Most founders set out to innovate.
Some get there.
Few create categories of their own.
After a decade of successfully operating brow salons across the globe, she launched Brow Code in 2017. The brand’s range of brow-focused products is developed to the highest of standards, exceeding the expectations of the brow-obsessed, DIY enthusiasts, and professional stylists worldwide. Brow Code products are stocked in 350,000 professional retailers worldwide, including luxury retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Mecca.
We chatted with Marris about her innovative entrepreneurial story and why she still loves the immediate gratification of delighting a customer.
Q&A with Brow Code’s Melanie Marris
Q: Melanie, you’ve had incredible success building Brow Code into a multi-million-dollar international business, but do you still remember what it felt like when you dropped out of school to pursue a career in the beauty industry?
A: I dropped out of school at age 14, determined to follow my dreams in the beauty world. My 14-year-old self would be screaming right now!! I was over the moon when my Mum said I could leave school, as long as I always had a job. I’ve always known deep within myself that I would do something different to everyone around me and felt this pull to do something outside of the norm. There isn’t a rational, right answer when it comes to beauty and fashion, it doesn’t follow a set of logical rules, I loved that about the industry.
It is whatever you want it to be, you can really shape your own world. I knew from a young age that was my calling. I didn’t know what it looked like exactly, but I made choices very early on to get started as soon as I could. There’s a saying, ‘They don’t teach dreaming in school’ and they genuinely don’t. My intuition always led me to think outside the box and go against the grain and push the envelope on things. I never wanted to do what everyone else was doing. School rarely celebrated out-of-the-box thinking, let alone encouraged us to truly envision our desired futures beyond academic achievements.
There’s a saying, “They don’t teach dreaming in school” and they genuinely don’t.
The curriculum wasn’t created to encourage people to think differently, and to dream about how they want their future to really look. I didn’t find there was anything there that truly lit my soul on fire at school. I wasn’t a star student; my grades weren’t good. I couldn’t grasp a lot of what was in front of me, mostly because I didn’t have the passion for it and my mind was always dreaming elsewhere. I liked to talk a lot, and I loved connecting with people–I was a natural at networking and bringing people together authentically. Those qualities have probably been some of the biggest contributing factors to my success today.
From a young age, I was very intuitive, and until this day, intuition drives all my decisions. Intuition isn’t something that gets graded or taught in school, but it is a superpower, in life and business. Many people shy away from discussing it or talking openly about it, perhaps because they don’t grasp its impact or how it works. Yet, although it’s not visible to us, it’s the most powerful tool. It has been the driving force of my success. Trust your inner voice – It is most probably the best leader you’ll have.
Q: What gave you the confidence to double down on brow sculpting as your craft?
A: A lot of the paths that are out there just didn’t call me, I didn’t want to follow the norm, I didn’t want to just ‘fit in’ I wanted to follow my interest and if that didn’t exist out there, I was driven to create it. I wanted to do what I loved and inspire others to do the same.
I had this literal gut reaction when I was performing my craft and working 1 on 1 with my clients. That feeling alone was enough to keep me driven to succeed at my craft. With brow styling, I went into this other realm where I was really good at just one thing, and where I was able to create such a positive change, expression and feeling in someone, within minutes. This realm of precision and making something really perfect and honing into just one thing was fascinating to me, it was an obsession. It wasn’t always about my brow styling skills, it was the entire, exclusive experience.
I was pioneering an industry that didn’t exist—I knew it wasn’t just about me—it was bigger than me. It was about giving hundreds and thousands of aspiring beauty and brow professionals a chance at putting their craft on the map and creating an industry for them to flourish in. In 2012, there was no such thing as a brow stylist, it really is hard to believe now, most people have their brow stylist on speed dial in 2023!!
I was pioneering an industry that didn’t exist—I knew it wasn’t just about me—it was bigger than me.
Q: What were the signals that you should build a business around brow sculpting?
A: Beyond the undeniable demand, marked by waitlists of thousands of people in each city in Australia, there was an intrinsic joy in doing what I loved. I could style brows for hours on end, standing on my feet, back-to-back with no breaks. I never once got tired, it has always filled my creative cup.
