How It's Made: This Local Luxury Beauty Brand Shares Its Creative Process
Welcome to How It’s Made. Where we go behind the scenes with your favourite brands to find out how their most popular products are produced. For our first installment, we went behind the scenes with Mecca Cosmetica to find out exactly how the brand’s signature line products come to fruition.
Fact: It’s been almost twenty whole years since the very first Mecca Cosmetica opened its doors in Melbourne. It's hard to imagine the Australian beauty landscape before that momentous day, but suffice it to say it was a whole lot less global and glamourous. (Imagine not being able to replenish a worn out Nars' Laguna, $62, on your lunch break? We don't want to think about it.)
The brainchild of Jo Horgan, Mecca was the first homegrown destination for all things premium beauty, and it's still kicking goals in that direction to this day. Over the past two decades Horgan and her passionate team have built a chic edit of over 100 international brands, with the addition of Mecca's own Signature Line in 2003. Always at the forefront of innovation, this month marks the launch of the Signature Line's first cushion compact, a product born from a truly Australian beauty need—reapplying SPF on the go.
Keep scrolling for insider intel on Mecca Cosmetica's creative process and a look at how their first cushion compact was created.
Byrdie Australia: What’s the story behind Mecca Cosmetica—how did it come to be?
Jo Horgan: While living and working in the U.S. and the U.K., I noticed the rise of the niche global beauty movement and was fascinated by it. When I moved back to Australia, I became aware that not only were women here having to travel to buy brands like Nars, Stila, and Bumble & Bumble, but the department store cosmetic floor was the only beauty retail option at the time. Back then it was about products out of reach behind glass cabinets and staff who were only trained to sell one brand. I felt that there was an enormous opportunity for an alternative experience; one that was truly customer friendly and offered a curation of really exciting, innovative brands with service that was expert but brand neutral.
Being in my 20s at that time and thinking anything was possible, I just ploughed straight into designing plans for what I hoped would be the ultimate beauty destination while simultaneously stalking the brands on my hit list. Skip 1000 or so steps ahead, and Mecca Cosmetica opened its first store in South Yarra in late 1997.
B: What made you decide to create your own brand for Mecca Cosmetica? What did you feel was missing?
JH: We started the Mecca Cosmetica Signature Line in 2003 and it too was driven out of opportunity. While we had curated a strong edit of global brands across makeup, skincare, and fragrance, at that time I felt that the body category, at the pointy end at least, was quite uninspiring. There was definitely an opportunity for some everyday grooming items, like hand cream, body wash and lotion that were worthy enough to sit on our shelves alongside our exclusive brands but that wouldn’t compete with them. And so we started by developing a hand and foot cream and, as more customer and staff suggestions came in for other product ideas (that we didn’t already offer in our assortment), we built the range moving into tools, primers, nail polish, sun protection, and accessories. I see Mecca Cosmetica's Signature Line as a brand that fills the 'white space' in the beauty landscape, so to speak.
B: What’s the ethos behind the products you create for Mecca Cosmetica’s Signature Line?
JH: The Mecca Cosmetica brand has been created by the beauty obsessed for the beauty aficionado. As a beauty retailer with a deep portfolio of brands we have a front-row view into what resonates with our customer and what is missing in her makeup bag and her bathroom cabinet. We feel like we exist in a 'living lab of beauty' with our customers and staff and our global scouting of products. Our products are born out of the accumulated input and knowledge.
As a brand, Mecca Cosmetica aims to elevate an everyday grooming routine into a luxurious ritual but we’re also solutions-based. For instance, we couldn’t find a broad-spectrum sunscreen that felt refined and wore well under makeup so we decided to make our own. To Save Face SPF30+ has done so well that we now have a complete sun category—we even ship it to expats internationally.
B: Talk us through the process, from start to finish, of creating the new cushion compact.
Step One: We’re all back from summer holidays (January, 2015) and I meet with the Mecca Cosmetica brand team to review the next 12-18 months of launches and promotions. They share feedback from our store teams that more and more customers are looking for a product that enables you to reapply SPF through the day without disturbing your makeup.
Step Two: I take this challenge to our in-house product development team and we craft a brief with a laundry list of elements we want to achieve—coverage, comfort, skincare benefits, broad-spectrum sun protection—and send it out to three of the most innovative labs we know.
Step Three: It takes us eight months of back and forth and over 20 different formulations before we agree on one we all like to wear AND that meets the extensive brief. It’s trialled by everyone from our head of artistry to our education, sales, and PR teams, our 'living lab of beauty' testing panel, and a few very discerning beauty junkies around the office before we’re 110% satisfied.
