Australia might not be a world leader in the beauty business (yet) but it is the globe's largest wool producer. Now Kirsten Carriol is aiming to harness both industries, with her line of lanolin-based beauty products. The following story ran as a full page feature in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph newspaper here in Sydney. Although Lanolips is a year old this month, the new news peg was Carriol's UK distribution deal, which will see this by all accounts hugely successful beauty startup take its first international steps in September. The shot of Carriol, above, was taken in May last year during her last visit to her family's Corryton Park property in South Australia. The shot below shows her mother and uncles as children on the property, with her grandmother and a wool harvest. Head to the Lanolips website to learn more about the products.
A young Polish immigrant by the name of Helena Rubinstein founded a cosmetics empire in Melbourne with a lanolin-based moisturiser. A century on, Sydney mother of two Kirsten Carriol aims to be the next Australian beauty entrepreneur to find fortune off the sheep’s back.
Carriol did not launch her company with face creams but rather, a small line of tinted lip balms called Lanolips.
The products are made using a top-of-the-line medical grade lanolin and Carriol refers to the products as “lip ointments”.
But while her key ingredient might be expensive, Carriol made her price points deliberately accessible – $13.95 each for five tinted balms up to $17.95 for the plain, ultra medical grade multi-purpose 101 ointment that she uses on her children’s faces and rashes.
“My plan was to bring lanolin back as an ingredient - to be the person to do it and to show everybody in the entire world…because noone in the whole world has a good quality lanolin brand that’s kind of a little bit cool to use” says Carriol. “Also I’m really proud to be bringing an Australian and New Zealand ingredient to the world market and to be flying that flag”.
Lanolips currently sells through 900 Australian retail outlets, ranging from pharmacies up to department stores David Jones and Myer. Priceline is her biggest customer, where Lanolips sells through 300 doors.
And selling it has been. Carriol has just secured distribution through UK pharmacy giant Boots, which has over 1400 outlets in the UK. Boots will trial the brand in its 22 top stores from late September and also offer it online. If sales in Australia are anything to go by, Carriol could be in for windfall.
Launched in June 2009, Lanolips rucked up $1million in sales in Australia within eight months reports Carriol, which is almost unheard of in this market.
“I haven’t seen that sort of figure before with of the clients I’ve worked with in the cosmetic sector – it’s phenomenal growth” says Austrade senior export advisor Denise Eaton.
She adds, “The overseas cosmetics sector is incredibly competitive, but every week there seems to be a new brand coming to me saying that they’re looking at exporting. I’m always surprised at a point of difference that these brands are continually coming up with. Their innovation is amazing”.
Carriol is part of a rapidly expanding contingent of export-focussed Australian beauty entrepreneurs that has emerged over the past 15 years and whose products generated $363million in export sales in 2009 according to Austrade – up 3.39percent on 2008. Lest you wonder what percentage of that figure could be comprised of raw ingredients such as essential oils, according to Austrade branded products account for 97percent.
Among those taking their beauty products to the world are skincare specialists such as Aesop and Jurlique and makeup brands including Napoleon, Bloom and ModelCo.
Carriol’s idea was, however, a little riskier than most.
A natural, greasy substance found in wool, the first use of which is believed to date back to 1,600 BC, lanolin began being widely adopted by the cosmetics industry in the 1880s. Older Australians would remember a time when every household had a tube of Fauldings lanolin cream.
Lanolin fell out of favour, however, as a mainstream cosmetic ingredient after a 1953 European study claimed it caused allergies.
The latter findings have since been refuted by other studies, but still lanolin has remained a no-no in the mainstream beauty industry – in spite of the fact that medical grade lanolin is widely used in hospital burns units and maternity wards in nursing creams.
“It’s safe for the mouths of newborn babies - you can’t even say that about water” says Carriol. “It’s so safe and yet the cosmetic world has promoted this myth that lanolin is an allergen, therefore stay away. Their loss is my gain.
“We don’t actually make a lot of money from this product because my view is, for anyone to buy lanolin again it has to be at an affordable price - I knew people wouldn’t pay a premium for lanolin, it had such a bad name” says Carriol, who knows a thing or two about sheep.
The Adelaide native spent all her school holidays on a sprawling 800 hectare sheep and cattle property called Corryton Park located in Lucindale, near Mount Gambier in South Australia. The property was sold last year just before the Lanolips launch. Sadly, Carriol’s grandfather passed away on the day that Corryton Park moved out of the family’s hands.
In addition to her farming background, Carriol also hails from a family of scientists.
Her father is Professor Leigh Burgoyne, a molecular biologist with Adelaide’s Flinders University – who praised the virtues of lanolin for years.
“Dad always says to me the molecular structure of lanolin most closely resembles your skin lipids” says Burgoyne, whose mother Judy Burgoyne was a scientist with the CSIRO for 30 years.
Sister Laura is an anaesthetist and her brother Mark, a chemical engineer.
“I always felt like the dumb one” quipped Carriol, who studied communications and marketing before launching her own successful beauty-specialist PR agency in Sydney called Buzz Consulting, where she employs four fulltime staff and two casuals.
Carriol’s in-laws haven’t harmed her chances of success either.
Carriol is married to Jean Marc Carriol, the son of Michel-Henri Carriol, who moved to Australia from France in 1966 as a trade attaché at the French embassy. In 1973, in Sydney, he founded Trimex, now one of Australia’s biggest cosmetic distributors, which controls some of the world’s best-known cosmetic and fragrance brands in this market, including Clarins, Versace, Prada, Thierry Mugler and Nina Ricci.
Not only is Lanolips now part of the Trimex portfolio in Australia, Jean Marc, who is a director of Trimex, has also consulted on the brand’s international distribution.
In what sounds like a scene from an upcoming instalment of Sex And The City, the beautiful, blonde Sydney PR girl and her French beau married in 2004 in a French chateau. They live in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with their two young sons, Casper and Dalphin.
In spite of having access to some of the best advice in the business, it nevertheless took six years to bring Lanolips to market, with Carriol in negotiations with six factories in Australia and also Italy. Many were reluctant to take the product on.
“They wanted to substitute it all with chemicals and recommended using five percent lanolin so I could say it had lanolin in it. I wanted to use 70 percent” says Carriol, who considered giving up the project at one point. “There were many tears”.
Now that Lanolips is a roaring success, Carriol’s biggest hurdle right now is juggling motherhood and running two businesses – her PR agency and Lanolips, which is growing rapidly. Body and hand/nail creams were added to the range this month. Later in the year Carriol will also launch a new organic lemon oil-based lip ointment and body range.
“Being a mother is the hardest job in the world. Being a working mother is even harder. Having your own business and being a mother at the same time is incomprehensibly hard - 10 times harder than working for someone else” says Carriol, who does the school run every morning and afternoon.
She adds, “I always say to the girls in my office, beware if you want it all because you have to do it all.”