In Conversation with Charlotte Knight of Ciaté, Lottie London, & Skin Proud

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Describe your business in a few words?

An entrepreneurial fueled ecosystem of ideas, innovation, and creativity to ultimately develop and produce products and brands centered around the wonderful world of beauty. Ciaté, bringing beauty unexpected across nail and color for over a decade, Lottie London, dubbed as beauty trend heaven for Gen Z and Skin Proud, clean, accessible, transparent, unfiltered efficacious skincare built on a platform of self-acceptance and being proud of the skin you are in.   

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Having spent many years as a session nail artist working fashion weeks around the Globe and on set for high profile shoots, I identified white space in bridging the gap between runway to retail allowing the creativity and editorial looks to be accessible in a more approachable, DIY fool-proof manor.   

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

With a love of interior design, I spent a few years working for a Singaporean property company in London as they embarked on thrilling new builds of the Four Seasons Hotel and luxury apartments.  This role was extremely enriching with multifaceted insight and experience through international business, working alongside many different cultures, tendering processes, timeline management, quality standards, budget controls, marketing and much more.  

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I guess I did know I wanted to be an entrepreneur because it’s in my genes. Both sets of Grandparents and parents were entrepreneurs…albeit some more successful than others! Growing up in an environment where business is the topic of conversation of breakfast, lunch and dinner it gave invaluable insight into the highs and lows of being an Entrepreneur. At a young age, I spent many school breaks in meetings and on sourcing trips across Europe.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

In the early days of Ciaté, it was a combination of word-of-mouth and the fact that I was creating these unseen looks in my editorial work. For example, my first major success with the brand was our Caviar Manicure, which came about during a shoot. We were having fun on set playing with some mini glass beads which I shot on the model’s lip and nails…four short months later this very image became front and centre on packaging, within press and in store windows around the Globe.  It was the early days of Instagram so with traditional PR as our main vehicle, the product became the hottest launch of the time and almost overnight all major global retailers wanted to stock us!

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

During the early years, my mindset was to do EVERYTHING which is ultimately just bad for business. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to surround yourself with people who complement your strengths.  During the start-up phase especially optimize, outsource and automate wherever you can – be it freelance writers, accountants, graphic designers..and tools that can automate marketing needs such as retaining customers. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

We were awarded the Newcomer of the Year award by WWD in 2012! It was the most incredible evening, a room filled with Industry greats from the World’s biggest Beauty Brands. The award was handed to me by the formidable Leonard Lauder as he whispered complimentary words of encouragement and recognition. It was a real “pinch me” moment!

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

It’s dependent on the type of hire, but for front office roles I love to ask “if you were a cosmetic product, what would you be and why?” My top tips would be: Have an exceptional recruitment and onboarding process as this is the candidate’s first impression of your Company and also taking the time to feedback to candidates on why they were not successful (this time) can be so valuable to their future success in securing the right role! Practice collaborative hiring as your new recruits won’t be working in a vacuum.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

At the beginning it was rather daunting as our retail partners were shutting their stores, there was such uncertainty and a heavy blanket of anxiety surrounding day to day life. Thankfully, D2C sales saw exponential growth as consumer behaviour shifted online and our heritage nail business saw incredible growth with nail bars and beauty salons closed for long durations. As an independently owned business, we pride ourselves on our ability to pivot, being extremely agile and able to adapt to any situation more easily. With a pre-planned new brand launch in April 2020, Skin Proud arrived! An exemplary skincare launch initially focused on D2C only could take advantage of the rise in online traffic and a true testament to our team who quickly pivoted their marketing and communications strategies. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Am very proud to say that although most of our products are already vegan, we made a pledge two years ago to be 100% vegan by the end of 2021 and we are ahead of this timing so far which is a fabulous effort by the whole team. We also have two fabulous collaborations coming for 2021 which we are all very excited about and cannot wait to share with everyone. After a turbulent time within brick & mortar over the past year, we are highly encouraged by some exceptional store rollouts planned for 2021 and 2022 so we shall certainly be very busy!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Health is really Wealth – staying healthy and building immunity was key in 2020 so made huge strides into wellbeing inside and out –all steps that I shall continue to maintain as we move into our next chapter of life.  

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

To never forget to have fun and live in the present as much as you can. In the early days I worked myself to death and if I was not working I would be consumed in guilt that I had taken my “eye of the ball”.  I missed out on a lot of fun in my late twenties with this mindset.  When I became a mother at 27, the guilt was exacerbated with “mom guilt” when working around the clock. After some hypnotherapy, I made wonderful positive changes to how I approached things day to day to live in the now and stop the guilt tripping – I finally started to smell the freshly cut grass!

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

At dinner time in our household, we practice gratitude and positivity by each sharing three positive things or best bits about our day. Appreciating life’s simple pleasures that I often missed in the hustle bustle of life before 2020.  Be it local treasures and quaint streets discovered on yet another dog walk or a humble, brave tulip breaking through the soil signifying spring and new life. Staying active has played a huge role in my general physical and mental wellbeing. The best investment all year was a Peloton bike -I love to go all out with a dark room and scented candles to transport my senses to being back in a NYC Soul Cycle class!

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I have come to accept this is no perfect work/ life balance so strive for a realistic schedule over the “perfect” schedule. Don’t be afraid to unplug as cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows recovery from weekly stress and gives space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Be sure to make time for yourself and your loved ones –book family centred activities ahead of time to ensure it’s also booked out of your schedule and no matter what stage of a relationship you are in, even if you have been married for 15 years, make time for “date night” even if you can only hit one a month – it’s the perfect time to just to be you again..not mom, not businesswoman…! Take Vacations throughout the year…whether it’s a 2-3 day staycation or a two week trip to a sun soaked beach, it’s so important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge. Always prioritize your health – your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is of the utmost importance so don’t ignore any telling signs!

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Despite creating beauty products, I am still utterly useless at drawing winged liner on myself! Believe me, I have put in the practice hours…I have come to face the fact my eye shape is just not a friend of winged liner…knowing the frustration I felt for years, we created the ultimate beauty hack with a wing stamp so you can stamp on your wings in a flash and works for every eye shape!!

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Focusing on the most important tasks first. 
  • Blocking time out of your schedule to cultivate deep work. 
  • Avoid Procrastination by breaking down overwhelming tasks/ projects into next steps.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

To be tenaciously fearless, to continually innovate and disrupt whilst passionately loving your job/ chosen path. 

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