Every new set of brows, every individual stepping through my doors, presented an opportunity to make a difference and share my unique experience. What I loved doing and what I was creating, was in demand, I really just took it as far as I could.
Q: What did you learn from your service business to help grow Brow Code, your product business?
A: I gained an in-depth understanding of exactly what products, tools, education and resources were required as a professional brow stylist. Having built successful brow salons across the world from the ground up, I have firsthand knowledge of the challenges and needs, having walked in salon owners’ shoes.
There is something so powerful about being able to relate to your client. Guiding my teams to live in the shoes of our client’s day-to-day life has proven invaluable. Understanding the inner workings of our customer, we are able to relate directly to their needs. This approach was non-existent when I was building my styling business and expanding my salons, so we created it.
I knew the craft, the clients and the inner workings so well, that I was able to discover what the industry was missing and knew there was room to pioneer a completely new niche beauty category, brows. This was the key – knowing the materials, the art and the process. While anyone can start a business, I firmly believe long-lasting success is rooted in offering genuine value to your customer.
Q: Many of our students have business ideas but struggle with validating them. What’s the best way to move an idea forward?
A: When it is the right business idea, it won’t need validating, it won’t need a second thought, or someone else’s opinion, you won’t have time to sit around and talk about it. It will be your calling and it will keep calling you. You will self-validate your idea and move beyond the idea stage, that is the best way to validate the idea, make a move on it.
My advice is, to think about what the cheapest and fastest way is to test the market and make the first version. There will be so many versions of your success. If you mess up less and less, you will eventually get it right. Success is not this glamorous, sparkling lifestyle you see on social media, it can be isolating and quiet at times; it is hard, focused work. You have to be able to fall back on yourself, so from day one, the key is believing in yourself and your idea without a doubt and just running forward with it.
Success is not this glamorous, sparkling lifestyle you see on social media, it can be isolating and quiet at times; it is hard, focused work.
Start with what you have in front of you, do something with it, test it, try it. You’ll never have it all figured out, your original idea might be far from the one that makes you successful. You’ve got to build skills that you don’t have – we don’t walk in the door ready to go knowing what to do.
Q: What’s your product development process at the Brow Code?
A: Brow Code is in a really unique position, as we have both retail and professional arms to the brand. This means we create products for our professionals to use in their salons for brow styling services and we create at-home kits and cosmetics for consumers to use.
With innovation and the future of brows at the forefront of all we do, we look at ways to make the styling process more efficient and innovative. We work towards creating a seamless journey for everyone, whether a brow stylist performing professional brow services, a consumer seeking a professional brow service, at-home DIY brow enthusiasts and of course the retail consumer, looking for the very best brow products for their everyday makeup routine.
Our internal testing and product development processes are extremely thorough. I personally work directly with our research and development and our new product development teams to build out our unique offering of brow products. As a professional myself, with two decades of experience in beauty and brow styling, I know exactly how a product needs to work, mold, move and activate for the very best results.
Creating great formulas can take time to perfect, it has taken up to two years to perfect one of our formulas. We are unwavering in our commitment to precision and outstanding results. At Brow Code we have a strong stance on sustainability and use the highest quality ingredients. We are working on so many exciting innovations for 2024, growing our offering and expanding even further.
Q: Beauty trends seem to change on the whim of a viral TikTok or celebrity post. How do you stay true to your brand while adapting to the ever-evolving beauty industry?
A: Pop culture is such a fun space to be in and play with when it suits the brand and brand voice. I think the trick is staying true to the vision of the brand, and in our case, that has been the long game, maintaining the legacy of the brand in many years to come. You have to keep up and keep your finger on the pulse. Brow Code has never been about a quick buck, or sale.
Every element of the brand, and its steady growth, has been to protect its longevity and credibility. Going viral isn’t always a good thing in business. Chasing virality can also break you if your processes aren’t in place to sustain it. Slow growth has the ability to prepare you, it gives you time to build and ensure you are ready for the influx of growth. When some brands go viral in their early stages, they face having to adapt quickly, when they may not be ready. If the audience is fickle and you can’t repeat the success, you are faced with other challenges to remain relevant.
Going viral isn’t always a good thing in business. Chasing virality can also break you if your processes aren’t in place to sustain it.
