Four million brushes were sold globally in 2015. The number amazes Zoe Boikou, who founded online makeup brush company Zoeva in 2008. She started in her living room, with just 10 brushes, an eBay account — and determination.
This year, the number will be even greater, reflecting Zoeva’s move from online shop into retail presence, and from brush seller to makeup source. Zoeva products — which now include brushes, lipstick, eyeshadow, blush and eyeliner — are sold at German, Swiss and Austrian Douglas stores, in Sephora Australia and Sephora Malaysia doors (as well as online via Sephora Digital in Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, New Zealand and Thailand), and Selfridges in the U.K., as well as in smaller boutiques in Europe.
Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Boikou moved with her family to Germany in 1990. At 15, she started on-the-job training, becoming an office administrator and customer service trainer for a collectables company, which took her to the U.S. for the first time at 18. A visit to department store beauty halls on that business trip fueled her love of luxury cosmetics, sowing early seeds for her later career change.
Though Boikou happily notes Zoeva’s fortuitous market entry, which coincided with the growth of YouTube makeup gurus and bloggers, she has mostly remained behind the scenes. Shy in nature, she has no desire to be the face of the brand. Outreach is strong, but marketing is modest. Prices are friendly, too — brushes start at $9.80 and lipsticks cost $11.80. At the high end, a 16-piece limited-edition eyeliner set retails for $90, while a 30-piece brush-and-bag set sells for $280. Zoeva’s largest markets are Germany and the U.K., followed by Russia, the Arab countries and the U.S.
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“I would say we talk less, as we want them to be amazed when they interact with the products,” Boikou says of Zoeva’s marketing approach. “And in the end it pays off more to be quiet and not be too loud, than to have disappointed customers.”
The messages Boikou does want to send seem to reach their targets. Not just that the brand offers quality products at reasonable price points, but also that Zoeva, which melds Boikou’s first name and “Eva,” for the first woman (Eve), is a woman-focused company. That starts with positive ideas about beauty, and runs to charity projects including the Zoe Embracelet, a bangle bearing the message “Be Strong. Be Confident. Be Beautiful. Embrace Change.” Half of the proceeds from its sale go to the BFF, German’s Women Against Violence initiative.
Boikou has maintained control over inventory, distribution and order fulfillment, and plans to keep it that way. The warehouse is downstairs from Zoeva’s corporate office, which makes quick decisions easy and flexible. The firm is self-funded, and aims to deliver tools, not trends. Some products are vegan; all are thoroughly planned and carefully produced.
“I am completely — I would say 100 percent — no, 1,000 percent — independent. From the beginning in my gut I had the feeling that this would be the way I have to go,” says Boikou. “So there’s no one sitting in the back of me saying ‘you have to do this’ and ‘please follow this trend because the market is booming right now.’”
She also says she fears that investors, most likely “a group of 10 men,” would have little time and interest in the company’s women-centric charity efforts, something she feels very emotional and passionate about. “For me independence is the best thing, to stand up and say,‘OK, I don’t have to justify things’,” insists Boikou.
Zoeva color cosmetics are manufactured in Europe. Brushes are made in China with a specialized brush maker. Boikou’s team set up a complete unit there for Zoeva brushes, with 900 people, some expert brush craftsmen flying in from Korea. That, says Boikou, guarantees them stable quality throughout the year.
Zoeva continues to grow, but Zoe Boikou’s dream market, the U.S., is still a glimmer on the horizon. The brand sold out during its in-store test at New York Space NK locations (both retail and shop-in-shop) last December, but Boikou wants to move cautiously, growing carefully.
As the last year or so was concentrated on Zoeva’s retail growth, the brand is now expanding its product offerings. In the last months of 2016, Zoeva is increasing its assortment by 30 percent due to new releases, including buzzed-about strobe gels for highlighting ($15.80), liquid lipsticks ($12.80), and concealing and contouring palettes ($19.50-$26.50).
After that — the field is open. Hairbrushes were recently suggested as a new direction, and Boikou notes that she’s currently testing skin-care samples. “There is no limit,” she says. Then, ever circumspect, she corrects herself with a smile. “If it fits our philosophy, there is no limit. First we want to make sure it fits our values and our rules.”