Today’s guest is a musical theater performer turned makeup artist, and now CEO of the clean and green cosmetic line, Erin’s Faces. Erin is not only all hustle, she’s all heart, and I’m delighted to have her join us. Welcome Erin.
We discuss how Erin went from being a makeup artist to the CEO of the cult beauty brand. I learned it wasn’t without flaws. From packaging her products to learning the best way to fill a bottle there was lots to do and she was on her own at the very beginning. There was even the time Erin had to call her Dad for advice to deal with an overstock issue after a deal went south.
Don’t know what clean green beauty is? Erin gives us all a primer on The challenge is there aren’t any regulations on clean and green beauty so many brands can make claims. For Erin, it’s about using plant based ingredients to avoid potentially toxic chemicals that may be harmful. In the early days it was difficult because even if clean beauty products existed they didn’t hold up quite as well on the red carpet.
Early on Erin recognized her strengths and rather than try to figure things out at home, her first products all went to the lab for forumulation and testing. When asked if Erin remembered her first sale she recounts a story of returning to her home in Texas to host a party for friends and family to sell $2000 in product to buy a new laptop.
From humble beginnings to a blowout during Black Friday Sale, you’ll want to hear more about his incredible startup story in the beauty industry. It didn’t happen over night and influencer marketing plays a part of their authentic social media strategy you can follow on their Instagram page https://instagram.com/erinsfaces.
How on Earth did you transition from a makeup artist to being the CEO of a cult clean beauty line?
Erin: Very clunkily. I had started in retail, working at makeup and skincare counters in New York City after moving here to do musical theater and I needed a job that was flexible. So I started doing that and then I started down a more editorial path with makeup. I found that I just wasn’t emotionally fulfilled by making really beautiful people look more beautiful.
I wanted more purpose. So the seed for Erin’s Faces was planted with that. I didn’t know anything about building a business, having a brand, sourcing anything and I learned everything by doing everything wrong three different ways. [inaudible 00:01:58] was the right way and it happened with everything.
Tell me one thing that you did wrong three times that you remember.
Basic things like how to best package [inaudible 00:02:11] an item and how to best fill an item, a bottle because I hand fill everything. And where to invest. We were… It’s like the royal we. It was just me for seven years and we’re about nine years and change in, and now I have people, but at the beginning it was just me. I was approached by a website at one point that wanted to carry our stuff online and they had minimum requirements that we had to have stock on hand. And it was a huge investment for me to do it because it was all drop shipping. It was on the honor system. But if I tell you that I’ll have stock on hand, then I am going to have it. So A, they had the requirement of stock on hand when it was drop shipping, which is stupid. And B, I did this big investment of all this makeup and skincare that they wanted me to have way more than I sold normally, that I normally had on my shelves. And then literally the next month after I had purchased everything, they folded.
Sherri: My God.
Erin: And I was like, “What do I do?” And I called my dad who is not financially involved in our company, but is a smart financial person. And I was like, “I don’t know what to do.” And he was like, “Okay, well, a lot of that stuff is going to be good for a while. So don’t worry, you’ve got a lot of blush and eye-shadow. That has a long shelf life. Then just push the stuff that doesn’t, so you can move it and get rid of it.” Not get rid of it, but get it sold so I don’t have to throw it out.
So I learned in that moment, don’t do things that feel too big. Or if you do, you have to be able to handle it if it doesn’t work out.
I think I’m not someone that worst case scenarios things very often, but I think it is intelligent to do that. If I do this and the world falls apart, which is happening right now.
Sherri: Right now, yep.
Erin: Then what will happen to your business? Will it be able to survive? And that’s just not something that I was used to doing because I was so like, “I’m going to move to New York City and sing songs and be on stage because I love it.” I’m very heart led. So I think that practical side has taken a longer amount of time to settle in. It’s very much with me now, but in the beginning it was not. Its a long answer.
Sherri: I have the same relationship with my dad and I think..
Erin: Yeah. That’s right.
Sherri: Yep. And I’m a creative and it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to just go do this.” And it’s like now all of a sudden you’re doing accounting and you’re just doing…
Erin: Yeah. Audits. And you’re like, “Okay, great. I love to do this much math. Awesome.”
Sherri: Or employee benefits and you don’t even know what that means, but yeah. So we’re lucky that we have advisors like our dads, because there’s no one else you could trust more.
Erin: Yes. It’s such a gift.
Sherri: So you turned me on to clean green beauty. You know me, I don’t wear that much makeup. I don’t even know… But tell people who don’t know ..
What is clean green beauty?