That being said, it’s also always a great feeling seeing your product in the hands of many happy consumers on social media or on a major celebrity, I just wouldn’t make that a pillar or foundation of your brand. Don’t chase a viral moment, work towards great formulas, great results, loyal customers, and success will come. Stay true to who you are and what your brand stands for – keep building on your vision. It is a gradual increase, but it is a sustainable route as long as you are providing value for your niche audience.
Q: What’s it like to essentially invent a new category? How do you make decisions without a proven roadmap?
A: The very thing I loved most about carving out a new niche professional beauty category was that there was no road map, no benchmark, no one who had already done it a certain way. The possibilities felt sky high. I like to push the edge of things, so knowing that this category did not yet exist in the world was so inspiring to me.
Building the brand on such a singular niche vision has really been the fun of it all. We’ve really been able to shape our own world at Brow Code. As an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with a level of uncertainty, which for me was freedom to create something new that I imagined and that I believed in.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with a level of uncertainty, which for me was freedom to create something new that I imagined and that I believed in.
There isn’t a rule book and for others like me, this is where the creative magic is made. I never wanted to water down my vision, and til this day, staying niche with this company has been what has built and sustained success.
Q: What differentiates Brow Code’s brand marketing from the rest of the beauty industry?
A: Brow Code is extremely unique to anything else out there on the market. From the beginning, Brow Code has had a brand-first approach. Every fine detail of Brow Code’s marketing has been specific, intentional and extremely well thoughtout.
First and foremost, we are a professional-focused brand, and from very early on, I noticed there was a huge gap in the professional beauty market when it came to marketing and branding. I noticed only retail and consumer-facing products were being marketed with beautiful imagery, campaigns, logos and strong attention to branding detail.
I noticed there was a huge gap in the professional beauty market when it came to marketing and branding.
When I walked into a professional beauty supply store, everything looked so stock standard, nothing was conceptualized or built into a brand that professionals could really be proud to use, capture content of and display on their shelves. My goal was to completely revolutionize the industry, by making brows fashion forward. I set out to put the professional brow industry on the map by building strong community, creating never seen before concepts and developing precise, beautiful branding.
We have further built this out into the retail space with our innovative at-home kits and brow care, and cosmetics, making at-home brow styling a glamorous, selfcare experience, innovative at-home kits and brow care, and cosmetics, making at-home brow styling a glamorous, selfcare experience.
Q: As an innovator in an industry, you’re cursed with leading a pack of imitators. How have you dealt with the competition?
A: So they say, “ If someone’s not copying what you’re doing, you’re not doing it well enough.” Rather than looking at it as an imitation, I look at it as inspiration. Gratefully, many seem inspired by what I have built and what we are doing at Brow Code. This was a true blessing as I moved forth into my career as a beauty brand Founder, knowing that what I was creating was helping hundreds and thousands of brow creatives around the world. I am a collaborator, not a competitor, and my way of business is very different to most.
n my earlier days, launching the world’s first single service brow salon, and launching my unique brow styling methods to the market, I was introducing something the industry hadn’t quite seen before and it was working really well. This of course came with its own set of challenges. I’m a huge team player and I set out for everyone to win. Recognizing this, I knew my calling was to transform my unique, sought-after touch, style and training into into a product offering that could continue to help in building and maintaining successful stylists and their brow business.
At Brow Code, we have created a business around supplying people with the tools, the education, the style, the courage and the inspiration to take the leap and build their own legacy in brow styling. It is amazing to watch these powerful artists build their brands from the ground up, using our Brow Code products. As a professional brow stylist, turned beauty brand founder, it is my role to inspire and lead. No one has ever done what I set out to do, so I didn’t have anyone to look up to in the industry. I knew I had to become that person others could look up to. It has been a strength of mine and I have worked hard to inspire my teams and those around me.
No one has ever done what I set out to do, so I didn’t have anyone to look up to in the industry. I knew I had to become that person others could look up to.
There is only one Brow Code and there is only one of me, and this is something I push out into my audience, for them to also believe and recognize, that they have that same unique power within themselves. My vision has always been strong. There is always a niche audience for everyone, and if you work hard enough and long enough on your vision, it will come to fruition.
