NEWS > 15 March 2024

Ideas to Innovation: beauty manufacturers partnering with indie brands by Deanna Utroske

Indies are also often very ingredient-conscious and more daring in product design, as they aim at building a strong visual identity to make their brand really stand out, offering perhaps a more limited product range but specializing in a particular product category, seeking their own niche. They are a driving force for innovation and certainly have tremendous potential.” Enrica Monica Ancorotti, Vice President and CEO of Ancorotti Cosmetics, is clearly well-acquainted with the current generation of beauty entrepreneurs.

I’ve been interviewing indie brand founders and covering news of the independent beauty movement for nearly a decade now; and Ancorotti’s observations about how intentionally indie brand leaders tend to be when selecting ingredients, developing products, defining their niche, and provoking innovation are spot on.

As for indie brands’ “tremendous potential,” even a short list of headline-making acquisitions from the past 10 years proves that point: La Labo (Estée Lauder, 2014); Dermalogica (Unilever, 2015); Kate Somerville (Unilever, 2015); REN (Unilever, 2015); TooFaced (Estée Lauder, 2016); IT Cosmetics (L’Oréal, 2016); EltaMD (Colgate-Palmolive, 2017); Schmidt's Naturals (Unilever, 2017); First Aid Beauty (P&G, 2018); Drunk Elephant (Shiseido, 2019); The Mane Choice (MAV Beauty Brands, 2019); Tatcha (Unilever, 2019); Cremo (Edgewell, 2020); Perricone MD (The Hut Group, 2020); Billie (Edgewell, 2021); Sol de Janiero (L’Occitane, 2021); Chantecaille (Beiersdorf, 2022); Gallinée (Shiseido, 2022); Nutrafol (Unilever, 2022); Tata Harper (Amorepacific, 2022); Aesop (L’Oréal, 2023); Mielle Organics (P&G, 2023); Dr Barbara Strum (Puig, 2024).

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Not surprisingly, other contract manufacturers that I interviewed for this article acknowledge indie brands’ scalability and potential for financial growth. As Dario Dall’Oste, Co-Owner and CEO of Necos, explains it, “they may represent time and resources paying back massively our investment because some of them have indisputable potentiality for growing quickly and rapidly achieve significant market share.”

Independent brand founders, whether coming from an industry background or stepping into beauty for the first time, often have the ability to identify and address a market need that larger companies seem to have overlooked.

Dall’Oste affirms that (in his experience) indie brand entrepreneurs are more likely to be bold and innovative: “They often allow us to move forward with outstanding, disruptive concepts and products; something that traditional brands usually don’t dare to take, leading indies to launch on the market something really unique, jointly conceived and manufactured by Necos.”

Necos is headquartered in Crema, Italy, and has been in business since 2015. The company “develops and manufactures emulsions, anhydrous, and powders supplying more than 50 brands with turn-key products, bulk or free-issue service. The product portfolio is well-balanced,” Dall’Oste tells me while conceding that “the lip category is still our strongest axe.”

Necos has, from day one, manufactured only vegan and Halal products. In 2019, the contract manufacturer began creating formulations using upcycled ingredients. Dall’Oste and his team are, he says, continually working to develop “green and sustainable products.” And a few years back, the company began filling aluminum tubes to give brand partners a plastic-free packaging option.

To hear Dall’Oste tell it, working with indie innovators can be energizing; “It is so challenging to jump on board of some of those endeavors…it’s pure action! It’s also very exciting to be part of some of those projects especially when they have just been created, being in the middle of a real storm of ideas and concepts: a circumstance that allows us to dare.”

image Ideas to Innovation: beauty manufacturers partnering with indie brands by Deanna Utroske


As Dall’Oste and Ancorotti suggest, indie brands are often ahead of the trends and quick to market with formulations and product concepts that multinationals bide their time on.

Whole-Body Deodorant is a good example. In 2017, indie personal care brand Founder Dr. Shannon Klingman launched Lume. And for the past seven years, that brand has been building consumer familiarity with the whole-body deo concept. (Harry’s acquired Lume in 2021.) Now this year, we see both P&G and Unilever enter the category. In January, Unilever’s Shea Moisture brand launched a line of whole-body deodorants. And the following month, Dove Men+Care (also a Unilever brand) launched a collection of whole-body deodorant products. Also in February, P&G launched the Secret Whole Body Deodorant line “designed for women.”

