Alexia Inge’s life prior to opening Cult Beauty is a patchwork of different jobs. She was a model and a PR prior to starting the beauty e-tailer – and they jointly taught her the skills she’d need to steer Cult Beauty to the huge success it celebrates now, 10 years on from launching.
Alexia may now live in London and preside over a huge brand, but she started out a ‘frustrated fashionista’. She said: “I grew up in a tiny village in Somerset before the internet. There was a local branch of Boots but we couldn’t get to department stores very often, so I’d just devour magazines and look at everything available and sigh deeply at not being able to get my hands on anything.
“As soon as I moved to London, I studied fashion design at uni before becoming a model.”
It was while modelling that Alexia started to see the power of beauty products: “the first time you see your face made up by a professional, it’s incredible. Backstage and on shoots, I’d ask questions about the products and mined makeup artist’s huge knowledge of what was available in which country. It really whetted my appetite, seeing them roll out their brushes and unfurl this secret world that was so far away from the stuff the girl on the street was being told.”
That Car Crash
“I’d been living in Australia and went home to see the folks when it happened. I broke my back and my sternum. It was a clean break and there was no spinal damage, so it could have been worse. I ended up in a cast for four months and stayed at home with my parents. Mum was cooking such delicious food that it got to the point where I couldn’t breathe in properly as my cast was so tight! Once I’d recovered, I realised I wouldn’t be able to model anymore – it was too physically demanding.”
While some might have struggled to find another path, Alexia landed a role as fashion assistant with Hilary Alexander, before moving onto the press team at Gap, and then working at an agency with beauty brands. It’s there that Alexia met her co-founder of Cult Beauty, Jessica Deluca.
“We had a conversation that resonated with both of us about the products we had littering out bathroom and how we’d wasted hundreds of pounds on it. We decided to go home and tot up the price of anything we hadn’t used in the last three months. Mine came to £900 – and I realised right then that there was a need for a different way of selling things.”
A Hall Of Fame For Beauty
“Jess had this amazing idea to do a beauty hall of fame, and we decided to bring in experts to honour their experience and knowledge. They helped us to get brands, which was really hard given that we were unproven. It was also great to represent the stories behind the brands because that was always something I cared about, and that drew people in.”
While the success of Cult Beauty now seems obvious, starting it up wasn’t without its difficulties. ‘I used half my compensation money for the crash to invest in Cult Beauty and the other half to live very frugally while we were starting it – though I expected it to launch in November 2007 and it ended up being June 2008! Because we didn’t have loads of cash, we had the most junior developers and plenty of delays. Then the recession hit, and sometimes we wouldn’t have any sales for days.’
Once again, Alexia’s penchant for storytelling became integral to the success of Cult Beauty: “I started to spin the stories of indie brands to journalists and some of those brands carried us through and we managed to ride that horse.
It was pretty shaky and we were properly bootstrapped until about 2011 when we got some funding and our FD, but all that marketing paid off as bloggers and social media started to take off and we were all kindred spirits and collaborated. I think that collaborating is a great, female way of doing things – and the modern way to do business.”
Now that Cult Beauty is 10, Alexia has no intention of slowing down: “It’s happened so quickly, but we still have loads to do – we’re the beauty industry’s best kept secret, but I want us to get to the level of our competitors. That said, when I started, I wanted Cult Beauty to be the most trusted beauty website in the world, and our return customer base is off the scale. I’m also very proud that 65% of our brands are female-founded, and 75% are indie, i.e. not owned by a huge company and still with the original team who started it.”