Christina Zilber of Jouer Cosmetics
Meet Christina Zilber, founder, CEO, and Creative Director of Jouer Cosmetics.
Originally started as an interlocking makeup palette system, Christina set out to innovate and bring something new to the industry. In 2008, Christina decided to take her brand to the next level with a makeup line for modern women. Now, 11 years later, Jouer Cosmetics remains one of the buzziest beauty brands on the market, Sold at huge retailers like Sephora and Nordstrom.
I chatted with Christina about everything from developing new products, to winning an Allure Best In Beauty award, and Jouer’s upcoming Summer collection.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
What led you to start Jouer Cosmetics?
“Ever since I was a child, I was obsessed with makeup. My grandmother used to give me these huge Estee Lauder sets, they were like Christmas gift-with-purchase kits, and they were massive, and she would give them to me and I would be so happy and excited. Cut to me as an adult, I had started modelling a little bit and doing commercials, and my favorite place to be was the makeup chair. Out of the whole day, the most exciting time was sitting in that chair and getting transformed, I would write down everything they used. I was such a student of it. It was also where all the fun happened, makeup artists are so cool and relaxed, it was the place to go if you were stressed on set, you would come back to the makeup chair, it was a great space for me. I was working with a makeup artist on set and she gave me a little Japonesque palette and it had the lipsticks I was wearing, and she smushed them in and said, “Here are the colors I used so you can touch up.” I thought it was so amazing. Palettes weren’t a big thing, and if they were, they were all chosen for you, and it was a face palette that had like 4 eyeshadows, 2 blushes, 3 lipsticks, and there would be maybe one color you would actually wear. I thought, what if you could change the palette up? I sat on this idea for a really long time and it grew inside me, this idea of customizable palettes. I was researching for so long, and finally decided I wanted to do this, I wanted to start a company, and I would mention it to everybody. Everybody in the business, every makeup artist I met, and I finally mentioned it to a friend who knew a woman who had just left Lorac and was consulting. It was the first real product development person I had spoken to, and she said, “I hear a lot of ideas, this one is actually interesting and different.” She helped me on the path of actually making my own product. That was many moons ago. It was still called Jouer, but it was really about customizable palettes, and it was a packaging system where you could slide the compacts together and stack them back to back. That was the birth of Jouer.”
WHEN DID JOUER BECOME WHAT IT IS TODAY With all of your makeup products as opposed to a palette system?
“In 2008, I launched in Henri Bendel what is formally known as Jouer today. There was a process in between that time of creating the customizable palettes, and realizing that I don’t want to be tied into only products that are going to be stuck inside this palette. I pitched it to retailers who, at the time, were the big guns - it was Henri Bendel, Barneys or Bergdorf. I met with Bendel, had an amazing relationship with them, the person who was in charge of their beauty just got the brand and launched us at Henri Bendel in 2008, and that was the start of Jouer as we know it.”
What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome in terms of starting and growing Jouer?
“In every area, there’s such big challenges, there are so many mountains to climb. A couple of things, one - we launched in August of 2008 and then the market crashed in October. We launched in New York and it was a struggle to get people into the store. That was a new landscape for me, and it started out really strong, and in August and September [our sales] were amazing, and we thought it was going to be so great, and then boom, the market crashed and nobody walks into stores anymore. It was a really big adjustment and [we realized] we need to focus on a website and really get that going because how else are we going to reach the customer? That caused us to pivot a little bit, and that’s the main story with all of the challenges I’ve had, it’s learning how to pivot. Simultaneous to that is, at the time that we launched and for the next couple of years, it was really all about the beauty editors in New York, and about magazines and if you could get a placement in Allure or InStyle or whatever it was. I found myself hitting desksides with all of these beauty editors, and it was such a struggle to get placed. First of all, the magazines had all of these pages of ads from beauty brands, so they are the ones that got editorial placement. Just to get a small placement was so huge, and here I would come and try to tell them my story and pitch my product, and they were a little bit jaded, they’d seen everything, and I found it really challenging to get the word out that way. That was sort of around 2014/2015, I was realizing that that world didn’t work anymore, traditional PR didn’t work, and so pivoting into the whole influencer world hadn’t really peaked, it was just burgeoning and starting to become a thing. We started working with ipsy and getting our products into different people’s hands and overcoming the challenge of getting the brands out there and known was pivoting.”
What advice do you have for young women looking to start and build their own brands and companies?
“I would say to start with one product, not a whole line. Find the one thing that you think you can kill it at and bring a different perspective. You’ve gotta stand apart from what’s already out there, so if you can offer something that’s innovative or you have a unique perspective on a product, start with that one thing. If it’s a makeup line, it’s not hard to get into get into the trade shows like MakeUp in LA or Cosmoprof in Vegas, go walk the shows, introduce yourself to the manufacturers and you can see what’s out there and align with someone who you think can work on your vision.”
