For Odile Roujol, the new wave of cosmetics and apparel innovators is beautiful. And she knows a thing or two about beauty.
Formerly an executive with L’Oréal, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel group, not to mention a high-profile role as chief executive officer of Lâncome, Roujol has crafted her second act as the founder of Fashion and BeautyTech Forum. She describes the community as a group geared toward bringing fashion and beauty start-ups together with venture capitalists for some frank talk, new ideas, support and bonding.
“It’s about founders, entrepreneurs and investors showing their learnings, whether they’re seed stage or series A or series B,” Roujol told WWD. The forum, which goes by FAB for short, just held its latest session in San Francisco on Tuesday night.
The appeal is obvious. For entrepreneurs, the closed-door sessions and conversations constitute a “safe place,” Roujol added. They can pick the brains of venture capitalists and other successful executives, and that can be a rare opportunity for today’s start-up founder, who may have questions about how to tackle challenges like artificial intelligence, data privacy, changing consumer tastes, multiple selling channels, customization and myriad other things.
For would-be investors and large companies, a front-row view of these small operators, the challenges they face and how they overcome these obstacles may make for precious intel, especially if they use the insights to help sniff out the next unicorn start-up.
If that be the case, however, it looks like more of a consequential matter, not a primary premise. Roujol stressed that “it’s not transactional — it’s very much more about expanding your network.”
Those industry connections will become all the more powerful as the group grows and continues partnering with an expanding list of big names in retail and technology. Indeed, Tuesday’s session was hosted at Salesforce, one of the largest retail tech providers in the world, and featured guests from Ulta Beauty, Stitch Fix, Macy’s, VMG Partners and Mucker Capital, among others. The next event in the area is slated for October and the host will be Google Launchpad.
Of course, what makes the series so valuable for its attendees is also what keeps the doors closed to most media outlets. It’s hard to have frank conversations in front of reporters.
At Roujol’s invitation, WWD has attended the forum in San Francisco. The format feels familiar, with panels discussing trends and attendees mixing and mingling over glasses of wine. Many of the attendees seem to know each other, which could go back to FAB’s roots as a casual get-together in Roujol’s San Francisco home just a couple of years ago.
To call FAB’s growth rapid is somewhat of an understatement. In 2018, the organization saw as many as 1,500 founders and funders gather through the year. Today, the community spans 12 international chapters, with events in as many as 15 cities. The community just “opened” chapters in Singapore in May, and Spain earlier this month. Now it’s on track to reach “20 by the end of the year,” Roujol said. “We’re about to open Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Tel Aviv and Dubai.”
Given its perch, at the nexus of start-ups, established executives, investors and tech interests, FAB is starting to resemble a staging area for some of tomorrow’s biggest fashion and beauty innovators.
The beauty of it for Roujol is not just witnessing the oncoming waves of new ideas, formats, connections and solutions, but actively helping to bring them forth — in every corner of the globe.