Since launching in 2008, the beauty hub has evolved from start-up to multi-million-pound retailer for some of the world's most innovative beauty brands. Celebrating its 10th birthday this week, co-founder Alexia Inge shares the surprise bestsellers and some of her favourite moments
Selling everything from makeup exclusives from the world’s most in-demand brands to skincare based on Nobel Prize-winning science, Cult Beauty has won both a loyal following and multiple industry awards. Co-founded by former journalist Alexia Inge and entrepreneur Jessica DeLuca, the British beauty e-tailer started in 2008 in Jessica’s basement flat and is now a multi-million-pound business ranked number seven in this year’s Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 of UK businesses and number one in the list of fastest-growing multi-brand retailers.
It’s been a head-spinning decade for the duo, however it’s not just major milestones but the daily achievements that motivate the now 120-strong team in their London HQ. “It could be a really awesome review on social media or Trustpilot by someone saying they can’t believe where Cult Beauty’s been all their life or sitting next to a stranger who tells me that they love the site,” Alexia tells us. “It's a series of steps and mini-achievements every day that we try not to let fly by but take time to look at and appreciate. It makes life feel very full and sated.”
Trust and transparency remain core to the company’s success. The team takes pride in supporting burgeoning ‘indie’ brands and encourages an ethos of individual achievement and gender diversity in its workforce. In fact at last count, 60 per cent of the company’s senior management team and board were female and 65 per cent of the brands stocked were female-founded. No wonder they were also awarded Best Management Team at the Fast Track 100 too.
Now the focus is on extending the company's global reach. “We’re currently only a pound Sterling site but deliver all over the world; 50 per cent of our sales are international,” says Alexia. “We want to ‘.com up’ and so are working on a strategy for that, and on creating an app. But it’s not just about big things, it’s also about making sure everything we’re doing goes back to that core mission statement of wanting Cult Beauty to be the most trusted beauty website in the world - trusted by brands, customers and colleagues alike. Everything else runs from that. If you earn people’s trust, the money takes care of itself.”
Here’s to celebrating plenty more Cult Beauty birthdays. To commemorate its tenth, we asked Alexia to take a take a stroll down memory lane to recall the bestsellers, beloved brands and surprise success stories of the last decade. Here are her top picks.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 01, £72 for 100ml
“This was the first product we bought for Cult Beauty. We discovered it because Jess’ upstairs neighbour was working in the Mayfair store when Naomi Campbell walked in smelling delectable. He worked up the courage to ask her what she was wearing and as soon as he finished work he came rushing into our office excitedly pronouncing that we simply MUST sell this brand. Jess got the founder’s number off Companies House because they didn’t even have a website then and had a very bemused conversation with Jeff [Lounds], who had no idea how we could have heard of his then fledgeling brand. This has been a top seller for ten years.”
“I knew Huda as a beauty journalist before she became a social superstar and brand founder, so when she was considering where to sell in Europe she came straight to Cult Beauty to see if we were interested. Huda and her family – Mona, Alya and Chris – are not only incredible business minds but also generous, honourable people and I think this has a huge amount to do with their ongoing success. Frequently when influencers monetise by starting brands, it kills their followers, but Huda created such good quality useful products and presents them in such an authentic way the brand just soared! Bestsellers include the Rose Gold Palette , £56, and Faux Filter Foundation , £32.”
Yu Ling Jade Facial Rollers, from £18
“Our Chinese medicine and acupuncture expert Ross Barr introduced us to these. We have sold them for almost ten years as a silent top seller, but this year there has been a consumer awakening to the power of Chinese medicine and crystals and sales have gone off the charts.”
Therapie Himalayan Detox Salts, £10 for 100g
“Bath salts are a lovely self-care product, but it’s rare for a product from this category to become a bestseller. BUT, if you add the magical ability to cure sleeplessness, it becomes hard to keep them in stock. The founder, Michelle Roques O’Neil, formulated them with essential oils that help with anxiety, stress, vulnerability and insomnia as well as powdered amethyst which absorbs electromagnetic radiation from computers and mobiles, which are known to disrupt sleep patterns.”
The Vamp Stamp, £22.50
“At first look, this feels like a gimmick from the classified ads - an easy eyeliner stamp that turns your daily cat eyeliner into a ten-second doddle – that sounds too good to be true. But it’s not, it’s a really useful makeup bag staple. From the moment we put it on the site, with no marketing at all, it sold and continues to sell really well.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills
“Cult Beauty introduced this brand exclusively to the European market in 2011 when eyebrows simply weren’t cool. The brand only made eyebrow products and were the first to actually produce colour matched options other than one brown, one overly-warm-toned blonde. Then Cara Delevingne happened, and Anastasia was exactly in the right place to ride the wave. She then continued to innovate producing the first contouring palette and then absolute staples like the Renaissance Palette , £43, and Dipbrow , £19, which quickly turned her into one of the biggest beauty brands in the world.”
“We were the first to sell BeautyBlender in the UK, the minute we discovered it we had to have it on board because it just made so much sense. We always thought this ingenious makeup sponge would be a staple product but completely underestimated its ability to take over the world!”
Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask, £42
“We knew this would go down well because it’s a beautiful face mask, but didn’t expect it to sell out worldwide in a week. We launched at the end of May and sold out in three days, happily we went back to Marianna [Hewitt, co-founder] and told her the great news with our reorder, and she then delivered the bad news that she had no stock to supply us with because the whole of Sephora had also sold her out too. We currently have a waitlist of 5,000 people and won’t get any stock until July.”
Bed of Nails Acupressure Mat, £70
“Even though this concept has been Scandinavianised (yes that is a verb) to look really cool, it’s still ultimately a painfully spiky mat. However, once you get used to carefully lowering yourself onto it for 20 minutes at the end of the day it becomes completely addictive for relieving built up back pain from sitting at a desk for so long. It also helps with arthritis, sleeplessness, anxiety and even cellulite. The 100 per cent 5-star reviews speak for themselves.”
Pixi Glow Tonic, £18 for 250ml
“Pixi was a true underground indie makeup brand, then Petra [Strand, the founder] added the Glow Tonic as a formula she mixed to prep the skin better as a perfect makeup canvas and people went loopy for it. Almost everyone working at Cult Beauty has this product on auto-replenishment because, while an acid, it is gentle enough for sensitive skin types and the glowing, clarifying results are fantastic. A true 'Cult' product in every way.”