Beauty and skincare may not be front-of-mind for everyone during a pandemic. But Sarah Hamilton’s beauty businesses are both booming, as consumers take the opportunity to pamper, relax, and pop some lippy on for a Zoom call.
Sarah Hamilton co-founded Aussie beauty box subscription startup Bellabox, along with her twin sister Emily. More recently, the pair also co-founded beauty brand Sand & Sky, which ships skincare products all over the world.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Hamilton says it’s been an “interesting” time to be in the beauty industry.
During the first lockdown period in Australia, there was a “flurry of people spending a lot more time online”, she says, and Bellabox saw an uptick in sign-ups.
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“I think it’s about self-care. They want a treat that comes in the mail,” she explains.
And, even for people who have been stood down or made redundant, it’s a relatively affordable treat, she adds,
“It’s almost a perfect time for that.”
In the second lockdown, the same is happening again, but with a clear skew towards Victoria.
“Melbourne has always been strong for us, but we anticipate that that will keep growing during this period.”
On the one hand, people have more time for pampering. Bellabox also offers skincare and haircare products. And more time at home means more time for facemasks, or to test out a new shampoo.
But, at the same time, people are working from home, and it stands to reason that they won’t be wearing makeup as often, right?
That’s not necessarily the case, Hamilton says. People who love makeup are always keen to try something new.
With face masks now mandatory in Victoria, there’s a focus on eye makeup, she adds.
“As much as we think that everyone’s at home in tracksuit pants and wearing no makeup, I just don’t think that’s the case,” she says.
Many women use makeup as a way to “feel like they’re game on”, she adds.
“You can wear lipstick at home.”
Since the startup of the pandemic, Bellabox has seen growth of about 30%, Hamilton says.
But it’s Sand & Sky that has seen more traction, largely because it’s international, she says.
When Italy went into lockdown, for example, sales in the country skyrocketed by about 300%. A few weeks later, the same thing happened in France.
All in all, Sand & Sky has seen revenue growth of about 150% over the past couple of months, Hamilton says. And that number could have been even bigger.
“Our heartache was the logistics,” she says.
“The issue that we had was just that we ran out of stock.”
The business works with warehouses in Australia, Singapore, the UK, the US and Canada. Deliveries through the UK haven’t been going anywhere, Hamilton explains, so the team has had to set up a Spanish warehouse to get things moving again in the EU.
“It’s bloody annoying,” she says.
“Every day is a new challenge … it’s a massive juggling act.”
Hamilton admits she has moments of feeling almost guilty that both Bellabox and Sand & Sky have been doing well during the lockdown period, while so many other people are struggling.
But, both businesses are about self-care, and offering people a moment of reflection, she says. And the team gets an insight into those moments, as consumers send in selfies in face masks and take the opportunity to laugh at themselves and each other.
“It’s the small joys,” she says.
“I think that’s what we need to keep doing right now to keep people’s spirits up.”
At the same time, Ballabox has been gifting boxes to hospital workers, and other people in need throughout the pandemic, and offering support through its strong social communities.
As well as a boost to sales, the startup is seeing “huge engagement” online, Hamilton says.
In many ways, managing that social presence has been “the most important” of part of managing this crisis.
“People want to connect,” she says.
“I can’t get over going on Instagram and doing a live chat and people being interested in talking to me,” she laughs.
“But people want that connection — they’re online, they’re on social a lot more,” she adds.
Of course, the team has had to tailor its content to capture an audience living through a crisis. That means being relevant and relatable, Hamilton explains.
“It has to be fun and it has to be quite raw,” she says.
“People aren’t looking for that super-polished content anymore, because they have to be able to relate to it.”
Everyone has kids wandering into their Zoom chats, everyone is struggling with technical issues and being confronted with tools they’re not 100% sure how to use. That’s all part of the charm now, she says.
“To be able to laugh at yourself is one of the most important things … everyone is in the same position.”
Beauty may not seem like a priority in the COVID-19 era. But, for Hamilton, it’s something that brings people together. Like most business owners, she’s trying to make a positive impact.
“Are we making positive change in the world? It’s always a question that’s hung around in my mind,” she says.
“You come to 2020 — the bushfires, Black Lives Matter, the pandemic — what can we do?”
With so much anxiety and negativity around, there’s something in building a community and bringing some positivity into people’s lives in isolation.
“We’re not saving the world, but we’re doing what we can to create a really positive environment, we’re doing what we can to connect with as many people as possible, and we’re bringing small joys into people’s lives.”
That said, she acknowledges that platitudes are not enough. In fact, both Bellabox and Sand & Sky are preparing to release their corporate social responsibility codes in the near future, outlining some of the ways the business plans to contribute to social change on a deeper level.
“Yes we want to inject those positive moments, but we want to do more,” Hamilton says.
“It’s not enough to just be fun … but I do think it’s super important.”