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Ann Somma of Undone Beauty: “Listen to the consumer”

Listen to the consumer. Your consumer telling you something directly on your feed or in a review is the greatest gift you can get — even when it’s terrible. At least they care enough to share! You have the power to turn those disappointed folks into fans, if you keep an open mind. One consumer who shared […]

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Listen to the consumer. Your consumer telling you something directly on your feed or in a review is the greatest gift you can get — even when it’s terrible. At least they care enough to share! You have the power to turn those disappointed folks into fans, if you keep an open mind. One consumer who shared that she was disappointed in our initial foundation shade range actually took the time to suggest where some opportunities would be. I DM’d her and she ended up influencing multiple new shade launches — and she knows she’ll get a lifetime supply of the one that worked for her!


As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ann Colville Somma, founder of clean innovator Undone Beauty and the Chief Creative Officer at incubator Tru Fragrance & Beauty. She is the publisher of the leading indie beauty blog Cult of Pretty, the product developer behind the iconic EOS Lip Balm, and the brand developer behind Real Techniques, the first beauty brand to leverage a celebrity YouTuber. Her 15+ year career in beauty began at Estee Lauder and has spanned brand and product creation for Kohl’s, Target, Urban Outfitters and many others.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always hustling on projects that were essentially “creative marketing,” but didn’t actually know what a marketing or branding career was! After working in the fine art business and selling vintage clothes on eBay, I landed at Estee Lauder as a temp in my early twenties and my eyes opened wide to the idea that I could bring my creative, ideation and communication skills to an actual career making things I loved.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was working in Chicago in beauty Product Development, which was an incredible job but I was a New Yorker at heart and ready to come “home” after a break up. I got a call from a friend of a friend who was starting a brand incubator focused on disruptive CPG at mass. I came back to New York, showed up at their office, opened up the computer, and I remember there were literally ZERO files on the server. We truly started from a blank slate. We took a shot on each other and a year or so later we were launching EOS at Target.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I remember watching my boss write copy describing the strategy and positioning of projects we were pitching to a major retailer. I felt like it was so above my head, but for the next presentation I took a stab at it myself, and generally started putting my creative ideas in a framework that made sense for the marketplace, the buyers, the consumer etc. instead of just making mood boards of pretty things that I liked. And that worked!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My boss Israel Assa at Estee Lauder wrote me a note at the holidays that said, “You have the talent to go far.” He took me to meetings so I could brainstorm with the teams and I was never afraid to speak up. I really never looked back after that note — it was very helpful that someone had a vision for me.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

My career has always been focused on bringing great value to as many people as possible. I truly believe that great design and smart, thoughtful product concepts are “free” — you shouldn’t have to pay a premium just because beauty can be considered a “luxury.” With Undone Beauty, we’ve brought clean, vegan, cruelty-free products that include unique multipurpose formulas and one-of-a-kind patented designs that compare to much higher priced brands — all under 20 dollars and available in places you shop, like Target.

We are also innovative in our marketing and imagery. I’m super proud that our signs gracing the aisles at Target show women of all ages, sizes and skin tones looking naturally beautiful, with no retouching. We want to help the industry overall move past outdated beauty ideals.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

The barrier to entry to launch a brand is much lower than it was when I started. If you have a great idea and an internet connection, you can sell products. This keeps everyone on their toes and levels the playing field, which is ultimately important for innovation.

I’m very excited about the future of sustainable beauty and packaging. We push every day to decrease our footprint — and knowing we have a long way to go, but need to get there as quickly as possible, is an exciting challenge with a great reward.

I also love that cosmetics are for everyone. We have a lot of brave, pioneering people to thank for that, and I appreciate all the work that beauty influencers large and small, online and offline, continue to do to show that beauty is essential to their self-expression, identity and joy.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

There’s a lack of transparency and consistency around ingredients and sustainability that has a lot of room to evolve. There should probably be a single clean standard and improved sustainability expectations, and I look forward to the large retail players working together to both simplify and strengthen these requirements as they have tremendous power to assist brands big and small to improve products.

I look forward to continuing to foster greater representation of BIPOC in the beauty industry, especially in leadership roles. A greater diversity of voices is essential to our progress as an industry and to the consumers embrace of new products and brands.

Related to diversity and inclusion, I would really love to create a universal Pantone-like database that helped consumers find their shades online across brands! It’s so hard for consumers to navigate and find something that works for them when there are so many different finishes and tones.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

Obviously smile and be kind and open-minded. Nothing looks more beautiful on a person and it’s truly ageless and timeless.

Massage your face in the morning to get rid of puffiness and get your circulation and glow going.

Put on blush! That has never failed me.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

You need other people to be successful. There’s a bit of the myth of the solo entrepreneur right now, but ultimately having other, more experienced people around you to share their knowledge and give you a different point of view to consider is so essential to your personal growth as a business person. The people who have pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me grow have primarily been my “bosses” — so don’t be too quick to say you just want to work “for yourself.”

You can follow your heart, but pack your bag up with diverse skills for that journey! Again there is a bit of a philosophy right now that you should “just do what you love” — but in order to do anything well — whether it’s a career, a relationship, a sport — there is compromise, mundane work, and the need to develop skills you don’t like but definitely need for success! I’m terrible at math, but I’m pretty good at Excel now, and how else would I be able to figure out the profitability of a cute product that has 15 different parts, all with different prices, tariffs, and minimum order quantities. It’s not sexy, but it’s the backbone of business.

Listen to the consumer. Your consumer telling you something directly on your feed or in a review is the greatest gift you can get — even when it’s terrible. At least they care enough to share! You have the power to turn those disappointed folks into fans, if you keep an open mind. One consumer who shared that she was disappointed in our initial foundation shade range actually took the time to suggest where some opportunities would be. I DM’d her and she ended up influencing multiple new shade launches — and she knows she’ll get a lifetime supply of the one that worked for her!

Be a sponge to the market at large. Follow the industry like you would follow your favorite sport — know all the players and all the stats. It sounds overwhelming, but ultimately if you get in the flow of beauty market, you’ll know in your gut what the whitespace is and be better able to create products that are truly new. I feel a responsibility to my team to be able to say, “I’ve seen this before,” and hopefully it’s helped us avoid some missteps.

Mentoring people so that they too can have a successful career too is not only a moral obligation but also the most satisfying part of being a businessperson! I’m pretty introverted and like to be in my creative cave with my cats and my Pinterest boards, but putting the time in to help my team grow and seeing them become such unique and successful leaders is actually more of a driver for me now than making “cool things.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think there should be more specific and inspiring business / career training in all high schools. Learning how to have a healthy relationship with money, how to make your money work for you, and what different career options are based on your skills and talents would pave the way for long term success. It’s shocking to me that these things aren’t an essential part of our curriculum, because they are keys to life that every young person should be able to access!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never take no for an answer — you need to find people who want to take the journey to yes with you. I remember manufacturers pretty much escorting me out the door because they thought the round fill of the EOS lip balm was ridiculous and couldn’t be executed… Eventually someone was interested enough to figure it out with the team, and became a key player in the product’s success!

How can our readers follow you online?

@undone_beauty

www.cultofpretty.com

@cultograms

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


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