A Life More Fabulous

23rd March 2018

At the age when most of us are thinking about putting our feet up, Tricia Cusden set up a business from scratch and dared to take on the might of the agesist beauty industry. Lisa Botwright finds out more…

At the age of 65, self-confessed makeup junkie Tricia Cusden brought home an expensive selection of high end cosmetics after being convinced by the advertising message that they’d make her look ‘fresh and luminous’. They did nether. Disgusted, she threw them in a drawer – disappointed not only with the waste of money, but also at the way she felt the beauty industry was failing older women. “I find it incredibly insulting that everything comes with an anti-ageing label: a casually ageist assumption that I must be unhappy in my own skin,” she tells me. “Ageing is a natural process, there’s nothing wrong with me. I want to look better, not younger. I resent the implication that I want to ‘fight’ ageing, as if I’m not trying hard enough.”

Tricia is certain that the youth-dominated industry doesn’t recognise the specific issues facing post-menopausal women: how skin becomes thinner and more absorbent, and the fact that a drop in melanin causes ‘fading’ – the loss of contrast between features and facial skin. “We are told in articles by (young) beauty editors that ‘less is more’ when it comes to older makeup, but I believe that older faces need makeup more than younger ones. All that fading can easily be corrected with the right makeup.”

Around the same time, Tricia was also facing-up to a crossroads in her personal life. She’d given up a demanding career as an Executive Coach to help care for her critically ill newborn granddaughter, India. When the crisis passed (India’s now a thriving six year-old), Tricia was at a loss as to how to fill her time. “When India was ill, I happily embraced not working. But being around sick children gave me a powerful sense of life being short. I was inspired by a sense of wanting to do something new and exciting to get me out of the house.”

She decided to combine her ‘two loves’ (makeup and business) with her one ‘hate’ (the ageism of the beauty industry) to launch her own business. “I felt like Dyson must have done. I just kept thinking I could do better; I was frustrated.” In the spring of 2013, she floated her idea of creating a capsule cosmetics range for older women to her two daughters, and, galvanised by their enthusiasm, Look Fabulous Forever was born.

“I came at the project as a consumer; I had no [product] knowledge at all. Happily, lots of things came together serendipitously to conspire to make the business a success.” Tricia began by searching online to find a manufacturer able to make bespoke ranges in small quantities. She found someone in Suffolk, close to where her brother lives (“so I always had somewhere to stay”) and liked the manufacturer on sight. “He’s a great character. He’s my age and he understood exactly what I was trying to do. He believed in me.”

At the end of the first year of online trading, she was thrilled to turn over £100,000. Four years later, it’s closer to £4million. A staggering validation for someone who was told by a beauty insider weeks before its launch that her business idea ‘would never work’. Tricia confides how she was told patronisingly, “only the young are interested in makeup and if this was a good idea, the beauty industry would already have done it”.

Tricia believes her success is down to two simple things: “I identified a need that wasn’t being met, and I make good products that work.” I can certainly vouch for the second. I’ve been buying her award-winning face primer on repeat ever since I tried it a year ago, and her business has a very low returns rate, despite offering a no-quibble returns policy. But I believe it’s more than that. It’s her self-assured clarity in cutting through the bewildering choice on the market, and the charismatic way she gets her message out. Her online tutorials are full of friendly, confidence-boosting tips, and her blogs nail that authentic mix of down-to-earth, approachable friendliness with cool-girl appeal. “I do write about makeup and style, but I also write about health and wellbeing and attitude, and occasionally I’ll go completely off-piste.” A blog post about her love of fast cars, called ‘Speed Freak Granny’ is her most popular one to date.

There’s definitely an intimacy and an immediacy that comes with mastering the tools available to promote a business online. Having followed her blogs for so long, now that I’m meeting her in person, I feel a simultaneous ‘familiarity’, combined with an embarrassing degree of star-struck deference.

