How I Decide Which Products To Make
Zoë Foster Blake
The single greatest thing about having your own skincare brand is that you get to make the stuff you wish existed. The stuff you want to use each day. Tell you what, it’s a narcissist’s dream. I got my first crude samples - some of them in emptied out, and then sticky-taped closed tubes - of Go-To back in 2013 and I have used the range non-stop since. I should be bored by now! Completely over it! But Go-To products work, they are beautiful to use, and my skin is healthy and happy. Why would I switch? I see results, I love the application moment, I keep using.
I feel incredibly validated when friends, family and customers tell me they’ve been using Go-To for years because skincare is a fickle industry, full of shiny new things. But as we all know, when you find something that you love and really works, you hold tight.
When I brief in a new product, it’s often because there is a category I already use and love and swear by, and I know we can put an excellent Go-To spin on it, we can make it ours. Sometimes this comes in the form of a waffly email at 10pm at night to my Chief Marketing Officer, Leonie. Sometimes it’s when we’re halfway down developing a new product and I switch tack suddenly because it wasn’t right, but NOW I know what’s right. (Fun fact: Transformazing began as a cream mask.) Sometimes it’s because there is something obviously missing from our line up for a skin type we want to help.
And so, my brilliant New Product Development Exec team and I sit down, and I ramble on about what I envisage, what frustrates me about the product category, what I love about the product category, what we would do if we did it, how I would franken-build my dream product, and we begin. I make a brief (wish list of ingredients I love and which I know work, and how I want it to feel, smell and apply), with the goal of creating a product that is of high enough quality and efficacy and sensory, that millions of people will choose to use it. As a former beauty editor with a wide-ranging expertise in product and zero tolerance for rubbish products, I will not bring to market a product that is not genuinely useful, effective, delightful to use, and a deserving addition to the category.
The wonderful thing about having a proven track record, and beautiful, loyal customers who use many of your products on their skin each day, is that the bar is set REAL high. As an unashamed perfectionist, I relish this challenge, and it is not unusual for us to be getting into the 30s and 40s for versions before we nail it.
Once the product brief is created, I flick the Product Name Switch on in my head, and let that marinate, (sometimes the name is excellent and obvious and comes before the brief, but usually it’s still cooking until I get a stern email saying ‘WE NEED TO REGISTER THE TRADEMARK WHAT IS THE NAME PLZ’) then the brilliant formulations team get cracking with ingredient research and sourcing.
Weeks later, a couple of small lab pots of goop arrive. This is never not exciting. (Whenever anyone asks me how to start their business, I recommend getting a sample made, even a terrible one, something you can touch and feel. It becomes REAL. And gives you a great kick off point for what you love/hate/need to do.) This is where we see if we’re on the right track for how it feels, behaves and sinks into the skin. Too thick? Too thin? Too tacky? Too… wrong? If the sensory is way off, I won’t bother using the product. No point.
Simultaneously, the product and packaging team will commence sourcing the exact pump/spray/tub as per the brief. Their job has become much more challenging in lieu of our aggressive sustainability charter, and they do a phenomenal job of juggling our core values; product stability and safety, sustainability, function and (a very specific brand of peach) aesthetics. Not an easy task.
The feedback loop begins as myself and my CMO Leonie, receive, test and give feedback on samples. Some small glass vials of (natural) fragrance appear, which are informed by a bunch of my waffly words, (“fresh, subtle, floral but not distinctly smelling of flowers… morning-y, vibrant and grown-up.”) Our scents are put together by our ‘nose’, who is a living genius and who has created every one of our product fragrances since 2013. You can thank him next time you pleasantly exhale using Fancy Face.
The lab wizards will add the winning 1-2 fragrances to the goop, which is running along nicely with variations of ingredients and levels thereof, and eventually, after 6-12 months depending on the difficulty of the product (we spent over 3+ years refining our new SPF, Nifty Fifty) the final few versions – finished goop, finished fragrance - will be put into the packaging samples and myself and Leonie start thrashing them as though they were finished product to see how they perform.
From here, the ‘winner’ is chosen, and we commence trying to break it. It will go onto stability in the lab to ensure the preservatives are working, the packaging is safe, the fragrance doesn’t deteriorate or start smelling like wet socks and the goop remains stable and in perfect working order. It will also undergo a whole lot of other testing which you can read about here. It then goes to a wider audience to trial: the whole team at Go-To, my trusted inner circle of friends and family, and some VIP customers. We ensure a wide sample of people, skin types, ages and skin stages are included.
The whole product and packaging journey generally takes around 18+ months in total. The design and marketing happens in the background as the packaging is made and the goop is closely observed in the lab. We receive packaging. We book the manufacturing date. We confirm a launch date and hope that a global pandemic doesn’t ruin something in the production process. We fill the packaging. We get them ready to ship. We launch. And I – we all - watch as it comes alive, and something I wish existed, that felt, smelled, and behaved in a really specific way, finds thousands of new faces to look after.