Trinny Woodall: From Fashion Guru to Founder of a Beauty Empire
The woman once known for her tendency to grab the breasts of TV fashion redesign contestants stands in her office, describing the importance of her company’s new enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software.
Bringing local distribution into major markets such as Australia is one part of growth plans this year for Trinny London, the brand founded by Trinny Woodall. His longtime partnership with Susannah Constantine on the BBC makeover show What not to wear, which aired between 2001 and 2007, became a television phenomenon.
The discerning eye and highly practical style that Woodall, 57, once brought to the fashion choices and bra fit of thousands of women is now deployed on the high-end makeup brand she founded in 2017. The range is sold almost exclusively online. , directly to the consumer by the company.
Frankly, you’d forgive Trinny, the GM, for being pretty “on” everyone talking about Trinny, the tit-grabbing TV presenter.
But she takes it in her stride: “I think careers are cyclical, except when you finally find your entrepreneurial spirit. . . I was 10, 10, 10. . . and then I had, I’m ready. . . and that was when I was 50. So all the things I’ve done before, in a way, gave me this idea of what I can bring to the table when I started Trinny London.
Sarah-Jane Woodall – Trinny was a childhood nickname that stuck – always had an entrepreneurial streak. Whether it was washing and ironing shirts for £1 a piece during her baccalaureate or selling socks during an unhappy time as a City assistant, having followed her father into finance: “I didn’t like that. And it was very male dominated. . .[it] went down very quickly.
There was a stint in rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction, before a newspaper column with Constantine led to TV shows and makeovers around the world. The couple’s Ready2Shop.com fashion advice business was launched during the frenetic last months of the first dotcom boom, before disappearing in 2001. Monetizing their idea – collecting data from tens of thousands of women who were of interest to large companies – took longer as the market remained warm.
Still, there were leadership lessons from this flop. “Trust your instincts more,” she says. “Raising too much money too quickly, because fundraising was incredibly easy. It was two meetings and you got it.
When it came to Trinny London, who uses Match2Me, an online tool to put together stackable pots of face, eye and lip color based on a customer’s skin tone, Woodall stuck to the two things she learned during his first stint as an entrepreneur. First, trust yourself: “The principle was very much in my mind from the start: that I wanted to do personalized makeup for women and that I wanted to target people aged 35 and over. I wanted to do cream products and I wanted it to be premium.
On the finance side, the business started with two brainstorming interns and the money raised from Woodall’s daughter’s godfather and a school gate mother who worked in the cosmetics industry. Quirky storyboards about product evolution or customization, first created around the kitchen table, are reflected in his home’s “cabinet bank” where Woodall has info sheets to keep track of things. today: “I have every number on the board of this company. . . month by month, what we launched, what are the figures and then for the current year, what we are going to do. . . I really like visualization.
Woodall was still experimenting with colors and making women in his bathroom as part of his Match2Me algorithm research when the money ran out. “I literally thought ‘what do I have in my house?'” Woodall says. “So I just sold all the clothes I had.”
After decades of compulsive clothing shopping (her dry January version is ‘January without spending’), two sales have brought in around £60,000.
“And I have a shitload of clothes now. You’re probably thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, I saw her fell’.
Wardrobe slaughter is just one thing you can see Woodall doing on the internet. At a Trinny London pop-up event in New York, its appeal is such that two women flew from Chicago to meet the woman they first saw on Instagram using a dog diaper in lockout to tint eyelashes. A recent (tasteful) post had her mid-bikini wax while others wrapped presents in the background.
The energetic content of its personal and corporate social media channels, with millions of subscribers, is integral to the brand’s success. And what you see is what you get: “I’m pretty consistent,” says Woodall. “I’m pretty long in the tooth and I’m used to the skin I’m in. . . the Instagram Trinny you see is the person I follow in the office.
