Beauty brand founders reveal their tried & true influencer strategy

When you see a hot, new beauty product blowing up your Instagram feed, you’d be forgiven for not thinking it was developed by two 22-year-old males with no beauty industry experience – but this is exactly what’s happened with now cult-favourite clay mask brand Alya Skin.  

With a head for business, Manny Barbas proposed to his now co-founder James Hachem that the duo found a skincare line. The lightbulb moment, Barbas says, occured when he noticed the face mask trend blowing up on Instagram.

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Now the boys are bonafide beauty industry entrepreneurs (making a cool $1 million in sales in the first four months months) and have big plans for brand expansion. To welcome Alya Skin onto BEAUTYDIRECTORY we spoke with Barbas and Hachem to find out how they were able to build a business so quickly; and how they’re using Instagram to their advantage.

Tell me a little bit about yourselves
Manny Barbas:
I started my first business – an iPhone charging case company – when I was in year 12. From there I started a watch company called Barbas & Zacári and a teeth whitening business; I have since sold both. In June last year James and I partnered together to start Alya skin and we launched this February.

James Hachem: We went to school together from year nine onwards and studied business together. After I graduated from my economics and business degree I was about to start at a finance firm; instead, I approached Manny and asked if he wanted to build something long term. All of his past businesses had been six to twelve month-long projects, so we thought let’s build something we can own for years to come.

How did Alya Skin come to fruition?
: I remember telling James “You watch, facemasks are going to be the next big trend on Instagram,” because I kept seeing girls posting photos with clay masks.

We knew that influencers loved pink, and at the time saw a gap in the market. From there we went back and forth with manufacturers because our first samples were terrible. It took us about six-to-eight months to get it perfect, and that’s when it came to fruition.

JH: When going back and forth with the samples we received, one was rose-scented. We had done a competitor analysis and they all smelt like clay, so at that moment we knew it was the one. We also saw that every other brand offered 60 gram units, so we offer 120 grams

What are the key ingredients used in Alya Skin?
: Pink clay, aloe vera, pomegranate, witch hazel, and bentonite clay. We use a mix of clays so it caters to both sensitive and normal skin.

JH: We currently use 40 per cent Australian ingredients and manufacture overseas, but our two new products that we’re going to be releasing will be made in Melbourne.

You have experienced rapid success that many brands only dream of – what do you credit that to?
: Hard work and persistence. When we first launched – and online sales weren’t going as well as we thought they would – someone told us that if they were us they would just give up. Instead we put our heads down and were patient; now here we are.

MB: We worked on Alya Skin from September through to January, and as soon as we launched we sent it out to 1,000 influencers right away. Now we send the mask to about 400-500 influencers a week. Influencers are definitely a key to our rapid success.

How have you utilised social media?
We have a large following now and using micro influencers was definitely the key. As Manny said, we have around 300 to 400 customers posting Instagram photos with the mask a week; and we’ve found that this strategy has worked so much better than having one or two large influencers post about the product.

People trust micro-influencers so much more. If a girl has 3,000 to 5,000 Instagram followers she’s traditionally never posted branded content or press send outs before because chances are she hasn’t been sent one. If an Instagrammer posts about Alya Skin after we send it to them, their followers are going to think “Why did she post this? She probably loves the product. I’m going to try it.”

MB: More importantly we don’t tell anyone to post about the product. We send Alya Skin to them and say if you love it, post it. Because we’re not pushing anything on them they’re wanting to post a selfie or upload the send-out to their story. We’re almost getting too much content now [laughs].

What’s next for the brand?
Our main objective right now is Priceline. We want to make sure that we’re selling through there and that we can get our next two products in.

MB: We’re already stocked in 300 or so chemists throughout Australia and we’re selling out. So that’s amazing.

JH: We’re also currently in 50 New Zealand pharmacies and want to be in over 200 by the end of the year. We’re just focusing on Australia and New Zealand for now; once we’ve done that we’ll be looking at expanding to the UK, Canada and America.

What has surprised you about the beauty industry?

JH: The thing that has surprised us the most is the support for the brand, the beauty industry and those interested in beauty… it’s like a cult. We have a group going on Facebook and if one customer posts and says “It didn’t work for me,” another customer will reply and say “Oh no it will work, just give it time.”

MB: We’ve never experienced anything like that. We post on instagram and get 100 plus comments with people saying “Oh my God I want to try this mask,”. I’ve never seen that with my other businesses. I think the cult following is definitely a surprise.

To learn more about Alya Skin, visit its listing here.