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CEW Panel Discusses How to Nurture Indie Brands

The newly formed CEW Indie Advisory Group presented three panels of industry executives to discuss retail, finance and development for indie brands.

Along with the newly formed Indie Advisory Group, the CEW hosted its first Indie Learning Lab Wednesday afternoon at the Altman Building to support small and emerging brands. The event was comprised of three panels that gave advice on retail, finance and development of brands.

Before the panels, CEW president Carlotta Jacobson addressed how indie brands have an increasing presence in the beauty industry.

“Today we’ve got 10 percent of our members coming from emerging, small brands and indie brands,” she said. “We realized that we had the wherewithal to do different things for small incumbents so we formed an emerging brand community that really helped us determine how CEW could support them.”

Retail panelists Averyl Andrews, senior merchant at Sephora; Janice Dusina, vice president of specialty brands and services at Ulta Beauty; Kristen Conneen, buyer at QVC, and Jessica Chung, director of merchandising at DermStore, discussed what retailers are looking for when finding new brands.

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A common thread among all panelists was for indie brands to determine a white space. “Talk about why [the brand] fills a white space within the environment of the retailer you’re presenting to,” Dusina said. “There are so many brands out there right now. Just be prepared to be different and unique and fill a white space that the retailer doesn’t have.”

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In addition to determining a white space, Chung discussed the importance of knowing each retailer’s shopper. “The guest that is shopping at QVC, Ulta [Beauty], Sephora and DermStore is certainly the same beauty enthusiast that we know, but there are nuances and there are different reasons and shopping behaviors,” Chung said.

The finance panel brought together Janet Gurwitch, operating partner at Castanea Partners, and Vennette Ho, managing director at Financo, to discuss how indie brands can build a financial toolkit.

Ho emphasized that clarity of vision throughout the whole brand is essential. “Having clarity of vision, not only with the brand message, but it goes through the company culture, the differentiation in distribution and how you speak to your consumer,” she said. “We think of it as a 360-[degree] view in a brand and a point of differentiation.”

Gurwitch then presented three main points that indie brands must keep in mind when establishing themselves in the market: a point of difference, disruption and distribution.

For insight into established indie brands, the last panel brought together Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, and Laura Geller, founder of Laura Geller New York, to talk about how they grew their brands and what they learned along the way.

Geller echoed that filling a white space is crucial for indie brands to get noticed in the industry. “I think a lot of people feel their ideas are original and it’s never been done, and in truth it’s been done,” she said. “You have to do your homework and you have to look at the spaces you want to get into. If you don’t do your homework you’re out of luck.”

To grow an indie brand, Price made a comparison to parenthood. “It’s important for founders to remember that your business is your baby,” she said. “ What we forget is that our children grow up and they become toddlers, then middle schoolers and they become teenagers and they go to college and then leave us. We have to remember all of those phases of that relationship and think about when you were a parent and the times you had to look away and let them fall. Those are the things you have to do with your business if you really want it to grow.”