. BFF stands for Best Friend Forever, a name that derives from her years of research into products to remedy her once acne-prone skin.
In 2018 Woodall told WWD that from the ages of 13 to 30, she had acne “and I did the works. I did appalling fake tans, I had decades of terrible makeup, but I would always customize my skin care and my makeup, and I was always wanting to find the consistency that would penetrate or would stay on my skin. It was the same with makeup. I always had Muji pots, and I was mushing my favorite colors into them.”
Over the past four years Trinny London has gone from a launch of 49 stock keeping units to 130, broadened the color offer and layered in more skin care. The range includes the creamy Miracle Blur for a pre-Zoom glow; BFF Eye Serum-Concealer and a hybrid called BFF Serum De-Stress, a tinted formula that comes in a variety of shades and is meant to activate throughout the day.
She’s particularly proud of the BFF Serum De-Stress, which launched last September. It comes in 12 shades, and she argued that clinical trials show how it changes skin and “eliminates the need for any (extra) serums. After an hour it kicks in, so as your day goes on your skin looks better.”
That focus on personalization was one of the brand’s many strategies that paid dividends during lockdown.
“When COVID-19 came, we were actually in quite a good position because of the personalization. Nobody knew how bad (lockdown) was going to be. At the beginning we didn’t know what to do with the advertising. Do we turn it off? Keep it on? Then we noticed that people were still buying — really buying — and we had a staggering May.”
She believes the brand picked up many women who were initially wary of purchasing online. “There were a lot of customers who were following our journey and waiting for us to come to a store,” said Woodall, adding that during lockdown, those customers finally took a chance and made an online order.
“They trusted the system and they bought, and it was the biggest movement for us,” said Woodall, adding that sales bounced from 13.5 million pounds in fiscal 2020, which ended March 31, to 45 million pounds this year.
Even with the U.K. slowly unlocking, physical retail reopening and life returning to some semblance of normal, Woodall said sales momentum will continue to build.
Next year she is expecting revenue to double to 90 million pounds, or more. “We have got quite a few verticals (in the pipeline) and I think that we will still be in growth in the next two years. I don’t see it leveling out yet.”
She’s curious to see how women will wear makeup once the U.K. comes out of lockdown.
“I’m interested in whether people will put a lot of makeup on now, having worn less for a long time. Maybe they picked up our skin products because they’re lighter and they felt healthier. How many of those women are going to pivot back to a heavy foundation — or not? It’s going to be interesting,” she said.
Personalization proved a secret weapon during the COVID-19 crisis.
She said that some 10 percent of sales over the last year came from Zoom makeup appointments that can be booked through the site. They cost 25 pounds for a 30-minute, one-on-one session with a Trinny London Pro makeup artist, and the money is fully redeemable against product. There is also an option for two friends to book an hour-long session for 45 pounds.
During the pandemic, Woodall said she hired 45 people, kept furloughs to a minimum, and has since paid back the British Government’s furlough money which not every brand or retailer can boast.
The business was already in a good position before the pandemic hit. Trinny London had completed a second round of fundraising, with Unilever Ventures and Downing, another venture capital fund, taking part once again, and a valuation pegged at 180 million pounds.
She also picked up an angel investor, an American woman, and “Trinny triber” who wanted a piece of the action.
Trinny “tribes” are communities that have sprung up online. Woodall said they’re independent, and while she relies on them for advice, she does not manage or control them.
“They weren’t started by us, and I think the autonomy is kind of a key component — otherwise it’s an extension of the business. Our community is our champion — and our biggest critic,” said Woodall, adding that the first tribe was started on Facebook by a woman in northwest England.
There are now 76,000 women across 33 tribes in 13 countries, “who talk about all sorts of things. During lockdown we had a lot of people who maybe just felt isolated, and they joined a tribe. They talk about menopause, leaving their husbands, having their first child,” she said.
Once a month Trinny speaks to the tribes about a variety of topics, including “resilience, grief or starting your own business,” and rewards the people running them with new products, prelaunch access and discounts on purchases.
The brand has other social media communities, too, with around three million followers across all channels.
Growth in the next year will come from aggressive expansion plans, in product and geographies, said Woodall, and from pushing personalization to its outer limits.
“I want you to feel you will get a better experience online than in a store. How can I give you that experience? It has to be very emotive, it has to be really right, it has to think about who you are as a woman,” said Woodall. “We’re launching another big vertical in January and are doing a huge amount of personalization around that. One side of the business is looking at that every single day, and I’m even working with some people in Korea, and I’m very excited.”
She declined to say what the vertical was, although it will involve a mix of tech and product. She said by the beginning of February 2022, “we’ll be in a very different place and ahead of the game in a few things. We’ve set ourselves a huge challenge and if we can do 80 percent of what we intend to do, that would be fantastic so we’ll see. It’s the next big jump.”
Woodall added that she doesn’t see a limit to what her company can do. “I mean we’re not going to make food, but we want to offer true personalization for women on things that they trust us on so that’s the kind of parameters we have.”
In the meantime, she’s also in expansion mode, with plans to expand the business in the U.S., and has launched in Germany, where the brand now has a localized site in the currency and the language.
“Germany is a really important country. It’s the biggest in Europe for skin care and makeup, and we have a chance to be really appealing there. It’s also our first trip into localization in the language of that country,” said Woodall who, in typical style, has dusted off her German (she lived there for a while when she was younger) and has been speaking to her new audience in their native tongue.
Asked how Trinny London manages to compete — and to establish authority — in a market full of doctors, facialists, makeup artists and other experts, she doesn’t hesitate.
“I have authority in ways that makeup artists do not. I have made over 4,000 women in 20 years, worked with teams of makeup artists, honed my knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.
She added that she wants a balance of faces — in-house makeup artists, guest makeup artists, herself putting makeup on — so that people can make Trinny London their own brand. “I want women to take from us what they want, interpret the brand,” and make it their own.