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Liz Agresta. Source: supplied

Founder Friday with Liz Agresta: the secrets to building a $15m beauty empire 

Ahead of her first-ever trade show in Italy, entrepreneur Liz Agresta found out that her products were being held up in customs. Undeterred, she went on to present potential buyers with empty labelled bottles filled with water.

“I still recall saying to one of the guys with me, ‘Well, you know, we’ve either hit the nail on the head here or we’ve completely missed the mark’,” she laughed.

Three short years later, her line of self-tanning, sun care, and skincare products Australian Glow is rumoured to be valued at $15 million, with a bottle of her top-rated self-tanning mousse reportedly selling every 70 seconds worldwide.

The inspiration for the beauty brand came from her own skin struggles.

“From my teen years through to my 20s, self-tanning was something I loved to do. But when I turned 30, my sensitive skin started to have a severe reaction to some products,” Liz explained. “I was doing all this to look great and it had the opposite effect.”

She took a deep dive into the sun care and skincare market and realised there was space for an organic self-tanning brand with sustainability at its core.

“We had the idea and then it came to a point where I had to point my money where my mouth was. So I decided to quit my job and make the initial investment of around $25,000 from my own savings.”

Since hitting the shelves in early 2020, Australian Glow can now be found in 15 countries. It has come to be seen as a market leader in sustainable beauty for sensitive skin.

Liz is understandably all smiles when she talks about the “amazing feedback” Australian Glow has received.

 “I think, given the current circumstances, everyone is trying to be sustainable in their approach to everyday life. And to see a beauty brand out there, making big changes and wanting to have an impact, has been really positive for our customers,” she shared.

Going global

Liz understood early on that the Australian self-tanning market was “quite congested.” So instead of going the traditional route, she decided to begin Australian Glow with global trade shows in 2019.

“That’s where the real success came from. We met with lots of major retailers from around the world, lots of distributors who absolutely loved our story,” she revealed.

It was in Bologna, Italy at Cosmoprof, one of the world’s biggest trading shows, that she found herself equipped with only a small suitcase of products. The rest were held up in customs and unlikely to be released in time for the show.

“It was quite embarrassing! I remember feeling so sheepish filling up the bottles with the other stalls watching us. But then, through all three days of the show, our stand ended up getting the most attention and foot traffic.”

Australian Glow was launched in major retailers in March 2020 – in the week lockdowns were implemented around the world.

It was an understandably stressful situation, and one she managed with a baby on the way. Nevertheless, she stayed the course.

“Life’s been very busy! My son was born in May 2020, a few months into the business. But being a mum is my number one priority and I’m lucky to have a lot of family support,” she added. “It’s been an interesting, wild ride the last few years.”

READ MORE: Founder Friday: This father-daughter duo is on a quest to improve global health, one person at a time

Source: supplied

Building a sustainable brand

Playing a part in protecting the planet was crucial to this entrepreneur.

Australian Glow was the first tanning brand to make their ingredient list transparent for consumers to know exactly what goes in it.

“Being innovative is what drives me. Australian Glow was also the first tanning brand in the world with sustainable packaging – once you finished your bottle, you could buy a refill sachet that was made from recycled plastic rescued from the ocean.

“We use 80 per cent less plastic on those refill pouches than an actual bottle. It was this attribute that blew the minds of buyers at the first trade show we presented at.”

They will also be switching from using labels to directly printing on the packaging, to make the products more recyclable.

Recently, Australian Glow announced that it would discontinue its facial bronzing mist because “it cannot be made using sustainable packaging.”  

Liz explained, “We are ceasing production of Australian Glow Facial Bronzing Mist despite it being 25 per cent of our sales and it being our #1 product in the USA. Even though our spray uses Bag on Valve technology that is less harmful than other aerosols – it is the right decision if we are to continue as a global leader in sustainable packaging for the beauty industry.

“We don’t want to create any confusion that aerosols of any kind are environment friendly. Aerosols often contain hydrocarbons that contribute to climate change and are found to increase occurrences of cancer and respiratory disorders in humans. Most aerosol cans are also lined with epoxy – a type of plastic that make these cans impossible to recycle. This is against what we stand for.”

Australian Glow products. Source: supplied

Best advice received

For Liz, whose product is now sold around the world through big-name retailers like Macys and Ulta Beauty (US), Priceline (AU), and Superdrug (UK), the best advice she received was to simply “take a step back.”

“Starting out, I felt like I had to say yes to every retailer or distributor who reached out,” she confessed. “I learned to take a step back and really make an informed decision that you’re happy with. It’s not possible to please everybody.

“You may hear the success stories of a business, but behind every story is someone working really, really hard. We make mistakes, we learn along the way, and we get back up every time we’re knocked down.”

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READ MORE: Founder Friday with Sarah Neill: creating an online fashion community for women

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Rhea Laxmi Nath

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