They’ve sold one product every 30 seconds in the UK since launching in September last year and are showing no signs of slowing down - so how did The Inkey List come about and what’s next for the brand? We met the founders to hear their story

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There has been a definite shift in skincare over the last few years; with social media giving consumers more of a voice than ever and online reviews and comments allowing brands to see widespread customer feedback first-hand, it’s no wonder that brands are doing things differently.

But while the phrase ‘beauty disrupter’ is bandied about more often that it should be, there have been a handful of newbies in the space that have really made their mark, with The Inkey List being one of them when it launched in 2018.  This new generation of skincare puts the customer first, with a focus on keeping costs down while priding themselves on premium-grade ingredients and no-frills formulas that really work. With this approach the marketing practically takes care of itself, though the no-BS packaging and labelling that you don’t need to be a scientist to understand definitely helps.

With one product sold every 30 seconds since they arrived on our shelves in autumn and a fashion-like approach to product turnaround that will see three new formulas launching in March alone, the brand has plenty more disrupting to do - but who are the brains behind it and what’s been the key to their success? We met with founders Colette Newberry and Mark Curry to find out how they stay ahead of the game…

GTG: How did the two of you meet?

Colette: Mark is the man with the science background – the crazy scientist!

Mark: I started my career as a microbiologist virologist, then totally changed track and went on to work at Mars in a commercial grad scheme, working through a number of roles from finance to marketing, then moving into a Boots Senior Buying role in the healthcare sector. It was then that Be For Beauty was born as just an idea, so I packed up and soon after connected with Colette on LinkedIn… the rest is history!

C: So with the commercial acumen brain and retail buying experience, at heart Mark is a completely bonkers science led innovator who lives by the Simon Sinek school of thought of always asking WHY.

I think I’m the ultimate beauty junkie. My main career started in Boots within brand, marketing and product development for cosmetics and skincare brands such as No7, Soap and Glory and Liz Earle. I then went onto WAH Nails as their COO role – until Mark approached me to kick start Be for Beauty  (under which the Inkey List was born). I’m incredibly passionate about all things consumers, branding and marketing – which is so important in our brands.

What inspired you to create The Inkey List?

C: We found that there is now an overwhelming transparency that is expected by consumers and there was a lot of confusion in skincare. There was also a gap for helping people to understand ingredients and how to use them. We always start brands with WHY do they exist – and this was a natural gap for Inkey List to be born [into].

With our background, we wanted to get into skincare but we weren’t sure how. So, we thought that with an explosion in the demand for ingredient-led skincare, there was a real space for someone to come in and help the world understand skincare a lot better with products that are easier to use – and this starts with the packaging for Inkey.

M: One very big way we are different to most companies in the world is that we always start at ‘yes’ – I am pretty clear in my own head that Inkey wouldn’t have existed in most other businesses because some of our products don’t even make us money! Some wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for our relationship with a lot of the labs we work with, so finding a way to deliver unbelievable formulations and certain killer price points is really important to us.

What were the biggest challenges of setting up your own brand?

C: Everything! It really is very different from having an idea, to executing that idea. You need a lot of money, structure and great people around you. Running a business is actually quite overwhelming – having a brand idea and making a product is such a very small part of it, and I think that the creation of a business and finding the perfect team was probably harder than creating the brand itself.

M: That’s the thing, whilst every day is filled with problems that fall into either good or bad, we absolutely love it! We keep going because we live off the buzz of the madness – especially when people get in touch and let us know that they actually love what we are doing and making a difference. Full disclosure: outside of that, it’s a total nightmare!

How would you describe each other's working style? What do you butt heads about?

C: Mark is very chaotic. He will have a brilliant idea but will be so far ahead of so many other people [with that idea] that everyone will lose him! So he will be off doing a million things at once, and I have the task of trying to capture that and make it into something that is executable. We have totally different working styles. How we butt heads? Well we’re both very disorganised which doesn’t help!

M: Disorganisation is a big one, but I’d say we butt heads when I know I am right, Colette knows deep down that I’m right, but she will argue it to the very death, and in the end we will agree I am right…

What does a typical day at Inkey HQ look like?

C: It is absolute madness! We have a very buzzy office with music on and incredible amounts of creativity, we work really well as a team. I would say a typical day is… well, no day is the same in fact! We all get together in the morning and have pow-wows on what has happened overnight, especially the social team and the marketing team on what’s gone on – it’s all about being reactive to what’s happened. We always have loads to catch up on as we have an office in Canada and one in Nottingham.