There are impromptu Trinny moments. But most of its health, beauty and fashion productions are carefully coordinated and filmed one day a week. “It’s about how you make it feel, ultimately, organic. And I think it takes a lot of work,” says Woodall. “On social media, we make a plan that’s two months in advance . . . we have the stories for every day. The amount of content we produce as a business is probably 10 times that of any other beauty mark.
For Woodall, “it’s actually daily market research.” The brand receives thousands of comments and direct messages daily. “Every day I go to sit on the toilet at lunch [and read the feedback] and I will do it in the morning when I wake up. . . what are they thinking? How do they feel? It tells me so much and they know so much.
None more than the Trinny tribe – devoted fans of the brand who now number 100,000 women in 16 countries; a carefully maintained social media network.
So much for the doubts expressed by some would-be investors in the notoriously male-dominated world of venture capital when Woodall was raising funds, before being backed by Unilever Ventures.
“I remember one particular VC saying, ‘you’re totally wrong about the demographics, you have to be millennial or it’s not going to work.’ And I said, ‘you don’t believe there are women online, which are the women I’m talking to. They just don’t have anything that meets their needs right now, and that’s why they don’t buy.
Woodall has only raised £7m in funding, including a small round as pandemic panic sets in and the world is on lockdown. In fact, it supercharged the business. It has redeployed staff to do virtual appointments online. “We had 3,000 reservations the first day. . . what I call our sleeping customer came to buy.
Sales have more than tripled to £44m in the year to March 2021. The brand has now made over £100m in revenue since launch, is growing rapidly and has gross margins of 60 to 65%.
Woodall won’t talk about reviews, but avoids comparisons to other makeup brands, such as the millennial-focused Glossier. [make-up and beauty] as a business, I would say yes. But we won’t be just that as a company,” she says.
Trinny London will launch next month in a new arena, with feverish online speculation suggesting it could be haircare and skincare, clothing, lingerie, handbags or even retail physical.
Three questions for Trinny Woodall
Who is your leadership hero?
Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company. She is a truly inspiring businesswoman. Having made the family business a global leader and a household name in all things ‘home’, she is a wonderful combination of leadership, motherhood, femininity and strength.
If you weren’t a CEO/executive, what would you be?
A makeover expert or therapist.
What was the first leadership lesson you learned?
That I don’t have all the answers, and that I now have people on the team who know more about an area than I do and realize how much of a relief and support it is, instead of me give a hard time that I don’t know everything!
“I knew I wanted to have five verticals,” says Woodall, who is already working on the third launch. “I told the VCs that. . . we’re going to launch this, but we’re going to be a personalized platform for women to find what they need and get emotional support in how they get it.
Plans this year include a push into the United States — and more hiring. The workforce doubled during the first UK lockdown and is approaching 200. As she grows, Woodall is keen to keep everyone connected to the brand – which actually means to her.
She spent an hour at a distance with each new person entering confinement. When Covid permits, she roams the office, led by her assistant Louise, to track down those she hasn’t met in person. “I make a lot of big Zoom calls, but I want them to feel like I really know who they are.”
It’s too early to think about an exit from a company, Woodall says, where she still has “the majority by far.” But the prospect of a future payday is a marker of success: “It’s money to some degree, because I don’t own my house and I’m 57. And I want to own my own home,” Woodall says. “So it was more or less for myself that I did it. It’s a great motivation. I spent a lot of time becoming myself.
Woodall, who has struggled in the city’s rigid, masculine environment, clearly relishes his young, female-dominated squad and symbiotic relationship with the Trinny tribe. “The buzz I got from what I’ve done before [in makeovers] changed a woman in what she felt. . . there is nothing that pleases me more. . . make women say “because of Trinny London” or “because of that thing I watched, I feel this about myself”. . . it is deeply gratifying.
His next development, as an entrepreneur and boss, “is to not be in the weeds so much, because when you’re starting a business in those early years, you’re on every detail.”
Still, you get the feeling that giving up control of the details just isn’t a terribly trinny thing to do.