Leilah Mundt founded Crème Collective, a beauty brand development and sales agency, to help brand clients such as Fifth & Root, Heir Atelier, Lady Suite and The Beauty Chef grow via sales strategies and retail partnerships. Here, Leilah talks about the COVID-19 crisis as a catalyst for overdue changes, how body care is taking off and what indie brands can do to decrease creative costs.

This pause has been an opportunity to take a step back, look at what has worked, and perhaps do things a little more simply. How many new product launches do you really need? How big does your brand really need to be?

Crème Collective is a beauty and wellness agency, a 360-brand building engine for brands that are either new to the U.S., just launching, or in the conceptual stages. We do everything from branding, product development, and packaging design, through to campaign ideation, campaign design, photography, video, and ongoing content. We also do sales and create a retail distribution strategy for a brand, mainly in the US but also globally. Our national sales team then executes upon that strategy.

In terms of category, the skin care and body care category has done the best for us recently, especially more expensive products or in the mid-range. Color cosmetics has taken a dip. I have been thrilled to see the body category take off. It’s usually a challenge to get people to spend as much on their body as they do on their face. However, in this time of sitting at home and really looking at your body, being in your body, consumers are turning to cleansing products, moisturizing products, body scrubs, lotions and foot products. One of our brands, Lavido, has a foot product that has gone through the roof. Two other brands, Rituel de Fille and NCLA, both color cosmetics brands, have pivoted into hand sanitizer. I love the fact that now we will have higher quality sanitizers and a better experience with products that will be a staple.

The store closings has forced Crème Collective to look at new and different ways we can connect to the consumer and sell product. We are coming out of a time of content being very produced, to connecting with the consumer right where she is on a more human level. Lavido, which is based in Israel, is doing incredibly well with its e-commerce. The founder is just walking people through his gardens in Israel on his Instagram, talking about the herbs. It’s just him and his iPhone, connecting, and it’s very effective.

Content that could be viewed as pretentious is off the table for us right now. It’s all very conversational now, not aspirational. More a case of, ‘This is what’s in it. This is why it works. This is how you use it.’ Go-To, a skin care brand from Australia, has done an incredible job with its voice. The brand is down-to-earth, with super high-quality formulas and very straightforward content, funny without being slapstick.

Another area in need of renovation is traditional content and brand campaigns that are very expensive. (Think $30,000 to $50,000 a day photoshoots including models, location fees, hair and makeup, wardrobe). From that shoot, you’re probably getting, tops, 10 hero images that you can use on billboards, on the home page of your website, or for in-store collateral or posters. This expense is one of the biggest challenges for independent brands, and frankly even mid-to-large brands. Our agency has really pivoted here and created a full-service program called the Content Co-op that gives brands the photos and videos they need at a fraction of the price. We do this by getting a number of brands together into a day, and co-opting the cost of vendors. Vendors are paid what they deserve for their creativity and strategy, and the rest, everything from the styling to the shot list, comes from our team. We’re doing all this at a rate that is a fraction of what the brands can do on their own. I’m super excited about it, and think it’s the way of the future.

Crème Collective had plans to launch new brands and products, but we’re trying to be very considerate and empathetic towards buyers who are now sitting at home. It’s very stressful as they likely have a lot of store inventory that they’re looking to move around. We don’t want to hold back on newness or the more fun and exciting sides of this industry, but we’re also trying to be highly sensitive because each and every retailer is in a unique position. One strategy won’t work for all. Some retailers have plenty of inventory, others don’t. Some are better at e-commerce, others are more heritage-based. We are calling our friends in buying positions and working closely with them. We’ve done a lot of gift-with-purchases, sampling, gifting, and hand-holding.

On a positive note, people love beauty, and people will buy beauty. Many of the challenges that we are facing have simply been accelerated by COVID and aren’t necessarily new. There are things that should have been been worked on years ago. For instance, testers have always been a problem. They are very hard to maintain, they get filthy very fast, and this is an opportunity for the entire industry to look at how we test products in a better way. That is a happy challenge because this is something that has gone on too long. We’re in a modern world and there has to be a better way.

Now that we’re all much more comfortable with Zoom calls and we’re all on our computers much more, we’re hoping that this is also an opportunity to rethink in-store support as stores reopen. Up until now, aestheticians and makeup artists perform store services and educate store teams, but this might become digital in the foreseeable future. It’s expensive for brands to do this, and of course it’s expensive to travel to various locations. So maybe we’ll become a little bit more thoughtful about the in-person side of things, and double-down on our efforts to create digital experiences for stores in order to educate, inspire and motivate. It can simply be a matter of getting on a video chat and doing training using the technology that we have available to us.

As a support system for brands, whether online or in-store, Crème Collective is always happy to consult on areas they need in order to stay ahead and be modernized, including packaging and messaging.