Behind the Brand: ZOEVA

March 3rd 2015 / Hanna Ibraheem

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Zoe Boikou, founder of ZOEVA, spoke to us about the beauty brand’s meteoric rise to success…

Ever since creeping onto the blogosphere, ZOEVA has boomed to fast become one of the biggest makeup brush authorities around. Ever since experiencing the frustration of moulting brushes day in and day out as well as not being able to afford expensive counterparts, Zoe Boikou set out to find the solution to high performing products minus the hefty price tag – and thus, ZOEVA was born.

Now 42 brush types later (as well as a collection of eyeliners, lipsticks and blushers), ZOEVA includes everything from gorgeous rose gold eyeshadow smudgers to eco-friendly bamboo foundation brushes, and the brand has no intention of slowing down.

Here, Zoe spoke to us about how her dream turned into a reality, her inspiration for shades and how orders exploded overnight thanks to the blogging community…

So how did it all begin?

It all started in 2007. For a long time, I was looking for good quality brushes at an affordable price but I couldn’t find any and couldn’t afford the higher end ones. I realised that there needed to be something available in this area so I bought 10 brushes with no logo on them from a company in Canada and tested them. They were really good, so I opened an eBay shop to see how they would do. They sold out very quickly with a profit, and that was the birth of the company.

I worked alone from home for almost three years, doing everything from customer services to orders. I believe if you have a strong passion and believe in something then you can manage almost anything. Eventually, I had to move out of the home office and into my first official office space. I hired my first employee and she helped with orders, while I did customer care and product development. During this time, I learnt more about the cosmetic industry. Our orders began to increase from countries all over Europe and I had to move to a bigger space again. Now, we’ve been located in a big warehouse near Frankfurt since 2011.

From early 2011 to now, I’ve built up a strong team, as I recognised that to have a good company, it’s not only about the products but also a good culture with the right people who believe in what you’re doing. Now, our brushes sit all over the world – they’ve been popular in almost every continent. We sell about 100,000 brushes monthly and we try to maintain the quality across them all.

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What made you decide to name the brand ZOEVA?

This is a combination of Zoe, which means ‘life’ in Greek, and Eva, which means ‘first’, stemming from Eve. So it literally means ‘life of the first woman’. We want to understand what’s going on in a woman’s life and support her with the help of our products.

What’s the process of developing a new product?

So let’s take the smokey palette. Firstly, I decided that I wanted to create a palette aimed at smokey eyes and created a moodboard full of images, words, and poetry. I then sent my moodboard to a creative agency we work with in Hamburg and they created different design options. I chose from the selection and we went through three rounds of edits and improvements. This stage can take three to four months before the design is completed.

Parallel to this, I started selecting colours. If I see an object and want to replicate its shade into an eyeshadow, I can send that object to a laboratory and they will colour match it. You can also tell them what type of finish you want, whether that’s matte, shimmer, etc., and they ‘ll send me the samples. The pigments of our eyeshadows are milled three times, so they’re very smooth. If the colour isn’t right, we’ll work back and forth until we reach the correct shade. It can take a long time, but when it’s finished, it’s perfect.

With brushes, it involves 32 craftsmen working through each step by hand; cutting the hair with knives, gluing each hair, pushing the hairs down, stamping the handle; it’s a careful process. Though if, for example, a craftsman is too heavy-handed on closing the handle, the brush won’t be sold. We donate any brushes with little imperfections to ensure that the absolute best quality reaches our customers.

When you’re creating a new palette or lipstick, how do you decide which shades to use?

Generally, it’s very intuitive. I don’t want to be a trendsetter because I don’t see myself as one. I want to make classic things, not things that are only in for one season and totally out the next. I go into myself and think; okay, so this is a smokey theme – what does this match? I might visit a forest at night and to smell and think about the atmosphere, and take in the colours around me. I also examine magazines, song lyrics - literally anything and everything.

Who thinks of colour names?

I do them. When I see a word, whether it’s in a poem or a song, I write it down – I now have several books full of inspirational names.

The brand took off within the blogging community and snowballed from there. What do you think was the pivotal moment for when everything took off?

I think it was in 2010 when an Italian YouTube named ClioMakeup bought the old bamboo set. I didn’t know because at the time I was working alone and didn’t have much time to check platforms like YouTube. She showed the set in a video and overnight the orders exploded from Italy - and I couldn’t understand why. A few days later, I found out and by this point the video had over 200,000 views and everyone wanted the bamboo set. It was sold out for several weeks and I couldn’t handle the demand. That was the first take-off moment.

The second moment was last year, when Love Make Up sent some brushes to Wayne Goss (aka gossmakeupartist). He uploaded a video including the brushes and we started getting lots of orders from Australia, Canada and the USA. After the reaction to his video, we started to work on building our blogger relationships in the UK and approached people like Zoella and Tanya Burr. We don’t do sponsored work but we sent them the products to test and they decided whether to feature it or not themselves. They loved the brushes and posted about them, leading to more orders. Last year, we were also featured in a few German publications, such as Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Harper’s Bazaar, which really helped to boost our reputation.

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So what does a typical day look like for you?

A mix of everything! In the morning, I check the orders that have come in overnight and look over our Facebook. I like to always be informed with what’s going on all the time, so I often go to my employees and talk through our to-do list for the day. I then go to our graphics department and discuss current projects and improvements. Next, I work across pretty much everything; finances, orders, working out how many pieces we need for different brushes, whether we have enough stock. I want to have an involvement in every single aspect, not because I’m scared to lose control but because I’m so passionate about my business and I always want to help my employees as much as possible.

I also try to stay as close to the customer as I’m able to; I answer customer requests and pay particular attention to any critical comments. Sometimes, on a Friday night, I see a comment on Facebook and know that that person will have to wait until Monday when everyone is back in the office so I’ll make sure I log in and reply. I respect that our customers are paying for a service and if someone buys a brush, it’s very important for me to treat them as best as possible.

What’s been your personal biggest career highlight?

I think it was in 2011, when I moved into the big office. It was completely empty and I sat down on the floor imagining a lot of employees working around me. I had this vision and now we’ve achieved this. I love seeing my team happy and enjoying what they do. We aren’t a company where we have a meeting every Monday and put pressure on sales. We just go with the flow and I love it.

We’re independent so we don’t need to worry about bringing out a certain amount of products within a specific timeframe, meaning we also don’t need to compromise on quality. Either it’s good and we’ll bring it out or we’ll keep working on it until it’s good enough to launch.

What’s your favourite product from the whole brand?

Just one product? [Pauses] It would have to be the 104 Buffer Brush. It’s perfect for liquid foundations or pressed powders and if you use it to apply product all over your face, you’re left with a very polished look.

What’s your personal makeup philosophy?

I’m a great believer in individuality. I love faces with characteristics, whether it’s a bigger nose or imperfections; that for me is the perfect face. I love both heavier and natural makeup. When I wake up in the morning, I go with whatever I’m feeling.

ZOEVA have released a brush guide, explaining how to use each one of their 42 brush types. Find the guide here.

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