Authenticity is the driver of IT Cosmetics’ success, stressed its founder Jamie Kern Lima.
Shortly after the brand’s debut on QVC — the network that gave the beauty company its first big break — a competing prestige brand knocked off a best-selling product, according to Lima. “They launched that product and it did OK for a moment, and then sort of faded into the background,” Lima said. “For us, it’s still one of our best-selling hero products today.
“Now, when I see competitors knocking off something we do, whether it’s how we use before-and-afters, or our product or our message, I feel bad for them because I know that they’re confused and they’re getting distracted,” Lima said. “Every brand connects and speaks with customers in a new and different way, and the moment that way isn’t authentic to that brand’s DNA, in my opinion, is when the potential of their great success gets diluted.”
IT Cosmetics has grown into an amalgamation of hero products, according to Lima, who launched the business after her rosacea, hyperpigmentation and sparse eyebrows made it tough to find cosmetics with enough coverage, especially for her then newscasting career. Once, during a four-hour broadcast, Lima said she accidentally wiped off half an eyebrow. “You can’t go to the bathroom, you’re there, you’re on and you just smile really big and you are totally screwed, and you just keep going,” Lima said.
She then identified the white space for problem-solution makeup that IT Cosmetics has grown to fill, and wrote the business plan on the flight to her honeymoon, she said. After that, she hired one of her bridesmaids, pulled together an advisory board of plastic surgeons and dermatologists, and channeled funds toward research, development and product. “I remember the time when we needed to hire a second employee but couldn’t afford it. So we literally had a struggling actress live in our home, in our apartment, which was our office, rent-free, in exchange for working 20 hours per week packing customer orders in our living room,” Lima said.
She and husband Paulo didn’t pay themselves for the first three years, and despite no after no, Lima continued to approach potential partners. “I remember one time in the Sephora corporate offices trying to get to the bottom of the elevator and out the lobby and onto Market Street — out those doors — as quickly as I could because I started to feel tears coming down,” Lima said. “I was like ‘no one can see me, I’m tough.’”
Since those days, IT has expanded its distribution though Ulta, Sephora and Guthy-Renker. On the product side, the company is branching out into skin care — launching its first product, Confidence in a Cream, in January, with a full, problem-solution-focused line on the way.
“When we starting having success as a brand is when real women started spreading our authentic brand mission and DNA,” Lima said. “When women find a product that actually truly works for them, they tell people. They spread the word. It was real women getting real results — that’s what kept our company alive in the early years,” Lima said.