How one young entrepreneur with little-to-no experience managed to expand her natural skincare brand from Asia to America and break even within a short six months.
At 29 years old, Singapore-based beauty entrepreneur Lynsey Lim has achieved more than her fair share of accolades. Her natural, vegan and cruelty-free skincare brand Handmade Heroes may have started out in her own kitchen, but is now stocked in prominent department stores and is a bestseller on Amazon. Her brand has become a household name in the Singaporean beauty scene and has been featured on The Straits Times, Buzzfeed and Time Out, and she has also won an impressive array of beauty awards, including those from Harper’s Bazaar (2017), Women’s Weekly (2016) and CLEO (2016).
“I’ve always been very conscious of what goes on my skin,” explains Lynsey. “Way back in 2005, there weren’t a lot of affordable natural skincare products available on the market, so I started experimenting with simple, natural ingredients in my kitchen.” She started out making products for friends, and then developed some gifts for her sister’s bridesmaids that seemed popular, and in 2014, she left her job in finance to dedicate herself to Handmade Heroes, relying on word of mouth and pop up events to grow her reach.
Lynsey started Handmade Heroes with SGD 25,000 from her personal savings and the help of her Malaysian husband, Adi Ong, who focuses on the operational side of the business. Inspired by Asian beauty practices, Handmade Heroes products are made from natural ingredients such as rice, honey and cocoa butter. With simple branding and clever names – think Drop Dead Gorgeous Dry Shampoo and Beauty Warrior Face Mask – Lynsey quickly captured a market of young consumers who wanted natural products they could relate to. “I started with the aim of making natural products more accessible. A lot of the natural products on the market are not as transparent or as natural as they claim to be, and I wanted to change that,” she explains, and in order to achieve that transparency, she has kept a close hold of production. “Still now, everything is done in-house. From grinding our own rice to making our own cocoa butter, all the products on offer are either made by myself or with my partner.”
During this process, Lynsey makes sure that all her products are subjected to strict sanitary rules and third party in vitro testing, a testing method which makes use of human cells and tissues instead of animals to assess how different types of skin react to ingredients. On top of that, all Handmade Heroes ingredients are both synthetic-free and preservative-free. The reason they can achieve this is thanks to their naturally self-preserving ingredients, meaning no chemical preservatives are required in order to maintain their freshness.
With this winning formula in place, it wasn’t long before Lynsey’s work paid off. Major departmental stores in Singapore and Malaysia such as Isetan, TANG and Robinson soon started to proudly display various Handmade Heroes products in store and, inspired by her initial success in Asia, Lynsey quickly set her sights on the US market. Through Amazon, Handmade Heroes has successfully launched several best sellers stateside, such as their Ultra Sexy Lip Scrub, Drop Dead Gorgeous Dry Shampoo and her Cocoa Friggin’ Fantastic Lip Balm. As a result of all these early successes, Handmade Heroes managed to break even within the first six months of operation.
Though Handmade Heroes has grown at an extraordinary pace since its launch in 2016, Lynsey admits that it has not been without its challenges, the greatest of which being the amount of time spent on development. “One of the biggest challenges is formulating a truly natural and vegan product. That’s the tricky part for us, and I guess that’s why you don’t see a lot of companies doing it. A lot of time is spent on researching, developing and formulating the products. That’s why it takes us such a long time to actually release a new product, or any product at all.” Along with her team, she’s working hard on expanding her product line with new facial products and also items for the skin and body, and is expecting to debut body scrubs, hand creams and facial cleansers soon.
A significant amount of Lynsey’s time is also spent soliciting feedback from customers. Yet, rather than seeing it as a challenge, she believes this conversation is part of the foundation of Handmade Heroes’ success, and something that has helped her tailor her products to meet customers needs. A good example of this can be found in her Lip Scrub. An immediate hit in Asia, she couldn’t understand why its success wasn’t translating in the US market. Close inspection of customer reviews, however, helped her understand that the extra virgin coconut oil included in its formula was hardening in their colder climes, fundamentally changing the product’s make up. Now, the US gets a lip balm that contains sweet almond oil and it sits pretty at number 1 on Amazon’s most popular lip scrub list.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Lynsey plans to bring Handmade Heroes to Japan next. “One of our strategies is to focus on markets with a very strong online shopping presence, and Japan is one of the top in Asia. Also, there’s huge demand for natural skincare products in Japan, especially vegan products,” says Lynsey. With her affordable, accessible and no-fuss products, she certainly has a compelling product for those looking for the natural approach.