Over the course of the last few years beauty entrepreneur, Aimee Connolly has proved herself a force to reckoned with. What most don’t realise is the extent of hustling that went on for Aimee behind the scenes, spending her free time working part-time on makeup counters while studying a demanding French and Commerce degree and simultaneously, building a budding beauty business that come graduation day welcomed her with open arms.
Here, Aimee chats to The Style Edit about her journey into the beauty industry, the realities of working for yourself and what she’s most excited about within beauty right now.
What first drew you to the beauty industry?
I have quite a funny story on how I started out because I did my work experience last minute in Benefit Cosmetics whilst still in school. After my two weeks there I went on to work part-time on counters before going freelance about three years later. I always loved makeup but didn’t consider an actual career in it until I started to build my own business whilst in school/college and working in it part-time.
When starting out, how did you go about building your freelance client base and what fuelled the decision to take your freelance business full-time?
I was working with MAC Cosmetics at the time in their flagship store here in Dublin and I absolutely loved it. However I was working all of the busy weekends, naturally, and I was still studying Commerce and French. The demand of my clients started to grow and I had started my Facebook page which was really useful at the time and it started to clash with the hours I was working in MAC. I was turning a lot of clients down and so I had to decide whether I would leave and go freelance full time which I did.
Did you always want to work for yourself?
I don’t think I gave it much thought I always say my journey was like a natural progression. I finished up in MAC when I was 19 and started to go freelance however I still had 2 years left in my degree and so I slowly built on my business over that time whilst studying and in the end when I was graduating at 22 my business was ready for me to take it on full time.
On the business development side of things, not many people talk about what went into the business pre-product launch. Tell us about the research that went into building your first product and preparing your business for launch.
This is an interesting question and I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t have to do much field research at the time. I had been doing makeup for 5 years at that stage on an absolute multitude of clients with a huge variety of products. I knew exactly what I wanted my first palette to be and what I felt the industry was missing. That said, however, so much time goes into meeting and finding manufacturers who are appropriate to you so that took a lot of time.
What tools did you use to determine that people actually needed and wanted the products your business was bringing to the table?
The main tools I used were my experience and my gut and that is the truth. My gut has never steered me wrong (touch wood!) and I always knew that I wanted an easy all in one palette that you could pop in your handbag. I was busy, I always heard my clients saying the same so I went with that concept and thankfully it has paid off. In terms of experience I had spent years up until that point with a constant full kit getting to know products – whether it was the consistency, finish, texture etc – and so I was 100% sure on what I wanted and didn’t want.
Once you graduated from university and had more time to focus on building the brand, did your approach to the business change at all? If so, how?
I think I am someone that works well under pressure it has always been in my nature ever since back as far as when I was sitting my leaving certificate. I worked every weekend up until and after the exams so I knew the time I had to study was precious and all that I had. I think those deadlines suit me. People often ask do I find that my degree channelled much into my business career and I have to be honest and say that I have yet to have that epiphanic moment when I feel a lecture has really helped but I have heard that we are more business orientated more than we realise. That said I loved college and would not change a thing.
What were the most important company values to you when bringing the brand to life?
I definitely wanted my company to be a flexible startup that was risk-taking and ambitious. I wanted the products to reflect that it was created by an expert in that field but that was suitable for any user regardless of your level of expertise with a lot of guidance on how to use them.
“I definitely wanted my company to be a flexible start up that was risk taking and ambitious.”
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome so far?
Like any small business and big too, we’ve had a lot of the usual business obstacles. We are totally self-funded and so at time cash flow has been tight. We’re up against huge competition who have budgets and have been established for years and so, of course, there are moments where their capital can stunt you a bit but overall I think we’re driven, we believe in our vision and are committed to succeeding.
Tell us about your biggest career highlight so far
That’s a tough one because thankfully there has been so many (along with the downs of course). If I take one for example it would probably have to be the first time I saw my brand on the shelves in a store. It’s almost like I was living in this bubble in the run up to to it and so when I saw it in real life I thought ‘wow this is actually happening’. Then of course if I consider highlights that were more recent. There’s the latest launch of my Custom Edition collection which contains a refill palette and 12 pans come first to mind. This was a huge undertaking – a lot more than I realised I think – but I was and still am so proud of it.
What are you most excited about within the beauty industry right now?
I think the celebration of women in the beauty industry is very inspiring and uplifting. Every day someone is doing great things and I think it’s a great time for women to be in business. I think us smaller players are putting pressure on the bigger brands also and that is a great feeling because there are so many passionate women putting their thoughts to market.
“Every day someone is doing great things and I think it’s a great time for women to be in business.”
Who inspires you most within your industry?
I could write a book on who inspires me daily. I really am lucky to know and be surrounded by so many amazing women. I am part of the incredible community Going For Growth and have been accepted into a group led by Louise Phelan. It’s a fantastic incentive run by Paula Fitzsimons with countless role models involved so that is a great initiative to be a part of and one that I am very proud of.
Which trait do you most admire in other female entrepreneurs?
Ambition for me would always stand out. Someone people would say I am mad with the things that I think up, whereas I would say I just don’t think about it. That whole not fearing the unknown and just going for it I think is one of the most important traits for entrepreneurs because if I really stopped to think about all the work that was ahead of me with having a brand I probably would have backed out long ago.
“Fearing the unknown and just going for it is one of the most important traits for entrepreneurs.”
What motivates you?
My passion for my business is my biggest drive. I work every day whether its physically being on email, at an event or just thinking about the business and it doesn’t even feel like it most days. It’s just a part of me if that makes sense. It is my routine, it is what I love to do. I get such a buzz out of our accomplishments and growth and I am always eager for the next project.
Tell us about your long-term vision for the brand
I definitely want to take Sculpted By Aimee global. This year I have export massively in my line of sight and I am very excited to see what markets we hopefully enter and the challenges and opportunities that these external markets will give us.
What’s your first beauty related memory?
When I was about four I discovered red lipstick on my own for the very first time and of course drew it all over my face. The vision of me as a potential makeup artist wasn’t quite clear back then.
One beauty product you couldn’t live without
I am going to be biased here and say my Sculpted palette but that is because I genuinely use it every single day on my face and the eyes. Believe me when I say it totally transforms me from when I started! It’s the best tool for giving your face dimension and radiance.
One beauty product you’re constantly recommending to people
I won’t take my own brand into consideration here so I will suggest outside of this. I think the Kiehls Ultra Facial Cream is a fantastic purchase for all skin types. It’s the perfect base for makeup and it is hydrating too – it is also a huge favourite of global makeup artist, MakeUp By Mario.
What does beauty mean to you?
I think beauty should be your ‘feel good’. Those few minutes you spend on yourself to feel good, to enhance what’s already there and to make you feel amazing. However, with that said I don’t think it should be about masking what is currently there. No one wants to think that someone with and without makeup is a different person.