IT Cosmetics is a brand that refuses to use models — instead the focus is on real women. As its first Cork counter opens, Rowena Walsh meets the people behind the cult line.
When Jamie Kern Lima developed rosacea, she could never have dreamt that the hereditary skin condition would eventually lead her to create a billion-dollar cosmetics company.
Just eight years after IT Cosmetics — it stands for innovative technology — was launched, L’Oreal bought it for $1.2bn and Jamie became the first female CEO of a L’Oreal brand in the French conglomerate’s 109-year history.
Jamie’s personal popularity among fans of IT Cosmetics has been the secret of its success. She has made hundreds of TV appearance, shot YouTube videos, and made countless in-store appearances extolling the virtues of her products, which are a blend of skincare and make-up aimed at solving the beauty problems of real women.
Her appeal is her authenticity and her willingness to appear barefaced on camera. The former Miss Washington and Big Brother contestant had been working as a TV news anchor in California but the onset of rosacea — a chronic, inflammatory condition causing redness — meant that she struggled to find make-up that could stand up to the television camera and lights.
Despite spending much of her pay cheque on beauty products, Jamie wasn’t getting the results she had hoped for. During one newscast, she accidentally wiped her eyebrow off live on TV and she frequently found that her redness was showing even though she had applied ‘full coverage’ foundation.
“I realised that finding the right makeup is easy when you have great skin but is nearly impossible when you have problem skin like I do,” she says.
Jamie knew she wasn’t alone in facing such challenges, and her epiphany came when she realised that if she could give women products that “truly gave them their most beautiful skin, it would be life-changing”.
The result was IT Cosmetics, which was developed in collaboration with plastic surgeons and dermatologists and is a range of cruelty-free make-up and skincare products. It will be available in Brown Thomas Cork from May 24.
In a crowded market, IT Cosmetics stands out because its skincare and make-up products deliver serious beauty solutions that make users look and feel fabulous, according to Kathy Murray, beauty buying director at Brown Thomas and Arnotts.
Rose Gallagher, who suffers from rosacea, agrees. “From the very first time I used the brand, I saw the most incredible results,” says the beauty blogger and IT Cosmetics brand ambassador.
Her friend had been on holiday, discovered the brand, and reckoned that Rose would love it. She was right. “From then on, I made it my mission to tell everyone about them.”
It is this kind of real-life endorsement that sparked the growth of IT Cosmetics. Jamie says the brand grew from real women spreading the word about it, posting before and after pictures online. “When women find something that works, they tell somebody.”
“People can see themselves in our brand,” says Caolán Kelly, education and events executive at IT Cosmetics UK and Ireland. He believes using real women, rather than models or celebrities, in its advertising helps people relate.
Although IT Cosmetics quickly garnered cult status after it was launched, its first few years were tough for Jamie. She and her husband Paulo had written a business plan for the brand while on a plane to their honeymoon in 2007. The following year, she left her job and faced countless rejections, while working 100-hour weeks. But then in 2010 her determination and unwavering conviction in her brand paid off when QVC, the US home shopping channel, said yes.
This opportunity to showcase IT Cosmetic to a huge audience posed its own risks. Jamie had a 10-minute slot to advertise Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer, but needed to have an inventory of over 6,000 units of the product ready for sale.
“If it didn’t sell, we would have to take it all back and probably would have gone out of business,” she says. “In that moment, we decided to risk it all. I asked QVC to allow me to show my bare face on TV, rosacea and all, and to showcase other women with real skin issues.”
Jamie felt women were tired of ads featuring women who didn’t look like them. Although industry experts advised her to use models, she wanted to demonstrate how the products worked on the women they were actually designed for. It was a massive gamble. “I’ll never forget when the on-air light went on. My heart was racing, my hands were shaking, and I was praying like crazy.”
At the end of her debut appearance, the sold out sign went on. Jamie says she’ll never forget that moment. She went on to appear on the shopping channel another four times in 2010 and sales topped an estimated $1m.
In 2013, she met Carol Hamilton, head of L’Oreal’s Luxe Division, at a conference. Hamilton has said she realised the connection Jamie had with women was authentic and that she had a fierce desire to make every woman realise her best self. Jamie’s commitment to this convinced Carol that ‘her brand was going to continue to be on fire”.
Three years later, IT Cosmetics was sold to L’Oreal and it is estimated that Jamie, as the majority owner, received $410m after tax.
She refers to her customers as IT girls, but Jamie herself is the ultimate IT girl.
In hundreds of personal appearances, she has used her own face as a canvas to showcase her products. Her method is simple but extremely effective.
She removes her make-up to show her bright red rosacea and then reapplies it to demonstrate the flawless finish offered by IT Cosmetics.
For Rose Gallagher, this explains the appeal of the products. “I didn’t expect that the Your Skin But Better CC+ with SPF 50+, which has so many added skincare benefits in it, could give such full coverage and still look like natural, glowing skin. I was amazed that I could wear something so good for my skin, that also offered coverage and left people complimenting my skin rather than my make-up.”
“Our fan base is huge,” says Caolán Kelly, “because we have solutions to skin issues. With so many brands, you have to layer and layer products to achieve a look or to cover blemishes but we have simplified it for everyone.”
“I love knowing that my IT Cosmetics staples are a complimentary extension of my skincare routine,” says Rose. “I know people are going to see amazing results both instantly and over time. They’re going to care for their skin at the same time as achieving flawless make-up, and they’re going to cut their getting ready time in half.
BT’s Kathy Murray agrees, saying women want more from their products than just beauty or skincare. “Every minute that can be saved in the morning by using multitasking products counts.”
It’s been said that the products are to make-up as Spanx is to lingerie, “unsexy but get the job done”. For Jamie, the job is still not done. “I’m still driven at this moment the way I was even before the L’Oreal acquisition.
“I’m just scratching the surface of what I have to give and what I have to do.”