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Strength in Innovation

Anisa Telwar
  • Most beauty companies talk about innovation, but being truly innovative requires stepping outside of the mold to develop something consumers have never seen before.
  • There is value in revamping already-existing products in innovative ways, but leading the pack means being distinctly different.
  • The A.G.I.L.E. innovation strategy—aspiration, gut, inspiration, listening and evolution—is a method to push boundaries to develop the truly unique.

It’s well known that beauty trends constantly shift and evolve. It is less well known that the push behind those shifts and evolutions is often largely due to the beauty industry innovators behind the scenes, the people crafting tools and products that create an easier, more consistent experience and application with any given beauty product. But how does this evolution occur—do trends drive innovation, or does innovation drive trends? In actuality, it’s a little bit of both.

At Anisa International, for example, high-end beauty clients depend on the company’s innovators to stay ahead of the trends, and to this end, Anisa International invests 20% of its revenue into R&D to create new products that, with consumer education, help drive new market needs. Anisa International also works to develop classic products to satisfy current trends, and this commitment to R&D stems from deep roots in creativity and design and a history of entrepreneurship, with innovation as a key pillar in staying fresh and relevant.

For beauty brands, a choice has to be made regarding new product creation. It would be easy to follow the herd by crowdsourcing design decisions or creating knock-off products of established brands. Or, if millions of dollars were at your disposal, having legions of scientists and engineers on hand to design and develop new products.

All of these practices are common in the beauty industry today, as beauty deals with businesses of various sizes. But as entrepreneurs with a lean team, small- and even medium-sized beauty businesses need to carefully select the innovation choices they make, as their time and money investments must lead to products with real impact.

Rethinking Innovation With A.G.I.L.E.

While beauty brands consistently love setting and being ahead of the trends, they also must look for ways to incorporate the most meaningful current trends into new products. This is the duality that must be balanced in the beauty industry—creating a classic product with staying power while remaining fresh.

When designing new products, traditional methods of innovation are often utilized—studying trending and historical data, collaborating with other companies, looking at fashion—along with leaning on intuition and years of industry experience. This informs beauty brand owners of what will work and what will not.

While Anisa International has often incorporated traditional innovation methods into its process, years of product development experience has led the company to pioneer its own methodology that employs creative thought and action to produce successful, revolutionary products. This process is called A.G.I.L.E.: Aspiration, Gut, Inspiration, Listening and Evolution.

Aspiration. Aspirational products go beyond being creative or clever; they require unleashing people’s passions. To develop something aspirational, you need to first deeply understand what those aspirations are—what you believe in, why you do what you do—because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Trends are fueled by aspiration, and the deepest and most lasting trends feed into one or more of the basic categories of human aspiration: financial, emotional, spiritual and physical.

Gut. Keeping ahead of the curve often requires the confidence to trust your instincts and run with your intuition.

So many notions of what is “right” in the beauty industry are merely self-imposed limitations. For example, product developers may believe consumers won’t understand why a product is necessary or fear an innovative product will never be funded, improved or implemented, and these self-imposed limitations can hinder innovation.

Inspiration. You inspire by doing, and if you do the impossible, you show others how they can. In 1954, Englishman Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes. At the time, medical experts cautioned that it was impossible to break a sub-four minute mile, but within nine months of Bannister’s achievement, 30 other runners reached the same milestone.

Inspiring customers is about giving them the courage to achieve what they thought was unachieveable. This inspiration must come from actual consumers and their lifestyle and beauty needs—from the busy businesswoman who requires a quick makeup application to the world-renowned makeup artist who requires precision from a set of beauty tools.

And although necessary, inspiration alone is not sufficient. In the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins introduces the hedgehog concept of business, which requires having a simple, extremely clear concept of what a business is and does. That business should be something an entrepreneur can make money at, be the best in the world at, and be passionate about. Inspiration must be fused with this hedgehog concept of business in order to be a successful part of your brand’s DNA.

Listening. Humans listen at a 25% comprehension rate, which means that every day we miss approximately three-quarters of information told to us. This is an inherent weakness that needs to be overcome by organizations to properly respect customers and fully understand their needs.

In Good to Great, Collins discusses the concept of the flywheel. The flywheel refers to the idea of momentum: Keep pushing in one direction and you’ll build up a lot of it, which will help you overcome obstacles. Momentum is built a little at a time; it’s not dramatic revolutionary change but constant diligent work. You need to listen and have continual feedback in order to create and build that momentum.

Evolution. The beauty industry itself is in a period of unparalleled change in how we create, communicate and consume. Products and services are evolving faster than ever before.

Good companies use technology to execute processes better, but in itself, technology won’t save a mediocre business. It is an accelerator, not an agent of change. To forge innovation, you should be willing to adapt a design or product while making sure the key benefit remains the same.

Case Study: Leading a Trend

Anisa International utilized its A.G.I.L.E. method in its partnership with DuPont, which aimed to bring a new synthetic makeup brush fiber to market.

Currently, natural fiber comprises the vast majority of powder brushes due to superior product pick up and release properties. However, several issues arise with natural hair, including sourcing and quality control. This makes synthetic fiber a more desirable product for brush manufacturers.

DuPont Filaments sought out Anisa International when developing its synthetic fiber, DuPont Natrafil. The problem with synthetic fiber before Natrafil was poor product performance. However, Natrafil’s special fiber treatment is able to cause it to mimic the performance of natural hair.

But no matter how innovative Natrafil was, its true market impact would rely, in part, on consumer education. A DuPont survey revealed only 19% of consumers know powder brushes are made of animal hair, and 61% said they would never knowingly buy a brush manufactured with animal hair.

In an effort to help proliferate natural-versus-synthetic-brush-fiber knowledge, Anisa International and DuPont are leading a trend toward synthetic cosmetic powder brushes by offering Natrafil in a wide variety of applications and educating users about the fiber’s benefits.

In addition to surveys conducted among makeup artists by DuPont to share the knowledge about Natrafil and gain testimonials, Anisa International also reaches consumers with education tools such as YouTube videos. In a recent video, Shana King, Anisa International’s senior director of beauty and education, discussed what makes Natrafil unique, as well as how to use the new, innovative head shapes to apply product.

First in Line

By marrying traditional research and development methods with the A.G.I.L.E. process, your beauty brand can begin to innovate like never before. Designing products to fill a current need is good, but pushing your team to anticipate future needs and create the trends will put your brand ahead of the pack.

Anisa Telwar is president and founder of Anisa International, a global leader in cosmetic brush, accessory and bag design and manufacturing. Telwar was recently inducted into the Committee of 200, an invite-only organization of the world’s top women executives and entrepreneurs. Celebrating 20 years of business, her company was recently awarded its second appearance on the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing private companies.

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