In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
Anastasia Soare and her company Anastasia Beverly Hills — which originally launched as a brow product brand in 1998 — are now the undisputed beauty queens of Instagram. According to WWD, the brand has the highest earned media value on the platform. (To come to this designation, Tribe Dynamics analyzed data from over 50,000 influencers.) To put this into perspective, ABH has almost double the earned media value of MAC, which dominates every other social media platform, on Instagram.
Soare came from Romania to LA in the early '90s, where she took a job as an aesthetician. After being unable to convince her first employer that eyebrows could change the look of the face, she went into business on her own, operating out of a rented room in a salon. Supermodels, Vogue and the Kardashian family soon found her, and a brow business was born. She appeared on Oprah and built a strong operation, but her business really exploded about two years ago, thanks to her long-time celebrity clients — the Kardashians included — singing her praises on social media. (Anastasia makes both Kim's and our favorite brow filler.) Last year, the brand released an expanded makeup line, including liquid lipsticks, contour kits and highlight kits, all of which are well-loved on Instagram. The company frequently re-grams influencers wearing its products, creating a huge web of shares and new fans in the process. Here, Soare talks about how she turned a nearly two-decade-old label into the hottest "new" brand online.
How did you get your start in the U.S.?
Because I didn't speak the language, the only job that didn't require perfect English was an aesthetician at that time. I started doing facial and body waxing and I realized no one considered eyebrows a service. There's a mathematical formula [used by] Leonardo Da Vinci called the Golden Proportion [Ed. note: it's also referred to as the Golden Ratio]. I really believe the eyebrow can give you a totally different look. In art school I had a teacher who emphasized that if you want to draw a portrait and change the emotion, just change the eyebrow. The owner didn't really believe in this, and I decided a year and a half later to rent a room in Beverly Hills and start this eyebrow [business]. Obviously everyone around me thought I was losing my mind. A year and a half in America and starting my own business! I wanted to be free – that was the reason I came here.
Who were some of your first clients and how did you convince them to try the brow service?
Six months after I started working, my first client was Cindy Crawford and then all the supermodels. One of their agents came and was my client. I was fresh off the boat and I had no idea who they were. Remember, I was from a communist country where everything was censored. One day, the girls had a photo shoot and [the agent] sent a van full of six-foot-tall gorgeous girls [to me]. I remember my first reaction when I saw Cindy. I thought, It's impossible to make such a perfect creature.
In the '90s brows were terrible and really thin — everyone plucked them. Did you have a hard time convincing women to stop doing this?
Absolutely! It was very hard. It took me years to educate women that brows are so important. It doesn't matter if you do your makeup wrong — you can take it off and it's OK, but eyebrows don't grow back if you tweeze for too long. For a year or a year-and-a-half I was trying to figure out the perfect [brow] shape, so I didn't charge anybody. I was doing facials and body waxing, and after a year I started charging for eyebrows because people started coming back getting their eyebrows done, even the makeup artists at Neiman Marcus [which was across the street.] I started charging $10.
When and why did you launch your brow line?
In 1994 Marina Rust from Vogue came in and wrote about me. In the same issue there was a story about Kevyn Aucoin because he launched his Making Faces book. He was the guru of makeup that talked so much about how important eyebrows are, and then there was an article about me doing brows. That was a very important point for the awareness of women in the U.S. At that time I used to work with celebs here: Michelle Pfeiffer, all the supermodels, Jennifer Lopez. I decided by '95 or '96 to open a salon. In my mind I said, I didn't come to the U.S. to be in one little room and pluck eyebrows and squeeze pimples. I opened a salon in Beverly Hills, and at that time there were no products for brows. It was the only boutique salon that did eyebrow services. In 1998 I went to Italy and talked to a lab and started making my own products. We had brow pomade, brow powder, brow gel, tweezers, scissors. I was the first one to invent that double-ended brush with the angle cut and the spoolie on one side. [Ed. note: I was unable to confirm this. But it's an awesome product!] But at the time I didn't know I could patent that.
How did you decide to expand the Anastasia Beverly Hills line from just brow products?
Two years ago I said, "We need to educate women and explain that makeup needs to be done specifically for their bone structure." Just using shading and light colors to enhance parts of your face, you can create a three-dimensional face; you can hide things you don't like and accentuate things you do like. My daughter [Anastasia Beverly Hills president Claudia Soare], said, "Mom, let's do a contour kit and make it easy for women to understand." We launched a contour kit that sold out within hours. Based on that, we developed many other products in the makeup line. Like liquid lipsticks – I didn't like shiny lipstick, I like matte. After 15 minutes I don't have anything on. I was telling this to my daughter and she said, "Mom I'm going to go to the lab — let's do something that will stay forever."
Matte liquid lipsticks are so popular now.
It's not that easy to make different colors of liquid lipstick because the formula is not stable. The labs didn't have enough experience yet. We launched liquid lipstick last year and it was insane. We cannot produce enough to keep products on the shelf at Macy's now.
Kim Kardashian's makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic uses your products a lot. How did you develop a relationship with them? [Ed. note: ABH is currently working on a collaboration with the makeup artist.]
The Kardashians have been my clients for many years, since they were in high school. They have beautiful brows. Look, it's a form of recognition when you have celebrities [using your products] but remember I was on the Oprah show, too. But I think the Kardashian effect [happened] the same time as social media. You reach way more people through that than you used to reach [even] through Oprah. It didn't just "happen" for me two years ago. I've been working on this for so many years. I've worked with every celebrity possible. Of course the Kardashians are good, but I think I can link them with social media because they have [that] power.
I've heard it was your daughter's idea to start an Instagram account for the brand. How did you react to that?
She said, "There's this new app Instagram that we have to get on." I was like, "No. I don't like Facebook. I don't need to know how many times a day somebody gets a cappuccino." But I [gave in] and slowly we started posting and I loved it. It's just me and my daughter posting. We pull content, we look for the legitimate artists that we like. I use Snapchat behind the scenes. It's a lot of work. In the morning my social media takes me four hours just to answer. I can't answer to everyone, but I go through questions and try. I read my comments. It helps us so much. I used to travel and in one day reach 200 people. Now I put a post up and reach 50,000 people that are all over the world.
On Instagram the beauty vloggers are very influential for brands. Who are the ones you really like or who have helped get the word out?
We like to promote and support not only the already established artists like Amrezy [Amra Olevic], Desi Perkins, Chrisspy and Shayla, but also the up-and-coming ones who have a thousand followers. It's a partnership with us. We help each other. They're talented and they work really hard. Like [Amra], people think, Oh, what does she do? That's a full time job what she does. It's not easy what she does. Social media is not easy.
People often question influencers' reviews online because it's not always obvious which posts are sponsored and which are genuine. Do you pay them or do you just send them product?
They are my friends. We don't pay friends. We send them products, and whatever they like, they post. I never ask anybody to talk about it. I want people to be in love with what I make. Everything that I do has to be organic. You cannot fool women. You fool women once with a bad product and they will never buy again. You give them a good product and they will go crazy. Everything is organic with us. That's the reason we are successful.