Back in 2010, Joanna French was on a fruitless quest for the perfect lipstick.
“I always found myself looking for certain colours, saying, ‘This weekend I’m wearing that white dress, so I really want a really dark plum’ or, ‘I need a matte orange’,” French, a cosmetic marketing exec at the time, recalls.
“There wasn’t anything in the market that was cheap and chic, that was also good quality and had nice packaging.”
Rather than venting her frustrations on Facebook, French packed up her life in Sydney, moved home to Melbourne, and began working to fill that market gap.
“I was working three jobs at one stage. I just lived with my parents and saved every dollar for two years. It was so unglamorous,” the entrepreneur says.
“I’m sure people thought I was crazy, but no one really said it to my face.”
Jump forward six years, it’s abundantly clear the now-29-year-old was right on the money. Her company Shanghai Suzy, which launched in 2013, has now sold more than 200,000 lipsticks and is available in more than 600 stores nation-wide.
By anyone’s definition, the leap from frustrated customer to business owner is a daunting one. But French had no doubt she was onto a winning idea, and her friends and family were supportive — although at one point, her mum urged her to do “the sensible thing” and put her savings into an apartment instead.
However, one of the greatest motivators for French was the prospect of escaping the “terrible” marketing job she’d taken on in the interim. “I was so over my job. I was like, ‘Failure is not an option because my career is dead to me … I’m done. I need to do something else,'” she admits.
Launching her own business at the age of 27 is impressive enough — but perhaps even more so is the cut-through French has achieved in a saturated, highly competitive industry. Shanghai Suzy lipsticks boast several points of difference, the first being their seasonal approach.