Faces of Entrepreneurship: Wendy Iles, Iles Formula

Wendy Iles, an internationally acclaimed celebrity hairstylist, is widely recognized as one of the beauty industry’s most respected and sought-after experts. Wendy has been responsible for creating some of the most coveted looks seen on the world’s most prestigious magazine covers, luxury campaigns and A-list celebrities over the course of her four-decade long career in the industry. Wendy developed her haircare formulas at the insistence of her celebrity clientele and for their tortured hair. In 2015, Wendy founded Iles Formula, a luxury haircare line, which is is now available in over 2,000 leading stores and salons internationally.

 

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Wendy Iles: Personally, I see “entrepreneurship” as two-fold. Firstly, the ability to identify an opportunity and weigh it up accordingly. Secondly, the ability to effectively seize it. Finally, I think the ability to trust your gut to take a calculated risk is just as important to entrepreneurship as the above.

How did your company come to be?
WI: As cliché as this may sound, it was never my plan to own a global brand. Iles Formula developed somewhat organically into a brand through the sheer high performance of my formulas. These were initially private formulas I had formulated for personal use only, to deliver the instant repair I needed to overcome the tortured hair that I often found in my chair on some of the major hair campaigns I was entrusted to deliver. Such a formula did not exist on the market, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent three years nor my life savings developing it.

As I began using my formulas on set, I became known as the stylist who delivers the soft, sumptuous, lustrous hair with the spun silk finish which was what every hair company wanted for their campaigns, and now forms the core DNA of Iles Formula. From there, many of my celebrity clients and models started to request my formulas as they noticed a remarkable improvement to their hair. I couldn’t deliver because I wasn’t manufacturing more than a year’s personal supply from my chemist’s lab, specifically just for my own personal use.

Initially it took me some time to digest but once I was convinced of the opportunity, I boxed my three formulas; shampoo, conditioner and finishing serum, in a luxury box, ‘The Signature Gift Box’ and never expected to create more than this.

How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
WI: As ‘nurture’ has always been a key message within Iles Formula, from a product offering perspective, our business has been well prepared during the pandemic. Our customers have stood by us, and we have additionally been fortunate to attract many new customers over this time too. However, as with most businesses, we have faced issues with logistics and so it’s given us the push we needed to address some of these issues moving forwards. Equally as a fast-growing brand, it’s given us time to identify the areas in which we now require additional support. We’ve also very recently appointed a new VP of Global Sales who joins us from his former position as the VP of Oribe to help us expand our distribution into further territories around the world.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
WI: The proudest moment in my journey with Iles Formula so far was that first call I received from the buyer at Bergdorf Goodman five years ago just as I had launched the brand. We had had no PR, not even a moment to organise all our branding and marketing materials. Simply, word of mouth had spread from the very first customers of Iles Formula and voilà, we were off to a great start.

Likewise, we’ve learnt many lessons along the way and even more so over this period with the pandemic. Nobody could have forseen a global pandemic nor the interruptions to business life as we knew it so we have experienced issues with production which has not been great from a business perspective, but also on a personal level for me. I received many emails daily from my customers who were missing the product and wanted the sense of care, repair and nurture to bring a little normality back to their lives at an otherwise extremely distressing time.

How is your company changing the landscape?
WI: I truly believe Iles Formula is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise overly saturated market place. My goal with Iles Formula was always for ‘simplicty to meet maximum performance’. As a board level advisory member of many international brands in the past, I noticed the market was becoming increasingly crowded with a huge array of products which was confusing the consumer, as it was even to me as a professional hairstylist.

My products are also 100% nurture based and the ingredients are sustainable and responsibly sourced, hence the white cross in our logo which symbolises care, nurturing and repair. This focus is not just within our prep products, but also my two styling products.

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
WI: We are still a family owned and operated business so there have been points where I’ve wondered whether we should have sought investment earlier on, however I think it’s helped to maintain the integrity of the brand and products so it’s not a decision I regret.

Also, had I known of the interruptions to daily life as we know it now, I may have chosen to have two sources of production in place, our main production would always be based in California as it is currently with perhaps another in Paris.

What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
WI: Our company is integrity driven, not revenue driven. Authenticity and integrity are key to me both personally and professionally. We must never lose sight of who we are, and what made our success. We started the business with very little funds, have grown by earning our clients’ trust and have excelled throughout a pandemic because our formulas are high performance and deliver the results we promise.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
WI: My family, within which I include my husband who is the CEO and my team. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best in their field, most of whom I’ve met via previous engagements so I know and trust they share the same values as I do. We tackle challenges together as a team with one common goal; to fix it and it’s inspiring to see them work hard to do so.

What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
WI: Success to me is a happy customer. We enjoy a very high customer retention rate which to me signifies success. I am very aware that the consumer has endless choice and so the fact they have given us a chance but then stayed with us is true success in my eyes.

Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
WI: I think if anything, the professional “success” we have enjoyed over the course of the pandemic (our sales figures have grown 30%) has humbled us to do better. We are so appreciative of the love and support from our community that we are even more motivated to show our mutual support back to them. We are re-investing resources into increased volumes of product stock, CSR, and also our customer services and brand platforms to share interesting content for our community to hopefully enjoy.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
WI: The one piece of advice I would share with a fellow entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people who share the same values as you on a human level; passion, hard work and integrity. If those fundamental principles are in place, then you’re already on the same page and from there, it’s great to be able to explore everyone’s ideas and input as each person brings their own set of expertise to the table.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
WI: The nature of my work means my routine is ever-changing. When I am on a job with my session work, as I am now, I can be away from home for a day or up to a month at a time, during which time I am on set with a celebrity or a client for up to 12 hours a day. However, I am never far from Iles Formula, as it grows seems to take every breath that I breathe! Over the lockdown period, I was working day and night from my home office, something which was a novelty for me to be able to dedicate my time 100% to Iles Formula without any other distractions. I happily wake at dawn to Iles Formula, I sleep at midnight with my last breath of Iles Formula and I can quite frankly say my dreams are full of Iles Formula too. It was an immensely productive time however I recognised it’s not a longer-term solution and so now have a senior support team in place with whom I can share important tasks and responsibilities.

What keeps you motivated during this time?
WI: The reviews, or love letters as I prefer to call them, that I receive daily from customers from around the world. Not only am I so touched and humbled that they have trusted me by spending their hard-earned money on my products, but that they have then also bothered to take time out of their busy day to write to me. I appreciate it beyond words and it’s the greatest source of motivation for me and my team.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
WI: Someone who worked hard, created an environmentally conscious product that brought an improvement to customers’ lives making their hair a source of joy rather than another source of worry, and never lost sight of who she was, nor what made our success.

What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
WI: “The only place success comes before work, is in the dictionary.” Wise words by the man I was trained by, the legendary Vidal Sassoon.

Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
WI: My parents were a great source of inspiration. They raised me back at home in Australia with a strong set of values which formed a great foundation; hard work, respect, honesty and the importance of listening to others.

I’ve also been fortunate throughout my career to have met and worked with some of the most successful players within their fields. Vidal Sassoon, a pioneer, icon and true visionary within the hair industry was the stepping stone for me to greater things. I was one of the first to take the Sassoon methods of cutting back to Australia. My salon was an instant success and it opened my world to freelance work via Vogue Australia which, fast forwarding to today is mostly celebrity and royalty focused.


Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be profiled in our Faces of Entrepreneurship series? Please let us know by emailing media@thecenter.nasdaq.org.

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