When traveling abroad, if there’s one name you would always spot on my shopping list it would be Sunday Riley. That is until the globally renowned brand arrived in the Middle East. Yes, Sunday Riley’s eponymous skincare brand makes for the perfect shelfie and yes, the products also have catchy names cue C.E.O. Glow but the truth behind its ever-growing success is that the formulas truly work. Now available at Sephora Middle East, we sat down with Riley to talk business and beauty.
What drew you to the world of skincare?
I used to meet a lot of people and the first thing they would do is apologize for their appearance. It brought to my attention how self-conscious people are about their skin and how much they think it impacts what other people think of them. The reality is that other people aren’t thinking about your skin, but the perception is that they are.
Tell us about launching Sunday Riley?
In the early days when I started, my parents were a massive help. I launched the brand from one of the rooms in their house. I moved in with them, which is not something you want to do in your thirties. When I started, my oldest daughter was three, and then, I was pregnant with my second daughter. I didn’t think that was going to be an issue because when your pregnant life isn’t that hard, it’s just when you have the baby. Then I had my other two sons later on. It’s a lot about balance.
Our first retailer was Barneys and they gave us three doors, Beverly Hills, Madison Avenue New York, and then Chicago. They said that if we were successful, they would roll us out at other Barneys. We had six months otherwise they were going to cancel the brand. It launched during the holidays. It was a lot of challenges in the beginning. I just hired the most outgoing salespeople, and even though at Barneys you’re supposed to stay at your station, I told them no, walk around, grab anyone you see. We broke every single rule but, in the end, we made sales. We ended up getting this cult following at Barneys and we went into all 10 their stores. From there we began working with Sephora and that’s been our global expansion partner ever since.
Were there any setbacks along the way?
I’m a big believer in the positive impact of failure. I give a lot of talks on it, I think it’s really critical, and also being able to laugh at yourself. When we first launched, we got into Sephora, and that was 20 stores. It was twice our Barneys distribution. It was huge for us. We went from my parents’ house to a vintage car garage – where someone was working on cars while we were working on our brand – to a converted school. The assumption was that we were going to do really well in Sephora. It’s a totally different sales environment.
Then our merchant called us and said I’ve got bad news. The mapping team – who put the Sephora floor map together, forgot us. We managed to stop it but only when it got to the last store. I flew to San Francisco and met with them. I asked them to give me a chance and I promise I will learn from this and we will be the number one skincare brand in that store in a few months. And if we do that, I want fifty stores. I had no bargaining power but I said it. Then, we became the number one skincare brand in the store, and that store became known for its skincare within the U.S.
Why do you have so many loyal customers?
We’re really big into supplier integrity. We’re very limited on where we source our ingredients from, so we’ll do Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Japan, and the U.S as examples. On the label, consumers can’t tell where someone got the ingredients from. For instance, when I see companies using Vitamin C, I know that it takes millions of dollars to create such products. When I see the cost of the product is less than the cost of Vitamin C, the reality is that there’s probably only a 10% concentration. That’s why I think we lead in skincare because our ingredients are strong, and people know that they’re going to work. They’re not going to have adverse reactions, there’s not something else in there. This spreads through word of mouth, and that’s how we built up.
How important is sustainability for you?
It’s such a big deal. For instance, on election day many people say they won’t vote because they say their vote doesn’t mean anything, but if everyone says that it doesn’t. So, when no-one recycles it’s definitely a problem. And if everyone does it then the meaning is massive. We’re pending certification from B corporation [a certificate for community leaders who use business for good and meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance]. We passed the test and now we’re just waiting to get audited, it’s a long process
We’re trying to offset all of our carbon. We’re changing our boxes too. Our rigid wear boxes have EVA foam, it’s nice and super luxury but I want to keep the planet alive for my children, so we’re removing the EVA foam and all the non-recyclable material and using crushed paperboard instead. For the Amazon rainforest, we also did donation matching for all of our clients, all they had to do was join our email list. We wrote an article on it, and we made sure people knew about it because the amazon burning was so devastating.
What is your top advice for women when it comes to skincare?
I always think a woman needs three products, an alpha hydroxy acid, a retinol product, and a vitamin c product. These are the three you really need to transform your skin. I also advise people to keep their face out of the sun in general, I’m a big believer in hats and sunscreen, really because no matter what, you need to protect yourself from the sun – it’s a huge nuclear reactor.
What is your personal skincare routine?
I always have two routines that I switch up. Usually in the morning when I wake up and do one to two C.E.O. Rapid Flash Brightening Serum and C.E.O. Glow Oil. I’ll put them in the palm of my hand and mix them together and then put it on my skin. I go make coffee, I make breakfast, I do what I have to do. I give the vitamin c a chance to sink in before I put everything else on. If my skin needs more, I’ll apply moisturizer.
In the evenings I’ll use Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment and follow it with A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum and Luna Sleeping Night Oil, so I’ll double retinol with that. If I’m tired, I mix them, but if I’m not tired I’ll layer them. If in doubt just cocktail. Is it the best thing, no? But is it better than nothing? Absolutely.
Read Next: 10 Minutes With Beauty Boss Nora Al-Ramadhan