Interview: Founder Petra Strand of Pixi Beauty On The Brand’s Cult Following

It’s always exciting to meet the founder of a beauty brand, especially one whose brand has garnered such immense popularity across bathroom shelves the world over. You’ve liked it on Instagram, both gushed about and had serious thesis-worthy conversations about why the products work with your friends.

So you start to wonder, what kind of person is behind all that, how does it feel to be sitting on the throne of a beauty empire of their own making? One thing I realised: they’re exactly like the brand, and often, they are the brand.

 

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You see, Pixi Beauty’s a fun, youthful brand with dreamy makeup and skincare products, and even dreamier packaging. And yet, we like that there’s a certain real-world sensibility to their lineup. Their products are effective, with quality ingredients so whether it’s makeup or skincare, you know they work. And for that kind of quality, they’re amazingly easy on the wallet. Plus, there’s the whole deal of no-fuss, multi-purpose products because really, how many of us are willing to devote hours a day to our beauty routine?

In Singapore, Pixi (as we affectionaly term it) launched to much fanfare earlier this year, starting with a lineup of skincare products they call ‘Skintreats’. Sephora’s shelves were wiped clean, especially for Glow Tonic, their iconic exfoliating toner that leaves you with a radiant complexion. And while the makeup range hasn’t reached our shores yet, you can bet everyone’s eagerly anticipating it already.

As for Pixi’s founder, Petra Strand, meeting her and her husband, Tony Oppe, at a cafe in Orchard felt as surreal, but also very real. You can tell she loves talking about beauty, with her eyes lighting up every time we’re discussing a new product or a new way of using an existing one. Passion? She’s overflowing with it, and you have to be! Pixi Beauty was started a whole 20 years ago, in a beauty landscape that didn’t embrace natural beauty as much as it does today. She’s also refreshingly candid, whether it’s telling us straight that Pixi will never produce a foaming cleanser (we’ll hold you to that, Petra!), or that success doesn’t happen in an instant.

Here, she shares more:

 


Pixi Beauty’s a relatively new brand here, how would you introduce it to people who’ve only heard about it for the first time?

Petra Strand: I would say if you like the best skincare there is, but don’t wanna pay a rent’s money for a cream, try Pixi. If you like makeup that enhances your beauty rather than covers it, try the makeup. And I think the other thing is that I’m a working mom and woman, so I’m designing products that work for real life, for women — I’m not gonna put my name on something that isn’t the best.

Would you say then that Pixi isn’t really about following trends, but meeting people’s real needs? 

P: Classic beauty never goes out of style. It’s not really trendy, but it’s always right. We very much like to do our own thing. We don’t really listen to people! [laughs] That’s a Swedish thing, we don’t really listen. We wanna do what we wanna do, and suddenly, it’s really working. We’re at this time right now that everyone really wants Pixi — they hear about it, they’ve seen it on social media — and we’re launching in all these countries.

I have to ask though — where’s the makeup?!

P: You know, in every other location, we always launch with colour [makeup] first. This is the first time we’re launching skincare first, so everybody’s asking “where’s the makeup?” Before that, it was everybody asking “where’s the skincare?”! [laughs]

It’s a good idea actually, especially since everybody knows Glow Tonic, and then they try a couple of things and are hopefully happy with that.

Pixi + Caroline Hirons ​Double Cleanse, $36 ; Hydrating Milky Serum, $36

Tell us how and why you started the brand.  

P: I started as a makeup artist, I have a sister who’s a makeup artist, and I have another who’s a skin therapist. So, this was in London, 20 years ago, and we couldn’t really find makeup that had that glowing, kind of transparent and natural texture on skin. At that time, there was also no makeup with skincare ingredients.

So we combined our expertise to come up with these nice, light textures that enhanced your beauty, that brought out your natural beauty instead of, say, layers of coverage and powders. Everything was matte then! We did the opposite.

Illuminating Tint & Conceal ; Sheer Cheek Gel ; Lash Booster Mascara

What were some of the first products created?

P: Lip lacquers, with plumping ingredients, which no one was doing then — and everyone’s doing that now! It’s like fashion, like ohhh, this is coming back!

I also did the Illuminating Tint & Conceal, which is still one of my favourite Pixi products, 20 years later. You can call it the original BB cream, if you want. It has SPF, minerals; it’s a moisturiser and it gives a tint and a glow. There’s also a matching full-coverage concealer in the cap, so it’s very multi-purpose.

The Sheer Cheek Gel, which we made out of aloe vera; it’s very sheer, very pretty. We still have it, and it’s still selling.

