AT 29, cosmetics queen Aimee Connolly has already achieved a significant level of success, with her Sculpted By Aimee brand generating a striking looking €2.6m profit last year. As she prepares to open a ‘bricks and mortar’ store next week, on Grafton Street no less, and to expand in the UK and further afield, the question is whether she might be stretching herself too thin as economic storm clouds gather. She is, however, operating in a pretty resilient sector.
The challenges facing businesses today have been well aired, with rising interest rates at the forefront. Most impressively, however, La Connolly has managed to build her hugely profitable operation without incurring any debt.
While popular social media influencers regularly front cosmetics and fashion brands, there are often corporate vehicles in the background creating and running the business side. Think Sundrelle in the case of Cocoa Brown tan (Marissa Carter), SoSu cosmetics (Suzanne Jackson), and National Beauty Distribution for both Luna by Lisa (Lisa Jordan) and Bare by Vogue (Vogue Williams). The hugely ambitious Connolly set up her business by herself with no svengali emerging (so far at least) behind the scenes.
While cosmetics, accessories and clothing pushed by social media influencers can be negatively viewed in many quarters, Dubliner Connolly has not attracted too much of the blowback associated with the sale by assorted influencers of so-called ‘white-labelled’ generic products, which are plucked from Asian company catalogues, repackaged and marketed.
Many of these influencers are experts at creating a buzz around their ‘brand’, with often impressionable teenagers and young women eager to shell out to support their favourite #girlboss. Connolly has been able to exploit this feature of the market along with other #girlboss entrepreneurs while also displaying a remarkable level of business savvy.
The daughter of a single mum (real-estate agent Clare Connolly), Aimee did not appear to have to struggle to make ends meet and managed to graduate from UCD (business and French), having built up a tasty €10,000 cash pile, as you do. She used the lolly to enter the cosmetics market, having gained part-time experience in the sector, starting when she got a job at 16 with Urban Decay cosmetics.
The wily Aimee launched a contouring palette (that’s makeup – Ed) in 2016 through a partnership with a UK-based company, before cutting out the middle man when she realised it would be more profitable to deal directly with suppliers herself.
While the majority of her Sculpted By Aimee products are manufactured in South Korea, Connolly also uses companies in Italy, Taiwan and China. She regularly travels to their laboratories and dutifully films herself choosing and helping to develop products with technicians, with the footage posted online for her Instagram followers. It is an inspired marketing strategy and presumably helps increase the buy-in from her fans.
Having initially fulfilled the buying, sales, distribution and accounts roles herself, Connolly’s first employee was hired in 2018. Getting her products into Boots was a turning point for the business and Sculpted now has more than 60 products and works with sales, marketing and distribution company Brandshapers.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Aimee spotted a gap in the market after completing a teacher-training course with the London MakeUp School. She founded Sculpted The Academy in September 2017 – “after years of teaching in the makeup industry” – and offers a “mastering your makeup” course for a mere €500, which takes place over six afternoons or evenings. Apparently, the “sought after courses are not only a guaranteed sell out but a gateway to your future career in makeup”.
Last month, Sculpted by Aimee Connolly Cosmetics Ltd reported an eye-widening profit of €2.6m in 2021, bringing accumulated profits to €4.5m. The company had €1.5m in the bank, zero borrowings and a relatively low level of creditors. Connolly’s remuneration for the year was €90,000.
Aimee is engaged to Galway-based John Greene, who co-owns four Camile Thai restaurant franchises through Majestic Restaurants Ltd, in which he has a stake, as does hurling superstar Joe Canning. This entity was sitting on accumulated profits of €345,000 at the end of 2020. Another company, Beechwood Hospitality Ltd, was set up in 2020 for the purposes of event catering and made a profit of €70,000. Of course, this is all small potatoes compared with Connolly’s stellar performance.
Social media has obviously played a role in jettisoning Connolly’s business into the stratosphere, although she ‘only’ boasts 160,000 followers on Instagram, while Sculpted has 137,000. Suzanne Jackson’s Sosume Instagram account has almost 300,000 fans. Connolly’s ‘glam parties’ and master classes online during the pandemic proved very effective in winning followers. It is also possible that her background as a makeup artist adds some attraction to her products and she goes out of her way to boast about her understanding of skin types etc. Her recent much-hyped mascara launch sold out online in 23 minutes, but such marketing ‘events’ are par for the course in this industry and the numbers sold are not clear.
Connolly is not averse to using popular influencers, makeup artists and celebrities to promote Sculpted products, and Kylie Minogue, Dawn French and Holly Willoughby have worn her slap. Alongside this well-established, celeb-fuelled hawking strategy, Aimee brings things down to earth by demonstrating products and techniques on her mother. Indeed, it seems fair to say that the Sculpted owner delivers a girl-next-door brand and evidence of her millionaire status is thin on the ground.
There is no K Club pile, as is the case for Pippa O’Connor, or “whiskey and cigar room” as unveiled by Suzanne Jackson at her Malahide home last year (see The Phoenix 15/4/21). Oddly, Aimee lists her home address on Companies Office filings as her mum’s gaff in Ballinteer, although she lives in the more sought-after surroundings of Beechwood Avenue in Ranelagh, D6.
Sculpted by Aimee has entered into assorted strategic partnerships, most recently partnering with Electric Picnic as the festival’s official beauty sponsor. This is the kind of smart move that might be expected of a gal who took the top prize in the emerging category at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards last year.
Then there’s the ongoing overseas expansion, with Aimee having featured on shopping channel QVC UK and signing a distribution deal with Boots there.
Despite this success, there will have been eyebrows raised at Connolly’s decision to open a store on super-expensive Grafton Street, especially given that her products are available in so many pharmacies and online. While rent on Dublin’s premier upmarket shopping street was ranked 13th most expensive in the world in 2019, it is likely that the EY entrepreneur secured an okay deal at a time when there are assorted vacant shop fronts in evidence.
Even so, when it opens next week Sculpted will be competing with neighbour Brown Thomas’s beauty hall. Coincidentally, Aimee Connolly did a part-time stint there at the MAC cosmetics counter. They probably didn’t expect to see her coming back to try to steal some of their lunch.