As print, digital and e-commerce continue to grow and evolve, the boundaries between each field slowly dissipate. It’s now a logical step for an editor of a monthly glossy to move into luxury retail, or as Kate Shapland serves as an example, for an award-winning journalist to launch their own brand. “Legology came about through a long obsession for the beauty and wellbeing of our legs, fueled by my years as a beauty writer and a glaring gap in the market,” says Kate. “I wanted to make a proper treatment for this deeply unsexy problem.” The problem being cellulite, caused primarily by fluid retention and a sedative lymph system—Legology’s pioneering Air-Lite cream works to diffuse heaviness and tightness, and tone and hydrate the skin.
Kate started her career at Harper’s Bazaar and spent five years at the British title before being made redundant, an experience she describes as a blessing in disguise. “I realised how unpredictable media work can be, and that if I wanted to stay in it, I should rely on myself—I’ve been self-employed ever since.” She went onto write for every publication that she wanted to, before taking up residence as The Telegraph’s plucky beauty columnist, a gig that lasted fourteen years. “I’d been developing Legology long before I left the Telegraph,” she tells me, “but I realised I had to break the habit of a lifetime and focus on one thing to make a real success of it.”
We’re forever trying to be everything to everyone, and if you’re still there, I’m sure you can relate that it’s not sustainable. “I began to feel very thinly spread,” says Kate. “I had the passion, talent and work ethic to make it work, and I wanted to do it my way. So in the end, I embraced it.” Meet Kate Shapland.
ON HER UBER IMPRESSIVE CAREER AS A JOURNALIST & HER BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS: I got lucky and started my career at Harper’s Bazaar. I applied for a job as the fashion editor’s secretary and hated it, got another one as deputy beauty editor and loved it. Then I was made redundant – the editor left and my job went too, which was a salutary lesson. I realised how unpredictable media work can be, and that if I wanted to stay in it I should rely on myself. I’ve been self-employed ever since. I’d written for every publication I wanted to – from Vogue to the News of the World – by the time I got to the Telegraph Magazine. Here I got lucky again and stayed for 14 years because I was blessed with an editor who let me have an unbiased voice and a sense of humour in a weekly column which, after some 20 years writing about beauty, I needed and what made it engaging. I learnt to understand the business you are in and all its light and dark sides. To follow your own path but not expect it to be straight, so be able to take twists and turns and adapt your approach and ideas. Manufacture is challenging and can be limiting, especially when you are on a budget. But there are always ways around things, and sometimes all you need is time to get what you want. That no one owns you, they can only buy your expertise, and this is valuable to you – if not to them – so protect it and your credibility, and never be afraid to walk away from situations that are no longer serving you or your business. That attention to detail is everything – I’m constantly refining aspects of Legology, from its packaging to its website. That charm and subtlety work.
HOW LEGOLOGY IS A SOLUTION FOR AN UNSEXY PROBLEM: It came about through a long obsession for the beauty and wellbeing of our legs, fueled by my years as a beauty writer and a glaring gap in the market. For me, anti-cellulite had become a byword for leg care, just as anti-ageing has for skin care, and I felt there was a need for a more mature and rounded approach to leg care. There’s more to it than cellulite. Fluid retention is a big problem for lots of women too, and it’s a cause of cellulite. So I wanted to make a proper treatment for this deeply unsexy problem, one that worked really well to diffuse heaviness and tightness, ultimately reduce and prevent cellulite, tone and hydrate skin. I wanted my product to be uplifting – to give you a new spring in your step. And I wanted it to feel so wonderful to use that it became a healthy addiction because I know that frequency in beauty brings results. I didn’t see any products on the market that met this criterion, so I made my own. I began with my hero, Air-Lite, a stimulating, deep drainage cream that enhances the lymph and encourages the body to metabolise excess fluid faster. I didn’t want an off-the-shelf formula, so I developed it from scratch with an independent French chemist and it took years to get right. There were moments of despair, but I knew the formula was pioneering and that breaking new ground can be painful. Sun-Lite offers similar drainage benefits with colour – it’s the product you want when the sun appears and you’ve got to migrate from jeans to a skirt. It’s like invisible tights, it works for all skin tones and it washes off. I followed that with Exfo-Lite, a mix of diuretic Himalayan pink salts, seasalt and oil, which I call my ‘two salt scrub’. I put that in mono dose sachets because I thought people would want to slip one in their washbag, and I hate it when scrubs get gritty round the lid.
THE PATH FROM IDEATION TO SHOP FLOORS: Step one: spent more than a few years on the Internet looking for bottle suppliers, carton makers and contract manufacturers; step two: I got my husband to be my business partner; step three: spent tax bill on our chemist to make the formula and on a friend to render my design ideas to packaging; step four: convinced manufacturer to make just 500 units; step five: hired a van and drove it to Devon to collect Air-Lite as it came off the production line, before driving it back to London and straight to Liberty. I would almost certainly take all the same steps again, except for spending the tax money.
