Sasha Plasvic, founder of Ilia Beauty, tells Allure, in her own words, what it has been like to run a beauty brand during the coronavirus pandemic, her thoughts on the digital revolution, and her hopes for the future of brick-and-mortar beauty.
Like most people, we were not able to predict what was going to happen this year. From a business standpoint, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how everything was triggered. Basically, we had to adjust our budget in response to what was happening and in order to fall in alignment with the rest of the industry, which was roughly 80 percent down for the second quarter of 2020. So, we made those adjustments, and then we just had to sit and wait.
Digital has definitely — or is definitely — having a moment. Especially in the beauty industry, there is a digital revolution happening, and that is very clear. We were fortunate in that we have grown a lot as a brand, in the last year specifically, but overall, there’s much more online activity since the pandemic began.
Our website was starting to grow before the pandemic, but we really saw a huge uptick during the pandemic; our overall web traffic is roughly five times what we thought it would be, though I don’t know if that’s going to last. We did also see a growth with Sephora’s online sales, but they did have their VIB sale so the statistics may be slightly skewed. Either way, clearly, people were and are still shopping for beauty during the pandemic in a very strong way.
Because of this digital growth, we were able to reappropriate our field team — roughly eight to 10 people — into customer service and social-media support. That means answering tickets, direct messages, returns, exchanges, etc., and it was great because we did not have to furlough or lay anybody off. Essentially, we were able to look at the problem and shuffle around what was needed so as to not have to let anyone go.
As a business owner today, I am grateful that we are able to continue our business online. Many other businesses do not have that same opportunity, and I am reminded weekly as we all watch the unemployment numbers grow. I also remember that my business idea was born during the last recession, and I believe that even though these are very challenging times, we will see lots of new creativity unveiled with innovative business ideas in the coming years.
Though the past three months have proven that we are also a digital brand, at Ilia, we have primarily been known for a physical presence in brick-and-mortar stores. In general, I think the effects of COVID-19 on the beauty industry will be felt more in-store. Sephora, for example, is putting so much effort into ensuring that the stores are safe, and I believe that testers are not meant to be used right now. So, they’re trying to find other creative and safer ways to be able to share the shades, show the shades, and get people color-matched without touching and without having people touch any of the testers that are in-store.