Online enhanced experience technology such as what we’re doing with our advanced 3D platform: the ability to provide real time and personalized advice through voice or video assistants, customized skincare and makeup with intelligent mirrors, and various try-on apps are a trend we look at closely, and include in our platform, shoppable live stream.
As a part of our series about how technology will be changing the beauty industry over the next five years,I had the pleasure of interviewing Beautyque NYC Co-Founders Sonia Khemiri and Sylvie Giret.
As beauty brand founders, both Sonia and Sylvie, who are French born and US-based business women, understand the complexities of taking a product to market. It was when discussing their own needs as indie brand founders that Sonia & Sylvie came up with the idea of Beautyque NYC: creating a space that would mix the benefits of a tradeshow, of a showroom and of a retail store, where they could safely engage with customers and take the time to explain their products and brand concepts. They created Beautyque NYC as a disrupter for the beauty and wellness retail industry to elevate the digital platform for independent and emerging brands.
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?
Sonia: Beauty came a bit by accident but being an entrepreneur was already in my head since I was six years old as the teacher asked the students about our dads work and I wrote “Entreupreuneur”. A misspelled word but I loved the word. I was good in math and it was natural to be directed to finance and management. While doing my Master’s Degree in finance I thought I would become a market financial analyst or a portfolio manager and create my own company by 35. It didn’t work out this way exactly. I had extensive and various experiences in the corporate world from being an assistant to a major real estate developer, corporate financial analyst to open restaurants in some parts of the world. At 35, I was a single mom, left my work at Ubisoft Entertainment and decided to start my journey of building a business from nothing. Having psoriasis, I thought of opening an alternative medical center for people with psoriasis. There was no help for this part of the industry in Canada. While looking for another way to do business, I discovered not far from my hometown in Tunisia a new invention to try on my skin, the prickly pear seed oil. It took time to start the business itself, but the luxurious oil helped my skin condition. This in turn led to creating my brand Sunia K. Cosmetics using prickly pear seed oil. I was dedicated to learning everything about the beauty industry. I understood pretty quickly that the market was very challenging and learned what was missing for brands like mine.
Sylvie: After a career in tech startups in Europe, I moved to the US with my family in 2007. I was working for a bank at that time, and it was in 2011 that I started to specialize in beauty, when I created my own advisory firm. I was advising and operating niche beauty, fragrance and fashion brands that wanted to develop in the US. It took me until 2018 to decide to create my own brand, Skinergies, in a category that is largely underserved when it comes to beauty and innovation: sun care. I met Sonia as I was working on launching and developing Skinergies, and Beautyque NYC was created from our own experience as brand founders facing the same challenges, opportunities and frustrations. Either when I was working for other brands, for mine or through Beautyque, I have always been fascinated by the consumer behavior and decision cycle: how do you get the consumer to know your brand, understand it and buy it, when there is so much competition, dispersion and noise out there?
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Sonia: Looking backwards, the most interesting thing that happened is that I never knew where I was going but I always kept the same vision in my mind no matter what happened. I just wanted to be an entrepreneur — my passion was business. Where I come from, a woman is taught to be educated and married and I did not follow that path. There was always an invisible drive that let me move from Tunisia to Montreal to NYC. NYC was not a planned destination. I had an offer as a financial analyst in NYC while I was living in Montreal. I moved with my daughter, met my actual partner, built two beauty businesses and I have a great business partner. Life is full of surprises if we keep moving toward our goals.
Sylvie: There are many since there have been so many different chapters in different industries, different countries and different environments. The one I want to mention is when I left the bank I was working for in NYC from 2008 until 2011. I was left high and dry with no work authorization (I only had a resident visa through my husband), I had just turned 40 and I had to decide what to do. This is when I decided to pursue my career on my own and create my own company, which would be an advisory firm for French companies willing to develop in the US. I hired an immigration lawyer, applied for my own work visa, created my business plan, got my first clients and off I went. I did not have a clear idea of what I was doing but I was moving forward and creating something (making decisions — good and bad, and getting things done as my two early mentors taught me to). Two years later I had specialized in beauty, and I had a team of 10 people working with me.
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?
Sonia: Yes there is. There are probably a few with bumps in between. The most recent one is creating what we have now. It’s innovative, exciting and serves an important purpose. Every time there is a tipping point or some sort of accomplishment there is almost a similar pattern behind: believe in what we want to accomplish, be aware of our weaknesses and strengths, work hard and smart and adjust to the circumstances.
Sylvie: Most of my career has been about experimenting and trying new things so I had many tipping points. From tech to beauty, startups to government organization, large banks and my own firm, from Paris to London and New York, I had to reinvent my career and adjust constantly. I have been rather successful through every chapter, but my satisfaction comes from being an entrepreneur. It is however extremely difficult and challenging, and creating Beautyque is certainly the tipping point of my short but intense entrepreneur career: what Sonia and I are creating checks many boxes, both on our own personal levels and the business side.
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?
Sonia: I won’t be able to name only one. The first people who helped me indirectly is my mom and dad. My mom is a very detailed oriented person and my dad a hard-working entrepreneur. Even if I had that in my DNA, life didn’t go without bumps and sometimes big ones. When times are tough or there is doubt these two people are there for me, my daughter who gives me the continuous drive with her contagious energy and my partner’s trust, his belief in me and the fact that he never judges me. I didn’t like to have bosses, but one boss had a large influence on me and he was always saying to me, method, discipline, precision. Did not forget that.
Sylvie: Two of my bosses in my early career helped me a lot. They had one principle in common that they kept repeating, and I still remember it fondly and I use it every day: make decisions every day and get things done. You’re going to make bad decisions and good decisions, but at least there will be good decisions in it.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The beauty industry today has access to technology that was inconceivable only a short time ago. Can you tell us about the “cutting edge” (pardon the pun) technologies that you are working with or introducing? How do you think that will help people?
