A Slow Start for Italy’s Independent Beauty Market

What’s happening in the Italian beauty industry? In an ever-expanding international beauty market, where new options are emerging continuously, the Italian market seems to be lacking something that is already mainstream abroad.

According to a report by market research agency Mordor Intelligence, this is a result of a highly fragmented competitive landscape made up of numerous regional and private label players as well as global giants, who dominate the market.

Still, the tide seems to be slowly turning, as the Italian beauty market seems to be poised for slow success.  Celebrity makeup artist and cosmetics brand entrepreneur Vincent Longo, during a panel held at the Italian Trade Commission in New York City in December 2018, confirmed the growing trend.

The difference in Italy is the innate quality and sophistication of the manufacturers, with everything tied to university research. They go the extra mile to ensure the product has an extra level of uniqueness and quality; as a result, I come away with award-winning products.”

Two new independent Italian brands have recently stood out from the crowd: back-to-basics beauty brand Espressoh and skincare brand Imersa, which are both working on the launch of new products to be released in the coming year.

Chiara Cascella launched her brand, Espressoh in November 2018 after years working in Milan and Paris for global conglomerate L’Oreal Paris.

“The idea from the beginning, was to create a ‘back-to-basics’ makeup brand that is entirely produced in Italy. At the time, I found it ridiculous that Italy doesn’t have any independent beauty brands with a strong communication strategy, instead abroad there’s an endless selection,” said Cascella.

However, why have these independent Italian brands only recently emerged? Despite a struggling domestic market, the Italian cosmetics industry is growing at a steady pace driven by buoyant exports.  According to Cosmetica Italia, the trade association that represents the nation’s beauty industry, about 60% of the make-up and skincare distributed worldwide is produced here.

Cascella explained that the majority of Italian beauty and skincare brands that already existed on the market, either followed the current of professional make-up brands or were sustainable skincare brands that can only be bought in pharmacies.

“Launching a cosmetics brand today is harder than launching a fashion label because of the complex technical research and important investments behind it — it mustn’t be taken lightly,” said Martina Gamboni, a Milan-based communication specialist with a background in design, who decided to launch skincare brand, Imersa, in 2019.

Developed in collaboration with Leonardino, a biotech company that specializes in treating silk for medical purposes, Imersa emerged after extensive research into two silk proteins: Sericin and Fibroin, which have natural hydrating, elasticizing and protective properties.

Gamboni and Cascella both agree that launching a cosmetics brand without having scientific and technical know-how, is practically impossible, especially if you want your product to stand out in a competitive market. However, like fashion, independent beauty brands nowadays require strong communications strategies.

According to EY’s financial consultancy unit, players in the cosmetics market must adapt to the new parameters without losing their identity. They have to find a way to propose a unique luxury experience for every customer, that goes beyond the product offered. In the meantime, competition from digital-native brands, with a strong focus on e-commerce and a widespread social media presence, proposing a diverse mix of market strategy and loyal customers, with an innovative identity that brings new generations of luxury buyers closer together.

Emily Weiss’ Glossier is a beacon and a prime example of a foreign brand that has shaped a new paradigm related to the concept of exclusivity and the ability to provoke and to achieve customer intimacy in new innovative ways. Started in 2010 Glossier was initially launched on Instagram and because of its successful business model, it has opened stores across various locations in the US and most recently in London.

And the founders behind Imersa and Espressoh, are well aware of the success of  Glossier’s business model, as both brands were envisaged as digitally-native realities.

Like most street-wear brands, Espressoh uses a drop-system, releasing new products twice a year, approximately every four to five months. Imersa instead launched six essential products which are part of a woman’s everyday routine, from the classic cleansing gel to the face mask.

“I think it is important to have a strategy behind the communication, and in the case of our brand, it is strongly related to the scientific and anti-allergenic properties of our product,” said Gamboni. “Most brands who communicate the scientific aspects of their products; however, do it in a boring way, and for us, it was important to do it in a way which would engage a variety of customers, from every possible background.”

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of its launch, Espressoh planted a pop-up in Milan’s Via Tortona where customers were able to try on the various products on display and advertise the brand by taking selfies.

“Playing with this experiential aspect of the pop-up was helpful as it encouraged our customers to go through a total brand immersion, and just generally have fun,” said Cascella.

And this is a successful strategy, as according to EY, despite the fact that more than 70% of purchases are influenced by digital channels, physical transactions represent 90% of total purchases.

However, given the success stories of these two women, will more independent Italian cosmetics brands emerge? It remains to be seen. For now, they have for sure, set a great example for more to come.

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