Cristina Fogazzi, a beautician from the small town of Sarezzo in northern Italy, turned an internet startup into a 50 million-euro ($59.6 million) beauty brand in just a few years. Her secret: being real about skin problems and aging.
It’s a novel approach in a country that has long held up thin, young and perfect as the ideal woman. The 47-year-old is part of a growing movement around the world to offer women more realism. Her success is also a testament to the power of the web and social media to quickly mint brands. So much so, that she’s now contemplating an initial public offering.
Fogazzi got her start by writing a sarcastic beauty advice blog called Estetistacinica.it (“The Cynical Beautician”). Italian women embraced her no-nonsense, lighthearted message and focus on body positivity. (In one sermon on face creams, she wrote: “At night, our skin rests, just like us, so personally I don’t apply anything.”) In 2015, she leveraged that success to launch VeraLab, an online skincare company that sells products like Spumone foaming face cleanser in an explosion of pink.
These days, Fogazzi can be found presenting at one of her company’s product shows, giving in-person beauty tips to her fans or producing online videos on such topics as dark spots and cellulite. Bloomberg recently spoke with the entrepreneur about creating a beauty company and the truth about anti-wrinkle cream.
You’ve got a loyal audience, including 850,000 Instagram followers. You said on your feed that 'I have a belly, but it is not contagious', and if you have supermodel legs, don’t follow me. Why does that approach work?
Women are tired of seeing young, glamorous models advertising anti-aging creams. When I started selling and marketing my own products, some people would say, "you are not a size 38. Why should people buy your anti-cellulite serum?" Well, our clients know we don’t promise miracles. I am an average weight and average-sized person speaking to real women.
Early on, VeraLab used small independent suppliers. Why did that turn out to be so critical?
One day, we realized we could not keep up with the demand. I was in the position to call those producers and ask them to stay up at night to make more moisturizers and cleansers. A big supplier, serving more clients, would have kept me waiting for at least 90 days, and our business would have gone belly up.
Two years ago, VeraLab was profitable and only selling online. Now you distribute through two of your own stores in Milan and Rome and about 100 perfumery shops. Why the move into physical stores?
At the very beginning, selling online was my only option. Then one day, I had the opportunity to get a corner in Rinascente department store in Milan. The morning of the opening, my staff and I arrived nice and early, only to find a big queue of women outside. When they saw me and started shouting ‘Cinica!’ I realized that they were there for us. They needed a physical contact, someone talking them through the products and suggesting personalized treatments. Also, not everyone is on Instagram.
Your sales are still limited to Italy, where the beauty market is worth about 10 billion euros. What are your expansion plans?
We are looking into entering new European markets, but we are still working on a strategic plan. A stock market listing might also be an option. We also want to launch projects to support the education of young women. I come from a very simple family. I managed to establish myself in the industry, but in my country, the social mobility got stuck. I wish I could see more female, independent entrepreneurs.
There are lots of unrealistic expectations associated with a woman’s appearance and skincare products. Which one is the most difficult to eradicate?
There is no cream able to make stretch marks disappear. Same thing for wrinkles, I am afraid. Creams can minimize them, make your skin better-looking. But believe me, whoever promises otherwise is talking nonsense.