Lanolips CEO Kirsten Carriol Talks About Setting Your “Non-Negotiables” As a Woman In Business

Kirsten Carriol founder and CEO of Lanolips

For International Women’s Day, POPSUGAR Australia sat down with Aussie women excelling in the ever-evolving business of beauty. We picked up tips, tricks, and the secret to surviving and thriving in business.

Kirsten Carriol is the CEO and founder of Lanolips, one of Australia’s most successful beauty brands and international exports. She spoke to POPSUGAR Australia about building a beauty empire on the back of a secret ingredient found on her childhood farm.

POPSUGAR Australia: What were your greatest interests growing up?

Kirsten Carriol: All my childhood holidays were spent on my grandparents’ sheep farm in South Australia. My siblings and I whiled away days milking cows, chasing sheepdogs, and playing in the shearing shed, watching the shearers do their work. This was where I was first introduced to lanolin — a natural oil found on the wool of sheep.

PS: When you see profiles on other entrepreneurs, do you identify with them?

KC: No, I actually don’t.  I’ve always found them misleading as to what chaos, mistakes, and mess really goes on behind the scenes.

PS: What was your background before starting in business?

KC: I studied marketing and started my career in London with a restaurant group, and was fortunate enough to work with the incredibly talented Marc Newson.

When I moved back to Australia, I started working in a branding advertising agency, where the director quickly saw my love of beauty media and asked me to establish a publicity division. Being given this level of trust and autonomy is something that I have taken throughout my career and given to my team as well.

After a few years I went out on my own and launched my PR firm which I ran for 10 years. This is the best training for running a business. I naturally loved beauty and ran PR campaigns for the world’s biggest beauty brands — you could say though that I overdosed on too many products and marketing claims… which led me to my next journey.

Related: How a Beauty Editor With 20 Years Experience Found an Important Gap in the Fragrance Space

PS: Where did the concept for your business come from?

KC: I was coming back from Europe and was about to board a long-haul flight and wanted a lip balm that was going to actually keep my lips hydrated, and none of the 10 I had in my handbag did the job. I remembered using lanolin as a small child on my parent’s sheep farm and my dad calling it “nature’s wonder moisturiser” and thinking, “why am I not using lanolin?” It was on that flight that I decided I was going to bring lanolin back.

I sourced a lot of lanolin, and started to play with it! I spoke to my father and asked what else I should mix with this magical ingredient. (The answer was: nothing.) From there it was a process of finding a cosmetic chemist and manufacturer to develop the highest quality lanolin products I possibly could, which took five years but I eventually got exactly what I wanted — and I haven’t changed our original formulae in the 15 years since. Our first range are still our top sellers.

This was before web stores were ‘a thing’ so you were totally reliant on retailers. When we presented the idea to both Priceline & David Jones and they both wanted to stock our first range, this was the first big moment I thought that this idea could actually really happen

PS: What is your day-to-day like?

KC: I’m fast. I like to keep mornings quick and simple and take shortcuts. I focus on giving loads of love to my children and then I want to get out of the door quickly looking as good as possible.

First, I check my emails for things I need to do urgently from the USA from the night before. Then I feel I can give my full attention to my two sons, to chat to them, give them love and breakfast, and pack them off for school for the day. Then it’s a rush job to get myself ready, have a shot of coffee, and then into the office.

My morning beauty regime is cleanse with my Lano Cleanser and moisturise my face and body with Lano Everywhere All-Over Multi-Cream — it’s literally 2-steps in my skincare for face and body, and it works for me.

Once I’m in the office I nail down my USA emails before 10am, then I plan my priorities for the day. Each week I have a conference call with my USA team, and every minute I have catch-ups with my Sydney, UK, and Europe team as we work in a super close-knit structure and environment. Emails are great but phone calls and verbal conversations rule when it comes to productivity and getting stuff done fast.

From there — who knows! One day I could be working through the logistics of launching the brand in Sephora Europe, the next day it’s finalising our next campaign shoot or looking over board reports and P&Ls. It’s very varied, which is exactly how I like it. I would hate each day to be a carbon copy of the other. I get bored easily and love change. Which is my superpower.

PS: What have been your proudest moments as a founder and CEO?

