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Annie Lawless Talks Lessons From Business of Beauty

With a still young clean beauty brand looking at its first funding round, the founder has some words of wisdom for other beauty hopefuls.

Even with one business under her belt, Annie Lawless has learned beauty is not an easy industry to be in.

“Anyone that starts a brand will tell you it’s really freaking hard,” said Lawless, who founded Lawless Beauty two years ago. “It’s still hard for us. I have meltdowns all the time. You have to constantly come back to your true north, what your vision for the brand is, and that’s not always easy.”

Despite admitting that beauty is now “such a saturated space,” as seemingly every celebrity and influencer has some kind of product line, Lawless’ vision for the brand is still relatively unique. Lawless Beauty is a “clean” line of true color cosmetics, meant to be high-performing product for the woman who isn’t into the “no makeup makeup” look. Lawless started the line about a year after stepping away from Suja, the juice company she cofounded and left shortly after Coca-Cola took a minority stake.

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“I saw this lack of efficacy when I wanted to switch to clean beauty,” Lawless said. “But it was not for the makeup girl.”

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In two years, Lawless has gone from lipstick to foundation and expects to add more products next year, doubling her assortment. She also intends to launch internationally in 2020, and while the company is partly self-funded, Lawless said next year will also bring a Series A round of capital investment to push further expansion. But she knows finding the right investor can be very tricky.

“Taking on investors and partners, it’s like a marriage,” Lawless said. “Brand success really does depend on everyone being aligned with your vision. You can get money from a lot of places, but people who really get the brand are fewer.

“I tell people it’s not about taking the quick check, but making sure it’s the best thing for the brand, because it will be a part of the brand’s success ultimately,” she added.

Another lesson she’s learned with a beauty brand is how important it is to be prepared when wholesalers come knocking. Lawless Beauty was approached about two months after it launched by Sephora, which was gearing up for its own clean beauty push in stores and wanted a color cosmetics line to offer.

“I was definitely not prepared and I still kind of go by the seat of my pants for every launch,” Lawless said. “It’s a huge commitment for fulfillment and [retailers] take a big margin.”

That’s not to say she regrets it, but she is trying to take what she’s learned about the pressure of being a young brand with a small team being in a huge retailer to her plans for an international launch.

“It’s always there, but you don’t get many chances, like with Sephora,” Lawless said. ”You’re in or you’re out and there’s not a lot of time to learn as you go.”