MUA and Founder of August + Monroe Shares Her Product Journey
Love, entrepreneurship, and blemish fighting
Maskne, acne, breakouts, red spots — dealing with skin blemishes plagues us all. Professional makeup artist Alexandra Weinstein heard the same complaints about skin imperfections from her clients that she battled herself. How could she cover up these problem areas while also treating them to prevent them from coming back? This product search eventually led to her formulating a new product and launching her own company, August + Monroe. We grabbed some time with the MUA-turned-founder to learn more about her journey and what she's learned along the way.
Alexandra, how long have you been a professional makeup artist? What got you started in this profession?
I’ve been a professional makeup artist for 10 years, and got my career started in Toronto, Canada. Funny story really, I had moved to Toronto for film school and ended up switching over to makeup for film. I originally studied special effects, prosthetics, and creature design while diving more into fashion makeup by the end of my schooling. I just loved that I had the ability to enhance someones confidence all by the touch of my hand!
What inspired you to found your own company? How did you get connected with your co-founder, Michael?
Since I was a little kid I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had such a passion for starting small businesses based on trends I was seeing. Back in 2014 I actually founded my last company, Alexandra Jaye Inc. It all started when I was doing a client's makeup and they wanted to keep my lipstick to touch up. I then thought to myself, I should start my own line of lipsticks (private label), have 6 color options, and carry stock in my kit to sell to the client. Soon after I expanded that business, I realized I wanted to create a product of my own. From scratch.
Fast forward to January 2019, Michael and I met in Miami. Soon after, we realized our passion for this business and our love for one another. We’ve now been dating for over two years! To be honest, we were going back and forth on all sorts of ideas of where we wanted to go with our product line, and Blemish Camouflage was our winning one.
You spent two years in research and development for the Blemish Camouflage. What have you learned about ingredients and the cosmetics industry along this journey?
Oh, SO much! Looking back, it’s crazy how much we learned in those two years.
- Don't rush anything. We originally had planned to launch within 6 months - news flash, that did NOT happen! The cosmetic industry takes time. You need to perfect everything from the formula, packaging, stabilization, FDA compliance checks, and the list goes on.
- Choose wisely who you want to work with as your contract manufacturers. As first timers this is a crucial step to know you are getting the guidance you need.
- Our chemist has been our rock, she was there every step of the way with me during the research and development process. I learned so much from her with regards to ingredients, potencies and mixtures. I remember going in to our first meeting, and telling her “No, I don’t want that ingredient in there because I read online it caused acne,” she laughed because I was just like everyone else. We read things online that tell us ONE single ingredient can cause sensitivities, acne, redness etc., but in reality those studies are just done on the single ingredient by itself, at a 100% potency. Not when it's less than 0.002% in a formula with other ingredients to cancel it out. I wish this type of education was given to people, however I have hopes that more indie brands like us will spread education. Especially with regards to ingredients.
We have really seen a rise in indie brands over the years and a focus on clean and sustainable beauty. How have these trends affected your brand and approach to cosmetics?
Personally, to me, clean beauty has played a very big role. I don’t want bad preservatives on my skin, I would rather use something for 6 months than have something with parabens and sulfates in my products that extend my use to 24 months. What I learnt about clean beauty throughout the development is that there’s no actual regulations to pass that standard. So when we were formulating we wanted to make sure we passed the "Clean at Sephora" standard, as that is the most recognized stamp of approval for clean beauty worldwide.
As for sustainability, yes. That has been a huge part of everything we do. We came into the industry when sustainability was on the rise, so luckily we had a lot more options to work with than someone who started 3 years ago. We ship out packages with a biodegradable poly mailer made from corn, we use plantable seed cards in every order, our packaging is recyclable, and we are launching our first refillable product this summer! This product will help reduce waste and reduce our carbon footprint.
What have been some of the challenges or learnings getting August + Monroe up and running?
We launched our business during the pandemic, so we faced a lot of challenges in the beginning. We were set to launch in March 2020, however, due to Covid-19, we had major setbacks. The supply chain was completely shut down, and our raw materials suppliers were shut down until July. This put a complete halt on our plans and we had to push our launch back to September 2020.