KC: Getting my first email from a happy customer, signing the deals with Sephora, and all the genuinely personal connections with my team that I get to enjoy every day.

PS: What is the hardest thing about running a business?

KC: My daily business life is a series of big ups and downs. I’ve had to teach myself to stabilise the rollercoaster of the ride, otherwise you would go crazy with the drama of it all. To me, challenges are just another problem to solve. My biggest challenge has been balancing my time to make sure my staff are happy, my retailers are happy, my customers are happy, my suppliers are happy, and my brand is happy.

PS: What are some of the things you wished you’d anticipated when starting out?

KC: I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I’m pretty philosophical about them all and try to learn from each one.

One funny lesson — in my very first range I had two colours that were absolutely my favourite colours, a fabulous dark mauve nude colour and a divine sheer melon. But in the clear tubes they looked kinda scary bright and were my worst sellers. It taught me about that all-important thing I now know to be called “shelf appeal”.

I think as an industry that sets the tone for visual beauty, we have a responsibility to normalise the inclusion of people of colour into our communications. The subconscious non-inclusion as an industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to people of colour feeling marginalised and underrepresented and, rightfully, angry. This is a hard reset for the industry that has commercial risks for larger companies, and they need to grapple but lead with that.

Kirsten Carriol, founder and CEO of Lanolips

PS: When you think of challenges facing women in business in 2023, what are some examples that immediately spring to mind?

KC: Being a woman has helped me understand my customers (who are mostly women) and helped me fight for what I know they, and I, want from the products.

But being a woman, there have been some trying, patronising, and frustrating conversations with male cosmetic scientists and manufacturers in the past.

PS: What are some challenges facing the beauty industry and beauty businesses specifically in 2023?

KC: I think as an industry that sets the tone for visual beauty, we have a responsibility to normalise the inclusion of people of colour into our communications. The subconscious non-inclusion as an industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to people of colour feeling marginalised and underrepresented and, rightfully, angry. This is a hard reset for the industry that has commercial risks for larger companies, and they need to grapple but lead with that.

PS: People like to talk about work-life balance. Is that something you set store by?

KC: There’s a mantra I live by that comes in handy when trying to juggle work and life: Don’t be too busy in business to miss the little things in life you will treasure on your deathbed.

You need to determine what your non-negotiables are — there is no wrong answer here. Once you know what they are, accept that you will be saying no to everything else.

For example, for me it was a non-negotiable that I picked my boys up from school (when they were younger). That meant there were work lunches or events that I had to miss. Clearly determine the things that are important to you and then move on from everything else.

In terms of looking after myself?

Just let go of the notion that you can do everything. Get your priorities straight, focus on those things, and accept that anything that falls outside of that will be neglected (for a while at least).

PS: What are some lessons in people management you’ve learnt during your time in business?

KC: I’m lucky to have so many talented women in the business and I learn from all of them. Differing points of view and mindsets — it’s always critical to keep challenging yourself and know you can’t always be right. My GM challenges me every day and I love it. My female co-board member teaches me the finance things I don’t know — which is a lot! And my team in general teach me how to be happy and enjoy life.

PS: Would you describe yourself as a naturally confident person?

KC: You have to make friends with self-doubt when you are doing something new. You have to jump off cliffs all the time, so luckily I’m ok with that — my passion for my products wins over self-doubt. I guess my mechanism has been to try to work out what feedback to listen to and what to leave behind. This is what I do daily — I don’t always get it right, but I try. 

PS: If you were talking to a young woman looking to start her own beauty or wellness brand tomorrow, what would your advice be? 

KC: Be passionate about what you are doing, be honest, and be diligent.

There have been so many tough moments. Business is hard. Any business is hard. My only advice from that would be, do not start a business unless you absolutely are 100 percent passionate about it and know everything about it. Because if you don’t, when it gets tough, it’s the passion and the love of it that will carry you through.

There are millions of lessons I’ve learnt in the last few years, not one in particular. But if I didn’t have the love for it and the passion, I could never get through. And a lesson I learnt late in business was to really listen (and take help) from people around you who know.  I used to think I knew everything but there is so much knowledge around me, from my family, friends, and staff. I use it every day to lean on.

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