Women in Charge: Mabel Lee, CEO & Founder of Velour Lashes, is the new ‘Queen B’ innovating the beauty industry
Written by Alison Joutsi
Toronto native Mabel Lee has come a long way in her 29 years, both literally and figuratively.
Originally hailing from China, Lee began a dorm-room project with her best friend in 2011 while a student at the University of Toronto. That project, Velour Lashes, is now the exclusive luxury false eyelash line worn by such celebrities as Kate Upton and Beyonce.
She shares her business strategy on building a debt free company from the ground up.
You started studying finance at the University of Toronto. Why did you make the switch from finance to beauty entrepreneur?
During my degree, I wore false eyelashes everyday, and quickly became obsessed. The problem was they looked like plastic and were so uncomfortable. I began making my own out of mink hair during the weekends.
I had a lot of OSAP debt throughout these years, and had to work extremely hard to put myself through school. While on campus, girls would often approach me and ask how I was able to make my hair look so thick and healthy. My secret was this 3-in-1 curling iron that you could only buy in China.
When I went back home to China, I bought 100 of these curling irons, posted a Facebook message on my wall advertising that I was selling these wands, and in one day I made $10,000.00. I used this cash to start Velour.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
We were approached by Sephora in our second year to become their exclusive brand of luxury false eyelashes. After spending an entire year investing our money to create this line, we received a call one day that Sephora intended to pull out, due to our usage of mink for the lashes. Despite the fact that our mink was animal cruelty free, they were worried about the PR damage. It was devastating news.
I was determined to have our products sold in Sephora. I called back and was advised to make the eyelashes out of synthetic material. It was a huge risk with such a small team, but I invested another year sourcing the softest synthetics. This despite no financial commitment from them.
One year later, I flew to San Francisco, presented my new prototype, and they signed on the spot. Our silk eyelashes are now sold exclusively at Sephora locations worldwide.
What separates you from your competitors?
Innovation drives our culture. We are always the first to market anything new in the lashes world, and we are always the first to solve a problem—we were the first brand to allow customers to make their own lashes online, we were the first brand to create the invisible band lash, creating a more natural, lived-in lash look. We take a look at what is happening in the beauty industry and create products that take those trends into account.
We also have an innovate marketing strategy. Instead of creating a marketing plan, I reached out to beauty YouTubers and sent them product. This was incredibly powerful as I was able to market my product in other countries and establish relationships with social media influencers. If I were to do this now, it would cost 20 thousand dollars.