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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Kathy Phillips – This Works

Using her passion for aromatherapy and knowledge of the beauty industry, via a career in fashion journalism, Kathy Phillips created a range of products that finally enabled consumers to say ‘this works’.

Founder of This Works and more recently a new range of oils for Beauty Pie, Kathy explains how she created her iconic range of products, what she would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, and her admiration for Lisa Eldridge.

How did you get into what you do?

When working at Liberty, a customer complimented me on my outfit – that customer happened to be the Fashion Editor for the Daily Mail. She invited me to join her at the newspaper, subject to passing a three month trial period. After a short space of time, Liberty was a thing of the past – I was going to Paris, seeing the new collections and writing for the Daily Mail once a week.

Whilst to others it may have come across as luck, I grasped the opportunity and worked extremely hard. There was no scope to drop the ball in what was, back then at least, an unforgiving environment– I had to prove myself or risk losing my job.

I continued to pursue opportunities in journalism, and later became Vogue’s Beauty Editor. In that role, I became friendly with someone with an aromatherapy company. They wanted to create their own retail range with my help. I was ready to take on a new challenge, and this one in particular appealed, given my existing interest in natural medicine: the impact of essential oils, breathing and mindfulness. Reviewing hundreds of products that landed on my desk as beauty editor at Vogue gave me perspective and a firm understanding of what was actually out there or, for that matter, what wasn’t – the industry didn’t need another hype product backed by clever marketing. The industry needed innovative products that actually worked. I wanted to change that, and did so with the launch of This Works in 2003.

What advice would you give to founders at the beginning of their career?

You need to start with a good idea. A strong USP – be clear on your point of difference.

My USP was to create products that actually worked and to make the image of aromatherapy less ‘hippie’ and more modern. The brand look needed to compliment that and my concept for the design was conjured up in two words – ‘sexy, hospital’.

Take for example the Deep Sleep Pillow Spray. This product was created as a result of a clinical trial that had taken place to test what was more efficacious in achieving sleep: essential oils (specifically lavender) or sleeping pills. The lavender oil came up trumps. The product we created yielded some incredible results and 89% of our panel users said that they feel asleep faster than usual.

What do you wish you had known whilst growing your business?

How important is to understand numbers: the amount of investment needed to get the brand to where you want it to be. How much stock to order. How much inventory to replace missing products on shelves. The amount of equity you are prepared to give away and where that will leave eventually leave you as the founding shareholder.

I wish I had focused more on what I was going to get out of the business in the end. Whilst running the brand, that was never much of a consideration.

In addition to focusing more on the numbers, I wish I had vetted our investors more – what can they bring to the table in addition to their investment? Contacts, expertise, experience…?

What made the biggest impact in scaling your business?

For us, it was Boots taking an interest in the product and deciding to stock it. Once we had our name in Boots, the brand grew exponentially.

Landing your product with a big retailer is a pivotal moment for any brand but it’s not the only or best way to scale. With the benefit of hindsight and the industry knowledge that I have, I’m particularly in awe of Lisa Eldrige and how she has scaled her brand. She was always an A- list make-up artist but she also spent time gaining first-hand experience designing makeup for Boots No.7 and even working on the make-up counter. This meant that she gradually started to build her product development expertise over time and eventually enabled her to create her own eponymous makeup range which is now stocked in the likes of Selfridges.  She has kept her own look and has grown steadily – I admire that.

In her responses Kathy touched on a number of points, such as building her brand identity and ownership of equity. If you require legal support with protecting your brand or with equity investment, please feel free to get in touch with Mireille.

You can find out more about Mireille’s legal expertise here.

@the_beauty_lawyer

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