After refining her range and developing the ethos of the brand in the very early stages, Tricia felt it was important to show how well the products worked on ‘real’ older faces. She made two tutorial videos, and the producer suggested she post them on YouTube. Her initial reaction was entirely dismissive. She wasn’t a well-known makeup artist and she’d enlisted her friends, rather than hiring models. Who would watch them?

She couldn’t have been more wrong. Within four months, the videos were being consumed by thousands of women and widely shared through social media. Tricia the trailblazer had busted another myth – that older women would never buy or engage online – and on the way had unwittingly become the Zoella of the baby boomer generation.

Her parallels with Zoella, the 20-something YouTube sensation beloved of teenagers all over the world (and recently named by Forbes Magazine as the most powerful beauty vlogger) don’t end there. On the back of a national newspaper article that compared her with the young vlogger, Tricia was approached by several agents, inspired by and keen to emulate the same success that Zoella had achieved with her debut novel 'Girl Online'.

Tricia found herself in the enviable position of being invited to write a book, and even more impressive, having her choice of publishers. She plumped for Orion. “The Editor got me and got ‘it’. She knew the design process was important to me, and that I wanted a luxury product. Something that would pay tribute to the women who read it.” Tricia began writing in June 2016 and claims with characteristic tenacity that it’s been a pleasurable experience. “I don’t find writing difficult. I live alone and can work flexibly. What else would I be doing?” she laughs.

'Living the Life More Fabulous' is awash with empowering tidbits on an emotional and practical level. Business-like-style-tips sit side by side with personal stories of rediscovery and renewal. “This attitude that if you haven’t made it by 40, you should give-up is completely bonkers,” she says. “We’re living longer and we can still live useful lives. Retirement comes from a word that means withdrawal, but we should see this time as ‘renaissance’ not ‘retirement’; as a blessing, not a curse.”

While Tricia accepts that an essential element of enjoying being older is good health and recognises that she’s fortunate in this way, she tells me this hasn’t always been the case. A recent health scare gave her the impetus she needed to ‘get off her ever-spreading bottom’, and in the book she reflects that, ‘after a lifetime of avoiding anything approximating exercise, I accept that I either engage with some form of physical activity or find myself on the slow-slide to ever-decreasing painful decrepitude.” ‘Nordic Walking’, we learn, is her current favourite activity. She believes it’s all down to setting personal goals, rather than cowing to a ‘nagging relative or bossy doctor’. One of her deepest motivations to stay fit and active is a desire to dance with her grandson, Patrick, on her ninetieth birthday party in 2037, which will coincide with her daughter’s sixtieth and Patrick’s thirtieth.

Health, beauty and wellbeing are all connected, according to the Look Fabulous Forever philosophy. The daily ritual of applying makeup is, for Tricia, not only pleasurable, but an act of empowerment. Far from an ‘ineffectual activity’ – she unapologetically asserts that it’s an essential way to feel more confident to ‘face the day’. “Nothing will stop us from ageing,” says Tricia, “it’s a physical impossibility. But we can make the outside look better.”

As for the omnipresent beauty industry, Tricia senses the hint of a shift in the zeitgeist. “I believe they’re just beginning to listen now, but I’m still cynical about their approach.” As she points out, Dior have just appointed 25 year old supermodel Cara Delevingne as the face of its new anti-ageing skincare range. It seems there’s still a way to go.

And what’s next for the pro-ageing champion? ‘I’ve been invited to LA to help fill the Oscars’ goodie bags,” she tells me excitedly. (At the time of going to press, she’s just returned from America and a new blog entry diaries her A-list adventures.) She’s also keen to continue to invest in her brand by building her team – which includes her two daughters – to be ‘the best we can’. “I’m proud of creating jobs, and that there are people here who wouldn’t be if I hadn’t done what I did. Starting a business at 65 took a big leap of faith. I knew I was going to be judged, and I could have been found wanting.” She shrugs. “I just told myself, what have I got to lose?”

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