Brand Builders: Carolyn.K

It's cute, it's feminine, but above all, it's pink. Alexandra Jardine reports on an accessories brand with celebrity fans.

If you can't stand pink, Carolyn.K is definitely not the brand for you. 'Though I'm asked who the brand is aimed at, the idea is that there is no age range or particular type of person - but it's definitely someone who loves pink,' says Carolyn Nola, founder of the cosmetics accessories brand

Welcome to girly, pampering heaven. From its packaging to its polka-dot satin sleep masks, the brand is pink, cute and feminine. It's a theme continued in Nola's West London office, whose white carpet and walls are offset by a dazzling display of colour. Swatches of bright, patterned fabric nestle among the well-thumbed copies of glossy magazines.

There is a picture of a pink lily above her desk, and she has even covered her diaries and notebooks in pink fabric.

Nola, however, is dressed smartly in black, with only a studded wristband betraying her favourite colour. She may love pink, but there is nothing frivolous about this focused, businesslike 33-year-old, who, inspired by her Armenian businessman father, has always wanted to run her own company.

After working as a freelance make-up artist for 10 years, Nola spotted a gap in the market for beautifully packaged make-up accessories, and Carolyn.K was born. 'Lots of make-up artists were launching their own cosmetics ranges, but there wasn't much available to go with the make-up,' she explains. 'I would use these kinds of accessories as a make-up artist, but I bought most of them abroad. You couldn't get them over here.'

Just under two years later, Carolyn.K is stocked in 80 stores, from London to Loch Lomond, and has secured its first international listing in Ireland.

It has also attained in a relatively short time what some long-established beauty brands can only dream of - celebrity endorsement from Britney Spears, Kelly Brook and Charlotte Church. Brook has even called to say how much she likes the brand, and when the Carolyn.K eye mask featured in OK! magazine as one of her favourite products, the range sold out almost immediately.

Carolyn.K positions itself as a one-stop shop for beauty accessories, offering more than 40 products that include brightly coloured PVC make-up bags, make-up sponges and brushes, mini pink emery boards and moisturising socks. All are priced between £2 and £20.

While the range was designed with travel in mind - most items are small, practical and portable - its target customer isn't necessarily a jetsetting businesswoman. Not only is the brand sold in department stores and beauty emporia such as Pout, it has also had great success in Top Shop, where it is displayed near teen fashion. Nola agrees it has a 'cute' appeal for the younger market.

From being 'very make-up artist-led' in the beginning, Nola has found the brand is evolving into a gift option. Compact and cutely packaged, the products have turned out to be ideal stocking fillers, and Carolyn.K has done its best business at Christmas. 'People might go to the counter to buy some sponges for themselves, but go away with an eye mask for a friend,' says Nola.

A distinctive feature of the brand is that it donates 5p from each item sold to the Breast Cancer Campaign. It is an issue Nola feels strongly about, and she claims not to be looking for PR from the link - though she admits the charity's pink ribbons fit with her colour scheme.

Marketing has otherwise been confined to securing editorial coverage in the beauty pages of women's glossies, and with mentions in Red, Glamour, New Woman and OK!, its strike rate has been impressive.

Nola employs a PR assistant on a contract basis and two people to pack boxes at the small warehouse she rents in Greenford, West London. By keeping overheads low, Carolyn.K has managed to achieve a profit in its first full year.

Over the next five years, Nola's plan is to secure further investment and expand internationally. She hopes to launch in France, Italy and Germany next, and the US by the end of next year. Her ultimate dream, however, is to open her own chain of Carolyn.K-branded stores. Retail designers take note - and get the pink paint ready.

TIMELINE

Apr 2002: Carolyn Nola, known in the make-up industry as Carolyn K after her maiden name Karapetian, registers her company and brand name. She begins sourcing products from the US, Japan and Far East, and works with a designer on packaging and a logo.

Sep 2002: With the help of a £10,000 loan, which she pays back within six months, Nola gives up her work as a freelance make-up artist. She rents a warehouse for stock as products arrive.

Nov 2002: Carolyn.K secures its first retail listing at 10 House of Fraser stores.

Jul 2003: Nola takes on a public relations executive to send products to magazines and launches a website, www.carolynk.com.

Jan 2004: Having originally sourced products from abroad, Nola moves the majority of production to the UK, deciding that local quality and convenience are superior.

Aug 2004: Carolyn.K secures its first international listing at six McCabe's Pharmacy stores in Ireland.

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