With fast success, you start to experience more challenges that maybe you weren’t ready for at the time. But that is what business is all about: problems and solutions. That doesn't just go for the day to day business activities, but for any product you are thinking of creating. You need to have solutions for problems, those will lead you to a new to market idea and success will follow.
In an industry bursting at the seams with products, what sets your "3-in-1 Blemish Camouflage" apart?
Blemish Camouflage is extremely innovative and new to market. I remember our lab telling us they didn’t think they could do it after our first four revisions were not going to plan. We stuck it out and kept the idea alive. The day we approved this formula was the most exciting day. We strongly believe that’s what sets us apart - the product didn’t exist before us. Sure, there are other concealers that have blemish fighting ingredients, but we are focused on ingredients that play more than one role. For example, we use Arnica to help with pain (cystic acne), aloe to de-inflame the skin, bakuchiol to restore the skin's texture, salicylic acid to fight the blemishes and black heads, squalane to hydrate the skin, and vitamin c to combat any scarring that happens from acne. Plus who doesn't love a multi-use product? So many of our customers tell us new ways that they use it. We say 3-in-1, but it can be used in many ways! One of our key messages is that there’s no more hiding who you are. It’s all about enhancing who you are. Even with blemish camouflage, we aren’t trying to hide your blemishes, our focus is to treat them.
What are some of the ways people are using Blemish Camouflage? Any tips we should know?
- As a Primer: Mix Blemish Camouflage with your favourite beauty oil or moisturizer on the palm of your hands and apply directly onto the face. I love doing this before the gym (stops sweat pimples), and before applying my foundation. It acts as a barrier to protect and heal your skin from any makeup applied. You can also just apply it by itself as a primer underneath any concealer or foundation to protect as well.
- As a General Concealer: We recommend starting with moisturized skin, especially if you have dry skin. Then take a smaller amount (a little goes a long way) and blend in a circular motion. This will allow the pigment beads to break up and melt into the skin. Once you reach your tone, you'll want to softly blend out the edges with your fingers. This method will allow the coverage to remain on the blemish, but effortlessly fade into the skin. Remember, the more you rub, the darker it gets. That also goes for the amount you use. If you’re on the fair side, you will want to use the tiniest amount and if you’re on the tan side you’ll want to use a bit more product and rub more.
- As a Spot Concealer: One of our influencers actually taught us this trick. Take the formula in between your index finger and thumb and break it apart. Once the pigment appears, apply it directly onto the blemish with your index finger. This is a great way of applying it if you're in a rush and want to quickly cover any redness.
- As a Night Corrector: Once all your skin care is complete, take a Q-Tip and clean off any blemish you wish to target. Apply the product and leave white. This will ensure it goes directly into your blemish and will reduce it by the next morning. Honestly, this is my favorite way to use it because it heals previous scars as well with our Vitamin C benefits.
The Blemish Camouflage uses a "twist to dispense" mechanism and a silicone tip. Why did you choose this packaging?
With lots of scientific research we realized how much bacteria spreads in a typical concealer wand packaging. This is why having our formula in an airless, silicone tip applicator was so important. We do not want the bacteria from your blemishes to enter into the formula and create new pimples. That actually would defeat the purpose of our product. Although we have a silicone tip, we still recommend using clean fingers to blend the product into the skin. The heat from your fingers will help in the blending process.
Your second product to launch will be a gel-based facial moisturizer, can you tell us more about it?
We decided on Calm Cream as our second product because our Blemish Camouflage works really well with a moisturizer. You can mix it together or even use a moisturizer as a base to help the spreadability. Sometimes other moisturizers can act as a barrier to Blemish Camouflage (in terms of healing), so I wanted to make sure Calm Cream had all the same abilities of Blemish Camouflage but no Salicylic Acid. We focused on more anti-inflammatory ingredients. Both products enhance the other, healing blemishes, redness and more.
I have suffered with Rosacea and extremely sensitive skin for most of my life. My skin gets inflamed, red and textured - especially when a product doesn’t work for me. There were never any products out there that focused on calming the skin (trust me— I searched everywhere!). That’s what inspired me to create Calm Cream. I truly wanted to come up with a product that can help people (and myself) with ANY skin issues. Redness? Check. Acne? Check. Texture? Check. Dryness? Check. Pores? Check. Reactions? Check.
