The Interview: Colette Laxton and Mark Curry, Co-founders, The INKEY List

Founded by Colette Laxton and Mark Curry in 2018, The INKEY List was born from a belief that better knowledge powers better decisions. The brand focuses on delivering a direct take on the most-wanted ingredients in skincare. Products contain as few ingredients as possible, all of the highest quality and at affordable prices.

A concise range of hero products formulated by a team of experts and scientists, the Inkey collections incorporate all the skincare industry’s staple ingredients – from retinol to hyaluronic acid – and also allows customer to customise their skincare regime to suit their skin’s changing needs. Founders, Colette and Mark tell TheIndustry.fashion’s The Beauty Edit more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you both met?

COLETTE: Mark is a Virologist and taught Science before moving into a commercial role at Mars and then Boots UK. He met me at Boots where I worked for 8 years in branding and marketing roles, but we never actually worked together. After both leaving to work for start ups (mine at WAH London and Mark set up his first start up business creating feminine hygiene products!), we joined forces in early 2017 after Mark contacted me on Linked in. We found our skill sets worked well together…Mark’s science background and entrepreneurial spirit, with my branding background and customer centric view of how to turn Mark’s bonkers ideas into a reality.

What inspired you to create The INKEY List?

MARK: We have always believed that better information drives better decisions and saw so much misinformation out there on skincare. We also saw consumers turning to each other for support as they were so confused on how to look after their own skin. Skin is personal, and so to create a knowledge driven brand, which celebrates key ingredients and provides one on one support to customers, felt right.

When did you launch and what was the initial response?

COLETTE: We launched in September 2018 and were blown away by the response. We knew in our gut that this was a gap in the market which needed filling, but never thought the brand would be an instant hit.

We had incredible press uptake on day one, and Cult Beauty rang me on our launch evening and said ‘send us all the stock you have’. We then sold out in 4 weeks (6 months planned stock), and then met with Sephora in October. The biggest shock was the customer reaction – we found we had hundreds of people asking for skincare advice…which resulted in 40,000 DM’s in just one year!

What is the brand’s core philosophy?

MARK: We believe that knowledge is power, and we want to provide the knowledge people need to empower themselves for THEIR skin.

What sets you apart from other affordable skincare brands?

COLETTE: We believe we are different because of WHY we exist – to support people with the knowledge they need to make their own decisions. Sounds simple, but helping customers to navigate the scary world of skincare is our sole purpose – whether that’s through our free #askINKEY skincare advice service, or selling them a product which tells you WHAT the ingredient is, WHO it will work for, and HOW you use in the context of your skincare routine.

How do you come up with ideas for new products?

MARK: A real mix of ways – our team are so in tune with wider macro trends in skin and in the ingredient world – and we love playing with crazy new innovation with our raw material suppliers (something I particularly get excited about with a science background). We also love working directly with our customers…speaking to them, getting their input on ingredients and textures – it’s so important that we stay close, to make relevant products that people will love.

You have a global customer base, are there any key trends that you’ve noticed?

COLETTE: Yes there are definitely ingredients that trend in different markets – environment and climate have a big role to play in types of products people are drawn to. I think the biggest surprise was the crazy sales of our Caffeine eye cream in the US…they went mad for it – any way to get that caffeine fix?!

What do you think have been the most important skincare trends of 2020 so far?

MARK: Talking points that feel like they are swelling right now are the concept of ‘clean’ beauty, sustainability as a must have not a nice to have, and brand transparency.

Who is The INKEY List customer?

COLETTE: EVERYONE. Truly. We don’t define our customer by age or gender – we are here for all skin types, for all budgets and for all spectrums of skincare expertise. Beauty novice, or beauty junkie – we are here to help you learn!

Could you tell us more about the recipe builder? How can customers use this to address their skin related issues?

COLETTE: Back to our philosophy of providing the knowledge people need – we want to be where people want us to be, how they want us to show up, when they want us. That might be talking to us on a live chat, sending us a photo on Instagram or chatting on the phone. However, our recipe builder on www.theinkeylist.com is a very simple and easy way to key in your skin concerns / wishes, and we literally tell you what products would be great for you, in what order, for day and night. It’s a fool proof way to build a skincare recipe that is right for YOU. Simple!

Sustainability is becoming a crucial focus the beauty industry, in what ways is The INKEY List incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

MARK: It’s a must have, it really is. But boy is it difficult as an affordable brand. We aim to be fully recyclable packaging wise in 2021, and have just launched a hair and scalp treatment range which is fully recyclable, to ensure we are doing our bit to drive sustainability.

We love consumers challenging us to raise the bar, and we challenge suppliers to put sustainability at the forefront of their R&D. Linked to this, is looking across the total supply chain, not just the packaging – carbon footprint, sustainability of ingredients…there is a lot to do, and we feel very responsible as a brand to ensure we are not only pushing this in what we do, but also being transparent about where we want to improve.

What are your top 3 INKEY product recommendations?

  1. Hyaluronic Acid….every SINGLE day for EVERYONE. Hydration for all!
  2. Caffeine Eye Cream…again a great one for everyone in a world where we all need a helping hand in looking awake in our stressful and sleep deprived lives.
  3. Tranexamic Acid Overnight Rreatment…this has been a saviour for so many suffering dark spots and hyperpigmentation issues

What compelled you to launch your first digita l campaign? – ‘Knowledge is your power’

We launched to such success, we actually never got around to telling our brand story – we were too focused on producing more products and talking to our community.  After talking to 40,000 customers helping them with their skin, we wanted to celebrate a few of their stories and skincare journeys. Each of them had #askedinkey and we had not only helped them with the products they needed, but more importantly the KNOWLEDGE they needed to understand their skin. The campaign is a celebration of our incredible customers!

You recently released a new 8-piece haircare range, could you tell us more about this new collection?

Ingredients are not just powerful for the face! The scalp was a natural next step for us – and hair and scalp knowledge is even further behind skin, so boy do we have a role to play! Right now there is even more of a spotlight on skin and hair as people have to time to invest whilst at home – so providing affordable yet premium ingredient treatments whilst supporting customers through their learning journey is the perfect timing.

What were the biggest challenges you faced setting up your own brand?

Wow..where to start! Getting investment and spending wisely, then working out how to scale (we had mass sell outs), without putting too much pressure on the business too quickly. This meant we had just 15 people running the brand for a year, trying to support over 30 countries, massively stretched, with very little money. The skincare product creation and marketing is the fun bit!

What are your greatest achievements to date?

The difference we have made to people’s lives. Getting the genuine feedback from customers makes it all worth it! A personal one for me was also seeing the brand on shelves for the first time in Sephora. It was a real pinch me moment, just 6 months after launching the brand!

What advice would you give to anyone starting up their own beauty/skincare brand?

Get as much support as you can – learn from others mistakes, and get a seasoned mentor if possible, and get a strong network around you. Being two co-founders definitely helped us to get through the tough times! In terms of creating a brand…be super clear on WHY you exist, what makes you different, and make sure that is more than the product itself. Have strong core beliefs and carry them through everything you do.