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  • Writer's pictureSam MacKinnon

Knook #25: Tailor Skincare

Tailor Skincare Knook NZ
Tailor Skincare is one of New Zealand’s leading skincare companies. Photo: Supplied

Skincare is a huge industry - it accounts for more than 23% of the total revenue in the beauty industry.

On top of that, consumers are increasingly driven to buy clean and organic products as they look to keep an eye on what they put in and on their bodies.

Tailor Skincare is one of New Zealand’s leading skincare companies, founded on clean and natural principles.

Says Sara Quilter, Tailor Skincare’s Founder and CEO: “Tailor Skincare is a clean, conscious skincare company. We’re clean because we use natural, simple and effective formulations, and we’re conscious because we’re cruelty-free, eco-conscious, and community driven.”

I asked Sara how Tailor Skincare got started.

“I spent some time in California about 8 years ago, working in the biotech startup scene, looking at how to bring an organic fertiliser to the market. I became really interested in how to create healthy soil, what the current fertilizers absorbed into our soil, and what's the importance of compost,” says Sara.

“So why didn’t I go down the biotech route? I’ve been obsessed with skincare for a long time - as a uni student, the two things I spent money on were skincare products and wine.

“Through working in biotech, I started to think about chemicals in food and products. I really questioned skincare - there’s some pretty nasty chemicals in them, and I became increasingly conscious about why and how things are made.

“So I started playing around in California, making facemasks and moisturizers, and researching how to make other products. I did some additional cosmetic chemical study, and realised that there was a lack of rigorous testing in the industry to make sure the products are safe and effective. Skincare is remarkably unregulated and it’s up to the companies to self-regulate. I had a desire to educate customers about what’s in products and how skincare is made.

“I came back to New Zealand and started sharing products with friends and family and they said they were great, and I should start selling them.

“I started Tailor Skincare in 2012 - I studied psychology at uni so I was working as a support worker and working on Tailor in my downtime. Growth was really hard - the first sales were people buying the product because they love me, not because they love the product.

“When I first started, I was making products in my kitchen in Taranaki. I was selling through Facebook and it was great timing because Facebook advertising wasn’t a thing yet so there was some real organic growth - when we posted something, it reached 100 percent of our followers.

“I started manufacturing in a cake mixer to make our batches, and then we scaled up to a concrete mixer which gave us the ability to do bigger batches,” Sara laughs.

“I moved back to Wellington and we started contract manufacturing in 2015. We obviously got started in e-commerce, but we’ve also been growing in retail here so we’re now 50 percent brick and mortar.”

Tailor Skincare Sara Quilter Knook NZ
Tailor Skincare founder and CEO, Sara Quilter. Photo: Supplied

I asked Sara what she sees as the key factor to Tailor Skincare’s success so far.

“I think the biggest factor has been ‘stickability’. It’s been a scary, hard and exhausting journey - I’m not doing this for money, and that hasn’t been the motivator for me to run the business. I’m doing it because I’m passionate about skincare that’s good for people and good for the planet.”

I asked Sara what challenges she faced in building Tailor.

“Initially our move from me manufacturing in my kitchen to contract manufacturing was really challenging - particularly around lead times. We went from a lead time of 1 to 2 weeks when I was making stuff in my kitchen, to a lead time of 4 weeks once the materials arrive at the factory - so about 4 months from ordering materials to having the product in hand,” says Sara.

“We also had higher costs on packaging and unit orders - we went from orders of 150 to 10,000 units. There’s other challenges around sales prediction to make sure you’re not fluctuating between making too much and not enough. We also have to self-fund the manufacturing, so our revenue isn’t realised on our investment for 6-12 months after we’ve paid for it.

“But now the main challenge is wanting to grow faster than business can self fund. We’ve got a massive vision but we’ve had to hold our horses. We’re ready to amplify our growth now.

“Finally, the New Zealand market is so small. We’re somewhat niche so we have to work harder for customers. We’re doubling down on NZ - and then will be looking to partner with premium beauty retailers with a global reach.

“As we’ve faced these challenges, I like to say I'm solutions-focused, not a problem solver - I'm focused on the outcome, not the cause. And that’s helped me push through the pains of growing the business.”

Tailor Skincare moisturiser Knook NZ

As Tailor has grown, I asked Sara what she sees as the ratio of work ethic to luck.

“We’ve worked so hard to get where we are but there’s definitely an element of luck in there,” Sara says.

“As an example, we’ve won five beauty awards. The second beauty award we won was sponsored by Farmers, and the beauty buyer for Farmers was in the room. It took me three goes to walk up to her and ask for a meeting. When I finally worked up the courage, she was lovely and said ‘I’ve just been talking about how we need you in store’ - and that was the start of a fantastic partnership.

(As an aside, within 12 months of being in Farmers, Tailor Skincare’s sales are at number 13 in Farmers’ skincare category - off the back of 7 products!)

“So we had to work hard to be in the position to win those awards, but we were lucky that she was in the room.

“I believe there’s a huge element of attitude that increases the likelihood. It’s about mindset. I was listening to a podcast the other day, and it was talking about how important the mentality for sports stars is. If the players focus on who the other team has and how they probably won’t be able to score, and they might drop the ball, the likelihood of those things happening is higher because they’ve told themselves that narrative.

“It’s especially true when it feels like everything's falling apart. So at the moment we're in a stage of transition, I'm moving office, my head of sales is going on maternity leave, we're launching a rebrand, and coronavirus is affecting everything. But the narrative I'm telling myself is keeping my sanity in check and helping us to drive things forward. I’m choosing to be entertained by the mess.”

Tailor Skincare Knook NZ

Tailor Skincare has innovation firmly in the company’s DNA - I asked Sara how she keeps that part of their every day business.

Says Sara, “Don’t underestimate ‘feet on the desk’ time. Go for a walk and incorporate time for thinking into your day. I’m obsessed with the products, the ingredients and I want to stay cutting edge, so that time out of the office has really helped me keep the fire burning and to keep innovating in everything we do.”

I asked Sara what advice she’d give to other small businesses.

“You need to constantly ask yourself ‘Why are you doing it? Do you love what you do?’. You need to make sure the why is strong enough to keep you going.

“The other thing would be don’t be scared to ask for help. You don’t have to do it by yourself so be happy to delegate but allow for humans to make human errors. Let people go and do what you’ve asked them to do.”

I asked Sara what’s next on the Tailor Skincare journey.

“We’ve got so much going on! We’re launching a rebrand. We’re launching compostable packaging and a refill scheme. We’ve got another five products we’ll be bringing to market.

“And finally, we’re looking to partner with someone in premium global retail to take beautiful New Zealand skincare to the world!”

For more info and to shop, visit:

Tailor Skincare Knook NZ

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