Rabia (left) & Samar - SoapnSkin

The Passion & The Product

15th January 2016

Kelly - New CID Cosmetics

To be successful in the beauty industry you need a brilliant product concept – and the passion and determination to make it happen. Lisa Botwright talks to four local women, all of whom have been brave enough to take an idea and run with it…

Kelly Colman lives in Chorleywood with her husband and their three children. From an office in Rickmansworth and drawing upon a myriad of previous careers – from professional dancer to model, stylist and entrepreneur – she has created a global make up brand.

Background? Kelly’s life story reads like a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel, where a strong female protagonist builds an empire from humble beginnings…
She grew up in the Midlands, the youngest of four. From an early age, her passion was dancing, especially modern dancing. At the age of 15, she begged to be allowed to audition for a prestigious south east dance school, but, after gaining a place, Kelly’s parents gave her the devastating news that they were unable to afford the £30,000 fees. With the extraordinary tenacity that she would later draw on in business, she managed to scrape together the full amount from grants and scholarships, securing her place just a few days before she was due to start.

When she graduated, she worked in the States, and launched a successful career in the 1990s, both as a professional dancer (working with pop icons Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams), and later by running her own dance agency. In 2000, on her way to a big charity hair show in Chicago, she met Clive Colman: “love at first flight,” she laughs.

As well as turning out to be her future husband, Clive just happened to be a top hairdresser (a protégée of Vidal Sassoon) and owner of several London salons. Soon they were inseparable. Kelly started to help her husband-to-be with his brand, and became inspired by the seductive effect of the ‘make-over’: how much confidence could be gained, simply with the right hair cut. In 2004, they launched a digital photography business to take studio pictures of ‘real women’, which – in the very earliest days of digital photography – “took the UK by storm,” in Kelly’s words. She employed make-up artists all over the country and recalls that she loved to see how women “were transformed by simple tricks and tips”. She soon learned, from the c50,000 women who bought into the concept, that most shared the same make-up concerns: confused by too much colour, for example, and wanting “simple solutions that were easy to apply.” And so the idea behind the multi-award winning make-up collection was born.

Brand ethos? Although Kelly knew what she wanted very quickly, it took five years of research and planning – “working with a lot of chemists to find the right formulations” – before she was ready to launch. She sees her collection as a capsule range, and is firm that she is “not trying to be everything to everyone.” Instead it is an ‘edit’, based on her years of working with top stylists, and the discovery that behind the smoke and mirrors, the hundreds of clever make-up artists she employed all had the same few hero products in their kit bag.
Her approach to colour is typically pragmatic: “People say brown eyeshadow is boring, but 70% of eyeshadows bought are brown because it is universally flattering.” Her mousse textured ‘crystal quartz’ eyeshadow – a kind of subtle bronzed taupe – is indeed highly flattering and was the winner of the 2013 Image award Beauty Awards. “Where I’ve brought in a touch of colour, it’s the ‘perfect’ blue or green,” she enthuses.

Big break? Kelly was, naturally, very excited to be approached by John Lewis, but confides that it was hard work to be short-listed: “You have to be multi-award winning even to reach initial selection stage,” she says. The hard work paid off, though, and her range is now on sale in John Lewis’s flagship Oxford Street store, and online.

She also sells through internet television, such as popular shopping channel QVC, and always sees a big spike in sales when her ‘light-up lipsticks’ appear. Her products are now sold as far afield as Denmark and Saudi, and she reveals that she’s surprisingly popular on Italian QVC (she works with an interpreter). Given her early grounding as a performer, and the fact that she is as glamorous as her products, I find this wholly unsurprising.

What impressed me most? Kelly’s products are genuinely designed to make women’s lives easier and I reallly appreciated some of the quirky features that are clever without being at all gimmicky. That light-up lipstick, for example, which illuminates as you twist it open and has a mirrored side, is just perfect for a quick touch up – and makes you wonder why no one else has thought of it!

Gemma Sonley lives in a wonderfully photogenic cottage in Amersham with boyfriend Adam. In the kitchen – with gorgeous views of open countryside – Gemma makes an entirely natural dry skin balm that has developed a cult following and garnered rave reviews for its ability to soothe and tackle problem skin.

Background? Tired and stressed from her busy career as an Executive PA, at the age of just 26, Gemma decided that she wanted to do something for herself – to “not run around after other people.” She enrolled on an aromatherapy and reflexology course and quickly discovered that she had a real flair.

However, despite craving a slower pace of life, Gemma was obliged to take on a whirlwind number of different jobs, from nanny to barmaid, to support herself. But whenever she had a moment spare, she returned to her first love of aromatherapy and began to blend her own formulations in response to the health concerns of friends and family, particularly her mother, who had always suffered from dry skin and eczema.