Erin: No, I think you’re saying it right. The challenge with clean or green beauty is there really isn’t a firm line in the sand for what it constitutes. I think people make claims, but none of it is legally binding. If that makes sense.
So anyone can say they’re clean and green. I think for me, what we’ve chosen to do is be plant based as much as possible. We started as a conventional brand. So some of our products that are from the original lineup are cleaner than conventional beauty products, but maybe aren’t as clean as the cleanest of the clean, if that makes sense.
So they don’t have parabens, synthetic fragrance isn’t happening, petroleum and petrolatum are not ingredients that are happening. Stuff like that. That’s really basic stuff. But there’s a whole ingredient deck that we don’t use. And I think chemical sunscreens, I have a blog post on that.
If you’ve never heard of that, you can go to our website and look at it. I just started… I’m not speaking very eloquently, but I had a very firm background in skincare and makeup and doing makeup, no one was using clean brands on the red carpet or at Fashion Week when I was doing makeup for those things.
They just were not mainstream because if they existed, they didn’t hold up well.
And so it wasn’t my background, but as I learned more about petroleum and lip gloss and how you eat whatever’s on your mouth, so maybe petroleum in your body isn’t good because it’s linked to this, that and the other. Then I didn’t want to sell a petroleum based lip gloss anymore. And then you learn about dyes and your skincare and sulfates in your face wash and this and this and all those.
We had cleansers that had sulfates, dyes and synthetic fragrance. And as I learned more about that, as the clean movement became more evident me and I wanted to learn more about it because I feel really responsible about what we’re putting on people’s skin and what we’re asking people to give us their money for.
I didn’t have a lot of money when I started my brand and any time I bought anything it was a really intentional purchase. And so I take people trusting me with their money really seriously. So I think that clean beauty brands tend to feel that way. And I think you tend to find them in the smaller indie brands. That seems to be where most of them are growing from. I don’t see a lot of big brands doing it, which is a shame because they could change the entire industry, but I’m sure they’ll get there soon.
Sherri: I think it’s a big machine to navigate when you’re that big.
Erin: It is.
How did you go about figuring out how to formulate and test and produce your first product?
Erin: So my first product is a brush. So there was no testing. Well, there was testing but there was no formulating. With the stuff that actually had a formula, I worked with labs. I was not someone that mixed everything up in my kitchen and then had to figure out how to scale it.
I went straight to labs because I felt confident that that was not where my talents were. I didn’t study chemistry. I know how I want things to feel. I know how I want them to perform. I know ingredients. I know a whole lot more now than I knew then. And we do have some products that we make in house because I just made them for me and then friends and family would want to take it home.
Like our mosquito repellent. We make that at the office. And our scrubs, we make those. But generally speaking for the serums and the moisturizers and the cleansers and things like that, we will work with labs who have chemistry degrees.
Sherri: That’s so crazy. Okay. Okay. So I remember in my business, my first, I guess I would call, a campaign or brand that actually handed me a check
Do you remember what your first online sale and what it felt like?
Erin: I remember… There are two things that come to mind with this. So I started Erin’s Faces in November of 2011 in a party room in Tribeca and my friend’s apartment building and 20 or 30 friends came, which felt enormous to me. And they bought stuff and then it crickets.
It came to me to go to Texas because I had family there because that’s where I’m from and do like a Mary Kay party for lack of a better way of saying it. And so I did that in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. And I just knew that I had to sell $2,000 of product because my margins were not good at the time.
They were 50%. And I knew that I had to sell $2,000 worth of product so I could cover my flight and buy a new computer because my computer was dying. So I needed to sell 2000 to take home 1000, which would cover my flight and a new computer. And the first night we did one, four people came and I think I sold $150. And I was like, “This is terrible. I don’t know how it’s going to work.”
And I had been really clear that my motive and having Erin’s Faces was to love people, which sounds cheesy, but that’s what I wanted to do. And so I was like, look, if that’s your motive, then it doesn’t matter. It’s not about… Your motive is not to make money. Your motive was to love people. So fricking act like it and get it together. And I was like, all right. So then the next night we made $1,800.
And through the course of the six or seven that I had that week, I think I sold $9,000. Yeah. And every night I would lie in bed and just cry because I was so overcome with the demonstration of supply, for lack of a better way of saying it, and how well it was going and how provided I felt. I’m churchy. So I just felt really provided for, and I felt like I had gotten a really good check on that first night and it really helped me set my course. So that comes to mind.
And then the other thing that comes to mind is we always do a Black Friday sale. And I remember I had just moved to New Jersey. This was four years ago, three, four years ago. And I was looking at last year’s numbers and I was like, “Okay hopefully it will be up a little bit.”
