April 11th, 2022
Shakeup Cosmetics was founded by twin brothers, Shane Carnell-Xu and Jake Xu. Born in Beijing and raised in the UK, the brothers, who use cosmetics themselves, struggled for years to find the perfect products that were best suited for their needs. So, after extensive research, they set out to create their own range of vegan, cruelty-free cosmetic products, designed specifically for men’s skin type and concerns. They launched in 2019 with Harvey Nichols and are on track to become one of the fastest growing men’s beauty brands.
Shakeup understands that the physiology of men’s skin is different to women’s and create innovative skincare and hybrid makeup products, combining proven skincare benefits and high-performance cosmetic features, specifically for men. Every product is multi-purpose and designed to meet the needs of today’s busy, stylish modern man.
Since launching just over two years ago, Shakeup is stocked across the UK as well as in South Africa, Germany and New Zealand and they are just about to launch into Australia. Their flagship online store is on Tmall Global, China’s largest e-commerce platform. Their best-selling product, Let’s Face It BB Tinted Moisturiser, sells 1 every 5 minutes globally.
Jake and Shane have just launched a new four-step skincare regime, Face 4Ward, which aims to demystify skincare jargon, and make skincare for men easy to understand and simple to follow. The brand is on a mission to break down the barriers and stigma around men’s cosmetics and aims to challenge gender stereotypes, reject hyper masculinity, and embrace a new era in men’s beauty.
We caught up with Jake to chat all things male beauty and discover who their dream brand ambassadors would be.
What’s your background and what brought you into beauty?
I’ve been a skincare and beauty junkie since I was a teenager, sadly not by passion at first but more out of necessity due to my rosacea flare ups and regular break outs. Then in 2006, my brother Shane and I went into business together for the first time, that lead to our successful marketing agency READY. We helped brands such as Soap & Glory, Bioré, Molton Brown and Burt’s Bees launch new products and drive brand awareness.
What’s your earliest make up memory?
I remember trying mum’s concealers or foundation to cover my rosacea bumps and patches on bad flare up days. I was of course clumsy and awkward. I had no idea what I was doing but I just wanted to cover it up. The shade of course was wrong for me and the finish was very heavy. I didn’t know how to blend the products in, or how to properly wash it off after. I knew those products were 100% not right for my skin or my skin shade, but it was better than nothing and I simply didn’t have many other choices.
What’s the first product you remember using as a teenager – has this affected your later product choices? What’s the product you can’t live without?
All the earlier products I experimented with were from my mum’s makeup bag, so honestly I don’t even remember the brands. But I remember when I had enough confidence (and practice) to buy my own products, I came across Clinique’s CC cream. I chose Clinique because I heard it was gentler on the skin. One of the paradox I had was that my skin was getting worse the more I was wearing those heavy foundation and powders I borrowed from Mum. The Clinique CC cream became one of my staples. However, the coverage wasn’t high enough to cover all of my blemishes, so I added Burt’s Bees foundation to the collection, specifically for those days where I needed extra coverage. I really fell in love with the skincare-meets-makeup concept from then on. Today, I can’t live without my Clinique anti-blemish lotion, our YOU DO THE MASK charcoal mask stick (it’s addictive!), Shakeup’s FACE 4WARD pro-youth serum as a night mask, our own LET’S FACE IT BB tinted moisturiser in shade medium, as well as a good ‘ol non-tacky daily SPF from Supergoop.
How did you end up creating your own brand – what was the impetus behind it?
Shakeup was really born out of both passion for beauty and frustration for lack of choices for men like me. Skincare for me on the high street are limited to a handful of big brands. When it comes to makeup and more complex cosmetics for men, the choices are even fewer. Men’s skin is physiologically different to women’s, so I believe in products that are specifically formulated for, tested with, and marketed at men. There just wasn’t anything like that on the market. We knew the demand was there, but male consumers in this category had been long neglected, under-served and forgotten about altogether. This category requires education and nurturing, and that cost money and time, which some of the brands are not willing to invest in. However, we know how big of an impact it can make to one’s confidence, self-esteem and mental state, when you look your best. If you can achieve that by using cosmetic products that not only cover your blemishes that bother you but also care for your skin, then someone should make such products. Why can’t it be us?
We first met you in October 2019 (at the Indie Beauty Expo), around the time you launched the brand. At that point you had three cosmetic products – you are now trading globally (congratulations!) and have just launched a skin range – how have you managed to expand so quickly?
