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The second coming of a style guru back on trend

What’s Woodall’s ambition? “It’s not financial — I’m not in my twenties any more, dreaming of private jets.” (Dave Benett/Getty Images)
What’s Woodall’s ambition? “It’s not financial — I’m not in my twenties any more, dreaming of private jets.” (Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Trinny Woodall was by her own admissions a TV style guru “who had fallen out of fashion”.

But five years later she is one of the cosmetics industry’s most successful entrepreneurs, creating a new skincare and make-up brand with annual turnover of £51 million.

Followers of her daily bright Instagram Stories and YouTube videos reckon she makes it look easy. Not so, says Woodall, 58, as she tells the tale of the business, called Trinny London.

Before she launched her make-up start-up, in 2017, “all the chips were down,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t afford to keep my house; my daughter’s father had died, I was earning zero money. I had to make a decision: do I try and launch this business I’d been dreaming of, or do I go safe, and try and get a job? It was the hardest decision.”

This was after Woodall had found fame with Susannah Constantine on hit BBC show What Not to Wear.

“But then the jobs dried up, we were no longer flavour of the month in the UK — Gok Wan took over from us.”

The pair found work on a similar TV makeover show for European media, “leaving London on Sunday night, returning on Friday, dashing around trying to make budget shows”.

What Woodall noticed, though, was the young make-up artists.

“I’d watch them at work. And I’d always been a bathroom alchemist, mixing my own make-ups at home. Then I decided I wanted to create my own business.”

Woodall’s idea was to build a stackable, portable, cream-based make-up brand.

How did she crack the notoriously tough cosmetics industry, dominated by some of the world’s biggest brands?

“Initially I spent months emailing anyone I knew who might have a contact. I learned that assistants are powerful gatekeepers; I’d tell them the story of what I was trying to do, and they helped me get through to the people who could help me launch the business.”

Woodall says she told everyone she met about her idea, in case it opened doors.

“I found out a woman at the school gates worked in beauty research, so I told her about the Trinny London concept, and she offered SEIS investment.”

Initially £150,000 of backing helped Woodall find a packaging company “to interpret my homemade drawings” and secure a factory.

“I visited loads of manufacturers. They all thought, ‘who is this crazy woman?’ and we were well under usual minimum orders.

“But I was so determined that one took a punt on me. Now we’re [the manufacturer’s] biggest client.”

Woodall successfully applied for patents and trademarks and spent months working on prototypes.

“It was like doing a uni degree in manufacturing and make up and formulation: absolutely non-stop research.” Products honed, “I knew I needed a big sum of money to launch. I needed to build a team, social media, operations, marketing.”

There were, she admits, “a lot of failed VC meetings; after each, I honed the pitch. Then at a meeting with [VC] Unilever Ventures, I saw that they got it. There were two women in the room — almost all my other meetings had only been men — but these two women leaned in to pick up the product, and I knew that was good.”

Trinny London secured a £2.5 million first round; it has since raised £7.6 million in three rounds, including one to tide the firm over during the pandemic.

Sales shot up rapidly, hitting £44 million in the year to March 2021, and £51 million a year later.

The latest funding round valued the business at £200 million.

The key, Woodall says, was her branding on social media: “I was just honest, I took — and still take — my followers [there are now 1.2 million on Instagram] along with me.

“It’s about finding a gap where you feel that way of talking about a product or service feels fresh, and stops people in their tracks, and is relatable.”

Woodall is considering whether to raise more backing to expand faster: “We’ve got VCs emailing every few weeks asking if we’re ready to raise, but I think sometimes when you raise less, you spend it better.”

International sales beckon: last year, Trinny London hit Australia, with a local distribution network and two pop-ups in big malls, cheekily set up outside cosmetic retail giant Sephora.

“In six weeks we did AUS$1 million [£575,000] from those two kiosks, and increased online sales by AUS$3 million,” she says.

“It’s about making drama: we had huge queues going around the block from fans who had discovered our content online.”

What’s Woodall’s ambition?

“It’s not financial — I’m not in my twenties any more, dreaming of private jets. I am focused on building women’s confidence. I know how debilitating it is when women don’t have it, and I get my drug from giving them some, whether it’s via make-up or mentoring female founders.

“It all makes a difference.”