There’s also the Lash Booster Mascara in black-blue — if you already have black lashes, put this on, and you’ll see a whole lot of difference. Your eyes will look a lot brighter because it minimises the redness in your eyes. And, it’s so waterproof that it will hold the curl all day. You can swim, cry, whatever!

 

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How about one of Pixi’s bestsellers, the Glow Tonic. There has to be a story behind that!

P: For the Glow Tonic, I developed it as the “ultimate skin prep” before makeup. It turned out to be a lot more than that now for a lot of people, but my thought was to create the smoothest, most even-textured skin I could, to be able to use the translucent and sheer textures I wanted to do with Pixi makeup. Now, that was a good one!

Oh, what other ways can we use the Glow Tonic then? 

P: I love the tip of using Glow Tonic to exfoliate your lips, especially if you’ve been wearing lipstick all day. Just go over your lips before lip balm at night, and they won’t be dry or flaky — they’re completely smooth in the morning.

How about other multi-purpose skincare products, or alternate ways to use certain items? 

P: There’s the Glow Mud Cleanser, which I use in the shower as a mask! So, you put it on a few minutes before going into the shower — just massage it in — then leave it as a purifying mask. Let the shower create steam, then massage it off with a flannel in circular movements. You’ll feel like you’ve just had a facial.

Nice, so your skin’s clean without that tight, overcleansed feeling then. 

P: Yeah. None of our cleansers are foaming, because that tight feeling you talk about? It usually comes from the foaming agent, which is really too harsh for the skin. We worked with Caroline Hirons and she’s like, never make a foaming cleanser because you have to be effective but gentle enough not to put your skin out of balance. It’s better to use a cleansing oil or balm to really deep-clean. You’ll never see Pixi doing a foaming cleanser!

 

 

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2018’s Pixi Pretties products
 

You’ve also done a couple of collaborations with influential beauty bloggers, under the ‘Pixi Pretties’ name. How did that come about? 

P: My eldest son is 29, and he’s very much into social media, so he knows a lot of YouTubers, and that’s how I got to know a lot of them too. Last year, we did a collaboration with 4 of them — Judy Travis, Maryam Maquillage, Caroline Hirons, and Aspyn Ovard — and that was a huge hit.

We basically worked together to create their dream product. They came to Pixi, looked at formulas, mixed colours, explained what they wanted and we just helped to facilitate it, kind of put a Pixi spin on it. And that was it! It was very organic, easy, and authentic, not really that planned, you know?

I see, what about this year’s collection then? 

P: This year, we got Caroline, and 3 new girls who are totally different, who wanted totally different products — Dulce Candy, Weylie Huong, and Chloe Morello. Chloe was getting married, so she made a beautiful romantic palette with all the soft colours. Weylie is Chinese, so she wanted something that could create the perfect eye. And Dulce, she wanted bright lip colours that you could also use on your cheeks.

I’m enjoying working with these girls because they bring a whole different perspective. Usually it’s just me, so I’m like, yes! I’m getting some help creating things.

 

 

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What’s the most challenging part about building the brand?

P: Everything in business is challenging. You might look at people and go, oh wow, they’ve made it. But you don’t realise it takes 20 years to get there. People think it’s instant, that it happens overnight.

Tony Oppe: Another thing is that we’re producing 110% of the best quality, without any compromises, because product has always been king. That’s been the most challenging — to make that possible when cashflow’s always tight; we don’t have any partners, we’re self-financed. But we’re happy and able to do that, and it’s what’s paying off now. We’ve always produced at the highest quality at the lowest affordable price. For the price point, we don’t compromise with the quality of the ingredients.

P: Yes, everything in Pixi’s invested into the quality of the product. We’re not flying private jets and buying Gucci bags, you know! [laughs] We’re passionate about the product and the company. We’re now a large team, about a 100 people worldwide, and we care about their lives.

I think the key is that everyone working at Pixi is passionate and proud to be part of something that really is a mission to bring the best to all women regardless of, maybe, what you can afford. Everyone should be able to have the best quality product — that should be it.

Rose Tonic, $22 ; Rose Cream Cleanser, $28

Since we’re talking about quality, Pixi uses a lot of natural-based botanical ingredients. How do you ensure they’re the best?

P: We only work with the best suppliers for our raw material, about 12 of the best chemists in the world. I also have a department of 6 girls, and all they do is work on new product development and ensure that everything is the best we can make; they source all of that.

If you’re talking about rose oil, we’re using Moroccan Rose or French Rose. We don’t do shortcuts, and that’s very important. It’s like food, you need the best raw ingredients to make the best food — and skincare or makeup comes in direct contact with your skin too!

MatteLast Liquid Lip ; LipLift Max ; Glow Mist, $22

Do you carry any Pixi products on you all the time?