Thank you so much! I remember our meeting back in 2019, seems like a lifetime ago. I remember we had just come back from a trade show in Shanghai. And I remember we were excited about our national launch with Harvey Nichols in a few weeks’ time. Then of course Covid-19 changed everything. As a start-up beauty brand in its infancy, the trading conditions and the logistical challenges it brought for the past couple of years had just been brutal. It even forced many established brands to shut. However, not only did we survive we thrived, thanks to our international strategy. We knew from day 1 that we wanted to build Shakeup into a global brand, as the rise of men’s beauty is a global trend, particularly lead by Asia, Korea, Japan and China where we were born. Thanks to our launch success in the UK and our effective PR drive, when UK went into Lockdown, we pivoted and sought opportunities overseas. We successfully launched in China on Tmall, China’s largest e-commerce platform, in July 2020. We subsequently launched in other markets such as South Africa and New Zealand. Our latest expansion is Australia, where our entire range of products will be launched into MYER department stores and online this spring. Thanks to the international success, we’ve grown our product catalogue to 16 SKUs, increased our revenue by 100%+ YOY, and now with a strong team of 8 we are one of the fastest growing men’s brands in the country.
What advice would you give someone starting their own range? Would you do anything differently if you could?
You definitely have to be 100% committed to your brand, your products and your cause. Selling something that you absolutely believe in and would not hesitate to buy repeatedly yourself is always easier and feels more natural. Your passion for your brand and your products will come through, and your customers will feel that. It’s an energy that is endearing and authentic. People buy from people and consumers nowadays love a story behind any brand. You also have to have a point of difference. What sets your brand apart from others. If you can get the above two nailed, you are ready.
One thing I wish was different would be how difficult it is for start-up indie brands to afford eco-friendly or recycled materials for packaging. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken. We are doing our bits but not enough. It’s a priority of ours for the next few years to work on.
Who are your icons of male make up? Who blazed (or is blazing) the trail?
I always say that if we could have Tom Daley and Harry Styles as our ambassadors that’d be ideal. One day! Tom is universally likeable, for his kind heartedness and of course his huge achievements as a sportsman. But his passion for knitting, and not giving two thoughts about what others think, just totally being himself, might just be his best quality yet. Harry has served some massively bold looks and fashion statements on the red carpets and on covers of magazines. He is unafraid of trying anything, as long as it makes him feel great about himself. We love both of them for their unapologetic ways to express and being their most authentic selves. At the end of the day, skincare is self-care, and we are about how using cosmetic makes you FEEL in your skin.
Makeup for men is nothing new, it’s been worn by them since ancient times. Why do you think makeup is currently seen as a primarily female preserve? Do you think it’s now more acceptable socially for men to wear makeup?
I’d actually love to have a conversation with a historian on this topic. You are right, like wearing high heels, makeup was actually worn by men first in ancient times. Then many years later, toxic masculinity redefined what a man supposed to do or look like and somehow it’s been decided that certain things are no longer appropriate for this ideal blue print of a man. We are here to change that, or challenge that. We believe masculinity comes in more forms and shapes. And one should never apologise or feel ashamed about doing anything if it makes them feel good about themselves, providing it’s legal and does not hurt others. We also believe masculinity is much more robust than some might give it credit for. It does not need to be over compensated unnecessarily. Thanks to pop culture shows such as Love Island and TOWIE, we see more and more guys taking more care of their looks, it has definitely helped pushing it along. But we believe it’s the new wave of modern men, the Millennials and Gen-Zs, that are demanding this change. They do not want to conform to a stereotype, they grew up in a much more diverse times and with a much more fluid mindset. And we are here for it.
The pandemic and resultant lockdowns hit just a few months after you launched. This could have been a disaster! What challenges did you face during this period? What positives have you drawn from the experience?
It absolutely is a disaster and definitely one of most challenging things a business can face for sure. Physical retail was non-existence for most part of a year, no way to interact with our customers or press to get our brand known, can’t meet with distributors or retail buyers, and can’t travel to see manufacturers or formulators. On top of that, international logistics are completely messed up, things were made but took twice as long, even when they were made it costs a house-deposit just to ship them over to the UK. As a young business, we were squeezed by challenges from every single direction.
However, with challenges come opportunities. We were not going to sit and take it. We had built such momentum in Q4 2019, we were not ready to just let it all go to waste. We knew we wanted to launch in China, so we thought why not now. We met some potential partners on our trip just before Covid, and we continued our conversation from there. Being able to speak the language had served us massively well, as with China’s border closed for the entire 2020, we still managed to open our flagship online store on Tmall Global with a record time. We negotiated and signed trade agreements with partners, logistics and supply chain suppliers, as well as with Alibaba, all remotely. Till this day we still have not yet met our partner in China but they have taken our brand in China from 0 to £100+k monthly revenue within 12 months. Not ready to stop there, we replicated the success by applying similar method other markets and we have since launched in South Africa and Australia.
I guess the biggest positive I take from the past couple of years is that, if we can come through a global pandemic triumphant, I guess we are not afraid of any challenges going forward, big or small.
What’s next for you and brand?
We have a great relationship with Superdrug in the UK and we have been rolled out to 100 more stores nationwide this month. We will continue to build our presence in the UK as well as overseas. We will be going to COSMOPROF in Italy this April and we can’t wait to meet with potential distributors and retailers from all over the world. We also have a lot of amazing innovative products in our development pipeline, which we can’t wait to introduce to our customers in the coming months. We are just getting started.