Some of her experiments didn’t quite make the grade, though; she tells me about the time when her dad had to come home from work to shower, after he was laughed at by his work colleagues… Gemma’s sticky honey treatment wasn’t making his hair thick and shiny in quite the way that she’d promised. By contrast, her dry skin balm was having a dramatic effect on her mum’s eczema, and soon orders were flooding in from friends, and then friends of friends.

Brand ethos? Gemma’s glowing skin is testament to her healthy lifestyle (I nearly fell off my chair when she told me she was 36) and her commitment to natural products is evident in the care she takes over ingredients. She spent a great deal of time, for example, experimenting to develop the most natural preservative she could find and created one entirely derived from natural ingredients.

Big break? In 2013, Gemma’s cream came into the hands of a mother whose son was miserable with eczema. Thrilled with the results and motivated to help in return, the woman, a PR consultant, gave Gemma the details of a prominent journalist on the Sunday Telegraph magazine. A small mention in print had a huge impact on sales. Gemma was overwhelmed with orders, but was still working several jobs. She recounts how a friend asked, bluntly, ‘Why are spending all this time working [for others], when you essentially have the cure for eczema?”
The next day, she asked for a couple of days off from her part-time warehouse job, in order to make up the orders. They told her not to come back. This, she recognises, was the catalyst she needed to throw herself full-time into developing and marketing her range.

“The product has grown along with my confidence,” she says, and she has learned so much about running a business as well as developing the creams. She’s also won several awards including a gold medal at the ‘free from skincare awards for problem skin’ and was recently selected by Holland & Barrett to sell through their website.

What impressed me most? Gemma modestly insists that she doesn’t have a cure for eczema, preferring to say that it “keeps it off the skin.” However, all the passionate and persuasive testimonials I’ve read tell another story. As Gemma herself says, “people are so ecstatic with the results, they just keep sending me photos!” Gemma has a hippy air about her, a description she accepts entirely when I put it to her; you feel she would much prefer to be pottering around her garden with her dog or taking a yoga class with friends. Perhaps not a natural businesswoman, she has nevertheless created a very successful brand, due to the fact that she is so proud of what she has created and the way it can help people. The success that came to her unsought, has now spiralled, and that’s essentially down to the simple fact that people love her cream ... and can’t help raving about it.

Rabia and Samar are close friends, who grew up together, in and out of each other’s houses; they’re so close, in fact, that for most of their childhood they actually thought they were cousins. They share the same mannerisms and often finish each other’s sentences. But as well as friendship they also grew up sharing the same skincare problems – which ultimately led them to combine Samar’s technical knowledge and love of creating natural skincare products with Rabia’s marketing skills, to create new brand Soap’n’Skin.

Background? Samar had become disillusioned with her stressful job as a Property Manager, and was already considering a change of career when she was inspired by an episode of The Apprentice, all about selling soaps and fragranced candles made from natural products. She had an interest in aromatherapy, and the thought that she might be able to turn her hobby into a job was a real eureka moment.

She attended courses and researched voraciously before developing her earliest products. Meanwhile, Rabia was suffering from hormonal changes triggered by pregnancy, and her usual beauty products were stinging and burning horribly. She even resorted to using pure olive oil from her kitchen cupboard in a quest for something non-aggressive. When she tried one of Samar’s creams it soothed her skin instantly and she became hooked – with the products and with an evangelical zeal to spread the word about her friend’s talent.

Brand ethos? Rabia and Samar share a genuine desire to make natural skincare accessible and affordable. The products are packaged tastefully and look much more expensive than they actually are (very Jo Malone-esque). As well as a highly ethical supply chain, you’re also guaranteed freshness, since products are made in micro-batches in a dedicated utility area in Samar’s own home: no sitting around on dusty warehouse shelves for months.

The pair talk a lot about the health- giving properties of their range – “The skin is the largest organ of the body” explains Rabia, “so it makes sense to be careful about the products it’s absorbing.” – and are enthusiastic about educating customers who might be using natural products for the first time. This crops up when I express my only reservation – that their products don’t lather up as much as I’m used to, especially the shampoo; but apparently it’s the nasty sulphates (not unlike the ones that we use in detergents) in ordinary products that promote lathering: ugh! Their products may also seem thinner in consistency because of their high proportion of oils rather than artificial bulking agents.

Big break? As a brand new company, they are in the very earliest stages of making themselves known, but I suspect it won’t be long…

What impressed me most? The pair’s determination to build an ethical brand and their attention to detail is both heartwarming and inspiring. They tell me a story about trying to source local honey (their honey and oat body wash is just gorgeous) and explain how they telephoned every nearby apiary, only to find no one returned their calls. In due course, though, they found some very happy bees in Sherwood Forest, looked after by a non-profit organisation who channel all their revenue back into the upkeep of the hives. Their only non-British supplier is an argan oil farmer in Morocco, a friend-of-a-friend whom they trust to re-distribute profit to the people actually picking the product. And along with the ethics, I love their unusual combinations, such as lavender with lime or rosemary with peppermint.

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