Spectrum: From Barry Island to the world
In four short years, the founders of makeup brush company Spectrum have gone from packing products in their garage to running a successful global business. We spoke to co-founders, and sisters, Sophie and Hannah Pycroft about finding their market through Instagram, bringing jobs to South Wales – and appearing on America’s Next Top Model.
In 2013, sisters Hannah and Sophie Pycroft found themselves at a career crossroads. Working as photography and web design freelancers, they were struggling to find work in their hometown of Barry Island in South Wales. But while many of their friends and colleagues moved away to find opportunities, the business duo took a different route: they decided to build something themselves.
We didn’t sell a thing for the first few months, so we just continued to build the brand on social media – using Instagram in particular.
Finding something they could self-fund initially proved a challenge. They looked into setting up a clothing range, but high start-up costs made this impossible. After months of product research, they discovered the potential in makeup brushes, where they felt the market was, at that time, “boring and functional”. Hannah, who runs the graphic design side of the business, says: “We wanted to create an accessory, and we knew that we could do that through good ideas and marketing.”
From the beginning, the sisters were clear about the type of business they wanted to own – one that was ethical and stood for the values they held close. Being passionate about animal rights, Hannah and Sophie took the decision not to use any animal products – an approach that stands out in the industry. All Spectrum products are made from synthetic hair, and the company is PETA registered and holds the Vegan Society trademark.
Sophie, who is responsible for the brand’s photographs, says: “A lot of manufacturers use badger and goat hairs, which we were not prepared to do. We’re both vegetarians, we bake vegan cookies for the office and we eat in vegan restaurants. It’s important to us that this is embodied in the brand that we’ve created.”
Spectrum officially registered as a company on 13 October 2013, initially running from Sophie’s garage. At the start, business was slow. Sophie recalls: “We didn’t sell a thing for the first few months, so we just continued to build the brand on social media – using Instagram in particular.”
As the fastest growing social media network at the time, the pair recognised that Instagram was the perfect platform to make connections and build a rapport with customers. Spectrum has grown rapidly on the picture sharing platform, boasting almost 250,000 followers.
“We focused our energies on building a strong brand, and Instagram was perfect for that. Every time someone bought a product, we’d post their picture as a kind of thank you,” says Sophie. Hannah continues: “The customers love that kind of interaction, it makes them feel valued and we still do it today.”
A key turning point came in the run up to Christmas 2014, when Sophie and Hannah set up a stall at The Clothes Show Live in Birmingham. Due to the strong branding on which they’d built their business, Spectrum attracted attention from some well-known faces.
Sophie said: “A few reality TV stars, from Geordie Shore and The Only Way Is Essex, took an interest in our product, which helped us gain recognition in the British press.” The use of their brushes on the reality music show The X-Factor and by people in the public eye including Holly Willoughby and Abbey Clancy further cemented the brand, and last month the sisters made an appearance on reality TV show America’s Next Top Model, where they set the contestants a fashion related task.
After four short years, Spectrum’s products are on sale in the US, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe, as well as across the UK, including in 250 branches of the British pharmacy chain Boots. The brand recently formed a partnership with American film studio Paramount Pictures, launching a ‘Mean Girls’ themed range of makeup brushes.
Hannah reflects that the company has “grown much quicker than we ever imagined”. Such quick success has forced the business to scale up quickly, swapping Sophie’s garage – where they would previously package all products themselves – for their own office with a team of seven and a warehouse in Essex, which packages the orders.
Perhaps most significantly, Spectrum has been able to employ others, offering creative jobs in an area that previously could not provide them. As two creatives who struggled to get work, they recognise the importance of making a positive impact in their local community: “We are really proud to be able to offer employment in our hometown, and we’re hoping to stay here as long as possible,” says Hannah.
As Spectrum grows, Hannah says they appreciate the need for a reliable bank, something they know is just a phone call away with Barclays: “We’ve got a great relationship with our branch manager, which will be important going forward when we need support.”
Earlier this year, the pair were finalists at the Barclays Entrepreneur Awards, which recognise the best innovators in the country. So does all this success mean the sisters can take a step back, and perhaps make a little more time for themselves?
“To be honest, no!” Sophie replies. “We still work around the clock. There are plenty of brands trying to emulate what we are doing and at times copy our style. With such fierce competition, we’re working hard to develop new products and keep producing high quality brushes.”