Willowberry Founder Jenni Retourné was a recent guest on The Beauty Back Story insta live series, hosted by beauty journalist and author Jacqui Ripley.
Jacqui delved into Jenni’s 20 years in the beauty industry, from becoming a magazine editor at 23, to working with the first beauty bloggers, to founding Willowberry. The conversation led to Jenni’s work on changing the narrative around age in beauty, prompting Jacqui to crown Jenni ‘Queen of the Campaigns’.
Willowberry fans and beauty business brains alike won’t want to miss this insightful chat. We’ve written up the highlights of the interview below. You can also watch the full interview here.
Jacqui: Over 20 years in the beauty industry in journalism and marketing, led to you launching a much-loved skincare brand. Was this a finely tuned strategy?
Jenni: It was organic. My main aim when I came out of university was to be a journalist, so I joined Pure Beauty magazine as editorial assistant at the age of 22 and then I was made editor by 23. I was lucky that my boss trusted me with the running of his business over time and that really helped me when it came to launching Willowberry. Having lived and breathed beauty as part of that role and meeting many founders in the course of my job, that sparked my goal to launch my own beauty brand.
Jacqui: With Pure Beauty you would have communicated with hundreds if not thousands of brands. Did any founders support you when you launched Willowberry?
Jenni: Yes, there were a few industry people I knew that I regularly turned to for help. One person who helped me a lot when I launched Willowberry was Simon Duffy, who owned Bulldog skincare. They sold a few years ago and I saw that brand go from three of them launching the business, to massive growth, to eventually selling the business. I loved following their story and Simon is one of the most supportive people that has helped me since launching Willowberry.
Jacqui: You were at Pure Beauty up until 2009. Beauty was a really different space then wasn’t it? How have you seen the industry change?
Jenni: It’s changed so much. There’s been the evolution of indie beauty, thanks to being able to launch and grow a brand using social media. The natural sector has grown, brands are far more inclusive, you’ve got gender neutral brands, you’ve got the massive boom online. It has evolved so much. Social media and blogs feed through to a very informed consumer. It’s a completely different space from what it used to be and also much more exciting.
Jacqui: When you left Pure Beauty, you founded your own consultancy. It was the start of beauty blogging and you used that form of communication in terms of doing campaigns. It changed the face of editorial, didn’t it?
Jenni: Blogging really changed the face of editorial. Someone contacted me about a copywriting job for Boots. I decided then to start my own consultancy and offer those kinds of services, because I had the skills and the contacts from my magazine days. The Boots job became a bigger job and part of it was to contact bloggers and offer them product for review and I was like, “What’s a blog?”! This was 2010! I credit that because then I ended up working with the likes of Zoella, Caroline Hirons, A Model Recommends, British Beauty Blogger, that was when they all first launched, I was speaking to them, sending them product. It was a very natural evolution.
Jacqui: What was the USP behind launching Willowberry?
Jenni: From a very basic point of view, I wanted to create products that work really well, focusing on nutritious natural ingredients that have a high quantity of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins. Using many unrefined oils, gently extracted from the original plant source instead of using high heat or chemicals, so all that nutritional goodness is still in your products.
From a values point of view, it was really important to me to create a brand that helped women feel good about themselves. Instead of creating a problem to then sell a solution to, I want to sell skincare that makes you feel good.
Jacqui: How easy was it for you to set up your supply chain?
Jenni: It is really hard as a small brand, especially if you haven’t launched yet, as many suppliers won’t even talk to you and if they do, they want really high minimum order quantities. Many want you to order 10,000 of each product at a time and that would cost a monumental amount of money. Even the jars and the bottles, many of the companies want you to order thousands of units and at the time I was dealing with like a hundred!
I just kept going, researching, contacting different companies and asking my network.
Jacqui: With indie brands now, people are interested in the founders. Have you found that with your brand?
Jenni: Yes, people are very supportive of me and very supportive of Willowberry as a brand because of our values, because of Age Without Apology and the fact that we champion women and champion age. We have those values at our heart instead of just using it as a marketing story. People really support that. It’s lovely to have that loyal following. Social media is brilliant for being able to build a relationship with your customer.
I still have control of my social media where I answer all the DMs and comments, that’s so important to me. You get so much insight into what people are looking for with their skin, what they care about, what’s important to them.
Jacqui: From your consumer feedback, what’s the most common skincare problem in women aged 35+?