Because that’s what you hope. And I didn’t have anybody here that I knew or worked with really yet. And the order started coming and on the first day, Friday, I was so excited. I was like, “This is awesome.” We’re doing great. And then they kept coming. Because we did it Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. And they kept coming. And by Sunday I was crying a bit.
I’m crying a lot and a lot of these stories. But we did three times the amount that we had done the year before, which is amazing, but I had no idea how I was going to do it because I hadn’t stocked the shelves appropriately. I didn’t have people to help me get orders out. It was very overwhelming. It was a wonderful problem to have, but I was very, very overwhelmed.
It reminds me of, there was a commercial like that, a GoDaddy commercial. They put their site up and all of a sudden everything is coming in and they’re like “Now what?” Yeah
Erin: Yeah. It was very much like that. And it’s awesome. And mind you, there were years before that, where it was nothing. But that particular year is where I was. “Okay. This is the thing. And we’re doing okay. Okay, great.”
Sherri: Yeah. And I think it’s because 2011, now we’re in a different place. You were probably right ahead ahead ahead of what you… I also launched in the influencer space in 2010 and yeah. It was years of crickets.
So if you don’t give up and you believe in something and you do it with passion and purpose. But the other funny thing is you keep saying me and we, it was just you. I used to have a fake employee named Amy Miller.
Sherri: Because I was embarrassed and she had a fake email when people would actually respond to an email, Amy Miller would write back because she was employee number two.
Erin: Yep. I love it. I’ve definitely done that too. And she sometimes still works for us. So I’m not going to say her name.
Sherri: Okay. So I’m just obsessed with the content because forgetting influencer marketing, you would just on social and everything that you do with your content is so real and it touches on so many different heartstrings.
Where do you find the inspiration for your social media content and how do you go about doing this?
Erin: That’s so nice of you to say, first of all, thank you very much. Because I don’t really feel like that all the time. But I think I don’t plan it, which I don’t think is mentally healthy for me. But I think that I just go, “How am I feeling right now?” And I plan some…
I’ll plan emails that we’re going to write, but for social, I don’t really plan it. I just go, this is what I feel talking about right now. And I try and I think it’s important to me again, it’s that trust factor that I really want to build trust with our clients. And if I’m feeling something that feels uncomfortable, I think I have to be comfortable sharing it.
I think if it feels uncomfortable, it’s probably pretty important to share because I’m probably not the only person feeling that way. And sometimes it doesn’t really feel it is in line with what I’m doing. For instance, I wrote a blog post that I think it was called Am I Too Big To Run A Beauty Company?
Sherri: Yeah. Obsessed. That was a great… Obsessed.
Erin: Thank you. And I had known I wanted to write about that as a blog post, but I was like, “I just don’t know how to do this?” Because in the beauty industry, I don’t look like the people that are marketing beauty to you. I just don’t. And I used to be thinner too. So I think the struggle of that feeling like, “Would we be doing better if I was skinny.”
But I have had that thought like, “Would we be more successful if I was thinner?” I would look at pictures and if my stomach was showing from a side angle and I wasn’t sucking in, I was like, “Well, that’s going to get cropped.” And I was like, this is so annoying, who cares? And I really wanted to examine why I felt that way. What was the messaging that I had received and allowed to influence my feelings, for lack of a better word.
I think it does have something to do with my business. It does have the concept of beauty. And what does that mean? And it actually was really helpful because I went back through and was redoing our site just because we had to update it. And I was like,
“I don’t want to send anyone the message that they need to change something about themselves to be more physically appealing.”
Erin: So I deep dove into every single product description that we have because I was like, “I don’t want to contribute to this.” Unfortunately I don’t think when I went back through, I was grateful that I don’t think we really were doing that, but there was still room where we could clean it up.
Sherri: No pun intended?
Erin: No pun intended. I think that it just helps me shape how I’m talking about myself, how I’m thinking about myself and then what messaging I’m sending out to our community about a very sensitive, a loaded topic. And it actually was the inspiration for a podcast that we haven’t launched yet. Because we were going to launch it on March 15th.
And so we didn’t do that. But it’s all about women’s stories and what it’s going to be called Beauty Full Stories. And it’s all about women’s stories and how they’ve felt limited by societal beauty standards, where that came from and how they’ve worked past that or are in the process of working past it. So we’ll launch it eventually. But yeah, it’s a long answer. All my answers are long Sherri. This is probably going to be your longest episode. Sorry.
Sherri: It’s all good. I want to call out that article. Can you just tell everyone where they can read that article? Because I really think it was just, it’s amazing.
