Traditionally, beauty companies often take a prescriptive approach to product development and marketing, telling their customers how they should look. But that’s a formula that millennial cosmetic entrepreneurs and customers alike have flipped on its head, creating the expectation that beauty brands should listen to consumers and offer them what they want.
One such disruptor is Brittny Robins, who founded the Toronto-based skin-care and cosmetics brand Flawless by Friday in 2015 at the age of 26. Her latest endeavour, Les Essentiels, is bringing this more empathetic ethos to a larger audience through a partnership with the country’s oldest retailer, Hudson’s Bay.
Growing up with four sisters, Robins assumed the important role of in-house cosmetics guru and counted Estée Lauder and Bobbi Brown as childhood heroes. After studying at the University of Guelph, she landed a job at L’Oréal and pursued makeup artistry on the weekends. It was obvious to Robins that when women like her sisters felt like they looked their best, their confidence skyrocketed, but she was unable to find this messaging in the beauty industry. “I couldn’t see myself in those ads,” she says.
Her answer to the lack of straightforward beauty products, Flawless by Friday, centred on the idea of simplifying the process of preparing for a special occasion, be it a date, a night out with friends or a presentation at work. “I was inspired by that glow of a bride on her wedding day,” Robins says. “She’s put all this work into feeling her best and now she gets to enjoy and be in the moment.” Robins left her job to pursue her business full-time and launched with the Five Day Facial Mask System, a selection of five daily masks inspired by cutting-edge Korean beauty technology, each using a different active ingredient.
Shortly after starting her company, Robins reached out to former Hudson’s Bay CEO Bonnie Brooks for her advice. The two met and felt an immediate connection and Brooks became Robins’s mentor, a role she continues to fill years later. “She is a true entrepreneur,” Brooks says of Robins. “She knows no boundaries and is absolutely positive that where there’s a will, there will be a way and she follows through.”
After working together on doubling the Flawless offerings from four to eight products, Brooks introduced Robins to the beauty team at Hudson’s Bay, which became the brand’s first retailer. Additional retailers such as Indigo and the Shopping Channel came calling, and Robins soon expanded into the colour cosmetics category with lipsticks and eyeshadow palettes, which come complete with easy instructions. “She does really interesting and intelligent products because she’s always ahead of the curve,” Brooks says. “She’s in sync with where customers want to go.”
Robins’s newest project is Les Essentiels, a collaboration with the Hudson’s Bay and the department’s store’s first line of beauty products since it was founded 350 years ago. Working with Catherine Kelly, the department store’s vice-president of cosmetics, Robins designed nine items specifically for the Bay’s clientele. Taking a skin care-meets-makeup approach, each product includes active ingredients to care for skin, lashes, lips and brows.
“They are all based around the idea of the essentials, which has always been my philosophy of, this can go into anyone’s purse and make sense for them,” Robins says. “It’s always about designing product that continues to simplify beauty.”
Les Essentiels mascara, $30, eye masks, $40 for 30, face serum, $55, at Hudson’s Bay.
Flawless by Friday Mesmereyes 3 Day Eye Mask System, $26, Natural Knockout Palette, $38, at Hudson’s Bay and through flawlessbyfriday.com.
On a mission
The founders of these Canadian beauty brands prioritize building community and sustainability as part of their product development
Based in Ontario’s Niagara region, Jennifer Harper created Cheekbone Beauty as a way to connect with and inspire Indigenous youth. “I literally started this to show Indigenous youth their enormous value in the world while creating sustainable colour cosmetics,” she says. Cheekbone Beauty has a built-in charitable component, with 10 per cent of profits going towards the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society’s initiative Shannen’s Dream, which supports education for First Nations’ children. “Our goal as a brand is reach, to show the world what Indigenous people are capable of and how to build a brand based in a sustainable mission.”
Cheekbone Beauty Liquid Lipstick in autumn, $29 through cheekbonebeauty.ca.
Following the global success of her lipstick brand Bite Beauty, founder Susanne Langmuir has struck out to launch a new brand with the goal of creating effective skin care without water. “If you consciously think about the 10 to 20 products you pick up every single day, they are on average somewhere between 85 and 95 per cent water,” Langmuir explains. An-Hydra launched in late 2019 with the Powder of Youth No. 1 and is on track to expand the line with new products. Going dry has allowed her to eschew preservatives, instead focusing on active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and squalane.
An-Hydra The Powder of Youth No. 1, $66 through an-hydra.com.
When sisters Ally and Taylor Frankel and their mother, Jenny Frankel, launched Nudestix in 2015, they were at the forefront of the sustainable beauty movement, a mission to create relevant products for today’s busy woman. “We wanted to create Nudestix differently to meet all her wants in makeup, luxury multitasking clean formulas in to-go stick formats that are easy, fast and effortless to apply in nude and neutral shades for all skin tones in sustainable, reusable tins,” CEO Jenny Frankel says. Their Nudies – multitasking sticks for eyes, lips and cheeks – have earned a celebrity following that includes actor Hilary Duff, who has joined Nudestix as an investor.