The place to be on Wednesday afternoon was at CEW’s Indie Learning Lab, held in the basement of The Altman Building, where 100 or so indie beauty executives learned how to grow their brands by the best in the business: CEW’s newly launched Indie Advisory Group [IAG].

Formed to reflect and service CEW’s growing indie membership base, which is now at 10%, or 700 members, the IAG consists of 20 hand-selected experts who will give advice and help nurture the next generation of indie beauty brands. Of the IAG, CEW President Carlotta Jacobson said, “Beginning last year, we began to form an emerging brand community that helped us determine how CEW could support indie brands. Based on research, data and indie brand feedback, we have developed indie-specific programs that begin today.”

Wednesday’s Indie Learning Lab event kicked off CEW’s Product Demo—an annual event where the best in beauty innovation competes for a coveted Beauty Insider Award—which featured networking followed by a 45-minute block of panels showcasing eight IAG members and providing bursts of information on everything from how to nail a retailer meeting, learning from past successes and mistakes and how to navigate the unfamiliar world of investment and private equity.

The financial panel, Building Your Financial Tool Kit, featured IAG members Janet Gurwitch, Operating Partner, Castanea and Vennette Ho, Managing Director, Financo, both of whom agreed that new brands must have a unique point of difference and be disruptive to get noticed. Both also made a case for having “brand clarity and vison on everything from messaging, distribution and company culture.” They warned, however, to not get distracted – on the product or distribution front—and that flag planting (selling to many retailers) can negatively impact a brand’s business.

The brand panel, If I Knew Then What I Know Now, featured IAG members Laura Geller and Carol’s Daughter’s Lisa Price. The two brand founders, both of whom have sold their companies but remain very active in the day to day business, said one of the most important things to do when launching a business is to identify the right people to build a team—and to perform due diligence before hiring anyone. Laura recalled one of her biggest mistakes, which was agreeing to sell her products at a particular retailer, but not being equipped with the staff to make it a success. Lisa likened growing a small business to the way a parent nurtures a child: as children grow up they go through phases from youth to adulthood, where they may make mistakes and fall along the way, but you have to let them, in order for them to grow.

The retail panel, How to Wow a Retailer, welcomed IAG members Kristen Conneen of QVC, Sephora’s Averyl Andrews, Ulta’s Janice Dusina and Dermstore’s Jessica Chung. Each echoed several sentiments, including the importance of knowing a store before pitching it; how a brand can fill a retailer’s white space, being open to a test/learn distribution strategy and having an organic conversation about a brand’s future.

All IAG members are featured here on and the group will fulfill other responsibilities throughout the year, including hosting webinars and speaking at upcoming CEW events.