May 25th, 2020
Mille Kendall – Maverick. Entrepreneur. Renegade – interviewed by Christina Aristodemou.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing beauty industry heavyweight, Millie Kendall, who was good enough to sandwich me in between her morning Tai Chi session and interview with CNN. Millie has 30 plus years’ experience in the beauty industry and has held multiple posts ranging from brand creator, to expert communicator and marketeer. She launched Beauty Mart with Anna Marie Solowij, a carefully curated online beauty site bringing cult, iconic and trending products to the consumer and is the driving force behind the recently conceived British Beauty Council. Oh, and not forgetting that she heads up a PR Agency, BRANDstand Communications.
You’re currently managing four roles simultaneously: CEO at the British Beauty Council, Founder and Director of BRANDstand Communications, Co-Founder and Marketing Director at Beauty Mart and mother of two. Is there such a thing as work / life balance?
There’s not enough work life balance and the current situation has really screwed me up because I get up and come straight to my desk. For me, working from home is possibly the worst thing I could do because I have to really, really push myself to stop working; the key has to literally fall out of the back of the wind-up doll. Because I’m very conscious that I have this problem, I don’t work on weekends. I’m like a Duracell battery and have to recharge on those two days. I’m very strict about it.
I do check emails because if I don’t, I’ll have about 4000 across five different email addresses. I have to check emails. I check them, I acknowledge them but I don’t respond to them and I know by Monday what I have to do. If I don’t release it over the weekend slowly, it’s like a bottle neck. I manage six email accounts. I’ve got five Instagram accounts, five Twitter accounts and countless FaceBook accounts and there are over 15-20 social media accounts that I oversee.
You’ve enjoyed incredible success in your career in the beauty industry with no formal education. Do you think that it’s possible to rise through the ranks without going to university nowadays and what would you say to the parents and students studying make up and beauty who can’t see the benefits of working in retail?
Honestly, I wish I’d gone to university or college because it is a struggle. You have to be like a bull in a china shop and you have to be fairly aggressive to move forward. I remember when we first launched the British Beauty Council and I was being interviewed for a feature in the Daily Mail and about a night or two before the feature was going live the journalist called and said that the Editor wanted to know about my education. I could not sleep for two nights because all I could think about was that they’re going to put ‘idiot with no education runs the British Beauty Council,’ it was awful.
I don’t look back on my career and think ‘how successful you’ve been’ I don’t see it like that. You just do what you do and get up every day and do your job. I do like starting new things and I do what pleases me and I have the freedom to do that, so I think if there is anything I would say is success it’s that I have the ability to choose what I want to do on a daily basis. But it’s been a real challenge and I think it’s really difficult without a formal education to make your way.
I think that one of the things we struggle with in the beauty industry is Higher Education. If I knew that there was a degree that I could do in Beauty Communications, which is something that I’ve done successfully as a career for the past 25 years, I might have stayed in school but those options didn’t exist. I didn’t really have a pathway into this industry. I wasn’t a good hairdresser or makeup artist. I really did like nails but I didn’t get into that. What could I do? I had to make up a job. When I first started there weren’t that many Beauty PRs, we made it up as we went along. You can still to this day do Fashion Communications or Fashion Promotions at different universities but there aren’t that many Beauty Comms courses, so that’s something we need to change because I think that that way it gives us more options. We need to open up the higher education courses: Beauty Communications; Beauty Buying; Beauty Merchandising; Beauty Business; How to be a Beauty Blogger – there are so many different subjects we can create a curriculum around.
What would you say to parents of makeup degree students who cannot see the benefit of their child working on a make-up counter?
Look at Sam and Nic Chapman, Caroline Hirons, me; we all started out on the shop floor. I think it’s a very good discipline. You learn to be tidy, clean, hygienic and how to interact with people. Everyone should have a shop job at least once in their life, there are some really good learnings from it and a career in beauty retail is not a bad career at all. It would be different if there was a real pathway in beauty retail so you start on the shop floor and then you get to be a Manager, then a Merchandiser and next you get to be a Buyer. There’s no clear career path so we’re looking at these pathways as part of our education roadmap with the British Beauty Council.
You’ve said that the late, wonderful Shu Uemura was your mentor. What was the best piece of advice that he ever gave you?
He said that man used to have the life expectancy of 20 and then 40 and that with modern science man could live to 80, so you should really get married every 20 years to someone different!
He really did champion my creativity. When I started working for Shu Uemura I had failed as a hairdresser and I wasn’t a good makeup artist but I was really good at managing the store and making money for the company. I went to Japan when I was around 21 and Shu had designed these sunglasses and I was the only female in the room at this conference of around 50 men and he asked me to stand up and choose which ones I liked the best. Those would be the ones we would go with and I thought, ‘Wow, he really believes in my creativity,’ and I also thought that you can be creative and not actually be able to do anything with your hands. You can be visually and mentally creative. Not everyone who trains to be a makeup artist will be the next Val Garland but you might get into product development or marketing. You might have different abilities. He really opened up a lot of opportunities for me.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
The obvious one would be my MBE but weirdly I’m not so sure. The first one for me was when Polly Sellers wrote about me in Vogue. She wrote a feature on the launch of Shu Uemura and at the bottom of it she wrote:
‘…and then there is Millicent who wears her make up just the way you want to wear yours.’ That just blew my mind. She was one of my favourite journalists to read and for me that was pretty epic.
Thanks to you launching The British Beauty Council, we finally have a figure substantiating the value of the beauty industry, a whopping £27 billion and you had an extremely busy year with many events and initiatives. What has been your biggest achievement to date and your toughest challenge to come?
The toughest challenge is always going to be changing the perception of the industry and the
was really monumental. When we did it, I was terrified because I thought it could end up being really low because everybody had talked about a value for many years but nobody really knew. Having said that, what’s hilarious about it was that bit was quite straightforward because a lot of the figures were from the Office of National Statistics. The bit that was really challenging was the definition of Beauty because that was done in a slightly different way. What we did was a series of qualitative and quantitative studies and that included a lot of conflicting voices, so that was that was actually the most difficult part but the most rewarding because when we finally got the report back I felt it was quite robust.
You can become a member of the British Beauty Council for free and I wanted to make the reports open source, which I think is really important.
You mentioned that you thought that lip liner could be obsolete to a younger generation who enhance their lips by using fillers. Do you have any other future beauty predictions?
Mascara used to be the best seller and I’m not so sure it is anymore as many now have lash extensions and tints. I know we focussed on eyebrows for a long time but a lot of people are having micro blading so that’s going to reduce the amount of eyebrow products that people buy and need and if you have influencers like Sali Hughes who have had the treatment done they may not recommend as many of those products so it will have a trickle-down effect. Having said that, I think we are focussing a lot more on the eyes partly down to Zoom, which will most likely continue. Equally we will be wearing masks, so it’ll be like the Middle East, where the focus is going to be on eyes. Contour and highlight may subside with the cheek implants. Anything you can do with a filler or a tattoo is going to slightly die out.
What’s the best remedy for stress and do you have advice on how best to support our mental health in the stressful times?
Fresh air. Sun and Vitamin D. I think it’s important to be at one with nature. When I practice Tai Chi, we do a bit at the beginning about touching the grass and being at one with the trees and I really like it.