What does a typical day look like for you as an entrepreneur?
“Not every day is the same, obviously when you’re an entrepreneur and a small business owner, I do a lot of travelling for my brand. If I were to take a typical in-office day, I wake up with the kids, get them fed and out the door. They’re teenagers now, so it’s just making sure that they actually wake up! Then I’ll usually do yoga, and then I’ll go to the office and probably sit in meetings all day. I generally don’t get a lot of alone time at the office, I’ll go from product development to packaging to marketing and sales, all of these meetings. I usually eat lunch at my desk, and then get home around 4 or 5. I always have dinner with my kids, and then I’ll sit on my laptop and try to get to all of the emails I didn’t get to during the day. I’m trying to take a little more control over that because I’ll find that I end up staying up too late answering emails. I’m trying to schedule in more alone time during the day.”
What tools do you use to stay organized?
“In our office, we use Slack to communicate with each other, and it’s like messaging each other in the office, it allows us to send a document really quickly, or grab one or two people and ask, “did we finalize the retail price of this?” or any quick questions, and get an immediate answer. We also use Basecamp for all of our projects. Say we want to do a new lipstick or something, we’ll start a project and all of the notes are in one place, so if we get the ingredient listing, that gets put up on there so that marketing can look at it and write marketing copy, etc. Everything gets put in that one place.”
What DOES PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT LOOK LIKE AT JOUER?
“Product development can take a couple of avenues. Take our blushes, for example, nobody is really killing it in the blush world, and blush is super important for me, it wakes up my whole face. So I said, “I need to make the best blush ever.” So I’ll give that idea to the product development team and they’ll go out to different labs and source samples of blushes. They’ll bring all of these samples to me and I’ll test them and say, “well I like the payoff of this one, but I like how soft and silky this one is,” or, “I want it to be talc-free,” so there’s always a little bit of tweaking that goes into it and they’ll go back and it always takes a couple of months. Then once we have our formula, we’ll go down the path of color, and we’ll start pulling photos or flowers, it can really be anything, and we’ll start having that formula made in colors and we’ll start testing those, and then go down to how hard we want to press [the powders], what kind of color payoff we want, etc and then we’ll finally come up with the magic formula. Simultaneously to that, the packaging team asks us what we want it in, the materials we want to use, so we’ll go down that path - packaging can take around 6 months to a year, so those two things are happening simultaneously so that hopefully they align and we can have our perfect products in our perfect package.”
has been the most defining moment of your career?
“I’m still waiting for it! There’s definitely been little bursts of encouragement. I wouldn’t say defining moment, but little moments along the way that have shown me that I’m on the right track. When we won the Allure Best In Beauty Award, the first time, for our Luminizing Moisture Tint, that was an amazing moment. Linda Wells, who was the editor of Allure, pulled me over and said we were the only foundation she used and thanked me for making such a great product and I literally started crying. Allure had meant so much to me when I was growing up, and there have just been little moments like that along the way that are pats on the back from the industry that are really cool and show me that I’m on the right track.”
What are your favorite Jouer products that you use regularly?
“It’s so funny because I’m always testing almost a year in advance, so I’m testing products now that are going to be in the 2020 lineup. I get super excited about products that I can’t even talk about yet! But with what is out there right now, I wear our foundation, the High Coverage Cream Foundation every single day, and I think one of the things that’s so cool about the foundation is that I’m not a heavy makeup person, but this foundation is so lightweight and it just covers everything. I use our concealer every day, we came out with a concealer in October, it’s doing so well because it’s really high-coverage, you only need a little bit, and it doesn’t crease or show off your lines. Then my blush, I really like blushes, it’s one of the most important things you can put on your face, it warms you up. I use my lip liner, I use either Fawn or Sienna, and then I’ll generally put on … something that I’m working on, I can’t talk about it yet, or I’ll throw a lip topper on because it’s so beautiful, it looks good on everybody and gives you a sheer, shiny gloss with that little bit of sparkle in it.”
What big projects do you have planned for 2019?
“I can tell you that Summer has a very fun collection which generally covers the whole face, meaning color on the face. Summer has a really beachy-themed fun collection coming out. I have another complexion product coming out in April that I’m really excited about, it fills a hole in the brand in the marketplace. One of the things that I love is packaging, and I feel like there’s a saturation of products and they all sort of look alike, so I’m trying to elevate the packaging game in a big way. So this new complexion product that’s coming out in April, it’s absolutely beautiful and everybody’s gonna want it, it’s either gonna sit on your vanity and look amazing, or you’re gonna put it in your bag, it’s something that you carry with you and it’s one of those iconic things that’s really gorgeous.”