Q: Based on your extensive job title alone (active CEO, Creative Director, and Head of Development), you seem like a founder who likes to be involved in every aspect of the business. How do you maintain consistency as a brand as you scale?
A: My mentality and approach is to get it done, no matter what it takes, so wearing multiple hats and juggling many moving parts is something I have grown to be really good at over time. Achieving and maintaining consistency as you scale requires different levels of processes and checks in place.
Our teams are extremely organized, and our leaders possess immaculate project management skills, ensuring streamlined workflows across the board. I have established several approval processes to maintain balance and keep everything on the right track at all times. I am actively involved and across all departments, emphasizing the importance of staying informed about ongoing activities. It is crucial for me to keep my finger on the pulse while also mentoring my teams to be able to manage consistency internally.
Q: You’ve been seemingly “on your own” in your career since you were fifteen. What’s kept you motivated?
A: First and foremost, it’s not about motivation for me. Entrepreneurs aren’t driven by motivation alone, they are either disciplined, obsessed, or both.In my case, it’s been both – the obsession around perfecting my craft and taking my idea as far as I can take it. I am inspired by possibilities and opportunities, and I see them everywhere. My brain doesn’t see stop signs. If I see a roadblock, I think I should go over, under, around, climb up!? I’m not considering stopping, doesn’t it seem to be an option? It just doesn’t occur to me.
Secondly, surviving hardships in business really made me test boundaries and keep pushing forward on what is possible. Often, I’ve thought:
“Well, that didn’t break me the first time, so let’s see what happens!”
“What’s the worst that can happen? You’ve done it before; so you’ll do it again, and this time, you’ll be wiser.”
“That was a difficult time, but I’m still standing.”
You get knocked down and get back up so many times that you begin to adapt to a certain belief where you don’t see setbacks as limitations but more as inspiration to reroute or pivot, and in those pivots, I’ve often found my greatest successes.
Q: When do you love your business the most?
A: I always love my business, across all seasons and phases but what I will explain more about, is what I really find fulfilling.
I love brand creation, curation and conceptualizing a strong brand. I could endlessly spend time doing the work and layering building a brand’s image. It is such a creative, ever evolving space.
I am a problem solver; I don’t dwell on any given problem that arises.
Coming up with answers to problems and taking on the challenge headfirst is the only approach I see. As hard as it can be, the reward comes after the challenge, it is the lesson. On the other side of the business, I love to see my client’s expression once I have finished styling. When they have a positive reaction, it is just so much fun. I feel so happy for them that they feel better than when they walked in. I just made somebody’s day better.
I love that my business affords me these opportunities. I get to delve into everything – from finance meetings and recruitment to creative concepts, brow styling, and product development.
Q: What habit makes you a better founder?
A: This process of self-evaluation has been a really great habit. Self-reflecting, asking yourself after each lesson, if you would do it the same or how would you do it differently. I’m always assessing my moves, decisions, and the way I lead. It has made me wiser, more methodical. I do a lot of what I do intuitively, I believe we know a lot in our gut.
What helps also in the long run is taking a closer look at our previous choices and analyzing them, that self-awareness and evaluation really prepares you for the next time you’re in a similar situation. You have greater context for what’s working and what’s not working. I have done this through all aspects of life. So much of life, we’re going at the speed of life. Sometimes we need to slow down and reassess moments and take a closer look.
Nobody has the luxury of time. The habit of refining my intuition has also made me so in tune. This has occurred naturally over time, from simply trusting my gut. It has improved my ability to make snap, wise decisions,
Q: What’s the most important thing a founder in the beauty industry should invest in?
A: The most important thing a founder, or any single person can invest in, is yourself. Your mindset, your mental and physical health. It is so important to work on your mindset, just like you would your muscles when you exercise, or your strength at Pilates, your cardio on a run or walk. Train it daily.
Your mindset will determine your success and how you deal with the wins and the losses. Find your anchor – whether it’s meditation, yoga, prayer, anything that takes you to a space of stillness and peace, find what this is for you and make it a part of your daily routine.
Your mindset will determine your success and how you deal with the wins and the losses.
You have a clearer mind when you are calm and focused. Learning how to reset this often is really important.