An aspiring make-up artist to the stars, Bobbi Brown moved to New York with a portfolio of mainly creations on her own face. As jobs started to come her way she would smash and mix shades of lipstick. Working in the 90s when make-up was bright, vivid colours and everyone was contouring. Bobbi was interested in the ‘natural look.’

Market need: A lipstick that didn’t smell, natural lip colour and was glossy.

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How did the idea turn to a product?

Walking into Kiel’s in New York, Bobbi spoke to the chemist in store and said,

“I have an idea. I want to make a lipstick that isn’t greasy, isn’t dry, doesn’t smell like my mother’s lipstick, actually looks like the color of my lips.”Bobbi Brown, CNBC

The chemist agreed to make it and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics was born. Luck and the right connections lead the brand to launch in New York’s top luxury retailer, Bergdorf Goodman. While attending a dinner party Bobbi introduced herself to the host who turned out to be the beauty buyer for Bergdorfs, seizing the opportunity, in 1991 Bobbi Brown Cosmetics sold 100 lipsticks in the first day alone.

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Was it all smooth sailing?

While working with photographers and art directors for Saks 5th Avenue, she explained her products at a shoot to which they expressed interest in selling. (Not that they had any buying power in the company). Bobbi heard from Bergdorfs they declined the line claiming they had too much going on that season. Bobbi enthusiastically rang them back and said, “That’s too bad, but don’t worry, because Saks want it.” What happened next? Bergdorfs rang back and said they wanted it.

What’s that common saying?

“Fake it till you make it!”

Acquired by Esteé Lauder in 1995, selling $23 million worth of products a year.

  • There is a saturated market with many imitations. Bobbi’s products focused on enhancing the natural woman so, of course, it was easy to copy by competitors. The company had to differentiate.
    • The headquarters was located in SoHo away from Esteé Lauder’s headquarters.
    • They began the smashed lipstick visual in advertisements
    • Using women of different ethnicity in campaigns.

If you cannot differentiate on features, differentiate on brand message and voice.

Questioning your life decisions?

Bobbi wanted to once drop out of college, she said this to her mother, who said,

“Pretend today is your birthday and you can do anything you want.”

That’s what she did and after enrolling in Emerson College Bobbi found herself in the world of beauty.

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