MILAN — Foundation is the single product Chiara Cascella was convinced she would have never introduced under her beauty brand Espressoh when she launched the label in 2018. Three years later, she had to give in to her customers’ demands.
“I had no intention to include this product as I didn’t like foundation, but I learned over time that was because I couldn’t find the right one for my skin. Plus, it’s one of those products our community has been asking for since the very beginning,” she said during an interview on Teams.
The digitally native indie label has a loyal circle of customers mainly built on Instagram one pink-hued post at a time, which piled up to earn the brand more than 76,000 followers and a cult status among Italian Millennial customers.
This is due to the unfussy spirit Espressoh intends to channel, which is in sync with on-the-go lifestyle of the generation Cascella is part of. As embodied by the brand’s name — a pun on coffee, which nods to the key ingredient in its vegan and cruelty-free formulations — Espressoh is known for its easy-to-use and fast approach to beauty routines, conceived as an alternative to the complexity offered by other cosmetics players banking on vast assortments of product categories and color options that often need to be applied through professional techniques.
Cascella wanted to step back from these intricacies to offer essential items she and her peers could know how to use and apply for multiple purposes. She started with matte lipsticks that caught the market’s attention with their caffeinated textures, aromas and names, as well as the successful ABC liquid concealer available in just three shades that could be adapted to different skin colors and types.
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In keeping with this concept, Cascella and her team worked two years to develop the OhMyGlow foundation, available in four shades that could blend with every skin tone. “It might seem a risky choice, especially in a moment when everyone is going in the opposite direction and offering 50 shades, but it’s one we already tested with the concealer and that worked very well,” said Cascella.
“We experimented with lots of formulations before opting for this liquid, silky texture, which naturally evens the skin without covering it too much and confers a glowing effect, as we’re huge fans of glow,” said Cascella with a smile.
Case in point, one of Espressoh’s bestsellers is Glassy, a blush in a transparent jelly texture that reacts with each person’s pH to offer a customized rosy effect.
With prices ranging from 14 euros to 27 euros, the line also comprises the Intenso mascara, the Hey Brow eyebrow fixing gel, the Sweet and Sour eye shadow palette and the Ohily oil cleanser. The new OhMyGlow foundation that debuted on Monday makes for the priciest item yet, retailing for 30 euros for the 29-ml. format.
The whole range will be showcased at temporary stores set up to mark the launch. Espressoh will take over two newsstands positioned in strategic spots in Milan and Rome, with the former running Sept. 16 to 23 and the latter from Oct. 8 to 14.
The young entrepreneur underscored the importance of creating a moment to meet the brand’s community IRL again after the restrictions imposed by lockdowns as “to have a human connection is essential, so I do believe a lot in physical outposts.”
Yet, Cascella isn’t thinking of opening stand-alone stores for the brand for the moment, since she prefers to continue exploring formats of pop-up stores. In addition to its e-commerce, Espressoh is available at Rinascente, including the retailer’s outposts in Milan, Turin and Florence.
While the majority of customers are Italian women aged 25 to 35, the brand is increasingly attracting international consumers through its online store, which ships worldwide. To this end, the company is looking to enhance its supply chain and logistics, including investments to make its operations quicker and more flexible in the U.S., where it plans to team with local influencers to further boost its brand awareness in the market.
If sales in Europe and the U.S. are directly handled by the brand, Espressoh partnered with Sephora for markets in Asia and the Pacific area, “which are harder to reach for us logistically and answer to different needs in terms of marketing strategies,” noted Cascella. In particular, last month Espressoh made its debut online on Sephora in Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines, while by the end of the year it will roll out on the retailer’s platform also in Australia and New Zealand.
Next up, the brand is slated to release a special project in collaboration with emerging artists by the end of the year and a new product in the first quarter of 2022. “It will be another item that has been hugely requested by our community,” teased Cascella, keeping details under wraps.
In its first year, Espressoh generated 150,000 euros in sales, which grew to 800,000 euros last year. Cascella said she expects to double this figure in 2021, underscoring that the launch of the foundation will be strategic to reach this goal along with the Christmas holiday season, since sales generated in November and December usually account for one third of the company’s total revenues.
Beside the products and its accessible price points, Espressoh’s communication helps build appeal for the brand.
This is fueled by content generated by customers themselves, including unretouched images and videos, which imbue a sense of spontaneous involvement and authenticity to the label. Quick beauty routines performed by a variety of consumers of different ages, genders, skin colors and types as well as inspirational posts and playlists enrich the world of the brand, which is narrated in Italian and English.
“The goal has always been to bring Espressoh and Italian beauty abroad,” said Cascella about the brand’s tone of voice.
A graduate in economics from the Bocconi University in Milan, Cascella stepped into the beauty industry by chance through an internship in the marketing division of L’Oréal, where she ended up spending six years, divided between Milan and the Paris headquarters.
During her years at L’Oréal she witnessed the exponential growth of color cosmetics and booming rise of indie labels and, overseeing also research and development activities on a global scale in Paris, she got in touch with suppliers and laboratories, starting to build her own network.
“But what really triggered me was that almost 70 percent of the global makeup production is made in Italy and I didn’t see a strong Italian brand abroad, while in the U.S., labels such as Milk and Glossier were born and thriving,” said Cascella, who noted that while some indie names are popping up in the current Italian beauty scene, these offer mainly skin care. “Makeup brands are always the same and have a different approach compared to ours,” she concluded.