Few beauty brands have tapped into a precise cultural moment and intuited what women want from their beauty bags quite like TrèStiQue. After years at the helm of product development at Revlon, co-founder Jennifer Kapahi set out to create a line of grab and go essentials that help you put your best foot forward with fewer products. The line is based around what Jenn refers to as the key ingredients for the ‘5-minute face.’ Almost every product comes as a 2-in-1, offering product on one end, and an application tool on other, and all fits into a small bag that weighs less than a pound.
TrèStiQue products are special – anyone will tell you that – and Jenn (along with business partner Jack Bensason) has cultivated this magic the old fashion way: honing their craft, years of hard work and cutting through the noise through innovation, allowing the products to speak for themselves.
Authenticity is a word often thrown around in our line of work, but it’s an ethos that goes to the heart of what TrèStiQue has created from the beginning. In an effort to create pieces that truly work for you, Jenn has listened, researched and created a brand that is fun, functional and personal. It’s not about perfection or trends – but more about celebrating real women and making them feel the best version of themselves.
In person, she’s easy-going but her vision is deliberate. This is her story on leaving the security of a lucrative job to follow through on her mission to offer women more. Starting a business isn’t easy – especially when you don’t have big financial backing – so I was inspired by her unwavering honest about her entrepreneurial journey so far and I’m sure you will be to.
ON GETTING THE MAKEUP BUG EARLY: I was born loving makeup, hair, clothes – all things beauty and fashion. As far back as I can remember, I loved giving makeovers to my mom, friends and cousins. I have a video of myself at around 8 years-old getting my first caboodle on Christmas (the perfect box to organize all my hair and makeup supplies). I would spend countless hours trying new looks, new products and accessorizing my outfits.
LIFE BEFORE TRÉSTIQUE: I started as a makeup-artist in college during the summer months. I worked for Clinique at Saks Fifth Avenue in Southampton. After I graduated college, I was accepted into the executive training program at Bloomingdales 59th Street where I trained to become a sales manager. I worked on the cosmetics and fragrance floor, managing hundreds of beauty advisors, running PR events, and helping customers. Then I moved to Intercos (one of the largest global manufacturers), which is where I studied market trends, invented new product concepts, wrote marketing concepts and managed clients. I learned everything about how beauty products are made, the process behind a new development and how to create concepts that resonate with the consumer. After 4 years there I went to Revlon on the brand side, where I became a global product developer – focusing on launching new products into the US marketplace, training the sales force, and promoting our launches with press and at events. I loved the idea of ideating, creating, developing and launching new products into the market. I loved every aspect of product development. I loved studying the consumer trends and coming up with concepts, shades, formulas and ingredient stories. Bringing a product to life is very exciting and involves so many different types of work from the actual chemistry of the formula to the package development, marketing, display, in-store support, sales training, and press. I loved how every element contributed to a successful launch and the process it took to make it to the end line.
LEAVING REVLON TO START THE BUSINESS: My entire family are entrepreneurs. My parents have an organic farm on the north fork of Long Island and my husband started his own business several years ago. When I was contemplating leaving my corporate job with Revlon it was my husband who pushed me to pursue my dreams. He is a firm believer in taking risks to see rewards and he also operates under the mentality that life is very short so you should live without regret and capitalize on every opportunity that presents itself to you. Having him support me and believe in me was exactly the push I needed to jump the corporate ship. I always had the burning desire to be an entrepreneur and to create something from scratch. I love the intensity, the chaos, and the flexibility entrepreneurship brings and I was tired of the corporate lifestyle and structure. Ultimately, in corporate there are many processes that create stagnation along the development timeline and I wanted to be free to create products that I was passionate about and bring them to market quicker. Working in a corporate environment before starting the business was beneficial though as it trained me in all the steps you should take for a successful launch. I knew about every product, package, formula and advertising test that should be conducted before putting a product on the market. Once you know the steps it’s easier to eliminate the excess and focus on the necessities. When you have a tiny budget, you have to make tough decisions about where to spend, but with my experience I knew what tests and research were must haves, and which ones were nice to have. For example, we focus very strongly on product and package innovation so never skip any testing there but we are scrappier with market and consumer research using our friends, family and existing customers to provide feedback rather than paying for expensive consumer panel testing. Working in a corporate environment first isn’t a necessity though. With less formal experience comes an element of naivety that allows you to pursue your dreams without fear. The upside of my path is that I didn’t have to hire several experts in the field to assist me early on because I already had the know-how.
WHERE THE IDEA FOR TRÉSTIQUE CAME FROM: Everything I used was heavy, cumbersome or complicated. There wasn’t a full line of products that made sense to me as a full everyday makeup routine. I wanted a 5-minute face that would be easy to apply and to carry around in my purse and in my travels. It’s all about our “Le Pak bag”, when you throw your essentials inside it weighs 0.5lbs (which is half the weight of an average bag). You have everything you need and nothing you don’t. It has a mirror and stores all our 2-in-1 TrèStiQue crayons perfectly. Our products (highlight stick, concealer, blush & lip) can be applied one-handed in the back of an uber on the fly! When we started the business, I also felt that the big beauty companies weren’t targeting millennials. Since then, there have also been tons of indie brands and startups like us that target millennials. I think it is important for brands to be honest and authentic about who they are and what they are selling. Millennials prefer to know the real deal and not the BS. I also think millennials have especially high standards when it comes to shipping (thanks to Amazon) so they expect quick delivery, easy returns and responsive customer service. Initially I think it was challenging for big corporates to shift their mentality and get away from traditional print and TV advertising. Social media has changed the world and bloggers and influencers have become the new celebrities.
ON FUNDING THE BUSINESS WITH SAVINGS OVER OUTSIDE INVESTMENT: I think it is something to be proud of, especially because we are not backed by big money or endorsed by a big celebrity name. We were able to win the CEW/QVC Beauty Quest Award and partner with both QVC and Sephora based on our innovative products and hard work. The advantage of keeping control is that you have complete freedom, quiet and space to think creatively and make decisions for your brand without explaining yourself. The challenges is that we haven’t been able to invest in marketing the way we want to. We haven’t been able to afford beauty events or work with influencers and bloggers the way other brands do and we haven’t been able to hire all the people we need to grow our team. I wish we had been able to afford strategic hires earlier on in the brand. My advice to other startup founders is to try and meet as many people as possible from the beginning – it takes a lot of time to find the right people – so by the time you’re able to invest, you’ll be all set.
HOW THEY HAVE MADE A SPLASH IN A COMPETITIVE MARKET: The only way to cut through the clutter is with innovation and we’ve been able to do that because our products are truly unique and differentiated (magnetic sealing and built-in tools). Even though we aren’t heavily backed, press and buyers are interested and intrigued to try our products because they are so cool. The fact that we are offering customized sets for the modern lifestyle is also different – our products are meant to be used together, as a routine vs. alone mixed with other products. When used together, you really notice how TrèStiQue simplifies your beauty bag and application.
WHY REMAINING PERSONALLY CONNECTED WITH HER CUSTOMERS IS A TOP PRIORITY: As one of the co-founders I plan to stand behind my brand and get involved in all the product development, beauty events, in-store trainings and creation of “how-to” content. I want to meet my customers and build one-on-one relationships with bloggers so that they can understand that I’m just like them – a REAL modern women looking to simplify her life.
PATIENCE IS KEY: Every overnight success takes about 10-15 years to accomplish. Every day is full of challenges so it helps to remind myself to be patient and that I’m working toward my long-term goal which is to create a recognizable and lasting makeup brand.