When COVID-19 hit, we were somehow forced to transpose our physical concept into the digital space. Creating a 3D space that was “mimicking” the real store was a start. Combining the 3D with an e-commerce platform is new and has never been done before: giving it too much thought, we created the first 3D store in the beauty and wellness industry. A 3D alone is not enough to recreate the sensations of a real store. In a real store people enjoy the environment, try the products, can talk to a sales associate for more info, they can browse, smell, touch, attend events… these are all the features we are adding one by one, and we have a lot more in the works. While smelling and touching may not be an immediately available option, if the technology allows it, we will include it. This new way of shopping is a convenience for shoppers because they can enjoy the space, they can meet the brand’s founder and learn about the story behind each brand, attend product demonstrations, attend live events, talk to a Beautyque specialist and shop, all that in the comfort of their home. They don’t wait in lines, risk their safety and they have the experience while shopping online.
We don’t really see a drawback but a reality check: humans are social by nature, they need to go out and about, meet people in person, touch, smell, feel and this is all part of our mini daily experiences, what makes us whole.
While some of it may be possible with VR in the near future, nothing will ever replace the feeling of the real. So hopefully this digital model can soon be mixed with a physical one, that we had to put on hold because of COVID.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the “beauty-tech” industry?
The top 3 trends that we are closely looking at include:
Online enhanced experience technology such as what we’re doing with our advanced 3D platform: the ability to provide real time and personalized advice through voice or video assistants, Customized skincare and makeup with intelligent mirrors, and various try-on apps are a trend we look at closely, and include in our platform, shoppable live stream.
The use of data (the “big data” trend) to optimize consumers’ experience and brand’s performance, whether in a development or pre-launch mode, is fascinating and at the core of what we do.
The acceleration of Augmented reality, Virtual reality and mixed reality in the retail environment is something that we are looking at very closely. Like the ability to see the whole product in 3D, the ability to move it, touch it.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
We are certainly not here to give anyone any lessons or pretend to be better but again, Beautyque was born out of a need that we identified as brand founders. Our two brands are of high quality and fill a need but could never reach the shelves of traditional retailers because they were missing something: our experience made us identify a white space, and even if we all agree on the fact that not all beauty brands are meant to succeed, it is somehow to the consumer to decide what they want.
Our #1 thing is that the retail market is organized around the offer rather than the demand or the customer needs: retailers need products that sell. It is first of all about trends, for many of them the result of fears: the all natural / clean beauty trend is not based on any skincare rationale, it is the response to years of abuse and of brands — large brands first — putting all sorts of junk in their products. There was absolutely a need for improvement, but it is going so far that it is almost killing skincare innovation. All the science that is out there, whether for anti-aging, skin conditions treatment or else, is being seen as suspicious. Retailers — and other market players such as the media — managed to make consumers believe that the only way to be safe was to use all natural/clean products, also making them believe that this was the answer to all their skincare needs.
Another aspect of it is money: only brands that can spend 1M$+ in their first year can imagine succeeding. Money buys visibility and traction, and this is what retailers are after: they need products that sell well and easily. Although it is somehow understandable, this is cutting out many valuable brands that don’t meet these criteria.
Our #2 thing is that beauty is still very limited to skincare and makeup. But for us, beauty starts in the head, it’s mental and emotional balance, and it is everything that makes a woman — or a man — feel confident and beautiful: intimate care, sexual wellness, skin care, make up, nutrition, fitness etc… and it’s not only through buying products and always more products: it’s about learning, testing, and thinking.
Last but not least: inclusivity and diversity. Just by watching YouTube randomly, you can tell that beauty is still very coded and conservative. We believe that beauty has nothing to do with age, looks, skin color, figure, religion or else. Each individual has the right to feel and be beautiful. The same way as brands have the right to play, even if they don’t meet the absolute standards that are dictated by retailers and other market players. Our motto is: let the consumer decide what they want.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share 5 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Well-being beautiful starts in the mind and we’re not always thinking about it as we may be on automatic pilot.
– Take the time to appreciate who we are: look to yourself in the mirror and appreciate what you see. Sometimes just saying it out loud may change your perception and make your day brighter.
– Awakening your senses: Being involved with life and all the chores we have to do we tend to forget about our femininity and sex appeal. We do not have to look to someone else to appreciate us, we have to look inside ourselves to do it first. The rest is necessary to connect to our senses and at times we need some tools to reconnect to our feelings. Music can help, smells, and touch that can remind us of moments of the past where we were feeling attractive is a way to shortcut that.
– Take the time to take care of ourselves: take the time to do your nails, to do our skincare routine, make up, dress up accordingly, change style… all of this not done for anyone else, just to ourselves in order to feel good about ourselves
– Acknowledge and appreciate our strengths. Understand and accept our weaknesses: and if we want to improve it, have the courage to do so.
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. 🙂
#Beautyquefest a festival celebrating beauty in all colors, age, sex, religion… a party where everyone will put themselves at their best. We help them do that and party together. A semi-annual event where thousands of people come to celebrate and enjoy their life and celebrate their beauty.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sonia: If someone can do it, then I can do it! That comes from my dad. It was relevant for me as I learned to study what people do to get where they are and I do the same if that’s what I want, but different in my way. It just gives me the confidence to do it.
Sylvie: Do not let anyone decide for yourself. We are all surrounded by people who want to give us advice and “help” us. Listening to the right people is important making sure we don’t listen only to what we want to hear is too, but at the end of the day, we are the ones who decide what we believe in and we want to do. Especially in business.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Instagram https://www.instagram.com/beautyquenyc/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.