M: A typical day is a long day – we have manufacturers in Asia so as soon as you wake up you have emails and calls and we now also have big retailers on the pacific coast of America, which means that most days we’ll be working well into the night. Everything in between is a combination of London, Nottingham and anywhere else in the world (we are currently in Paris!) doing brilliant things with products, and hopefully educating people on brilliant ingredients.

How do you come up with ideas for new products?

C: We get inspiration from everywhere – it might be food trends coming through, bigger macro trends that we see (anywhere!) or it might be getting inspiration from consumers through their questions and our conversations. We are coming up with new ideas, concepts and ingredients all the time and we have a huge melting pot of ideas, then it’s about finding the right vehicle and the right time to launch things.

M: One of the interesting ways that we are different is that we have a wide range of labs, and working with this wider range of labs means that we get to see all these incredible ideas the scientists are cooking up – and with our brand model, have the ability to get these to market a lot quicker.

C: And that’s because the labs are really ahead of the tech game, so if we can use that to spark an idea then that becomes really useful!

What have been your bestsellers?

M: Hyaluronic Acid , £4.99 has been our best seller, for sure – it has an unbelievable texture at an unbelievable price, delivering unbelievable hydration.

C: We also sold out of our Retinol , £9.99 within five weeks of launching last September, on our own website and all our suppliers – so as amazing as that was, we’re excited to get that restocked in a few weeks!

How are your prices so low?

C: We just go further up the supply chain, investing in the ingredient rather than packaging and hero-ing that ingredient whilst keeping the rest of The Inkey List clean.

M: Whilst our prices are low, it’s important to reinforce that this is not budget skincare – this is super premium skincare that hasn’t got the price tag attached to it.

How are you able to turn around products so quickly?

C: We’ve got a background in beauty so we really understand the supply chain. We take the middle man out of the equation and work differently with our labs. Working differently in terms of stability and packs, working smarter with suppliers and our teams, and just delivering products, fast.

What have you got lined up for the future?

C: We just launched two new products in February – exclusively with Cult Beauty. These were a direct demand from our customers. They all wondered why we didn’t have anything for acne – and the truth was, we didn’t want to launch something that wasn’t perfect – it has taken us some time to get these formations perfect! So, we have just launched a Salicylic Acid cleanser , £10.99, and a BHA serum , £9.99 – which also has 1% of Hyaluronic Acid in to keep skin hydrated (great if you don’t want to layer products on top of your BHA).

We also have three new products launching early March on Cult – products that are really going to get the beauty junkies excited! They include a hydrating formula to rival Hyaluronic  (four times more hydrating!), a moisturiser that is a Pre, Post and Pro Biotic - all in one! - and a clinically proven seven-part peptide that reduces the appearance of crepey skin – instantly and over time.

M: The future is always going to be changing because we want to be like fashion, we want to bring the hottest and leading ingredients in every couple of months. There’s loads of stuff coming through at The Inkey List - we want to make Japanese beauty accessible with a capsule in the spring, as well as introducing other products that our consumers are screaming for us to deliver – like niacinamide. There will always be new stuff coming through.

C: Watch out for things that aren’t just for the face too…

Which Inkey List products do you personally love the most and why?

C: My favourite product is the new Salicylic Acid cleanser. As someone who has had problems with breakouts even up to the age of 32, it is such an incredible cleanser because it does everything you need it to in terms of clearing out your pores but doesn’t strip the skin, so I think that’s a real win for anyone who gets breakouts.

M: Retinol for me - a single serum that I use overnight to make my canyons of wrinkles look a little bit better but also keeps me hydrated.

And finally, any advice for aspiring beauty entrepreneurs?

C: I would say a lot of people ask us “how are you different” and “are you worried about people stomping on your space or worried about competition” and I would say - pick your lane. Be confident in what it is you are doing and be clear on your USP – don’t be wobbled by other people. You could easily panic about what other people are doing or what they think of you, but if you are clear on why YOU are doing it, then just go with it!

M: I think Colette’s point is awesome, but also to add - you have to be quite focused on ensuring that you project an image of what you want it to be, while at the same time you could be dealing with horrific problems such as stock being stuck on a ship. If you hold true to trying to make it work, everything else will shine through and you will always find a way through your problems.

Shop for The Inkey List on Cult Beauty  here