The Founders of Swan Beauty Created a Digital Beauty Concierge to Revamp Your Routine

September 30, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal

From considering your skin type and ingredient sensitivities to selecting the right color and coverage, there’s a ton to account for when building a makeup or skin-care routine. In an effort to streamline the process, Leigh Humphrey, who has a background in artificial intelligence (AI), and Lindsey Thorne, who is a makeup artist and beauty influencer, teamed up to create Swan Beauty, a digital beauty concierge that creates customized beauty boxes. To find out more about the service, which launches next month, read our interview with Humphrey and Thorne, below. 

You both come from totally different backgrounds. What were you each doing before starting Swan Beauty? 

Lindsey Thorne:  I own a makeup and hair business called Be Pretty. We’re a team of freelance makeup artists. I do anything from music videos, weddings, girls night out and photoshoots to hair and makeup lessons. I’m also a beauty influencer, but I’m not your YouTube star; I am just there to help. I've kind of married my knowledge of makeup, products and ingredients with my love for helping women feel and look their best. Throughout my platforms I just share products that I believe in that not only work for myself, but for my clients. Several years ago, to merge my love for makeup with the influencer space, I started creating these makeup lessons. I started them in person. I was doing group lessons. And then it kind of merged into virtual lessons and that's where Leigh and I met.  

Leigh Humphrey: I started my career on the apparel side of things. I was a brand manager for Louis Vuitton over in Europe. That's kind of when I first got involved with looking at customer experience and really analyzing data and trying to understand how brands could utilize that to make a better overall customer experience. From there, I moved to a company called VF, and I worked in their innovation group. We were tasked with building the store of the future and figuring out how we could harness the power of customer data to make an amazing customer experience. That was my last job w before I met Lindsey and we started Swan. 

How did you end up joining forces?

LH: I actually approached Lindsey. I was out in California at a conference looking at consumer startups in the world of digital and virtual, and I was just thinking about white-space opportunities. Somebody had recommended Lindsey's blog to me, and she was getting these amazing, virtual makeup lessons. I had also just had a really bad experience trying to buy some makeup online and thought it was a really interesting concept for people like me who know nothing about makeup. You have this third-party person to guide you on what might work for you. I reached out to Lindsey, talked to her about taking what she was doing and turning that into more of a business. 

We were sold on doing something more digital. Lindsey was having so much success with her followers all over the country. And my experience lies within the digital space and harnessing this data. So we were pretty sure about having a digital platform, but we knew we needed a human element. 

LT: When I met Leigh, she had this vision of a digital beauty concierge. And then she brought me in to hone in on the expertise aspect. We decided to bring in an array of talented artists and estheticians all over the United States. We cherry-picked the best of the best to fill in the white space. We wanted to make sure that we were a well-rounded team on both the AI side of things and with our artists and product knowledge.

How do you merge the AI and expert advice when creating a beauty box? 

LT: There’s a quiz for customers and the more in-depth they answer on the backend, the better customized the box. But if that customer opts in for text messages, we can dig deeper into what that person wants. The AI aspect really skinnies down the ingredient lists of every product, and it helps to create a matching system with the beauty products and the client's needs, wants and skin type. But it also sets the artist up to study the client, her pictures, her undertones. We take it a step further by reaching out and saying, Hey, I'm Lindsey at Swan Beauty. I want to get to know a little more about you. We ask if you’re taking this makeup from day to night. Are you in the office or on the soccer field? We’re really about getting to know that client not only on a physical level but also on an emotional level to help tailor his or her box. Then, the artist goes through and puts together a makeup chart that really walks through the routine step-by-step. It shows you where to apply deeper shadow based on your eye shape, tells you how long to wait before applying your vitamin C serum, etc. It's all about giving that customer the knowledge so they can really make themselves feel and look their best. 

This is officially launching next month. What do hope Swan Beauty can bring to the beauty space? 

LH: We're there to serve the customer who wants that handholding, that personalized experience of working with an expert to help guide her to make the right choices when it comes to beauty products. They're going guide her on application, too. I think it's one thing to go out and spend a ton of money at the store and another to get home and be like, Crap, I have all this makeup and skin care but no idea how to put it on. This is really like having that expert in your back pocket that’ll really walk you through it while you’re at your vanity. Also in a digital space, you might have an apprehension about choosing a certain shade of lipstick or color of foundation. Having an expert to not only help you choose the color, but also having the option to try a sample before actually purchasing the product, means that there’s no risk.  

LT: I think we’ve also done a great job of making sure that every person, with every type or color of skin feels loved and wanted. We worked with an artist to make sure that every person is featured. We have face charts for men, for people with hooded eyes, everyone.

Where did the name Swan Beauty come from? 

LH: Swan relates to the AI behind the scenes. When you think of a swan on a lake who looks serene and elegant, but you have no idea that under the water that swan is madly paddling. It just looks effortless. And that's kind of the idea with what we're doing. There’s so much going on behind the scenes with our algorithms and with our AI and with our experts to help you look effortless. 

What’s been the biggest challenge? 

LH: We are a data company at heart. We are a technology company. So for me, just understanding the push-pull that development takes time and technology takes time has been a challenge. Everything has to be tested. So you can't roll something out immediately just because it's a good idea. I would say that's certainly been, and will continue to be a challenge, but a good one. By the time we launch, this will have been in the works for 16 months. That's how long it took to build the platform. 

What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment? 

LT: For me, it's the testaments that came back after launching our pilot program. One of our ladies was always told she couldn't wear a smoky eye because her eyes were hooded. Every time she went to a counter they steered her away from a dramatic look. But she left us a review that said we helped her figure out a way to wear that smoky eye. As an artist with a love and passion for makeup, helping women feel happy has been the best part for me. 

Photo: Swan Beauty

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