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How I Do It: The founder of Frank Body and Fluff Cosmetics on the importance of challenging yourself

IMAGES VIA FLUFF

WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

“I’m trying to build something that leaves a legacy.”

Impressive job titles are one thing, but what about people who have carved out their own niche and created a job specifically for them? Rather than landing that covetable LinkedIn byline, working for yourself presents a whole new way to choose your own adventure. That said, it’s not always about exploring the road less-travelled – sometimes it can mean forging your own entirely untrodden path.


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It’s a tough slog, but if being your own boss is your own personal dream, How I Do It is the column for you. We’ll talk to established freelancers and friends of FJ who’ve been at this long enough to have the benefit of hindsight, and they might be able to help you figure out how exactly they ‘do’ what they do.

Money, agents, timelines and tight turnarounds – this is how to hack the creative hustle. This week, we hear from the Melbourne-based founder of Frank Body and Fluff Cosmetics, Erika Geraerts. Here’s how she does it.

Run me through the last, say, five years of your life. What’s been happening for you?

In 2016 I left Frank Body, travelled for four months and then began again in the beauty industry, creating Fluff – a beauty brand with a mission to support people in understanding their relationship to beauty, while creating products and campaigns that lead the industry by example – refillable, vegan, and cruelty-free – with the message that it’s okay to feel more with makeup, so long as you don’t feel less without it. Amongst this, I had no money and then a lot of money, left a long-term relationship that turned into an unconditional friendship, started therapy, travelled a little more, started a new relationship, and then found myself in the same position the world now finds itself in – unsure.

I’m your Aunty Fran and it’s Christmas day. Describe to me exactly what it is you do for ‘work’ these days.

I laugh because I’ve literally had to have this conversation with my boyfriend’s mum – several times. It goes a little something like this: I have my own business – it’s a beauty brand, like Clinique or Estee Lauder, you know, Aunty Fran? We make and sell products – makeup and skincare. (No, I don’t make them in the kitchen, we work with the best manufacturers in the world. And I raised money from investors aka rich people who believed in our idea, to pay for these products.)

And we sell them online – we ship directly to peoples’ doors. And we use the internet to promote our brand, Instagram specifically. There are people called influencers who are like mini-celebrities on the internet and some brands pay stupid amounts of money for them to awkwardly hold a product up to their face. And that’s how brands advertise these days. No, I don’t own a house yet, sorry.

If you could have Aunty Fran listen, as in really listen, what do you wish she knew about what you do and why you do it?

I’m trying to build something outside of my own direct needs that leaves a legacy. I don’t want to go to work a nine to five and not be emotionally invested in what I do. While that’s great for some people, and more financially secure, it’s just not for me. I am fulfilled in ways I could never have imagined – challenged, too. There is a lot of risk in what I do, but there’s also a lot of reward.

Take me back to age 18, when you left school. Did you have any sense of what you wanted to do, and if so, what steps did you first take?

I wanted to be a journalist and write for all the magazines in Sydney. Little did I know that would be selling my soul, and also that I’d be out of a job in 10 or so years as most of the mags would be shutting down. I studied journalism anyway, with an interest in feature writing, which led me to writing on the web, which led me to copywriting, which led me to copywriting for beauty, social media, starting Frank Body, and then Fluff. Here we are.

Take me back to your early twenties, when you were just finding your feet. Did you have any sense of where you were going, and if so, how did you get there?

I got my first full-time job while finishing my uni degree (while studying I worked three part-time jobs and did as much unpaid work experience/internships as I could.) As a copywriter at a marketing agency my boss was the best and worst example – best in how much he taught me about running a business, worst in that he started his when he was 19, so I felt like I was behind. So at 21, I started my own writing agency with two friends. Why? There was a gap in the market. There were PR agencies and design agencies but no writing agencies. We would fill that gap. We started with no money, working for free. Gradually we charged a little, then a little more. We contacted everyone we knew who has a business and asked to write for them; eventually, people started asking us.

What drove you to start your own business(es)? Tell us about the best part of your job.

I never wanted to be a business owner but I have always wanted to throw myself at new ideas and opportunities, whether that was working for someone, or on my own, whatever could make it happen. I have a naive optimism that has helped me undertake many tasks that others simply wouldn’t go near. The best part of my job is that I can create something that has an impact outside of my own world, one that challenges my thinking and values and others’ too.

What about the worst? What do you wish more people knew about owning their own brand?

The worst part is also the best part – the challenges to your own values, the motivating of not just other people but yourself, the hard decisions financially [and] emotionally, and the risk of failing.

 

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You’ve been super transparent about how businesses and social media have changed dramatically in the past few years. What would you say to someone thinking about starting their own business?

I’d ask them why they’re doing it first. And then how they’re going to do it. And what exactly it is that they’re doing/selling. Finally, what does success look like? Is it having a team of two or 200? A salary of 50,000 or 500,000? Being proud of what you’ve created, or being proud of the life you’ve made? Answer those questions first, and then you’ll know whether you should start your own business or work for someone else.

Our consumption habits and what we look for in brands continues to change. What do you think the future holds for brands like yours?

I believe brands will only be held more and more accountable in the coming years – consumers demand opinions, beliefs, and values from brands and their founders as a means to finalising their purchasing decision. We have to step up. I think this is good for the industry, it means we can only get better, together – so long as there is an appreciation for nuance and conversation along the way.

@erikageraerts

Check out the other How I Do It interviews here and our non-freelancer focused career series How I Got Here here.

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