5 Minutes with Fiona Neale

Professional Beauty chats to Issada CEO Fiona Neale about her dream job, salon makeup menus and the importance of being around like-minded people. 

Fiona Neale

Beginning her career in the medical field and later making the brave move to beauty, Issada’s CEO Fiona Neale is all about running a sustainable business with ‘the right people’. Here she chats to Professional Beauty about the business side of the cosmetics industry.

Tell us about your career, how did you get to where you are now?

My love for cosmetics first began as a child. I remember my nanna would put me to sleep by pretending to apply my makeup.

After working in the medical industry, I travelled to the UK and decided to completely change my career path, following my passion for wellness and beauty. To break into the industry, I studied beauty therapy, reflexology, aromatherapy, makeup artistry, massage, and a number of other complimentary therapies in London.

While owning two beauty salons in the UK, I also landed a position at Virgin Atlantic to run Virgin Atlantic’s First Class Hair & Beauty Lounges at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. It was here that I came across the cult Issada makeup brushes being used by celebrities and their personal makeup artists! I assumed these beautiful tools were European, but upon returning to Australia, I discovered the brushes were handmade here in my hometown of Brisbane. I purchased the brush company with dreams of growing the brand into something much more.

What was it like working at the beauty lounge in Heathrow Airport? What did you learn from it?

It was different to any other workplace I had experienced. It was colourful, fun and at the same time efficient, desirable and innovative. There was a serious side to our jobs but it was done with flair and personality. I learnt that serious doesn’t mean success, that you can have fun with it.

I learnt how essential it is to create a great environment for your team to enjoy, flourish and succeed. I learnt how important it is to be approachable and listen to the people around you. Include your team with the development of the business. Share your thought processes and vision and always explain why you do things.

Brush Group
The brushes that started it all

How did you start Issada?

The Issada brand began as a brush company back in 2000. The brushes were created by makeup artists and engineers and are still to this day individually handmade. The brushes quickly amassed a cult celebrity following, being used on film sets like Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge and on a long list of celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Beyonce.

After being a fan of the brushes and then purchasing the brush company, I launched the Issada colour collection in 2006. Because of my background in skin health, I was adamant that the range be a treatment range for the skin as well as a professional makeup artist quality product. I had found that nearly all mineral makeup products compromised on pigment strength, longevity or finish and that just wasn’t an option for Issada, especially with all the film, TV and celebrity Issada brush devotees. I was determined to eliminate that compromise between skin health and professional finish.

What challenges have you encountered and what have you learnt from them?

I am still not entirely comfortable with public speaking. I get incredibly nervous and can’t wait for it to be over. I tend to avoid it but I know that it is for the good of the brand and with time it is getting easier.

To build a dynamic team is always challenging. To surround myself with great people, while achieving maximum results in a happy environment is every business owner’s dream. We definitely have a great culture in our company. We have a creative, innovative and fun approach to work. There are always new team members required within a growing business, but we have had many of the same team members for years. They have grown with the business and have been crucial to the success. Selecting people that bring completely different ideas and expertise makes for an exciting ride.

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What are some highlights of your career?

  • Working as part of Richard Branson’s management team and being involved with developing new treatments and services for Virgin.
  • Having the first and only, standalone mineral makeup stores in Australia
  • Winning a Design Award for our Issada Flagship store.
  • Gaining a place on the Q400 list
  • Collaborating with some of Australia’s most coveted designers – Lisa Ho, Camilla Franks, Easton Pearson, Zimmerman, Jets and more.
  • Reaching 250 Issada stockists in Australia

The greatest highlight for me and a moment I will always remember was back in 2008. It was the first time I saw someone I did not know applying Issada! I was sitting in a cafe and a lady sitting at a table next to me pulled out an Issada compact and lip gloss to touch up. I felt like screaming and hugging her!

Comparing the British beauty industry with the Australian, what do you think is different?

In the UK there seems to be more importance on qualifications and training. Prior to any product training in the UK, you must present proof of your qualifications. There is also a greater focus on product presentation, merchandising and sales in the UK. Salons and spas have larger retail areas and systems in place to ensure retailing is strong.

In Australia I feel there is stronger focus on ingredients, with consumers asking more questions and being far more discerning in relation to what is actually in the products they are purchasing. Individual salons also seem to offer clients more choice in Australia.

Both countries have very similar products available, however the choices are completely different with brands such as Guinot and Elemis being dominant in the UK.

city storeHow can beauty businesses diversify their menus?

In relation to offering makeup services I know that there are some common errors made in menus, some salons do not mention makeup services at all. Often it is forgotten or omitted.

Also ensure that when you list makeup services you do not limit what the client can experience. For example, Bridal and Special Occasion makeup is usually the focus, perhaps the client will feel if they do not have a special occasion, there is nothing else on offer. Offer diversity and choice by a selection of options such as, makeup lessons, a seasonal update, mastering eye makeup, colour consultations, face shaping (contour and highlight), lip enhancing techniques etc. There are many options that would appeal to a broader client base.

Can you give some advice to others who want to start their own cosmetic lines?

There are many cosmetic lines that come and go. It is an extremely competitive industry and not an easy road to success. Issada was started with the future in mind. I had a grand plan, so everything I do and every decision made is to protect our brand and our people – details such as pricing, education, design and company structure.

Every decision was made carefully and we take our time to ensure we are making strategic moves to ensure brand longevity. It is not wise to make hasty decisions or to simply undercut competitors in order to make a quick sale. Be thoughtful. You may be a one man band in the beginning (like I was), but you have to allow for the future. Think about setting realistic expectations from the beginning in order to prevent disappointment from customers. Don’t break promises or under-deliver. Aim high and factor in growth from the very beginning. You ultimately want you brand to be sustainable and have the ability to grow.

Anybody wanting to start their own business needs to be prepared to work very hard for a long time and account for this financially. Surround yourself with creative like-minded people who get you, and get the vision you have for the business. These people will help you and enjoy the journey you take them on. Don’t copy other people. Be comfortable saying no. Always be open because it educates your team about you and your business.

Issada Concept Store Brisbane CBD

What are some unique Issada business strategies and how has it benefitted the brand?

Relationships are not necessarily unique but it is something that we believe has been one of the keys to our rapid growth and success. We recognise the benefit of having great relationships with all businesses that surround us. We have personal relationships with our suppliers, landlords, other distributors, skincare brands, media, designers and our valued clients.

Issada is 100% Australian owned, so the release of our colour collections and gift with purchase offerings are always in line with the Australian seasons and current fashion. This is unique from our US competitors.

For more information visit www.issada.com.au