Beauty is Big Business

Georgia entrepreneurs are making a mark with boutique cosmetic and skincare lines

The beauty industry is booming. In 2022, the U.S. skincare, makeup, hair care, and fragrance industry reached $30 billion in annual sales for mass market (drugstore) products, and $27 billion for prestige (specialty store) products. Worldwide, the total was $430 billion last year.

New York and California continue to be industry hubs, originally as headquarters of stalwarts such as L’Oréal USA and Estée Lauder, and now thanks to the trend of celebrities such as Rihanna and Ariana Grande launching their own product lines.

But not all of the new entries are bicoastal VIPs. Some bold innovators are gaining market share—and shining a light on unexpected locations, like Georgia—with creative cosmetics crafted in their own hometowns.

In a highly saturated industry where not every brand can stand out, many of these Georgia-based companies have contributed to the field in exciting and notable ways, whether through near-instant popularity and growth, or by obtaining coveted, prestigious certifications, or even setting the standard for an industry niche.

Brand Identity

Savannah natives Stephanie Duttenhaver and Cindy Edwards found inspiration for their company, Sapelo Skin Care, in the rejuvenating nature of the twice-daily tides of the shores and marshes. Named after one of Georgia’s barrier islands, Sapelo Skin Care products are formulated with Southern-inspired ingredients and designed for use twice each day to replenish the skin. “I lived around the U.S. and in Europe before returning home to Savannah,” says Duttenhaver, “and one of the things I noticed was how so many places are losing their cultural identity. We still have a strong identity in Savannah. It has this allure and mystique that people love, so being based here has been an advantage, because people find it to be a beguiling place.”

Savannah’s ports and bustling import/export industry are also a huge boon for the brand, and they launched with their first international client, a spa in London, in Q4 of 2022. The company also formulates, manufactures, and pours its products at a cosmetics lab located in Savannah, so Duttenhaver and Edwards can be hands-on with every aspect of the brand.

“In the South, we are raised to take care of things we treasure,” says Edwards. “We pass them down to the next generation. The [family] silver, the pearls, and your complexion are all highly prized things. Stephanie and I are living what we’re doing, and we can’t imagine doing it anywhere but where we are.”

Another company inspired by Georgia’s barrier islands is One Love Organics, which calls St. Simons Island home. The company founder, lawyer-turned-organic-beauty-maven Suzanne LeRoux, was raised on a farm in Odum, Georgia. The state serves not only as her base of operations but also as the inspiration for her entire philosophy of natural beauty and sustainable products and packaging. The brand is formulated, produced, and packaged with eight employees in LeRoux’s 6,000-square-foot St. Simons facility. It is the only ECOCERT-licensed factory in the state and one of only a handful in the entire country. This certification guarantees the highest standard in quality, organic ingredients, and environmentally-friendly practices.

Home Base

Some beauty entrepreneurs have found that staying based in Georgia has unforeseen advantages. Anisa International is a makeup brush design and manufacturing company
founded by Anisa Telwar Kaicker. She started the business in 1992 and designs brushes for every major beauty company on the market—from Revlon to Sephora to Sonia Kashuk and many celebrity-founded brands, as well. In fact, Kaicker and her team produce 80 percent of the brushes currently rated 4.9 stars or higher on Kaicker also pioneered cruelty-free brushes, pivoting the entire industry from using inhumanely harvested animal hair to cruelty-free and synthetic fibers. In 2019, she founded Anisa Beauty, her direct-to-consumer line of sustainably made makeup and skincare brushes. And she does it all from her Atlanta headquarters.

“In the beginning, people always questioned why I was in Atlanta,” says Kaicker. “I have never had a major client here, and it was certainly a challenge not being where my customers were and not being close to those ‘water cooler conversations’ and industry events. However, I have built a very strong infrastructure and have an incredibly strong team here, and it works.” Kaicker has always traveled extensively to meet with clients and to visit her privately owned manufacturing facility in China. Being close to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was a noted perk. “Atlanta is my city and Delta is my airline partner, and they have served me so well,” she says. “The airport is why I stayed when I first started my business. I can get anywhere I need to go from Atlanta.”

Anisa International has remote employees across the country, but there are more than 40 full-time staff at the Atlanta headquarters, which is a beautiful, engaging space that lends itself to Kaicker’s focus on her employees’ mental health. A covered courtyard offers space to work outside in the fresh air; Wellness Wednesday events with activities and speakers take place in the daylight-filled common area; and the company provides lunch for all employees every Thursday in a communal dining room. “I couldn’t have a space like this if I was in New York,” says Kaicker. “It’s large and represents who we are as a brand. I love being able to show clients this space where it all happens.”

Kaicker’s personal and professional commitment to giving back influences every aspect of her business, and Anisa International’s philanthropic footprint is sizable. The company gives to organizations such as Atlanta Mission, LifeLine Animal Project, and Families First, and does the footwork to match the donations, as well. “I think it’s very possible that if I had been somewhere massive, I wouldn’t have been able to make the impact I have philanthropically,” she says. “Being a big fish in a small pond means our impact really makes a difference. My entire team is philanthropic, and they serve people on their own time, as well. We are invested in our city.”

Sarah Biggers-Stewart was a successful, Atlanta-based makeup artist who wanted more clean makeup brands to use on her clients, so she started her own, Clove + Hallow, in 2017. She launched a sister brand with a more accessible price point called Clover in 2021 and transitioned into having just one brand with the name Clover By Clove + Hallow, in 2022. “Even though there aren’t a ton of us here, Atlanta is such a great city to have a beauty brand,” says Biggers-Stewart. “It has easy access to ports and the airport, and there is a lower cost of living compared to other big cities, but it still has all the perks of a big city. Plus, there is a really prime makeup artist culture here, which was paramount for me in launching my brand.”

