Earlier this month over 240 beauty brands set up shop at Pier 94, a massive event location on Manhattan’s west side, at the fifth annual Indie Beauty Expo. Over the course of two days, retail buyers, journalists and bloggers, among others in the beauty industry met the people behind the brands, tested their products and mingled among their industry cohorts.
The brands represented at the event ranged broadly, from CBD-infused skincare lines to cruelty-free cosmetics to an all-natural charcoal toothpaste. But what they all had in common? They’re all—as the name of the event might have you expect—independent brands.
The Indie Beauty Expo was founded in 2015 by Jillian Wright, an aesthetician, and entrepreneur Nader Naeymi-Rad as an arena for brands that are ready for expansion but not quite yet at the point of being acquired by one of the world’s big beauty conglomerates, such as L’Óreal or Estée Lauder.
It’s a gap in the market Wright herself identified in the early days of her own skincare line, Jillian Wright Skincare. She didn’t see the right place for a new, emerging brand—but one that was logistically ready for commercial expansion—to connect with the rest of the industry in person.
“One specific problem she had was there was nowhere in her mind that she could exhibit her brand to the right buyers and press,” Naeymi-Rad said. “Other trade shows are either too big, with 1,400 exhibitors in Las Vegas, or there was a farmers market.”
The answer was to team up with Naeymi-Rad, her friend and a business executive, to create the Indie Beauty Expo, an event that would hit that sweet spot between massive convention and mom-and-pop product stand. It started with 40 brands in 2015 and as of this year has grown to nearly 250, and has expanded to other cities in the U.S., including Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as Europe, in London and Berlin.
Beyond the brand-led booths, this year’s event at Pier 94 also featured trendy neon lights, millennial pink-hued couches and a café serving snacks and lunch.
The right event at the right time
The growth has been quick, Naeymi-Rad said, but it’s also an event that’s practically tailor-made for the current climate in the industry. The Indie Beauty Expo has benefitted from the growing trend of consumers wanting to know more about what their products are made of, who’s making them and what the brands selling them stand for, he explained.
It’s a wave that independent brands—and particularly independent beauty brands, many of which are leaning into a focus on clean, natural ingredients—are riding.
“In general, in consumer packaged goods, we’re seeing it shift away from over-marketed global brands to smaller artisanal, mission-driven brands,” he said. “That’s the reflection of modern consumers wanting more from a product than just the blind consumerism of, ‘Hey, is a famous person using this?’ People are asking, ‘Where is it made? What’s in it? How’s it good for the environment? How’s it good for the world?’ And that is helping indie brands and beauty.”
“People trust people”
What also helps is the more inherently personal nature of an independent brand. Oftentimes, a founder is at the center of a smaller brand, providing a face—and a personality—that consumers can get to know and learn to trust. Naeymi-Rad said that’s a key differentiating factor for the brands that showcase at the Expo.
“If you look at the top valuations that have been achieved for some of the brands this year in beauty, it is Kylie Cosmetics, Pat McGrath Labs, Anastasia Beverly Hills,” he said. “All of them have a person associated with them, because people trust people.
“People don’t trust those inanimate objects anymore. They don’t trust the impersonal nature of who’s behind those brands and the decisions that they’re taking, because they know those decisions are being made to satisfy people who are looking for immediate quarterly results.”
Today, the expo’s parent company, the Indie Beauty Media Group, has expanded to several events and platforms beyond the original Expo to provide a place for beauty entrepreneurs to gather, learn and connect with one another, as well as with press, retailers and other industry folk.
It also hosts BeautyX, an industry conference providing entrepreneurial learning opportunities as well as a space for new brands and more established players to network, ahead of the Expo. There’s also UpLink, a directory that helps match beauty entrepreneurs with “verified solution providers,” according to the company; UpLink Live, an event that makes these connections in-person; and Beauty Independent, an editorial website.
All these ventures are at the core of what the Indie Beauty Media Group is doing, said Naeymi-Rad: creating new a hub for those looking to make a splash in beauty.
“We want to make sure that beauty entrepreneurs feel that they’re part of a much bigger community,” he said. “And that really is the heart of what we’re doing. We’re building a universe of opportunities, focused on the beauty entrepreneur.”