Which is to say that it’s always worth paying attention to what indie brand founders and formulators are passionate about. And Tsolakidis Kassianos, General Manager of Simelia cosmetics, does just that.

Kassianos told me, “most of our indie customers are seeking clean, more green, sustainable

formulas in recyclable and recycled packaging.” And this year in particular, he’s seeing demand for “natural cosmetics, men’s cosmetics, and no-gender [products].”

Simelia is a contract manufacturing company based in Thessaloniki, Greece, and founded in 2022 with a goal “to develop and release to the market products of high quality and specific claims,” says Kassianos, adding that it’s a goal that indie brand leaders resonate with: “Most of indie brands,” he says, “share the same vision with us and our first partnership took place at the beginning of our company’s existence.”

Simelia specializes in skincare. “We develop and produce targeted formulas for special skin needs (e.g. antipigment, firming, etc.) for face and the whole body.” And the company supports their brand partners with not only formulation and manufacturing services, but also R&D, regulatory, and packaging.

Enrica Monica Ancorotti also recognizes that indie beauty brands magnify market trends. “Among our indie customers, we are observing a tendency towards the extreme embodiment of the main market trends,” she says. “For instance, there is a huge focus on hybrid products, in-between makeup and skincare. This trend is also driven by their young audience – Gen Z in particular are quite obsessed with skincare. At the same time, color is absolutely key: a wide range of inclusive shades or a single universal hue, that is the question! In terms of packaging, there is a consistent linearity across different products, with a strong emphasis on design identity.”

Ancorotti Cosmetics, headquartered in Crema, Italy, got its start in 2009. The contract manufacturer specializes “in the formulation and production of makeup and skincare cosmetics, with mascara being our flagship product. We collaborate with beauty brands worldwide, spanning from mass-market, masstige, and the prestige segment,” says Ancorotti.

And she sees entrepreneur-led brands not only at the forefront of formula, product, and packaging trends, but also playing a role in advancing industry transparency. “Indie brands,” she tells me, “are really interested in sharing the behind-the-scenes of cosmetics manufacturing with their audience, posting videos on social media to show how their products are made. So, we introduced a filming-in-factory service; and we have found that larger partners also became interested in showcasing production processes, recognizing the value it brings in building trust with consumers by fostering transparency.”

At Necos, Dall’Oste is seeing that the “free-from claim is still pretty important; although,” he tells me, “we constantly push our clients to spend more effort telling their consumers what their product contains and delivers, rather than underlining what’s not inside.”

“Their investment for eye-catching decorated packaging is another key factor: attracting the consumer’s attention and incite her curiosity is fundamental for the first purchase at least: the quality and the performances delivered by the product will be then the elements leading her to buy again and, maybe, to switch from her beloved brand to the new one.”

And the indie brand leaders Dall’Oste is hearing from “have been constantly seeking a partner [who’s] not just manufacturing their products but actively contributing to their creation. Somebody that helps them to keep what they promised to the consumers they’re speaking with.”

“Product wise,” he says, “bridge / hybrid products are on the rise: not just color anymore but makeup items infused with caring active ingredients, added not just for marketing purposes but in [a] functional dose and carrying assessed performances the user will get delivered,” a sentiment we heard from Ancorotti as well.

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At Simelia, Kassianos tells me that the indie brands they work well with “have innovative ideas,

specific goals and …[are focused on] high-quality and innovative cosmetics. Otherwise,” he says, “misunderstandings and disappointments will come up and jeopardize the whole project.”

It’s a good reminder of the importance of brand-manufacturer fit. Another key factor in this relationship—one that’s conventionally been a concern for indies—is product MOQs (or minimum order quantities). When I asked Kassianos if Simelia cosmetics had adjusted their MOQs to support smaller brands? He swiftly replied, “Yes, of course!” adding that “we have already purchase mechanical equipment specialized in small quantity production,” and noting that “the MOQs always depend on the product code.”

