Posted: Thu 23rd Jun 2022
Jessica Blackler owns a beauty business with a difference.
After finding success in her early film and TV career as a make-up artist, Jessica eventually founded Jecca Blac, a gender-free beauty brand that gives clients the confidence to present as themselves through private make-up lessons and vegan products.
Jessica is also a guest speaker at this year’s Beauty Exchange, as part of the GS1 showcase. There, she’ll speak of her experiences as an entrepreneur and answer any burning questions the audience might have.
Ahead of her Beauty Exchange appearance, Jessica sat down with Enterprise Nation’s Grace Nelson to chat through her life and career.
I worked at Ealing Film Studios in London – it’s where Downton Abbey and those types of things are filmed. Basically, I started to have a few people message me for private one-to-one make-up lessons, and that was something on the side.
I quickly realised a lot of the requests came from those who were transitioning, and early in their transition, mainly trans women – people wanting to learn to do make-up for the first time.
That became my niche. I gave up my work in film, as I much preferred doing make-up lessons for my trans clients. I felt like I was just being a boring make-up artist who was making someone look great for their wedding – and that didn’t really interest me.
This was more personal for my clients, more life-changing in some ways. They got to look at themselves in the mirror and see what they wanted to look like for the first time.
It was a much more exciting type of make-up. So that was how it started. It wasn’t originally my focus to go down that path, but it happened organically, and it was going well.
I then started doing make-up lessons for people transitioning in prison, so that was quite an experience – and I was doing it quite regularly as a way of supporting the whole community. As you can imagine, my clients were from all walks of life – quite a spectrum of people!
One thing they had in common was that they felt the large beauty brands weren’t noticing them as customers. Many of the beauty products they were using weren’t the correct ones, and there was that lack of education there.
They had slightly different needs. They wanted beard shadow coverage, for instance, which weren’t things that were mainstream. So I started to work with my clients to understand whether there were any products they wanted. My vision was to build a brand which was super-accepting and inclusive to all people coming through that door and to offer solutions to them.
Yes. We brought out products, and our first was to cover beard shadow. Obviously, with a business, you have to think about how to scale it and make it profitable.
The trans community isn’t huge, but it’s definitely big enough. But to make it more scalable, we started to notice the Gen Z customer is very aligned to the values of the trans community, and the fact that they’re called the Gender-Fluid Generation – they don’t necessarily see male and female.
They’ve broken down that barrier, and they very much shop within both male and female fashion brands, almost subconsciously, and are more inclusively minded as a generation. In terms of our customers, this is very much where we’ve grown over the last few years.
I came from a make-up background as an artist. A lot of people start brands because they have experience in the application side (such as make-up artists or beauticians) in the formula side. I had no idea when it came to formulas, I just knew what looked good!
My customers’ feedback was super important as well. Lots of these brands will probably be a one-man band at this stage, and before you start it’s important to get your customer profile right, instead of worrying about your look, feel and formulas.
Some people find it hard to take their business out of their own head, and if you’re not the target customer yourself, it’s important to get a focus group involved at an early stage.
People love being involved in an up-and-coming brand, getting behind the scenes – all that stuff. So, before anything, get a focus group in place to help you with that process. Because your manufacturer will try and sell you things that aren’t in line with the brand – they’re essentially just trying to get more sales.
In terms of our supplier, we’ve shifted quite a lot of products through them now, but at the start, we didn’t – they wanted a minimum number of orders, and it was tough. You need to find someone who naturally believes in the vision, and you have to sell it to them, as you need a supplier to really bring your business to life.
That’s essentially what our supplier did. They saw the importance of what we were trying to do and understood that this could be big, and we could be a big customer for them. And now we are. We’ve scaled out to the US with them so it’s about getting someone who believes in that vision.
In terms of finding someone, it depends on your budget and what markets you want to be in. In some ways, starting in the UK is a good thing because we have a lot of barriers now with Brexit, so if you try and manufacture elsewhere, you’re faced with these barriers.
When I went to The Beauty Exchange a few years ago as a guest, much of the panel answered the burning questions I had. Also, as an entrepreneur in the early days without a team, it’s quite a lonely journey, so building a community to lean on is great – the network I’ve built in the industry has helped me a lot over the years.
There’s not always clear synergy in the beginning when you meet other entrepreneurs, but in the future, you never know. I’ve done collaborations with people, and they’ve gone really well!”
If you're looking to start or grow a beauty business, book your free ticket for The Beauty Exchange now. Industry experts and successful entrepreneurs will be on hand to provide top tips for growing a great brand and buyers will share how you can pitch your products.