We caught up with Mille Kendall MBE ahead of her appearance at Stylus presents Decoded Future London to talk beauty commerce, innovation in the industry and the British Beauty Council.
Please introduce yourself and talk through your background.
My name is Millie Kendall MBE I am the CEO at the British Beauty Council and Director at BeautyMART and it’s sister PR agency BRANDstand Communcations.
After leaving school at 15, I began work as an apprentice at Toni & Guy. Forging an initial career in the hair industry, I continued my time at Toni & Guy in London before moving to New York to work for Bumble & Bumble.
At Bumble & Bumble, I found my true calling in beauty through professional make-up brands including M.A.C., William Tuttle and Il Makkiage. My enthusiasm for make-up marked me out as a potential talent for the then unheard of Japanese make-up brand, Shu Uemura. My proactive and entrepreneurial approach was recognized by Mr Shu Uemura himself and he offered me the opportunity to take the brand to Europe, launching in Harvey Nichols, London in 1990 and afterwards across the continent. Instrumental in the successful launch of Space NK as a beauty boutique, Shu Uemura was the first beauty brand in Space NK, which was originally a fashion and accessories store, proving the non department store model for premium beauty brands.
Not long after, my capabilities were spotted by Aveda who were keen to enter the UK market, so I set up my own PR and consultancy firm to launch Aveda as well as manage PR and marketing for a host of other brands. At 23, I recognized the potential in working alongside make-up artists to promote their work backstage and in magazines. I was an early advocate of working with hairdressers and make-up artists to promote their chosen brands.
In 1990, I met Ruby Hammer and after a friendship and strong working relationship in the industry, we went on to launch Ruby & Millie in 1998. It was the first mid priced make-up brand to cut across existing price and brand perception barriers, launching first in Harvey Nichols then Selfridges and simultaneously going on to retail successfully in Boots. Today, this remains a modern retail growth strategy but back in the ‘90s it was a completely unique concept. In 2007, Ruby and I were awarded MBEs for their services to the cosmetic industry.
When I moved back to London in 2009, having lived in LA for several years, I reconnected with Anna-Marie Solowij. We had remained in touch over the years, having originally met at the Shu Uemura counter in Harvey Nichols, and had always had a likeminded approach to the industry. Frustrated that the method of retailing beauty products hadn’t changed in decades, despite consumers shopping very differently with increasing globalisation and the advent of online, we launched our own concept – BeautyMART. A disruptive and ground-breaking approach to beauty retail, BeautyMART was the first beauty boutique in store and online, curated by an editor, featuring a mix of globally- sourced products from across multi price points to offer a more democratic choice for the customer. BeautyMART paved the way for this new retail approach now emulated across the globe.
Following on from BeautyMART’s success Anna and I launched our own boutique PR agency to support niche, emerging brands. And last year, along with some world class beauty industry colleagues, the British Beauty Council.
My passion for beauty is widely accepted I believe and my intention is to secure our industry a reputation as a global leader in innovation and education.
You’ve been on both sides of the beauty space, creating a cosmetics brand with Ruby & Millie, as well as an e-commerce site with BeautyMART, how do they differ and what have you learnt that can be applied to both?
I don’t know if they do differ, everything I do is about the consumer. I have had a PR company, I have had a brand, I have a physical shop and a website. All of these businesses ideally are looking to the consumer; what they want, what drives them to use beauty products, how they use beauty products, how they consume information, where they shop, what they buy, what they are passionate about.
What is the British Beauty Council, and why do you think it’s important for the industry?
The British Beauty Council has been set up to represent the interests of the total beauty industry and operate in much the same fashion as the BFC. We will elevate the reputation of the beauty industry on a domestic and global scale via education and innovation.
The way we consume beauty has changed dramatically, in part due to a younger and rapidly growing consumer base who were born on the web; how can beauty brands adapt to this changing landscape?
We still predominantly purchase beauty products in retail and the face and body are still the same so in a way we haven’t changed that much. The way consumer information about the products is different and this is changing both the online and retail landscape. This is a woman to woman conversation that once upon a time happened over the garden fence, and was then championed by Avon or QVC and later adopted by bloggers and you tubers. But it is the same principle, we are buying products off our mates. This is a very clear change to the marketplace as the internet has expanded the reach. Your mate may now be a you tuber sitting at home in her bedroom talking about the latest foundation.
We still rely on the experts but this woman to woman form of selling has really dominated the industry of late.
Innovation is key within the beauty industry. How will the BBC support this and engage the industry with digital?
Digital is one of our greatest innovations, but it isn’t the only innovation. We are a creative industry and should firstly be recognized as such and we are planning to work closely with the Creative Industries Federation to ensure this is confirmed and documented. We plan to work with business leaders and government and create initiatives to funnel funds back into the industry and to support fledgling brands and start-ups. We will have committees dedicated to focusing on these initiatives offering business advise and mentorship. We need to support British manufacturing and design. It has to be a wide net. The industry has a lot of organisations and trade bodies but for BBC to work it has to cast a wide net and be inclusive and democratic.
Reported by Mollie Lloyd