Step Four: The next challenge is packaging. The team review literally hundreds of different compacts and packaging solutions before finding the perfect fit.
Step Five: It’s late November and time to work on getting the shades perfect and finalising how many we need, in which skintones. Two months down the track and the team report back: 'We’re confident we’ve done it.' I challenge them to have it ready to launch in May 2016 to coincide with our complexion promotion across stores. If they’re panicked, they’re not showing it!
Step Six: It’s January 2016. I receive an email from our head of product development. Subject line: There is a 35% chance of us launching this on time. Onwards and upwards…
Step Seven: Testing, testing, testing. We’ve never used this compact so we have to put it through rigorous testing over and over to ensure a happy and long-lasting marriage between the formulation and packaging. (Fact: the SPF element can cause packaging to break.) The team get the all-clear from our supplier and now it’s time for the final test.
Step Eight: Samples are sent out to our Mecca makeup and skin specialists for final feedback. Fingers doubly crossed. Ensuring our store teams are on board with our signature line products is the ultimate influencer strategy in my eyes. If they don’t love it, we just can’t launch it.
Step Nine: By late February, In A Great Light SPF30+, as we’ve decided to call it, gets the all-important staff vote. The product development team has never looked more relieved.
Step Ten: In mid-April, the first run of In A Great Light leaves our warehouse in Melbourne and travels around Australia and New Zealand to our Mecca Cosmetica, Mecca Maxima, and Mecca at Myer stores. Store staff have received product training and have been wearing In A Great Light for the past few weeks. And now it’s over to them to spread the good—I mean great—word.
B: Why did you decide to add a mesh compact to the range?
JH: In A Good Light ($40), our SPF tinted moisturiser, is one of our bestselling products and customers were wanting a compact version that would allow them to touch up their SPF without disturbing their makeup. We combined a beautifully lightweight tint with a broad-spectrum SPF, a hint of glow, and other skin-supporting ingredients (such as licorice root extract), and decided on a compact to ensure it ticked the portability box as a touch-up tool.
Cushion compacts have definitely been having a moment, and we looked at about 70 different options before moving forward with a mesh version. Instead of a sponge soaked in product, this involves a fine layer of mesh layered over the top of the formula allowing for small amounts to be dispensed and applied with a flat sponge not unlike a beauty blender.
B: What were you hoping to create with this particular compact?
JH: We wanted it to be easy to use and beautiful to wear with a flattering, natural finish on the skin.
B: What will be the next big complexion trend in Australia?
JH: Multi-faceted, multi-purpose products that work harder and smarter. They need to, the Australian woman is a demanding customer. We want just the right amount of coverage yet to still look naturally flawless, we want serious sun protection, flattering filters, skin-nourishing ingredients, formulas that go the distance, and packaging that fits our needs—and makeup bags.
B: Which are your bestselling items from Mecca Cosmetica’s Signature Line range?
JH: To Save Face Superscreen SPF 50+ ($40), Lit From Within Illuminating Primer ($38), and Lip De Luscious SPF 25+ ($28). We have proven expertise in luxurious, anti-ageing sun protection and To Save Face doubles as a great primer. Our Lip de Luscious is a cult favourite; it’s moisturising but leaves a hint of lip-plumping shimmer and broad-spectrum SPF. And our Lit From Within is the perfect base for makeup; it adds a filter of flattering luminosity and hydration while helping makeup last the distance.
B: Where do you look for product inspiration?
JH: I spend a lot of time in our stores watching how our customers shop and interact with product and our staff—it’s so insightful. I travel regularly and often find ideas when I’m overseas. I’m also spending more time on social media than ever before; it’s important to be where the conversation is happening. Ultimately, the most valuable intel comes from what I call 'the living lab of beauty' that is our Mecca store staff. They live and breathe beauty every single day so it makes perfect sense to mine the talent we have on tap, to both inform and assess our very own products.
B: How important is customer feedback to you? Does it influence the products you choose to develop?
JH: It’s everything. There’s not one customer email or feedback form that I don’t read. In fact I choose two customer emails to read out to the entire office in our weekly meeting so we’re all across the good, the great, and the could-be-better. And yes, customer feedback does influence the products we choose to develop; some of our most successful product launches have come from a customer suggestion.
Now you've got your eyes set on a new foundation, find out how to apply it like a makeup artist.