The remarkable rise of "Indie beauty" – and what it means for the entire industry

In days gone by, any mention of the beauty industry would have quickly evoked images of those brands which, without fail, line the shelves and units of the world’s drugstores, supermarkets and makeup stores. L’Oréal, Maybelline and Max Factor – not to mention those many brands that fall under the Unilever umbrella – are just a few examples of the prevailing ‘face’ of beauty.

And, of course, it goes without saying that these brands are almost guaranteed to remain a major part of the beauty industry’s landscape. Still, the near-future of the beauty industry may well prove to be the unlikely conclusion to the question, ‘What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” For, beyond the drugstores and the beauty salons, a new revolution in favour of indie beauty products and brands has been gradually gaining traction.

Online, this new movement has found an equal foothold in exactly those places that have always served the beauty industry so well. For instance, according to the industry-leading website builder, Wix, blogs remain one of the most popular types of websites – and continue to offer an invaluable resource for those emerging onto the scene. The billion-dollar brand Glossier (founded just two years ago) offers an impeccable example of this, having famously begun on the beauty blog ‘Into the Gloss’.

Similarly, other ‘traditional’ online avenues, such as social media and, of course, massively influential content sharing sites like YouTube (and, much more recently, TikTok) continue to play a pivotal role in the rise and fall of ‘cult’ beauty products.

So, if nothing has changed, why has indie beauty gained such a foothold in the existing landscape – and what does it mean for the entire industry? Read more below.

How it happened

There is no single, straightforward answer to this question. In many ways, the movement is driven by younger consumers; as millennials and Gen Z become increasingly brand conscious, every industry – from beauty to travel to clothing to food – is undergoing a protracted stay beneath the microscope and, as a result, the micro-businesses of the world are getting their fair share of the spotlight. The new generation of consumer does not want to feel like the old generation of consumer; all at once, these individuals are seeking better products made to a high quality, and an unwavering commitment to the wider sociocultural milieu.

Within the past year, with the job market undergoing an unprecedented change, and thousands of people left with the time, space and, in some cases, necessity to return to life’s ‘drawing board’ and forge a new path in life, a major rise has been noted within the international start-up economy.

According to the Financial Times, business formation applications in the US alone increased by more than 80% between September 2019 and 2020. Countries in Europe and Asia, too, have seen notable increases throughout the pandemic, even in spite of a rocky global economy and increased practical hardships in imports and shipping.

Similar issues that have been posed to the beauty industry for many years now are also reaching a boiling point – one that small businesses seem faster to address. Inclusivity, cruelty free, and sustainability will, no doubt, prove to be driving forces behind ongoing change indefinitely – and the small business is, in general, best positioned to pay heed.

What it means for the industry

Whatever balance is naturally struck between the world’s long-standing beauty giants, those newer (though highly profitable brands), and small, independent, small-order businesses, one thing remains sure: those who can take a proactive, rather than a reactionary, approach to the new generation consumers’ interests, demands, and priorities will undoubtedly position itself at the head of change and, as a result, progress.

The benefits of ‘shopping small’, and of supporting individually-run businesses rather than umbrella corporations are, in addition to changing consumer habits in-the-now, shedding light on the ways in which those larger companies are falling short. Just as the fashion industry’s colour washing problems are pushing consumers further from the high street chain, or the indomitable fast-fashion website, an increasing emphasis on the small beauty brand is serving as a spotlight on the insufficiencies of those most recognisable brands.

It seems almost certain that content distribution platforms like TikTok and YouTube – and, in general, the growing ease with which creatives can take matters of content creation into their own hands, and gain immediate access to their target markets – will play a central role in the future of the beauty industry.

And, even though the beauty titans are unlikely to ever be unseated, it looks as though the influence of small business beauty trends will continue to grow in significance for the entire industry. The use of recognisable ingredients (and a transparency concerning their use, and quality), an emphasis on local sourcing, organic ingredients, and limited, easily understood product ranges will all continue to gain traction among buyers, and underpin a new, sustainable future for the industry.

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