Beauty / Feature

Sheena Yaitanes on building a beauty brand and how she gets it done

“You need to have innocence and ignorance.”

Starting a beauty brand that cuts through an intensely saturated market to reach cult status is something all dream of but few actually achieve. And so, in 2015 when L.A.-based Sheena Yaitanes launched Kosås, it wasn’t blind ambition but rather a certain level of ignorance that was integral to the success of the brand. “There is so much I know now that I had no idea of when I started the brand, but I think it’s probably better that I didn’t,” recalls Yaitanes.

VINTNER’S DAUGHTER Active Botanical serum.

“If I had known the things I know now, especially on the business side of it, I never would have thought that I could do that.”

Best known for their Tinted Face oils, the perfect blend of a hydrating formula and sheer coverage that gives that ‘no-makeup’ makeup look the brand then extended into colour products – all focused on the brand’s ethos of clean, smart and easy makeup. With production split between L.A. and Italy, and the head office run from Yaitanes home, it’s a strict schedule and a skilled team that keeps the brand growing.

Beauty is a voyeuristic industry. It demands your personal information as par for the course of being allowed to operate in that world. As I ask the specifics of her night beauty routine, and the personal struggles of running a business, I’m acutely aware of my own probing. When queried how she deals with editors, like me for example, expecting the ins-and-outs of her personal life, she confesses; “For me, personally, I find it super tricky. I am not an influencer, and I didn’t sign up to be one. And yet I know that the whole point is that I am sharing my personal life. I know the brand needs it, but it is not my natural state.”

KOSAS Tinted Face oil.
KOSÅS Wet Lip Oil gloss.

On the strategies used to get past oneself there is no miracle cure, only the act of diving in and doing. “I have Beth [Marketing Director of Kosås] saying, “You can do it”, and I’m like “I can’t do it”, and she says “yes, you can”, and we have that conversation and then I do it,” she tells me.

On the precipice of launching the brand’s new Wet Lip oils into Mecca Cosmetic, we sat down with Yaitanes to talk building a beauty brand from the ground up, the personal nature of beauty, and why it’s the people around you that make all the difference to your success.

On starting a beauty brand …
“I was always in love with makeup but was never girly. I felt like I had all these people’s beauty looks that I admired and they definitely used makeup but used it in a certain way and there wasn’t a brand that was speaking that way. There wasn’t a brand for us – which was all of us. I had a very strong opinion on how makeup should be made. I had pretty sensitive, problematic skin so I had an idea on how it should be formulated. We really do hit on all of those things; we formulate in a way that no one else does, we never pull a stock formula off the shelf, which is what every single brand does, we have in house R&D even though we are a small brand, we have a story to tell with packaging, we love telling a really fun, visual story, we started doing clean before it was really defined and we have a philosophy around what that means. But we also love makeup, and we love colour pay off and we want things to work and not feel like they’re not doing anything.”

On personal health …
“I have a really strict schedule. I schedule everything in. I work out twice a week, I have therapy, we have professional couching and those things are all scheduled throughout the week so they are always happening. Consistency is the most important thing.”

FLORA+BAST Age Adapting CBD serum.

On growing a business …
“Over the last year, our team has grown a lot. When we first launched the brand it was just me and then there were one or two of us and now we’re close to 30. So what’s really great about that is there are people who are much better at doing what they do than I am and I can really focus on the two things that I think I bring value to the company in. Which is product development, making the actual product and storytelling through the creative process. They are the two things I always have a hand in.”

“I keep it really simple for the day because makeup is my skincare.”

KORA ORGANICS Noni Glow Face oil.

On her team’s health …
“[A business coach] is so critical to our team because we are doing something so personal and so much truth telling and it takes a lot of effort to do that and a lot of discipline and it takes a lot of openness amongst the team. It’s a very tense and a very fast paced situation too, because we are growing so fast as a brand. Our distribution is growing and there is a lot of pressure. So, it is critical to the functioning and the health of our team. All department heads are in that so they are able to lead, truly lead, so they don’t become toxic.”

Morning beauty routine …
“I love to use things that are very multi-tasking. I use a lot of oils on my skin and I have very oily skin, that’s why I use a lot of oils. They’re really good and balancing for all skin types, depending on what kind of oil. Every oil has a different personality and I find the ones that work for my skin. I’ll typically do an oil cleanser, the Tatcha One Step. Their oil cleanser is different than other cleansers because you can wash it off with water which makes it one step – I love that. I might mist my face with a toner and then I go straight into Kosås Tinted Face oil. Because the product itself is skincare and I want the product to be closest to my skin so it can really do its job.”

Night beauty routine …
“For night I cleanse really thoroughly. Ay night a will do a double cleanse and then I will use a face oil. I really spend time really massaging it in. I use three different ones. I use Kora Organics, I just tried it for the first time. I also like Vintner’s Daughter a lot so I use that sometimes, not all the time though as it has so many ingredients and I like ones that have fewer ingredients. And there is a small CBD brand in the US called Flora + Bast and I use that a lot. CBD is so hyped but I started using it and I saw results, I don’t know why.”

What’s next for the brand?
Really helping people understand how much we are makeup and skincare at the same time. How much we are here to support the non-super layered makeup look.

TATCHA One Step Camellia Cleansing oil