While the Clover by Clove + Hallow team is small, with 10 total employees, four of whom are full-time, Biggers-Stewart is excited about the talent the state offers when she grows her team. “Recently, our creative director, Kate Foster Kaplove, spearheaded a partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design, as they have a new beauty-focused track,” she says. “We sourced content creators among the students, we had marketing classes do social media audits for us, and we found interns. There is so much talent in this state and so many new people who are educated and interested in beauty. We are about to have a really large talent pool. I could see more beauty brands getting footing here, too.”

Serial entrepreneur Andrew Glass is building a beauty and wellness empire one brand at a time, and he is doing so happily from his home base in Atlanta. His brands include Non Gender Specific, a botanically based skincare brand designed for everyone; Wakse, a luxury at-home waxing brand; and Nauox, a newly launched sexual wellness brand. Glass was already a seasoned beauty industry vet, having worked in business development, product development, and global brand management at other companies before starting his own, so he already had a network he relied on for establishing his operations. “I do business everywhere,” says Glass. “Our formulas are made in a lab in California, I’ve sourced jars from Germany, and we have Wakse’s social media based in California, but my cofounders for Wakse and Naoux and I are all here in Georgia. We also have a big warehouse in Alpharetta that all my brands share, so everything is shipped from the lab to our Alpharetta space where fulfillment takes place.”

Another major contender in the state is Astral Health & Beauty. CEO Bob Cohen acquired Astral in 1998 when the company only consisted of one brand, consultant-based skincare company Aloette. During his tenure, he has increased the brand’s portfolio by acquiring Cosmedix, a skincare brand known for delivering clinical-level results with clean products; Pür The Complexion Authority, a line of clean, mineral-based makeup; and most recently, Butter London, a well-known brand of clean nail polishes, nail treatments, and cosmetics. The parent company has more than 100 employees who work from the Sandy Springs headquarters and 75,000-square-foot Kennesaw distribution center, while the individual brands have more employees globally. “Atlanta has incredible energy and one of the best airports in the world. It is an emerging business hub that we were ahead of the game on,
since Astral has been based here for over 20 years,” says Cohen. “The Atlanta lifestyle
allows for authenticity, respect for people, celebration of community, and immersion
in culture. These happen to be the same intrinsic elements that are at the core of the
beauty industry and help brands like Astral not only succeed, but achieve.”

Another notable brand that calls Georgia home is The Doux, a texture-focused
haircare brand that launched while founder Maya Smith lived in Germany, where
her husband, Brian, was stationed in the Air Force. The Smiths moved their brand
operations to Georgia when Brian was relocated to Robins Air Force Base in the
Macon area. Upon Brian’s retirement, the couple settled in Loganville; they opened
the brand’s offcial headquarters in Atlanta in Q3 of 2023.

Similarly, LYS Beauty is an Atlanta-based clean beauty brand created by makeup
artist and PÜR alum Tisha Thompson in 2021. Thompson’s inspiration was to
bring clean beauty to melanin-rich skin, and her brand has tapped into a void in
the beauty business. Sephora stores started selling LYS Beauty less than a year after
it launched, making it the first Black-owned clean makeup brand sold in Sephora’s
Clean at Sephora category.

Intentional Relocation

When Alicia Scott decided to start her business, she went against the grain, leaving
the bustle of New York City for Atlanta. “I moved here based on a Google search that
listed Atlanta as the number one place for Black women to start a brand,” she says. She
launched Range, a makeup line designed for problem skin of all colors, in 2015 and has
found continued success and support. “It has been incredible being in such a culture-rich city that has such a large beauty community,” she says. “That community is vastly
under-tapped by other brands, and they love to see Black-owned businesses succeed.”

While much of her small team works remotely, she has found success renting private office and warehouse space from Saltbox, an Atlanta-based company that provides business space for entrepreneurs. Scott just completed Sephora’s six-month accelerator program, a brand incubator that trains brand founders of color, and concludes with the brands launching in Sephora stores. Scott felt ready to scale her brand to that level, in no small part due to her location. “I have such a strong support system here of thriving Black female entrepreneurs,” she says. “I’ve met these women at pitch competitions and through entrepreneurship programs and events. We are able to keep each other going when times are hard, but also celebrate one another when times are great and as a solo-preneur, that is priceless.”

That sense of community seems to be a common thread among the beauty brand owners who call Atlanta home. When Leslie Tessler brought her family from Argentina to Atlanta during Covid to stay with her cousin, she expected to merely “ride out the pandemic” and then launch her body and skincare brand, Hanni, while splitting her time between her home of Argentina and Miami. But Tessler found she loved all that Atlanta offered both her family and her business. “I’ve started working with so many Georgia-based people who have gotten me really excited about the scene and energy, so we are now building out our team to be entirely Atlanta-based,” she shares. “It all just makes sense from a cost perspective, a talent perspective, and pleasure perspective.”

Just two days after launching in 2021, Hanni was contacted by Sephora—a game-changing moment that gave the brand an immediate opportunity to scale. Within its first full year, Hanni saw 5x growth, and the brand’s Sephora growth is up more than 1,000 percent. Hanni has no plans to switch to a new headquarters location, though. Atlanta has everything the company needs.