Jenni: Everyone says to me, “what can you do to get rid of my lines and wrinkles?” and I say, “Why do you want to get rid of your lines?”! That’s a really hard mindset to shift. It’s important to be honest and factual about skincare. No pot of cream is going to get rid of your lines and wrinkles. I could sell you a pot of cream and tell you it’s going to but ultimately, that would just be selling hope-in-a-jar that would lead to disappointment. Society has long taught us to dislike our lines and wrinkles. I want to change that mindset. Ageing is completely natural, wrinkles are completely natural. Skincare is about getting your best skin, not impossible skin.
Jacqui: What marketing phrases really annoy you within the skincare industry?
Jenni: It’s the anti-ageing line. Why on earth are we telling people to be anti-age? And the ‘hope in a jar’ marketing. If there was a product that made us all look 20 again and got rid of our lines and wrinkles, we’d all know about it, the brand would be extremely rich, and we’d all look about 20 years old. It’s about being factual, being honest, being positive, approaching skincare and beauty from a positive and exciting point of view rather than a problem that needs to be fixed.
Jacqui: I would imagine you haven’t got a huge marketing budget, but you have great brand advocacy with renowned make-up artists and influencers. How proud of that are you?
Jenni: I feel really proud of it. I’ve never paid for endorsement, it has all happened organically. I always try to look back and put myself in my shoes five years ago when I was launching the brand; it would have actually blown my mind to know that top make-up artists and top press were raving about Willowberry products. It comes back to that simple notion of creating products that work really well, because these people aren’t going to rave about products if they don’t work really well. Also, being humble, being kind and having no expectation, just good faith when you’re connecting with people.
Jacqui: How big is your team now?
Jenni: I started to hire about a year ago and it was an absolute revelation having people working for me rather than trying to do it all myself. I’ve got a team of five people so we’re small but perfectly formed.
Jacqui: You are the Queen of Campaigns: In 2019 you asked mothers and daughters what they saw in each other, it’s on YouTube (Change Your View self-esteem campaign), and it’s so beautiful and so real if a little sad because women don’t see the beauty in themselves do they? Why do you think that is?
Jenni: I just think as women we are our own harshest critics. We peer in the mirror picking out our flaws. No one else looks at us that way, no one else is peering at us as closely as we do ourselves. I wanted to create a video that opened people’s eyes to that.
Jacqui: Your tagline is ‘Age Without Apology’. When do you think women start feeling age in their skin?
Jenni: I think from mid-30s you start to experience the changes. The notion of anti-age is so strongly ingrained in our society and in our psyche and I want to challenge that with our Age Without Apology values. It’s an enormous task to take on, but as beauty brands we have a responsibility to not send out the wrong kind of communication that can trash people’s self-esteem for the sake of making money. To spend 50-odd years not liking what you see in the mirror and dreading getting older, I just don’t think that’s a way to approach life.
Jacqui: It’s really annoying when a brand whacks a 20-year-old model on all of their anti-ageing marketing because that sends out a confused message doesn’t it?!
Jenni: Older women are rarely used in beauty imagery, so it is literally sending out a message of invisibility and irrelevance, that once you hit a certain age you’re no longer considered beautiful, that youth equals beauty. And yes, selling anti-ageing product using a 20-year-old model to promote it is just madness. It’s not relatable and needs to be changed.
Jacqui: When brands do use an older model and she’s not air-brushed, it’s deemed as brave because they are showing an older woman in their marketing but there’s nothing brave about it, it’s real.
Jenni: Yes, it should just be the norm. For our recent beauty campaign, we launched a competition and had women enter to be in our photoshoot. We had six non-model women aged between 37-76 and the images are beautiful. It shows other beauty brands that you can use older women in beauty imagery and it’s not going to harm your brand.
Jacqui: The British Beauty Council asked you to sit on their Diversity and Inclusion Committee. How did that come about?
Jenni: Last year Willowberry launched an Age Without Apology Pledge calling for the industry to come together to make change. The British Beauty Council recognised the work that we do to tackle age diversity and invited me onto their newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee to represent age diversity in beauty.
That’s really exciting, because we can take our big audacious goals on changing the age narrative in beauty, and work with the British Beauty Council’s network and know-how to really make a much bigger change than we could have ever achieved alone. What I really love about the committee is that it’s about taking action and making change. You could sit and talk about it forever, but the goal is action.
Willowberry is nutritious natural skincare for grown-ups, for your best skin.
A favourite with top make-up artists, Willowberry's luxurious award-winning products protect skin’s natural barrier function, to nourish and revive grown-up skin without telling women to be 'anti-ageing'.
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