Marcia Kilgore may exclusively dedicate a part of her brain to launching beauty brands, but she chalks it up to something much less scientific — listening, solving problems, and working like a dog.
While working as a facialist in New York City and listening to her clients' demand for quality skincare and complaints of stress, Kilgore gave birth to Bliss, the hugely successful skincare line known for its kitschy, spa-like products. After actually giving birth, she launched the bath and body brand Soap & Glory in the UK. Her latest beauty venture goes by the name of BEAUTY PIE, and it's all about providing customers with luxury products without the price mark-ups.
We chatted with Kilgore, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur, to find out more about her start in beauty, her astute insight into creating brands, and her next big project.
Tell us about how you got your start in beauty.
As a teenager, I had super oily skin, and nothing I tried helped me. No benzoyl peroxide, no apricot facial scrubs, no steam, no praying to the clear face gods. Nothing. So when I moved to New York to go to University when I was 18 (which didn’t work out, when my student loan fell through) and my skin got worse as a result of my personal training side hustle, I decided to fix my own face, and signed up for a course in esthetics at the then Christine Valmy Academy on 28th Street and 5th Avenue. It worked for me, and I got inspired to help other people have beautiful skin.
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Have you always been interested in beauty?
What’s funny? I did not love chemistry in high school, but cosmetic chemistry? Ingredients? Emulsifiers? Humectants? Antioxidants? Oxygen Sensors? I am all over that. You want to make more women scientists? Make part of the coursework of chemistry all about building a great body lotion. Like any subject, it’s all about how the material gets presented, in which context, by who.
Start on the components of a face cream, end up curing cancer. Because as with any subject matter, it’s always piqued if you understand WIIFY (what’s in it for YOU). For me, what makes me tick is a career filled with making people happy and gorgeous.
Tell us about how the idea of Bliss came to be.
I was a busy celeb facialist in the middle of New York City, working 6.5 days a week, running my own shop. I noticed that so many people came in for their monthly treatment in a state of absolutely 'harried.' As a team, my staff and I were booked 18 months in advance already, so I had my brain set on 'expansion,' and we had this amazing massage therapist, Bob Campbell, who used to work the late shift a couple of nights a week. His schedule was absolutely slammed, and we couldn’t get him in on enough nights to satiate demand. I realized that not only did our customers want great skin, they wanted to feel amazing. They wanted to get rid of the stress and have a few minutes of BLISS. And when that particular word formed in my head, all the hair stood up on my arms, and the rest is history.
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What made you want to start Soap & Glory? How did you come up with this idea?
Soap & Glory was a hobby. I was a new mom, I’d sold my last few shares in Bliss, and I needed an outlet for my copywriting and all of the ridiculous puns in my head, and my formulation ideas with all the new raw ingredients I was seeing on the market. I knew the buyer at Harvey Nichols, and showed her a few creative boards, which she absolutely loved. As a hobby, thinking it would keep me busy, I launched Soap & Glory. Within about five years became the bath and body brand that ate Great Britain.
What was the hardest thing about starting these two brands?
Paying the bills for the first three years, and wondering the whole time how you can have a product that you love so much and think is so amazing, but you’re still existing hand-to-mouth on bagels. Bliss launched long before the low carb phenomenon took over America, thank god. Who could afford protein?
Business is always a lot tougher at the beginning than you think it is. It takes years to build up a steady following, or a big enough customer base even to sustain your payroll. Hours are long, you don’t have hobbies, your social life often sucks, and you can’t help but doubt what you’re doing. People see brands and think they’ve been an overnight success, or they see a social media post about a product and think that hundreds of thousands of units are being sold, or that everybody who starts a brand must be making money. More often than not, 95 percent of the building of that brand has been under the tip of the iceberg.
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You also started the affordable beauty line called BEAUTY PIE, which eliminates price mark-ups caused by marketing, celebrity contracts, and more. How did this project come to be?
I wanted to take all of the faking out of the cosmetic industry. To bring people all of the luxury beauty, without all of the luxury bullshit. I’ve created brands and had so much fun, especially in the early days of Bliss when I actually did facials and formulated products according to the skin conditions I was seeing. I know what products really cost to make, what cut the distributors take, and how much is added on to a product by the retail food chain, and celebrity marketing, etc. I just don’t think it’s fair anymore because customers are their own brands. They don’t need to pay so much more to have a brand define them like they used to. Why not get the world’s best beauty products at the best prices, direct?
You’ve launched three majorly successful beauty brands. What do you think has been really key in this success?
Working like a dog. Focus. Sacrifice. Staying humble. Doing my homework. Reading. Evolving. Listening to my customers. Connecting the dots in new ways. Exploring doubts. Always being open. Driving progress. Not being defensive. Having a good sense of humor. And keeping it REAL.
We’ll I’d like BEAUTY PIE to become the Amazon of factory-direct high quality beauty, without the middlemen or the markups. I’m learning so much. I haven’t had space in my brain for 'next.' We are launching fragrance in November, however created by one of the world’s greatest noses. So focusing on the now. That would be the next!