Before Charlotte Knight, the founder of Ciaté London, founded her business in 2009, she worked for years as a session nail technician traveling the globe working on Fashion Weeks creating runway looks for designers such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood to name a few. This also led to working with Celebrities and Artists for award shows and photoshoots which she describes as so much fun. It also enabled her to travel and explore the world sparking a creative itch to take things one step further in creating a brand herself. So she founded her own company Ciaté London which focusses on cruelty-free and vegan makeup and beauty products. Keep reading to find out more about her story.
Charlotte, was it always a plan of yours to run your own business?
I really don’t think I ever had a plan as such before the age of 30! Even when I created the very small line of Ciaté nail polishes back in 2009, I very much approached it like an extension of the work I was already doing and simply allowing the pigments and textures I was creating on set to become more wildly available. It was really in 2012 when things started to really explode for us that it suddenly felt like a big deal and a “real” business!
How are you overcoming your fear of making the right decisions?
Over the years, we have made many mistakes and had to deal with a less than optimal outcome. But I view all these mistakes as lessons because now we are more informed for the next time a similar decision is required. We have learned so much from making mistakes…it’s part and parcel of building the business. Further, I always look to evaluate both sides of risk, to be informed in the best possible way to enable confidence in the decision being made, but mostly I trust my instinct which has helped from the years of practice.
One of the most important things for growing a business is to have a good team. When did you hire for the first time and how hard was it for you to trust and give your baby in the hands of others?
Yes, this is so very true! I started to make super key hires around 2012 when the business experienced exponential growth with a huge surge in retail accounts. At first, it was really challenging to let go of the reins, even just a little. When you have been in the driving seat controlling all aspects of the business for a reasonable time, it feels alien to allow someone to take over some responsibility and some of the decision making. But as Steve Jobs so wisely said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people to tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”. Surrounding myself with exceptional, seasoned talent in all aspects of the business has allowed me to hire and grow the team with confidence. We are a dynamic, super passionate group of people sharing the same goal and vision with such love, respect and admiration for each other…it’s truly magical!
Did you put emotional pressure on yourself in financially succeeding back in the day and today?
Very much so! Creating a brand takes every inch of you mentally, emotionally and physically. My family placed such trust in me and provided the support structure needed to allow me to work all hours, travel frequently and take calls at obscene hours! In the early days, they freely trusted me to risk the family’s money from time to time as the business required constant re-investment to enable me to take the next leap in the trust the net will appear. They have seen me stressed, physically fatigued, anxious and sometimes tearful but they have also witnessed the joy in my eyes when winning that new account or a product launches with roaring success. I have always been so thankful to have an army of cheerleading family and friends encouraging me and cheering me on from the sidelines which is amazing but has led to an enormous emotional pressure on myself to succeed.
How many products do you have nowadays in your portfolio and when do you know it´s time to come up with another one?
We have around 200 products in our portfolio and look to launch a new collection of around 10-12 products four times a year. The timing of these new launches runs parallel with our retailers launch windows of Spring, Summer, Fall and Holiday (Christmas).
How strongly are you letting trends decide what your next product will be compared to your own and your customers needs?
We strive to dictate the trend rather than follow trends and look for innovation, creativity and exciting brand partnerships where others are not looking. Historically our consumers and retail partners know the brand by our unexpected innovations. It’s this emotional wow factor that comes when they touch, see and feel our products. Therefore, our core brand belief and ethos around everything we launch, be it single product, entire collections or collaborations, is built on an emotional engagement platform of “Beauty Unexpected”.
Did you ever launch a product which was not as successful as you hoped to?
I would love to be able to say no and that all our products have been total sell outs but sadly we have had a few launches over the last eleven years that have not quite made the grade!
A recent example is our Pump Plump, Lip plumping gloss. We knew we had an incredible formula that delivered a burst of hydration, smoothing on the lips and provided very comfortable plumping with a shot of menthol with no nasty stinginess, which can happen with some alternatives. Ever the ones to look for the maximum amount of “Beauty Unexpected”, we decided we wanted to explore a super unique delivery system for dispensing of the gloss. We stumbled on a component that enabled you to pump out the formula onto a chisel-shaped applicator, extremely hygienic and without mess! Sadly all our efforts on the packaging were quite lost on the end-user as the packaging was so unique that she just did not know how to do the pumping action to release the product causing a lot of confusion…
The truth is, no one really ever reads instructions. I know, I certainly don’t do that often unless it’s medical. So the lesson learned was to not try to be so clever next time. And if you have an incredible formulation, don’t try to overcomplicate things too much with awesome and innovative packaging, so it only belongs in a museum and not in our customers handbags.
Do you have a career defining moment, a milestone, you will always remember?
Back in 2012, we won the WWD Newcomer of the Year Award in the USA which is a highly coveted accolade. The presentation evening was filled with Leaders of the Cosmetic industry receiving a plethora of awards to celebrate their successes. To have had our name up in lights alongside the biggest and most reputable brands in the industry was an incredible “pinch me” moment just three years into our journey.
What do you want your brand be known for in your industry and in front of your customers?
We always want to excite and delight our customers and the industry! Bringing that unexpected element of magic and beauty in all that we do. Helping our customers feel happy, feel beautiful and brimming with confidence is at the core of all our efforts.
How do you manage balancing private and business? Is it possible for you to consequently split those two?
In all honesty, this is very much a work in progress… I do think I have improved with my work/ life balance over the years, but I know I have a lot of work to do here. My daughter (now 14) certainly helps to align my focus personally as I am sure to fully engage with her on all her projects, passions and hobbies. Although, since she is now a teenager and her investment into “mummy and daughter”-time is rather questionable!