Erin: Thank you. Yeah, It’s at erinsfaces.com, if you go to the blogs it’s I think it’s called, Am I too Big to Run a Beauty Company?
How, if at all, are influencers part of your marketing mix?
Erin: I think they’re definitely… I think they have to be. We have really started to really have strong relationships with their clean beauty influencers. That’s who we turn to the most, I think we have a lot of room in the just generic beauty space to reach out to those people.
I think I’m a little intimidated by the that, but also excited by that because I think clean beauty is such a small part of the beauty world. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for us. It does feel overwhelming to try and figure out who is going to be the right fit because we don’t have…
Only recently did we create a budget for influencers and so it’s not big. So we can’t just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, if we’re giving you money, it needs to work out otherwise it sucks. And I think that’s true for anybody, but I think if you really just don’t have a big budget your money really needs to stretch.
So I think we’ve found the most success with people who may or may not have a huge following, but their following is very engaged. Obviously if they’re following is bigger and they’re engaged, that’s really great, but it’s hard because you have these people and they have rates and you’re like, “Am I going to get that back?” And then I think I had to shift to be like, “Well, if I’m doing this person and they’re awesome, and they’re selling a ton of my product for me, and then person B is not selling a ton of my product, but they are influential. And they’re basically another touch point for a client and they’re seeing it again.”
And I know that’s normal marketing thought, but for me, I’ve just been just trying to keep my head above water with everything that everything had to return a hundred percent.
Sherri: Yeah. And I’m sure there’s ways that you can do stuff for whether it’s on performance basis or for barter with smaller influencers.
What are some of the unique challenges that you face when it comes to influencer marketing specifically with green clean?
Erin: Everyone has different standards. So some of your people are super squeaky and some of them are just kind of squeaky. Some of them are vegan only. So our line isn’t exclusively vegan. And then some people are okay with bees wax and some people aren’t. So I think that’s a challenge. The other challenge is these people, for the most part, are not makeup artists and they’re not estheticians.
So their opinions are not always what I would say. If that makes sense. Sometimes they’ll talk about a product, whether it’s ours or not, and I’ve used the product and they talk about how to use it. And I’m like, “No.” And sometimes they talk about something and I’m like, “That’s great. That’s really cool.” And I think that’s probably with anybody. But yeah. I would the ingredient limitations with green people are probably the biggest barrier to entry if you’re not a clean brand, it’s hard. They will not talk to you.
And they’re also… I think this is probably true of most, really good influencers. They will not… They’re not just for hire. They take what they’re doing really seriously. They only want to share brands that they feel really passionately about. They won’t just do it for a dollar.
Sherri: Yep. No, I agree.
Erin: And those are my favorite people to work with. They’re the most high maintenance people to work with, but they’re the best because their community believes them because they get contacted every day with opportunities and they’re like, “No. No. No. Nope, don’t want it. Yes.”
And so, whatever the yes is there, people are like, “I’m going to buy that right now.”
Sherri: And have you ever thought, this is totally off topic, but to go… We’ve done a lot of work with people who are outdoorsy that are very nature driven.
Erin: Absolutely. I think we were… So we launched our mascara during this pandemic and I thought we weren’t going to launch it because I thought nobody would want us to, I thought it would sound tone deaf to do it.
I pulled our people on Facebook and Instagram and they’re all like, “Please freaking launch it. You need something to not be canceled.” And I was like, “Great.” So we launched it. And while we were thinking about it back a couple of months before I was like, “We should reach out to exercise people. We should reach out to hikers. We should reach out to…”
We had a whole list of different kinds of people that we could reach out to that are not in our general demo. And I think for us, it just became a matter of manpower, lady power, our staff shrunk with this, half of our people are staying home by choice.
And so yes, the short answer is, yes. We got cut at the knees a little bit because of the times and money. I was like, “I don’t know if we have money to extend to these people. Because I don’t know if we’re going to get shut down.”
Sherri: Right. The first few… Yeah. Cause you know, the first year. Yeah. So I know we keep talking about it. And I know it’s affecting every business.
How has the quarantine impacted your marketing efforts or any of your efforts apart from the mascara?
Erin: Yeah. We ended up launching a Cleansing Gel for Hands with Alcohol is the name of it. And I initially was super resistant to doing the equivalent of a hand sanitizer because I did not want to make money off of people’s fear. And that’s what it felt like in the beginning. And then I was like, “Well, you can’t buy it and you can’t buy the ingredients to make it.
