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What Is Indie? Also: Six Indie Brands to Watch in 2022

Richard Block

Nov 9, 2021 · 5 min read

When a little company goes up against a beauty business heavyweight, many people can’t help but see it as a David-and-Goliath situation: the corporate giant versus the scrappy “indie” challenger.

But what is an indie brand? Think about it long enough, and the definition can get complex.

“Indie” is short for “independent.” But what are independent cosmetic brands independent from? Corporate control is one common response. It would be difficult for a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, for example, to claim that it is a truly independent beverage company; it may have its own management, a distinct product line, and a degree of operational independence, but at the end of the day, it is subject to the demands of its parent company.

Maybe independence also means that a company is privately owned, rather than publicly traded. Or maybe not. After all, even though they don’t have shareholders, private companies still need to answer to their investors. And many small upstarts hope one day to be acquired by an established player so they can grow more than they’d be able to on their own. Is there a qualitative difference in the independence of company operations? Only the brand owner can answer for sure.

One thing that comes up over and over as a hallmark of indie beauty is innovation.

An independent company is more likely than a mass-market brand to have the curiosity, the flexibility, the compact size, and the adventurous spirit to explore innovative ingredients (for example, CBD was the domain of indie makers before it hit the big-time), speak to specific audiences, and create daring products.

Indies tend to be run by people with a passion for their craft. Rather than appealing to value-hunting general consumers, this generates an enthusiastic hard core of quality-minded followers. This focus on innovation and on quality can translate into greater price tolerance among customers.

By their nature, independent beauty brands tend to be smaller companies, with lower manufacturing volumes.

This often means more hands-on owners using artisan-esque production methods, especially when a company is starting out. (And, again, the artisanal touch can mean price premiums.) Distribution channels tend to be more direct and smaller-scale, as well.

Finally, there’s an “indie attitude” that is tricky to define but often recognizable in a company’s branding. Smaller brands can use more traditional branding, of course, and large companies can launch product lines with a “quirky” or “edgy” image, so attitude isn’t everything. As one part of a larger whole, though, it can help distinguish the indies from the rest.

We’d like to highlight a few independent Cosmetic Creators who are generating excitement with their unique approaches to personal care. We’re excited to watch them grow throughout 2022 and beyond.

Malaya Organics

Katya Slepak founded Malaya Organics as a response to her own struggles with cystic acne. Along the way, according to her bio on malayaorganics.com, she has learned much about skin care and about broader lifestyle issues, reaching the conclusion that “how you care for yourself has a direct relationship with how joyous your experience of life is.”

The company pays attention to ingredients accordingly: “Our formulas feature only the highest quality, ethically sourced ingredients meticulously selected from around the world: taigas of Siberia, forests of the Amazon and India, deserts of Morocco, and the plains of North America.” Malaya creates face, body, and hair care products, along with travel products, accessories, and candles.

Okoko

“We aim to deliver some of the finest and advanced formulations in luxury green beauty,” states Okoko Cosmétiques, a Vancouver firm founded by Togolese-Canadian entrepreneur Oyéta Kokoroko. She aims to create “[p]roducts that marry innovative botanicals with results-driven active ingredients in generous concentrations for prime efficacy.”

The result: three skin-care collections, each with a specific use case, plus scented oils and related products, which have earned Okoko Cosmétiques twenty-plus beauty awards to date. Okoko also operates a Vancouver shop where customers can receive beauty consultations.

May Lindstrom

Featured in _Vogue, the New York Times, W, _and Harper’s Bazaar, among other places, May Lindstrom Skin has its origins in Ms. Lindstrom’s own struggles with sensitive, reactive skin. She developed her skin-care line as an alternative to the masques and scrubs that just made her skin suffer.

Today, May Lindstrom Skin creates premium formulas intended to be savored as they are used. Top sellers include The Blue Cocoon solid oil facial concentrate, The Honey Mud enzyme-and-acid facial pudding, and The Youth Dew balancing facial serum.

Fur

Near the top of the Fur homepage, the company displays an enthusiastic quote from actress and activist Emma Watson: “I use Fur Oil. I’ll use that anywhere from the ends of my hair to my eyebrows to my pubic hair. It’s an amazing all-purpose product.”

The company’s ethos is “effective, simple, clean, and inclusive products for the whole body, including places you used to only whisper about,” and its products include scrubs, washes, shaving products (including a cordless groomer), and products to fight ingrown hairs.

Owners Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung say their products are intended for everyone—"[w]hether you shave, wax, laser, or go au naturale.”

Sangre de Fruta Botanicals

Allison Audrey Weldon founded Sangre de Fruta—“Blood of the Fruit,” in Spanish—following a period studying with “a renowned holistic medicine apothecary in the hippie haven of Kitsilano,” a Vancouver neighborhood.

Inspired by time-honored beauty techniques from ancient Egypt, among other places, Ms. Weldon aims to “show that quality botanicals, daily rituals and mindfulness are foundational elements for true self-care, respect for other souls and a deeper appreciation for the quiet power of the natural world.”

Sangre de Fruta’s line encompasses basics, such as hand wash, body cream, and shampoo, as well as serums, elixirs, and essential-oil-based scents. They also offer eco-friendly refills, to cut down on packaging waste.

Ere Perez Natural Cosmetics

Ere Perez grew up in Mexico with a medicine-man grandfather and a mother with a flair for home remedies and beauty recipes, which led her to study nutrition, botanicals, acupuncture, and related fields. In 2002, in Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, Ms. Perez launched her own company, and she has since built it from one natural mascara to forty-one products (with more than 120 color variations). These include face, eye, lip, and multipurpose makeup, as well as makeup tools and skincare solutions.

One For the Road…

Finally, we’d like to mention Carbon Theory. Some beauty consumers might not consider it an indie brand any longer—since its 2018 launch, it’s grown explosively, and today it can be found in the leading UK drugstore Boots and the American beauty chain Ulta.

But it started with one idea, to make a soap: an affordable vegan bar containing charcoal, tea tree oil, and shea butter. Founder Philip Taylor approached Soapworks, the Scotland-based manufacturer founded by Anita and Gordon Roddick (of The Body Shop), and together they got a foot in the door at Boots. The soap proved popular, and now Carbon Theory is the company’s biggest-selling medicated skincare line.

Common Threads

Yes, for lots of entrepreneurs, this is the dream scenario: creating a product that’s such a smash hit that consumers all over the country are buying it up. For others, keeping it real means keeping it artisanal, and the important thing is to give customers an unparalleled experience in their chosen niches.

But their beginnings echo certain themes: their founders identified an issue, discovered a passion, created a solution, and got the word out with passion and enthusiasm.

Each of these independent beauty brands—and countless more in cities, towns, and countryside around the world—have a personal stake in the creation process, in their products, and in their customers’ experiences. Each one has its own version of what an independent Cosmetic Creator can be, and each founder has her (or his) own vision for the future. Such a diverse collection of unique stories and viewpoints is why the indie beauty world can be so exciting—and why Goldn can’t wait to help you get started creating. Join this fascinating community: bring your very own vision to life.

Written by

Richard Block

Richard Block is an editorial jack-of-all-trades at Goldn

Connect with Richard Block on LinkedIn.

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