P: Oh this is my fave! I always carry it with me. This is the Lip Lift Max. It’s a plumping, glossy lip treatment. When I meet with the beauty editors in New York, everybody’s got one of these in their purse. They just wear this, you know, this is New York, no-makeup-makeup girls.

If I have a bigger bag, I’ll bring a mist. My favourite’s the Glow Mist. That’s really nice for the hair too — it gets rid of sleep hair, makes it smoother.

Today, I also have this matte lipstick with me. Most of the time I test things, so this is a lab sample we haven’t come up with yet. [shows a brick-red colour for the MatteLast Liquid Lip]

Ooh, that’s a nice brick shade!

P: For me, it’s too brick! See this is what I do, I wear it then I tweak it, then go on and on and on, until people go, you have to stop! We have to launch! And I’m like, okay! [laughs]

Nourishing Cleansing Balm, $30 ; Glow Tonic, $22 (100ml) ; Beauty Sleep Cream, $36
Glowtion Day Dew, $34 ; H20 Skin Tint ; Glow Mud Cleanser, $28

Do share with us your skincare routine as well!

P: In the evenings, I use the Nourishing Cleansing Balm to take off my makeup (that’s good for even waterproof ones). Then, the Glow Tonic. If my skin’s dry, I use the Hydrating Milky Serum, and I usually try a lab sample for my cream. If not, the Beauty Sleep Cream, which is delicious — it’s very plumping, nourishing, but still lightweight. And it’s got lavender in it, so very soothing. And then I will mist to just seal in the moisture. Put a lip balm on and I’m asleep!

In the morning, I use Rose Tonic. And then a serum on, plus Glowtion Day Dew, which is a brightening moisturiser. And then the Illuminating Tint & Conceal, or if I want a more matte coverage, the H2O Skin Tint, which is water-based so very good for this climate. I sometimes use the Glow Mud Cleanser in the shower. I also like the Rose Caviar Essence… I have too many choices!

Every product’s my baby. When something’s in a box even, I cannot bear to throw the box away! So much work, and then I’m like, this is 20 cents! This is 4-colour print! [laughs]

Glow Tonic, $44 (250ml) ; Lash Booster Mascara

With your experience as a makeup artist and a beauty brand founder, you’re definitely everyone’s go-to beauty expert. Are there any beauty tips you swear by?

P: Yes, many! I love blasting the tip of my eyelash curler with a hairdryer, for 3 seconds, just to keep the curl. And if you get a kink, you get a teaspoon to smooth it out so your lashes just go up, like that! Another thing I do is to leave an earl grey tea bag in the fridge overnight. In the morning, if your eyes are looking puffy, especially after a late night, just lie down, put it on your eyes for 10 minutes before anything else. You’ll look brand new!

I like the black-blue mascara to brighten your eyes, instead of just black. I also like a nude tightline to make your eyes look bigger. For any eyeliner, put it in the fridge before you sharpen it — sometimes they break and it’s really annoying, so this way, you get a really good sharp tip without wasting the product.

If you use Glow Tonic, or any glycolic acid product, and you want to neutralise the acid but not wash it off, just use Rose Tonic after, and it will just neutralise it. You’ll still get the exfoliating properties but gentler and slower. So a lot of people “double-tonic” now — they use Glow Tonic then go over it with Rose Tonic.

T-Zone Peel- Off Mask, $34 ; Jasmine Oil Blend, $36 ; Nourishing Lip Polish, $18

Did you ever think you’ll be working in the beauty industry?

P: No! My first job was in fashion, at H&M. I wasn’t even in high school, I worked weekends and holidays.

T: But the reality is, like all people who get good at what they do, she’s spent all her life doing stuff that’d lead her in that direction. Firstly, she comes from a family of entrepreneurs, secondly, she started on the shop floor and worked her way up from the bottom.

P: Yes, that’s important.

T: Thirdly, she works both in front of the camera as a model, and behind the camera as a makeup artist. And then she’s helped other companies, including beauty ones, and worked with 3 of the greatest packaging designers, so she understands packaging.

P: But I didn’t know where that was leading! When you look back, and say it this way, it makes sense.

You have to work your way up. Nowadays, a lot of people think they get out of school and get a top job, but I’m like, you don’t even know anything, you just got out of school! What I’m proud of is that I’m the 4th generation of female entrepreneurs, so my great-grandmother had a cafe, that my grandmother also took over. And my mom has a home for orphan girls, and I’m doing something much more glamorous.

I’m a very bad employee, that’s why I had to start my own company! [laughs] I always say if I can do it, anybody can do it.

 

Pixi Beauty, available at Sephora stores. sephora.sg