Since the disruptive men’s indie brand Shakeup Cosmetics launched in November 2019 it has quickly grown. Sales for 2022 jumped up by +300% from the previous year, and the brand has expanded its product range and launched into new international markets in less than four years.
The brand was founded by twin brothers Jake Xu and Shane Carnell-Xu who both suffered from rosacea and acne and wanted to help other men find solutions to the problem and feel more confident.
We spoke to Jake Xu about the Boots retail deal and what’s coming next for the brand.
CDE: You have just launched into UK health and beauty retailer Boots and were already selling in Superdrug. Was it challenging to bring these kinds of niche products into high-street retailers?
JX: Our biggest challenge with retailers was that they’ve had the same men’s grooming offering for the past five years, so it took a lot of convincing for them to believe in a niche category. Our products have a skincare-first mindset, which helped, plus retailers have also put more emphasis on the men’s category in recent years. Shows like Love Island and TOWIE have also done wonders for men’s grooming. The women’s beauty category is so saturated, so men’s is the opportunity for retailers to bring new customers in and we are a brand that is well placed to deliver this. We needed retailers to show us they would help us grow this category by helping us educate consumers and Superdrug and Boots have both shown us that. Between these two retailers, we are now in over 350 physical stores across the UK.
CDE: Your products are purely aimed at men. How do the formulations differ from similar products for women?
JX: All products are tested on 100%-male focus groups – it wasn’t an afterthought that they are designed for men. Men’s skin is different from women's: it’s 25% thicker and woollier, plus we shave and men’s skin can be more reactive. We spent a long time working with chemists and dermatologists to figure out how men’s skin differs from women’s skin and went from there. The products feature ingredients like SPF 25, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and eucalyptus oil. The formulations are also designed with men in mind: for example, the BB cream doesn’t cake and you can apply it with fingers; there’s no need to use a brush to apply it.
CDE: You launched in November 2019 (just before the Covid pandemic). How did this impact your business?
JX: We got a listing to be sold in Harvey Nichols a few weeks after we launched, but then Covid hit and we had to change our strategy. We had planned to build a solid domestic business in the UK, but Covid forced us to expand internationally sooner – otherwise the business would have failed.
Being Chinese-British we realised there was an opportunity in the Chinese men’s grooming market. We could speak the language and had an understanding of the cultture. We opened a flagship on Tmall in July 2020 and within four months our Let’s Face It BB Cream became the number one BB cream on Tmall. Expanding into China allowed us to finance more NPD and now we have a much larger range.
CDE: How is your colour cosmetics product Let’s Face It BB Cream performing in the men’s markets outside of China?
JX: The BB cream is our global bestseller: we sell one every four minutes. There’s a need for these kinds of products for guys. How many guys have had a spot and had to borrow their partner’s, mum’s or sister’s concealer to cover it up?
CDE: Do you have any new launches/NPD on the horizon?
JX: We’ve got three new products launching before the end of this year, but that’s all I can say right now. We have a focus group made up of loyal customers and content creators that we involve in our NPD process and then work with the feedback they give us. We will only launch something we believe in and we don’t want to launch another product that someone else is already doing. We always want to have a point of difference and innovation.
CDE: Are you planning to expand into any other markets?
JX: We have already launched in UK, Australia, South Africa and China. We are launching with three retailers in Portugal next month and have signed distribution agreements with retailers in Hungary and Germany. We are also looking into new retail channels. We are considering barbershops as a retail channel, as that is a ‘safe space’ for men to talk about beauty.
CDE: What other future plans do you have for the brand?
JX: We want to build an end-to-end spectrum for guys and we are getting there now. We plan to expand into more international markets, but want to do this steadily and work hand-in-hand with retailers, which requires a lot of work from us and them.
We also plan to create more products, as there are more categories in men’s grooming that our customers are asking us for.
Overall, we want to be a trusted source for men’s skincare information; somewhere that men can turn to get education about skincare. It’s rewarding to hear stories about our products helping guys. Lots of mums and dads have asked us to help their sons because they have skin issues and don’t know what to do. There is still a lack of information and education about men’s skin out there.