We chat with co-founders Ava Chandler-Matthews and Bec Jeffered about the challenging SPF market and their future plans for Southeast Asia.
Inside Retail: Tell me about how Ultra Violette began.
Bec Jefferd and Ava Chandler-Matthews: We had a lightbulb moment during our time at Mecca and realised there’s nothing sexy about sunscreens; from the way they look and feel and smell to where they’re sold. And they’re the most important product in a skincare and beauty regime. It’s the one thing all dermatologists will tell you that you need to wear every day, but nobody is making that a nice experience.
We also felt that sunscreen was rarely considered in context of what is layered before and after, and how women actually wear it in real life. To us, it felt like an afterthought for a lot of skincare brands, rather than the VIP that it should be. So from there came the seeds of Ultra Violette. We wanted to create a range of facial sunscreens that looked beautiful, spoke to you in a way you could understand, felt nice to wear, contained some great ingredients and really played well with the rest of your skincare and makeup products.
IR: What makes Ultra Violette products unique? How would you describe the development process of Ultra Violette products?
AM: We call our products Skinscreens, which is basically a word we invented! It’s a combination between sunscreen and skincare, which is how we’ve designed all of our products. It’s not just about providing the bare minimum of sun protection anymore. Sunscreens need to do more – they need to include other ingredients to keep your skin hydrated, to protect from the full solar spectrum and contain other skin-saving antioxidants (like green tea and Kakadu plum). SPF is the one product you need to wear daily, so it’s important to think just beyond the realm of traditional sun filters and include other benefits to the skin too.
BJ: We created Ultra Violette to be a “wardrobe of SPF” that covers as many people’s needs and avoids as many pain points as possible in an easy-to-understand range. Both of us founders have a background in beauty, so we had come across the key things people look for in skin care, so we chose to apply this to our sun protection range, such as having an appealing fragrance, a beautiful texture that works well with the rest of your routine including makeup, a non-whitening formulation and also providing both chemical and physical SPF options.
Because of our beauty backgrounds, we really approached the formulating of our range from a different starting point to most other sunscreens on the market. We knew that everyone has different skin and different concerns, so having one product in our range was never going to be an option. We needed to cater for people wanting anything from a radiant to a matt finish, and incorporated products that worked for various skin sensitivities.
IR: How has the business grown in the past few years since it first launched?
BJ and AM: The last two-and-a-half years have been an incredible ride. Ultra Violette officially launched in January 2019 and for the first year, it focused on our own e-commerce and social channels. Our first retail partnership was with Adore Beauty later that year. In February 2020, we launched into our first bricks-and-mortar retailer with Sephora ANZ.
Six months later we entered our first international retail partnership with Lane Crawford and JOYCE in Hong Kong.
Now in 2021, we have just launched with our third UK retailer (SpaceNK, Net-A-Porter and Cult Beauty) in as many months – outperforming all expectations (both ours and our retail partners). We have sold out now on Space NK six times and sold through our first 2 months of safety stock at Cult Beauty in one day.
Ultra Violette experienced over 400 per cent growth in our first year (January 2020 vs January 2019). In 2021, our forecasted growth is estimated to be between 200-250 per cent (2021 vs 2020). Given the year everyone had last year, it’s hard to believe but we couldn’t be more thrilled or grateful for the continued momentum and response to our brand and products.
IR: It’s so exciting that Ultra Violette has now penetrated the oversea market. How is consumers’ understanding of sun protection different overseas compared to Australia?
BJ: We weren’t expecting the reaction we received, however our entry into the UK has been hugely successful and is a proof of concept that the message, the positioning and ultimately the Ultra Violette brand scales to international markets.
There were British consumers who didn’t grow up with the Australian ‘slip, slop, slap’ public service campaign and are notorious for wanting to ‘get a tan’, but we have managed to convince them that they need to wear SPF every day, validating an exciting path for growth for UV.
IR: How would you describe the sun protection product category in Australia and how is it evolving?
BJ: We have the toughest regulations and testing for sunscreens, it’s not an easy job making a sunscreen in Australia – in fact it’s incredibly hard. Australia should be where the rest of the world looks for sunscreen and SPF development – our climate dictates it! So for us, I think it’s a definite advantage, especially in a global climate, to have Australian made and tested SPFs, but I don’t know how critical it has been to our success locally.
AM: The market is definitely becoming more competitive – we are seeing more single category SPF brands in the market and even other brands where their core speciality may not be SPF (or even skincare) are adding an SPF to the mix. All the more reason for us to continue our innovation and investment into skincare technology with UV filters and innovative ingredients – we don’t call them Skinscreens for nothing!
IR: What are some of the most challenging aspects of developing a sun protection product?
AM: Working within the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) parameters can be tough – and annoying, frankly – not only do our products have to jump through the standard SPF testing, but we can be limited in terms of the other ingredients we work with, as they also have to be approved by the TGA, which takes time and money. Additionally, if we want to make any changes to the product – be it fragrance reduction, add ingredients etc – we need to basically start from scratch, which can mean timelines blow out much faster than you’d imagine.
Other than that, we’re dealing with sun protection, which means that any potential product issues can be really serious! It takes guts to get into this category for sure
IR: What’s it been like to crack into the overseas market during Covid?
BJ: We had huge plans for international expansion last year, however when the pandemic hit, we very quickly switched to survival mode. We had to exercise greater caution and remain laser-focused on our customers and the financial bottom line to ensure we could ride this crisis out. Our MO for UV became just to survive. However, we quickly learnt that our customers are loyal and remain diligent with their daily SPF application, so it wasn’t long before we could still realise our goals of international expansion.
Being an online-first business really helped because we weren’t as impacted by retail closures and could still service the majority of our customers. Beauty and skincare products also boomed during the lockdowns of 2020 so we were also able to benefit from this phenomenon.
IR: What are your international expansion plans?
BJ: At the moment, we have our hands full with the UK but we’re definitely exploring more retail partnerships there and also expanding further into Europe. South East Asia is probably next on the hit list – and then possibly Canada. We’re still a lean team so let’s see how far we get!
IR: What are some of your plans for Ultra Violette in the next 12 months?
AM: International expansion and really cementing our position as a leading Skinscreen and luxury SPF brand in the UK. We started really strong but there’s a lot of work to be done still!
We’re also launching our biggest product (in terms of SKU count) in September and October – it’s been a labour of love and we’re so excited to see it in market. It’s something people have been asking for so we hope they love it as much as we do!
IR: Ultra Violette has experimented with physical activations in the past, like the bright blue van at Bondi Beach last summer! Do you see that becoming a more significant part of its strategy in the future?
AM: Definitely at key moments of the year for sure. We are primarily a digital brand but based on our past activations and feedback, we know that our customer likes to connect with us in real life too – and Sephora stores aren’t currently accessible to everyone (sorry, Perth!).
To activate IRL can be really expensive so we definitely need to choose our moments but it’s absolutely something we budget for!