As part of my series on strong female leaders meet Samantha Lim who is the co-founder and chief creative officer of cruelty-free cosmetics brand Hipdot. After more than a decade of living and working in New York City working on every side of the beauty & fashion industry, she recently relocated to Los Angeles to build a new company to help define the future of beauty. The former fashion and beauty editor has had the pleasure of working alongside creative icons throughout her career, including Pat McGrath — with whom she worked closely to launch Pat McGrath Labs — the team at Milk Studios (now known for Milk Makeup), and even Madonna. She now splits her time between West Hollywood and Manhattan, which means she still wears all black, but does so while drinking green juice.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Philosophically, being open to every opportunity, following my intuition, and a little bit of luck. Tactically, I had a long career as a fashion & beauty editor and editor-in-chief roles in digital media followed by in house experience at two burgeoning beauty brands. After spending years on the editorial side of media, I went to Milk Studios to run brand and experience partnerships. While I was there, Milk Makeup was born, which was the first behind-the-brand experience I had in beauty. After watching their explosive growth, I received a call from Pat McGrath. In the beauty & fashion world, if Pat calls, you answer. I was her VP of Social Content & Strategy and worked right by her side running her social team, launching and storytelling products, and working with e-com and marketing teams to take the brand worldwide. About a year in, I started thinking a lot about what the modern makeup consumer wants: we are conscious consumers — we care about the quality of ingredients that we put on our skin, we care about animals, the environment, and for the most part, we would rather put our money towards living enriched lives, not necessarily towards our makeup bags. I also thought a lot about modern makeup production and realized how broken the system was. Makeup today isn’t an expensive thing to make, so why has it been so expensive to buy? These savings should be passed on to the people who wear the products if they can. I wanted to create products that answered all these desires, and they are all coming to life through Hipdot.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, our brand has only officially been launched for about two months but I think the most interesting thing to happen so far was our surprise hit, the Legendary Palette. We have a product called pressed glitter, it’s like eyeshadow but is 100% glitter. I knew I wanted to design a rainbow glitter version, and thought what better way to celebrate rainbow glitter than to align with Pride month. A few phone calls later, I was designing a palette with queer artist Hey Rooney and we came up with the Legendary palette — a celebration of freedom of expression, love, and identity. A portion of the proceeds are going to the Anti-Violence Project, an LGBTQ aligned charity, and each one of the shade names was named by a member of the LGBTQ community. We designed the palette in about 8 days (unreal!). We didn’t really have budget to launch it in a big way, but to our pleasant surprise an overwhelming amount of influencers wanted to be shot in the campaign, and a huge amount have organically helped share and post about the palette on their social media. We sold out of our first run in 4 days! Thankfully, we were able to restock in time for Pride.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made it a point to use diverse women of color for our first campaign, so we did a beauty shot with three women of different ethnicities. In beauty, you want to focus on the makeup so you usually don’t show clothes, but a bare shoulder or neck does usually make the shot.
One of my business partners and brilliant tech minds is German, and when we were running our first social media ads, our content got flagged for being “too racy”. I start getting a flood of messaged from him about having too many races and types of person in our ad and that we had to change it. After a few minutes of pure confusion and shock, I burst out laughing. The model’s “bare shoulders” hinted to Facebook’s algorithm that our photo contained nudity, but because of my partner’s German-first language, he thought racy mean their racial background, not sexually racy content. We all had a good laugh about that one.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My co-founders and I have a very unique partnership. They have deep expertise in tech while my background is in beauty and brand. Together, we have been able to carve out a unique spot in the world of venture backed startups, we’re a creative storytelling company that has the technical expertise to scale, with a model that takes multiple bets at a time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
So many! We are working on our next influencer collaborations and we are also working on an upcoming standalone brand. My hope with both brands — and every brand we create — is to inspire confidence and empower people with the tools they need to be their best self. Beauty is truly more than skin deep; when a person feels good about how they look, it goes deep into their personality and gives them the fuel they need to perform their best, to be their most open selves. If our brands and products can inspire that, then we’re doing our job.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Always encourage people to ask for what they want, it’s most helpful to a team for people to be doing what they are most interested in and most naturally drawn to. Be as empathetic as possible, you never know what other people may be going through. Lean into your intuition, as women, it is our most powerful tool.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Listen to what people want and how they are feeling, but stand firm to what you believe in and the values that you feel strongly about.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad has been a sounding board / reality check my entire life. In New York, especially in the luxury space, you can get really caught up in the stress and the drama, it consumes your entire world. When I was agonizing over leaving my last position, moving to the west coast and jumping into a startup, he looked at me plain and simple and said, “why not?”. He couldn’t relate to any of the reasons I gave him, which put into perspective how trivial some things actually are, and what things truly matter. I resigned the next day and moved to LA in the next month.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Filling situations with joy has always come second nature to me and I’m always trying to think of a way we can create a product that gives back, create a partnership that inspires and empowers. Last year I went on safari in Africa that was supposed to be a vacation, but before the end of the week we were setting up an education fund for girls who have increased rates of dropping out of school once they get their periods. We are now funding 41 girls through middle school to make sure they get the education they deserve. With Hipdot, we also have some interesting partnerships cooking with global foundations that will merge the world of beauty and giving back. I post as much as I can on social media in hopes that people watch what I’m doing and feel inspired that they can do it too.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Don’t Think Too Hard.
Follow Your Gut.
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. 🙂
Whatever movement ends world hunger. It’s unbelievable that we can fly to another planet yet millions of people can’t get food on a daily basis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad is a surgeon, a business man, and an immigrant — he’s made everything he has on his own and is a busy man. When we were growing up and ever had an issue, he would always ask, “but are you depressed?” and if the answer was no, which it always was, he would then kind of shrug off our problem and move on to whatever literal life he was saving. I think it was his way of saying “things could always be worse” and that we should take a breath, make a plan, and quit complaining. As long as our mental grit was in tact and that this problem was just a passing feeling, whatever the issue was could not have possibly been that big of a deal. I always felt so grateful that I wasn’t depressed (even when I didn’t really know what that meant) that it really would dissipate whatever emotion was stirring in my mind. Seems kind of funny now, but I swear it worked.
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