entrepreneur mindset, what looks hot in a flat lay, and performing online
a winding journey into what's on my mind lately and my most personal appearance on a podcast ever
Maybe I’m jump-scaring everyone here by reappearing in your inboxes on such short notice (my usual cadence is like, once every other year!) but I wanted to share a few things going on in my world right now… and some thoughts that have been percolating for me, should they inspire anything for you.
First off, on the above – this idea and pressure around being seen as a founder is something I have always had a contentious relationship with, and I think I will continue to in some way, shape, or form. Coming of age as a professional woman at the height of the Girlboss era changes you on a mitochondrial level.
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And you know what – that’s totally okay. I, like everyone else have been scrolling TikTok a lot this week and have been fed clips of Miley Cyrus's new promotional documentary for her latest single. She has a segment of the documentary where she talks about the relationship between the audience and the performer, and how bizarre it is to have your relationship with others be a spectacle. And I feel like in a way, that puts into words how weird sharing your life and yourself online is. If actual celebrities can’t deal with what it means to be so visible, who are the rest of us?
But I digress.
Things always have a funny way of coming full circle, and what inspired me to open up Substack was to share my latest podcast appearance, on my dear friend Tina Yip’s podcast, 5to9. Tina founded SRTGST (now Space to Grow) around when I started freelancing, and when I was eager to find some community out there. A few years later, here we are.
In the episode, I really dove into what it takes to shift from employee to freelancer to entrepreneur, and how different each role is. I also got into the mindset shifts I’ve made in this last year around sales, my career path, and even how I handle my time.
Continuing thoughts on beauty branding
I was a little surprised to see that so many people really resonated with the piece last week about how beauty brands are all kind of chasing the same end goal. I wrote that piece after a long scroll down my Instagram feed where I felt very…
One of the smartest minds I know when it comes to beauty – my friend Tynan Sinks and I had a conversation as a part of my gathering thoughts for the piece. (Tynan’s creds are serious, from being a beauty editor to working in-house for several beauty and wellness brands and co-hosting a beloved fragrance podcast). I thought everyone might benefit from his thoughts too.
NW: Why do you think brands are rinsing and repeating the same aesthetics and rollout strategies?
TS: For aesthetics, everyone is trying to look the same, but also stand out, and you just can't have both. We're living in a third-wave post-Glossier era where everyone went from looking exactly the same, with that pastel (I refuse to call it "millennial") pink, to all brands trying to get noticed, and remembered, with their own ownable color.
Brands aren't designing components or packaging for the retailer shelves anymore, they're designing them for Instagram. Whether it's a bright orange tube of sunscreen, a bright green moisturizer, or a bright pink cleanser, they're counting on these eye-catching shades to pop out of the screen of your iPhone and grab your attention. Personally, I think the infusion of color into these designs is a welcome change from the legacy of clinical-looking skincare I grew up with, my medicine cabinet and vanity look a lot more fun than they used to, but a good color doesn't take the place of good design.
On the flip side, I see more and more brands lean heavily into the gen-z, Y2K aesthetics, both in campaign and packaging. I get that that's going to resonate with the customer right in this very second, but what happens when the trends change? Brands that invest too heavily in what's hot right now don't have a brand identity beyond what's hot at the moment, so they won't be able to scale when the trends change, which they always do. Right now, they're changing faster than ever.
I think that every rollout looks and feels the same because everyone is gunning for the same dollar, so they want to make sure to hit every touchpoint possible to reach every consumer. It really does feel like a checklist of teasers, the announcement, explainers, the launch day, and sustaining. Every brand is looking at every other brand, trying to imitate launches in order to emulate their success, which is why everything looks the same. So few brands are actually thinking about how to set themselves apart, which is why everything, from product to campaign, feels identical.
NW: When was the last time a brand really caught your eye?
TS: It's hard to even say. Aesthetically? about-face has always had great packaging, and it's getting even better. Eadem has the best cartons in the business right now.
NW: Are you generally inspired by the beauty industry right now?
TS: I'm inspired by the people in it, the writers and the artists and the beauty girlies who are having fun, being creative, and asking questions. The industry? No. Brands are not inspiring. I look forward to the reckoning of this onslaught of new brands, new products, and new faces because it all has to level out. This level of newness is not sustainable, for the business, our wallets, or the planet.
People spend so much time being critical of celebrity brands because they're an easy target, without questioning the legitimacy of the new brands popping up every day. There is a lot of very questionable shit going on right below the surface if you care to look. Brand new founders with no prior experience in beauty and no knowledge of makeup or skincare, products being rushed out without being tested, founders that are more interested in being the face of a brand than building a successful, scaleable brand, and these faux ties to mental health, philanthropy, and sustainability that every brand uses as marketing (and it is marketing) while creating a negative, sometimes abusive culture for their team actually doing the work behind the scenes. Beauty is no longer simply seen as a business to create a successful brand, it's a vehicle for the founder to make the 30 Under 30 and sit on panels and tell the story of how they made it.
NW: Specific to the Prada beauty example, why do you think the brand took such a 'safe' bet?
TS: Again, products aren't designed for retailers, they're designed for Instagram. People don't buy luxury makeup from brands like Gucci, Dior, and Prada for the formulas, they buy them for the packaging. There's a reason why, though they're at a similar price point, you never see people posting pictures of their Charlotte Tilbury lipstick, because it just doesn't look as good as a bullet emblazoned with the Chanel logo. The Prada designs are safer than their predecessors, yes, but they're gonna look great in a flat lay.
As shared via email, August 17, 2023.
Reading and thinking list
I think this, in a long line of pieces that are waxing poetic about the death of social media only goes to show that social media is still relevant. We’ve all begun to have this resistance to posting because the social media we grew up with feels like a High School cafeteria with some very obtrusive advertising. I don’t know what is next…and to some extent, does the average person care? Will we just let it die?
On putting on a show for social media
I posted a snippet of a ten-minute-long back-to-school haul by a very young teenage girl a few nights ago. She declared it ‘the biggest haul ever!’ and it was clear to me that she’d creatively rearranged whatever she had bought into additional bags so the haul looked even bigger. Don’t get me wrong, it was a staggering amount of stuff – but something about the spectacle of the whole thing filled me with a full-body dread.
If this hasn’t reached you yet, I’m sorry. In the long line of ‘people just are obsessed with millennials online’ there’s a young TikTok user who made a video about how millennials speak too slow, and that our storytelling cadence on social is quite boring. Unsurprisingly, they’re now the main character of a certain side of TikTok and most of the… measured responses back to them are all about how millennials aren’t performing for social in the same way Zoomers are. Just harrowing thoughts to unpack there.
… and finally, the innovation and insights lab within Ikea shut down. They’ve created a digital archive of their work and it’s a delight to sift throught.
It would appear that the shutdown was always planned, which I find really interesting and compelling to think about. Should there be a planned obsolescence for creative firms?
“Space10 was never meant to last and – after a decade working with Ikea – we have achieved what we initially set out to accomplish. We feel immensely proud to have influenced one of the biggest design companies in the world while making our ideas portable and shaping conversations in everything from technology, design, architecture and food,” says Kaave Pour, co-founder and head of Space10. “We know the vision and values of Space10 will continue to spread to new places and organisations via our incredible team, the 500 partners we’ve worked with throughout the years and by the 250,000 people in our community. Space10 will only close as a company, while the mission lives on.”
I’ve been working on a presentation/lecture about trend scanning and finding your own voice as a strategist through a values-based system. If you want to bring this training to your team, shoot me a note at email@example.com –
Oh and last but not least, I’m starting a fine jewelry brand. Much more on that soon.
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