We made Calm Cream refillable too. There is a lot of waste in the beauty space. When you purchase a refill without the pump and outer shell, it minimizes the environmental impact, saving 1.4oz of plastic. We will also be introducing a recycling program with our customers’ empty bottles! If you collect five and send them back, we'll send you a free gift.
What is your advice for other young women and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be True to Yourself. Don’t focus on trying to create something that isn’t you — it probably won’t pan out anyways. If you have the passion and believe in it, you will succeed. For example, when my first business failed, it didn’t fail because I wasn’t interested in the industry. It failed because I was trying to be something that I wasn’t. I wasn’t interested in selling private label cosmetics that everyone could buy and put their logo on. I wanted to be innovative and create something of my own. I lacked the passion because I didn’t believe in what I was selling. Now that I created a product from scratch that I stand behind, the success followed.
Marketing. Is. Everything. Have a good chunk in your budget put away for marketing dollars. Spend it on ads, not on fancy videos or photoshoots. Trust me, we spent more than $10,000 on videos that I wish we would’ve spent on Facebook marketing. I run all our digital marketing at August + Monroe and guess what? We see anywhere from 3–5x return on our ads. The secret? No big production. Make the consumer feel like they are watching their friends. My partner and I were on the street taking out our phones to send a video to our friends of the color bursting technology in our product and that brought us over 4x our ad spend. It was authentic, relatable and didn’t make the consumer feel like we were “selling” anything. The product’s technology sells itself.
Be Authentic. Just like I mentioned in the two points above, not only do you need to be authentic to yourself as an entrepreneur, but as a brand as well.
Good Customer Service. We’re talking about the beauty industry here! Consumers need to know they can communicate with you to ask questions, discuss issues or even be able to say hello! At August + Monroe we strongly believe in the feeling of, “Did we just become Best Friends?” We want you to be able to ask us anything without any fears. We actually use an automated texting system that sends a text to our customers three weeks after their purchases to ask if they have any questions. I actually have an app on my phone and get notified when someone texts back. Guess what? It’s me on the other end having a chat with you! We do have other members on our team who deal with our customer service emails. However, I wanted to have that personal connection with our customers via text. It’s brought such an amazing connection. It’s truly so special, and I’ve made promises to myself to keep this going even with our growth.
Be Open to Feedback. Last but not least, you are never going to satisfy everyone on this earth so don’t let that stop you. To succeed in this industry, you have to be open to feedback, criticism, and ultimately have thick skin. It’s your choice with what to do with it. There is no room for ego in this business… (actually there’s a lot of ego)... but to be at the top of this industry you have to check the ego at the door! We are in the beauty industry so one of our purposes is to make our customers feel a sense of inner or outer “beauty.” If you’re truly in this business to make people feel good, you can’t be selfish. You need to be caring, understanding and true to yourself. Don’t let a few comments or returns shift your goals. (That goes for life too!)
What are your go-to products or brands?
I remember being asked these questions all the time by my clients. I used to always say, "I don’t have a favourite brand, but I have favourite products from each brand." Some of my personal favourites when it comes to makeup are:
- Bite Beauty Upswing Mascara (hello volume)
- Fenty Beauty Skin Tint (perfect for summer when you don’t want a heavy foundation but want a flawless look)
- Patrick Ta Lip Liner in She’s Proud
- Image Skincare Lip Balm (this is a ride or die)
- Nars Laguna Cream Bronzer (it’s new and going to be a go-to for the summer)
How important are online reviews and customer feedback to the success of your business?
Online reviews are extremely important, not only for our success, but for transparency to potential customers. It gives insight, trust, and confidence in a brand. We encourage any feedback or suggestions our customers bring to our attention, because, at the end of the day, they are the ones who allow us to keep doing what we do. Without our customers, or listening to their needs, we are nothing!
Have you tried the Blemish Camouflage from August + Monroe yet? Or maybe you have another product you love? Let us know in the comments below!