“I Don’t Like Business”: How Zoë Foster Blake Carved Out A Cult Following In Skincare
"My goal is to always make things fun that have no right to be."
The following is an exclusive excerpt from Cult Status, a new book from Junkee Media co-founder Tim Duggan. The book explores the new generation of entrepreneurs who are building businesses that are purposeful, principled and creative.
Zoë Foster Blake is a bit of a cult hero.
She’s accumulated the kind of intimate trust you have with your best friends, initially as the funny and brutally honest beauty director of Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar magazines in her twenties, where she tested out the latest trends to sniff out the best ones. In her late twenties she turned to writing, authoring nine books over a decade, from beauty tips to relationship advice, novels to a children’s picture book. In her thirties she married comedian Hamish Blake and had two children.
Over that period Zoë slowly amassed a cohort of people around her who trusted the recommendations she dished out. She was approached numerous times by companies to collaborate on products, but she could never get past the fact that she had no idea where they were being made, by who, or what was going to be in them. It wasn’t until a friend with her own skin care line suggested Zoë should create one herself, that she gave it serious thought.
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That’s a wrap on #Meccaland from this peach monster. Hats and scarves off to Mecca for creating such a BANANAS festival. It’s like comic con for beauty… Thousands of glittering beauty junkies wandering through a maze of stands and installations, each brilliant and glossy and playful in their own way. We were JAZZED to be there with our XXL peach Go-To bathroom, and I loved meeting the many of you who came to say hi and let me press my sweaty body against you for a sec. (Some of you hugged, some didn’t – it got awkward so in the end I just went for it.) CAPS LOCK thanks to the Go-To marketing/art team, @mothdesign for bringing this boom boom stand to life, and the delightful on-stand team. And now my introverted self needs soft clothes, a snotty kiss from her kids, and a friendly little hot toddy. Pic: @dancastano
Her business, Go-To, launched in 2014 with five pared-back products. They’re clean, safe, playful and fun — all reflections of its founder. In five years, Go-To has risen above the throng of copycat beauty brands launched each year to become a cult brand for young women, with sub brands now for men (‘Bro-To’) and kids (‘Gro-To’).
The products are stocked in 400 Sephora stores in the US, and it’s one of the highest selling brands in Mecca stores around Australia. It’s been an overwhelming rise so far, but despite all of the success, Zoë is still refreshingly honest about her accidental role at the head of a burgeoning beauty empire.
How She Set Her Brand Apart
“I don’t like business,” she says.
“I find it tedious and stressful to be a board member and have to make big decisions about big things, and no one in my company would tell you otherwise. But it forced me to grow up a lot, and to get some financial wisdom, and to respect the corporatisation of business and make sure I’m being a professional in those moments.”
For years, women have been bombarded with complicated formulations and unrealistic marketing.
“We’re coming from an education standpoint,” says Zoë.
“I like to think we’re holding people’s hands as we take them through what can ultimately be a very confusing and intimidating world which is skin care.”
Drawing on Zoë’s own naturally sharp and witty way, Go-To uses clever writing that jumps off every piece of packaging — this has helped earn it a cult brand status around the world.
“I sometimes laugh and think I created a brand just to be able to be the copywriter I always wanted to be,” says Zoë.
She questioned the tiniest of things, like why shouldn’t the copy on confirmation emails be amusing? Why shouldn’t you smile when you receive a fortune cookie that arrives with every product and spookily foretells things like, “you will take a photo of this for Instagram”?
“We love to play with our customers,” says Zoë.
“I think our sense of irreverence and playfulness is probably most important tone-wise, and makes them feel like they’re being looked after by a friend.”
Zoë derives a lot of joy from these details.
“My goal is to always make things fun that have no right to be,” she says.
Keeping Sustainability Front Of Mind
The brand is an extension of the personality she regularly shares with the 750,000 people who follow her every move on Instagram. It’s honest, open and fun, with a big emphasis on cutting through all the usual crap and telling it like it is.
“Transparency and accountability are big pillars for us,” says Zoë.
“We don’t say it just for marketing: we back it up.”
As well as surviving the growing pains of product testing and manufacturing, Go-To has expanded into the US, a notoriously expensive market for any company to crack from overseas. But it’s not just the worry of how to manage the growth that most occupies Zoë’s time, it’s the changing consumer sentiment of her predominantly millennial customers.
“Probably the most stressful thing in our company at the moment is the consumer demand for genuine sustainability movement,” says Zoë.
As a small producer with big sustainability goals, it’s hard going.
“It’s slow, it’s tedious, and it’s frustrating. But we’ve all got to do it.”
Zoë estimates that 14 forklifts touch every product before it even gets to a customer.
“We make a lot of people very happy and confident in their skin, because we make it better. But we’re also putting loads and loads of plastic into the world — packaging and shipping and all of those horrible environmental factors that come into play when you’re making things. So, that’s a big one weighing on my mind.”
By questioning all the small things, in a short time Go-To has created one of those loyal brands that consumers passionately love and support. Behind it all is a savvy businesswoman whose greatest skill is that she’s not pretending to be anything she’s not. And that’s working.
This is an excerpt from Cult Status, a new book from Junkee Media co-founder and publisher Tim Duggan. Cult Status explores how to build a business people adore, and is published by Pantera Press.