We have the ingredients to make it because we make it for our team.” So I was like, “All right.” And so I pulled my people. I’m always pulling my people, just check the pulse. And I said, Would this be helpful to you if we made this?” And they were like, “Yes.” So we’ve been making it since March and every time we make it, we sell out of it in an hour.
It’s hundreds of pieces. Thousands of pieces on a couple of the batches, because we’re not big. And it just sells out. And the reason that it’s doing well A, is because nobody could get it in the beginning and then B, they’re coming back for more because the ingredients are good and it doesn’t dry your hands out the way most of them do.
So that’s been helpful. And that felt very purposeful because we got so many emails about people that felt safe now because of that, because they couldn’t go to the grocery store without something and they had nothing, they couldn’t buy it. So anyway, that felt really good. We leaned into our bar soaps, marketing that, we don’t really market those outside of holiday very hard.
But I was like, “Y’all we make these and they’re not good for the office because it’s a bar soap and you shouldn’t be touching something that is shared, but at the home they’re wonderful because they’re really nourishing and they don’t dry your hands out.” Because everyone’s hands, think about beginning of April, your hands are starting to fall apart because you were washing them all the time and hand sanitizing them all the time. And I feel like that ebbed as the quarantine got tighter and everyone was staying home, I think that’s going to start happening again when we start going out into the world.
So we leaned into that and we leaned into our body bombs as hand creams, just looking at what we have that was working really well for us and talking about it and just being really honest. And in those days in the beginning on social media with all of this, I was just like, “I can’t talk about lip gloss on here. I just can’t.” And so I was just really honest about what was going on for me, what was going on for our business and stuff like that. And that seemed to work. And people bought stuff. So that was amazing.
Sherri: That is amazing. So I could talk about lip gloss because your peppermint, I don’t know if it’s, what do you call it? Is it a lips gloss?
Erin: The lip balm?
Sherri: So your peppermint lip balm and your rose spray are game-changing because the lip balm makes your lips feel all puckered up. And then the rose spray just wakes me up and just refreshes me all throughout the day. So those two products are my favorite.
I want to ask you what are some ways during this time that with your products or better self care tips that women or men, or anyone can do to take care of themselves?
Erin: I think because we’re all eating our feelings and probably not exercising as much and we’re so stressed, people are breaking out a lot. A lot of our clients are having a ton of breakouts. And I think the feeling is also what’s the point. And so I don’t know that self…
That whole self care, such a weird thing to say, but I think taking care of yourself is important. And I think the small act of brushing your teeth and washing your face and putting some moisturizer on is a kind thing to do for yourself that isn’t hard and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. So I think that’s… I would just say, do your skincare routine, whatever it is, do it.
And if you don’t have one, just start with washing your face and putting something hydrating on afterwards. I also feel that now that the weather’s pretty, everyone’s going outside. So starting to do a daily sunscreen, physical SPF, not a chemical SPF, I have a whole blog post about it if you don’t know what that means.
It’s really important because of all of the concerns that can come from sun damage health wise. And also, I think the Skin Cancer Foundation has a stat that 90% of aging is due to the sun and that’s inclusive of fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and elasticity. And so if you don’t like that, then put sunscreen on.
Sherri: I find it so interesting. I’ve been working at home for many years and I think at the beginning of this, everyone was like, “I’m working out and I’m eating well.” And now all of a sudden you look at social and all those posts of everyone working out are dwindling away. And I think it’s true. I think that there’s just… People are struggling in their own ways. And I think that it’s going to be very hard. I keep focusing on re-entry, what is that going to look like? I know from working at home, when you’re at home, it becomes harder and harder to do your hair, to get dressed.
Sherri: I think it’s so important. And I think that, yeah, the little things like waking up, washing your face and it becomes like you’re in a subliminal sweatshop of work and then you just lose track of what’s important. So thank you.
Name and influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do?
Erin: Well, it’s really funny because I have listened to your podcast since it came out. And I’ve always thought about this question. I’ve been like, “I’m not ashamed of anybody that I follow.” I feel really good about everybody. So I don’t have a good answer. What I think people might have some judgment about is the amount of Billie Eilish memes and videos that I watch on Instagram and the amount of ballroom dancing that randomly has started to show up.
I have more of Bachata videos than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And I think I watched three. So now I get Billie Eilish. I will watch anything that she is on. I don’t feel bad about it though. I feel really good about it.
And Bachata videos. Yeah. Those are the two things. Everybody I follow, I feel really good about.
That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Erin. Thanks for everything that you’re doing. You are just the kindest, most amazing. And I just wish you everything. Great success and great love and great happiness because that’s what you deserve.
Erin: Thank you Sherri. I feel the same way about you.