#22 Same perspective, new persistence.
Learning to surrender has been a focus since my last update. By this I mean stop resisting what’s working in business — and in my life — and start listening to what business — and life — want from me. In accepting the ever changing reality of our industry: the pace, the climate, our peers, things feel a lot less volatile.
We started Fluff in 2018 with the intention of building a brand and business that focussed on doing better, that would scale quickly. We were naive. In the three and a bit years since launching, in any instance where we moved quickly, we usually broke things.
Slower is faster.
When we decided to move with greater integrity & intention, it proved to be our biggest challenge — not just for our bottom line, but as an internal battle with my ego. Amongst many decisions, I stopped looking at our sales figures with apprehension. Instead, success has been measured in conversations & connections. We’ve released new products and we had a last minute Christmas pop-up — neither of which were stressful. We have appreciated being in the moment rather than jumping to the next. Our team is smaller than ever but we’re achieving more than ever. And ironically, we’ve been able to make some of our best decisions quickly. Because they stem from solid foundations.
Cutting the Fluff.
We no longer have a store, we haven’t done traditional PR in a long time, and we have paid 4 influencers/artists in 3 years, choosing instead to rely on user generated and paid customer content. We’ve gifted a lot of product (nowhere near the thousands of units many other brands send out a month), and we have a consistent (not aggressive) paid advertising strategy, but outside of this our approach to growth has been word of mouth: building a community based on conversation and connection.
Some might argue that I’m holding this business back. That I’m resisting doing what I know works. I could easily play the beauty game in my sleep — I have built a brand off a memorable tone of voice and formulaic influencer, seeding, and PR strategy before. But the thing is, I can no longer sit at a press dinner with branded napkins and personalised cookies and have small talk about why one moisturiser is so much better than the next. I wouldn’t be happy and more importantly I don’t think I’d be creating anything that matters.
Last year I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Suzanne Santos, Chief Customer Officer of Aesop, who reminded me that it’s ok to be outside of an industry, and that being ourselves would be our best bet. Aesop is a brand I have always admired, and we can only hope to persist in business with similar integrity.
Nothing happens until something moves.
The last two years have been turbulent, to say the least, but for every bump along the road there have been moments of stillness and at times an incredible view. Every day feels closer to realising our vision, where Fluff cloud compacts are recognised around the world and stand for something new; something slow; something special; something that resonates deeply with each and every one of our customers. The depths of the internet make it easy to forget that behind every brand is a team of individuals, sometimes small, sometimes two people, trying to do it all and grow a business while growing themselves. We’ve been grateful for every order that comes through, and every DM that tells us about the impact Fluff’s message has made.
Another year in business. What’s happened lately? Virgil died yet my 99-year-old Nanna continues to live sitting next to a calendar. Isn’t that wild? I still don’t know exactly how NFTS work but I know that Nike bought a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers ‘for the metaverse’ so I’m wondering if we should make virtual makeup instead. (Not really, we thought of that idea about three years ago and I know it wouldn’t have landed then. Timing is everything.)
We went to order 10,000 bottles vs 1,000 units, and the unit cost was the same, and the shipping cost had tripled. Instagram engagement is consistently inconsistent. We know that unfortunately but predictably, photos of Harry Styles, minimal ‘shelfies’, ‘surveillance chic’ selfies, and Twitter memes work, as well as - and more fortunately - our Issues quotes and vlogs, but we don’t always know what content will convert. If it does today, it probably won’t tomorrow. How do we keep pushing our message of consuming less, when the truth is, we need sales so that we can grow more?
Black Friday sales happened again, except this year they were preceded by Amazon Prime Day, Vogue Shopping Night, Singles Day, After Pay Day, Click Frenzy, also, Green Monday, Free Shipping Day and Boxing Day. Call me nihilistic — I am. Should every brand just reduce their prices by 50% and call it a day?
I’m honestly not sure how long this can go on for. D2C brands that once captivated consumers’ attention and profited from the pandemic are closing down. It begs the question, when do you give up, or perhaps more important, why do you give up? One of my investors told me it’s when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, another told me I’m crazy for driving where we’re trying to go. It’s times like these that I’m grateful for Fluff’s position, and remind myself that we are still in our infancy — we have a long way to go.
We’ve been nimble enough to scale back where needed, on overheads including rent and staff, and invest in new product development with our local manufacturing team to maximise profits. Last year we were patient as we worked to balance the financial needs of the business with the growing needs of the brand. Now we can persist with creating value for our customers, and prioritising their experience above all else, across all touch points.
Are you tired?
New beauty brands pop up every day. I’m yet to be blown away, but I think we passed the point of being impressed a long time ago. I used to be obsessed with seeing the next Instagram post from other businesses, now I mostly check the platform to see the latest NYT Cartoon.
My gut tells me that consumers are feeling a similar fatigue. That ‘the dream’ beauty brands have sold in ‘reversing the clock’ or ‘increasing confidence’ has begun to fade, and that gimmicks like 20% off, or free minis or advent calendars are no longer perceived the same. Brands that have, and continue to do their own thing, without need for validation, (if they can financially sustain slow growth) will reign.
At the end of the year we all needed a break, like every year, like how we’re programmed to consistently burn out. As a team of two we had taken on more roles than we had experience or motivation to do, but we did them anyway.
This coming year, 2022 — as we come up for air, I’m committed to reconnecting with our community, from customers to fans, to brands whose values reflect our own. I’m ready to create art again, content that makes people feel something. Even if that’s uncomfortable.
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