FYI – THE BRAND SOLD OUT AT LIBERTY WITHIN A MONTH: To begin with there was no business strategy to speak of – we were just about creating a product, getting it to our launch retail partner, Liberty London, and hoping people liked it. That was it. We did a limited initial run of 500 units of Air-Lite, piggybacking on the end of another production, because we only wanted a manageable volume. Within a month, Liberty had sold the whole lot and since we had no plan in place to make more we had to organise a quick follow up production of 1500 units; then we just increased production with demand. We are more disciplined in planning and forecasting now, and try to follow a yearly structure for sales, development and marketing, with both of us having clearly defined roles – my husband oversees logistics, fulfilment and the commercial side of the business, and I work on marketing, product development and IT.
HOW PARTNERING WITH PARTNERS HELPS GROW YOUR FAN BASE QUICKLY: Our first customers were the true beauty junkies – customers looking to try something new, and Liberty provide the best platform for this. From here on we chose our retail partners carefully to be able to sell through outlets that best complemented our premium brand – so Josh Wood’s Beaute Atelier, Net-a-Porter and British Airways long haul flights. This was a breakthrough for us because we realised how well Legology worked in a travel environment, and it inspired us to produce Air-Lite in a travel friendly 100ml tube. We also developed a leg-lightening massage treatment with Bliss at the Swissport Aspire lounges in long haul airport terminals, and the success of that has led us to explore opportunities in professional spa environments.
ON TAKING THE BUSINESS FULL TIME: I’d been developing Legology long before I left the Telegraph and continued to do both, and other consultancy work, for a few years after I launched the brand. But I realised I had to break the habit of a lifetime and focus on one thing to make a real success of it – I began to feel very thinly spread. I had the passion, talent and work ethic to make it work, and I wanted to do it my way. That ultimately overwhelmed me and my concerns about finance. So in the end, I embraced it.
WHY YOUR NETWORK IS EVERYTHING: I’ve been very lucky to have found so many allies among my beauty writing colleagues – editorial from the people who influence the influencers is the holy grail when you are trying to develop a credible brand. Many of my peers are now working in other areas of the business now too – as buyers, shop owners, TV presenters, marketing consultants and brand founders themselves – and I’ve loved reacquainting with them to get help. At the same time, I’ve relished seeking out and nurturing new contacts – experts in everything from bottle making to sachet production and label design – and becoming an annoying anorak on things like bottle neck sizes, labels and so on.
ON TRANSITIONING FROM THE EDITORIAL SIDE TO THE COMMERCIAL: The passage between beginning and end of a project is the biggest difference. In publishing, you get a brief, work to a deadline, do the job to your best ability, deliver and move on to the next project. In manufacturing, the critical path is a moveable feast because there are so many hoops to jump through and so much can go wrong in the course of that – compatibility tests fail, the jar turns green or the wheels fall off the lorry – which sends you off in a new direction, pushes the chain of events out of kilter and puts a delivery promise to retailers or the press on the line. That can be difficult to accept. Now that I know the business better I take rather sad delight in finding ways to shave off cost and still achieve a premium result. And cash flow! Everyone who runs their own business discovers the limitations of that at some point. It’s very focusing. And marketing to impact your ROI, not just for the sake of being active – I’m not a fan of goodie bags or beauty boxes!
CHANGING THE WAY BEAUTY BRANDS SPEAK TO WOMEN: Our brand pillars are style, wit and expertise and every one of them is key because it impacts on our message. Having effective formulas is paramount, but being able to present the brand in an engaging way – especially when it’s partly focused on a controversial problem like cellulite – is also super important. I felt strongly that beauty was lacking in charm – not necessarily cutesy, whimsical packaging, but in the way it spoke about common beauty issues like fluid retention and cellulite, and I felt that if the products were truly effective I could confidently engage with our audience in more lighthearted way without making light of the meaning of these issues to women.
CURATION IS KEY: There’s too much available and not all of it good. Consumers need direction to find great products, and curation – in the way retailers, editors and bloggers choose and present beauty brands – supports that. My trademark, as a beauty columnist for the Telegraph, was platforming the best bits of the best brands with an expert’s eye. It’s much more challenging to curate beauty in a retail environment, unless you have the integrity, courage and real expertise to back up the offering, because customers can go elsewhere to buy products you don’t sell, and brands often want their entire range given a fair crack of the whip irrespective of whether all of the products merit it.
THE PRESSURE OF SCALING AS A SMALL TEAM: It can be overwhelming to be faced with a mountain of tasks that can only be done by you; and, to begin with, lack of knowledge about production and retail – you can only learn as you go, and a great deal of anxiety that comes with that. However, I do believe that the answers are always there if you’re brave enough, so I don’t hold back on asking the right questions or doing things that don’t come easily but that will grow Legology even a millimetre as a company.
THE SUPPORT ALL SMALL BEAUTY BUSINESSES NEED: One of the main obstacles is minimum orders in ingredients and componentry. Of course, this is something which faces many start ups and small companies, but it’s still surprising given that beauty is such a dynamic and innovative industry, with new concepts and companies appearing all the time, that the standard minimum on a bottle or cap is 10k, unless you go for a stock product. I believe that there is a real resource requirement here for a body that can support small beauty businesses with guidance on managing these obstacles and genuine mutual mentorship.