Kassianos suggested that people and place can be a factor in brand-manufacturer fit too: “Our company,” he says, “consists of young people and people with big experience in the cosmetic industry, passionate about their jobs and full of fresh ideas for the future. Simelia creates cosmetics today for tomorrow, in the blessed and mythic place where everything is magical and possible: Greece!”

Back in Italy, Ancorotti acknowledges that “collaborating with newborn indies sometimes presents challenges in terms of MOQs, especially if we are talking about innovative products that require significant investments in manufacturing equipment and raw materials / components. However, it truly depends on the product. Additionally, we have launched the 'Dream it, Do it!' program, offering a selection of formulas from our portfolio with ready-made customizations and matching packaging options for turnkey products that do not require large MOQs.”

And Dall’Oste is addressing the issue of MOQs at Necos as well. “We have always offered a production facility equipped for successfully facing even small-sized needs, predominantly aiming to look forward without exclusively focusing on the single purchase order an indie needs for launching that range or the brand itself. Whereas the plant in Crema hosts fully robotized filling machines, the other plant in Moscazzano is equipped with semi-automatic and manual filling lines. The same applies for the mixers where bulk is manufactured.”

He shared “a couple of significant examples: our best seller matt liquid lipstick Lip Tattoo offers more than 300 colors developed, of which 80 shades are red, and 22 European and Asian packaging [options] with a compatibility test successfully done; when it comes to eye-shadow palettes, a set of 4 formulas and 115 colors have been industrialized on 8 different palettes (from 2 up to 18 positions) and all the industrial pressing tools are available on stock and free of charge. Both of these can be purchased starting from 1,000 pieces per color. One of the most important indie brands we cooperate with, started a few years ago buying from Necos 500 mascaras: an exceptionally low quantity we agreed [to] as I felt the outstanding potential of that idea, as well as of the person behind it.”

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An important takeaway here is how many and how well contract manufacturers are collaborating with independent brands today. I was able to interview only three for this article, but countless manufacturers exhibiting at Cosmopack stand ready to serve and support the needs of beauty entrepreneurs and their growing brands.

Trendcolor in Cesate, Italy, for instance “is a color contract manufacturer established in 2003, specialized in the creation of hero-products for indie and luxury brands.”

Family-owned SHP Soap and Solid Cosmetics also got its start in 2003. This Provence, France – based manufacturer describes the scope of their business in the context of the brands they partner with: “A force for innovation and creation, our partners are particularly diverse: from niche brands to the largest luxury houses in the world, from local retailers to the biggest cosmetic brands, from the Provençal scent universe, to mass distribution.”

SRC out of Pavia di Udine, Italy, works with brands of every size: “Thanks to our experience and flexibility we are able to offer customized solutions for every project, whether small or large, through ready-to-use products which meet both the needs of the client and of the market,” according to the company’s site, which also notes some of the very current innovations that the team at SRC develops, manufactures, and packages: safe beauty, skinimalism, waterless beauty, and pro age products.

The list of indie-loving contract manufacturers goes on. And suffice it to say, Cosmopack is a very good show for indie brands and manufacturers to find each other. Kassianos told me that “this exhibition is one of the best shows for this purpose because it’s one of the biggest shows worldwide with high visitation.”

Dall’Oste points out that Cosmopack is “one of the most important events worldwide for our business, being…so close to the Italian Cosmetic Valley, the most important cosmetic district globally. It’s still a show offering an amazing walk-in, so every year our booth is visited by many new brands, leading to develop new opportunities.”

And Ancorotti extended an invitation that I think most (if not all) of the manufacturers exhibiting at Cosmopack would repeat: “Indie brands are welcome to visit our stand, where they can meet our team, learn more about the services we provide, and explore our latest collections and technologies. We look forward to connecting with them and discussing how we can support their brand's growth and success in the cosmetics industry.”


Author: Deanna Utroske
In collaboration with:

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Are you looking for more updates on the Indie Brands and their enormous potential? Don’t miss the CosmoFactory Podcast – From Ideas to Innovation, the brand-new podcast by Cosmoprof Worldwide Bologna, and discover the most disruptive experiences And the relationships between Indie Brands and producers!!


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