A beauty subscription startup led to the launch of cosmetics brand SUGAR
The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focuses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. This week, we look at Mumbai-headquartered beauty startup SUGAR Cosmetics.
Founded by Kaushik Mukherjee and Vineeta Singh in 2015, Mumbai-headquarteredbegan life as a direct-to-consumer (D2C) cosmetic brand, and diversified into an omnichannel strategy in 2017.
Since then, it has won both - consumer and investor approval.
In early September, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh invested an undisclosed amount in SUGAR, as part of the company’s Series D funding round. In May 2022, SUGAR Cosmetics raised $50 million as part of its Series D round, led by Asia fund of L Catterton. The round also saw participation from returning investors A91 Partners, Elevation Capital, and India Quotient.
Seven years on, the women-centric brand claims to clock annual sales of over Rs 550 crore, and has more than 100 brand-owned stores and over 45,000 retail touch points in over 500 cities.
The a-ha moment
The idea for SUGAR Cosmetics, which was launched in 2015, came from Fab Bag, a beauty subscription service run by Vineeta and Kaushik.
“I have always been passionate about building a business by women, and for women as the core audience. I remember making many women-centric business plans on paper while studying, knowing that it was something I wanted to pursue,” says Vineeta Singh, Co-founder and CEO, SUGAR Cosmetics.
“When I started my beauty subscription service in 2012, I finally had a chance to work with women as my core audience - something I’d always wanted to pursue,” she recalls.
The team ran the business for nine years, amassing 200,000 customers. The close-knit community of women shared their preferences, skin problems, and likes/dislikes with the team.
As the Fab Bag team pored over the data, it realised that most available makeup brands—foreign or local—did not cater to Indian skin tones or the Indian way of life. This limited women’s choices as they would either have to import makeup products from overseas or wear shades that didn’t work well for them.
“We saw a trend of Indian millennial women who had started wearing makeup regularly as a feel-good accessory – one that made them feel more confident, powerful, and happier,” Vinita says.
She speaks about their biggest pain point: reapplying makeup throughout the day.
“I thought makeup had to be long lasting. Even if a woman travels by public transport or on polluted roads, her makeup should stay.”
This is what led the founders to incorporate SUGAR Cosmetics in 2015.
The brand, which was launched with a range of matte, long-lasting makeup, grew virally through women talking about it on Instagram. The product-market fit is evident from the more than two lakh online reviews with 4 to 5-star ratings.
SUGAR says it is the first brand in India to launch a foundation in 22 shades, suited to all Indian skin tones and known as the Ace of Face Foundation Stick, in 2018. It also launched India’s first powder lipstick, which stocked out in two weeks.
“So while there have been many hits, the journey to these successes has been through many failures, fumbles, and learnings,” Vineeta says.
The founder says it made customer education the heart of its business, and the team continues to use YouTube, Instagram, and SUGAR’s own app to reach out to customers.
“We look forward to expanding in the hybrid range based on consumer feedback,” Vineeta says. “Keeping our audience in mind, we are also looking forward to tapping into different categories of the beauty industry.”
SUGAR Cosmetics has a 2,500-strong workforce, including 75% women.
It now aims to build and expand its core pillars–Distribution, Product, Content, and Community.
The brand will focus on creating solid content to keep educating and engaging its community across all platforms–digital and others.
Vineeta adds that SUGAR will also strengthen its retail footprint by enhancing the retail marketing and visual merchandising experience, its product line, and distribution.
“We intend to go stronger on our omnichannel approach by simultaneously growing our distribution channels in India and beyond, along with creating an even stronger base on our D2C platforms,” she says.
The brand is planning strategic collaborations with like-minded personalities, IPs, and events.
“While this journey of making SUGAR one of the top three makeup brands in India has been phenomenal, I do envision employing more than 10,000 women and a public listing. Getting to that point will be a challenge, but we never shied away from aiming higher and dreaming big,” Vineeta says.
Edited by Teja Lele