Women With GRITT: Zoë Foster Blake On Going From Beauty Editor To Brand Founder, The Value Of The Smartass CV And Go-To Skincare’s Brand New Product

“Our whole goal was to take the confusion out and to remove the complexity, frustration and intimidation of the beauty industry. Our consumer doesn’t have time to mess around, they just want products that are simple and that work.”

Welcome to Women with GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same.

Emerging onto our computer screen in a sea of peach, Zoë Foster Blake is no stranger to the interview process. A successful beauty editor for almost 15 years before she launched her now famed skincare brand, Go-To, Foster Blake is known for her enviable sense of humour and ability to keep it real. “I have this Zoom backdrop now because I was so sick of seeing all of our lockdown sh*t in the background of my meetings,” she said, laughing. “Working from home is very glamorous!”

With a resumé that includes tenures as both beauty editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar, it’s no wonder that Foster Blake is such a trusted source of beauty expertise. With a reputation for being one of the first beauty editors to connect with the audience through her own, unique voice and focus on education rather than selling products. It was this same ethos that fueled her passion for launching her own brand back in 2014.

Seven years and thousands of devoted customers later, you’re bound to find at least one Go-To product in every woman’s beauty cabinet. Housed in the trademark peach bottles, these products are the blueprint for simple, effective and just really, really good formulas. Gritty Pretty sat down with Foster Blake the same week she sold a 50.1 per cent stake in her company for $89 million, which revealed the total value of Go-To to be a whopping $177 million. Go, Zoë! In this interview, Foster Blake chatted about going from beauty editor to brand founder, being a perfectionist, trusting her instincts and (drumroll please…) Go-To Skincare’s brand new product.

Hi Zoë! So lovely to chat to you today. Before we jump into all things Go-To, we would love to go back to the beginning of your publishing career. How did you initially get your foot in the door in the magazine industry?

I got my first job in magazines when I was 21 years old. It actually makes me a bit sad talking about how to get a magazine job now because there are so few. But back then, I remember that prior to finishing my degree in Media and Communications, I used to look through the newspaper in the publishing section and I’d basically apply for any magazine job. At one point I think I put my name forward for sub editor of a golf magazine. That’s how badly I wanted to work in magazines.

I ended up landing an interview for Mania magazine, which was a kids publication I ended up working on, and that led to my first ‘smartass CV’. I wrote my CV and cover letter as if I was the target audience, which was basically an eight year old boy. I think that’s what got me in the door. They saw that I could set myself apart and grab attention because I was hideously unqualified.

 

Ha! The ‘smartass CV’ sounds like a great way to make yourself stand out. You then went on to become the beauty editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and then the beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar. What were some of the greatest lessons you learnt about yourself in those roles?

That time of my life was filled with energy. I was young, didn’t have a family and just wanted to work really, really hard. I was an obsessive writer and an obsessive beauty lover because I felt so qualified to talk about it. I had this immense privilege of being able to speak directly to formulators and brand founders about their products and was able to thoroughly understand the market. So, I think I quickly realised that, no matter what I was writing about, it was a way to connect with the reader. And that connection became really important to me, really early on. I always treated beauty like I was a friend who was just trying to help everyone get through the confusing maze of skincare, in particular, but also makeup and hair and treatments and procedures. 

I also always lead with information rather than the product. Because I think there’s a real danger in beauty when you introduce a new product and explain the benefits rather than presenting your reader with information that can help them solve a problem. I always wanted to share information before I would try and make the reader buy something, to educate them and make them feel confident and competent about that area. At the end of the day, I was very aware that I was acting as this vessel and messenger between a brand and the consumer and I took my responsibility very seriously. I think because I had no money I was always very conscious of telling people to spend money on a particular product. So I definitely think the main learning was focusing on education and connection rather than selling.

 

This ethos certainly comes across in your Go-To Skincare products. Going back to the initial idea for your skincare brand, how did you turn this into a viable business?

I honestly can’t believe how quickly we got five products to market. Especially because now-a-days it takes us a minimum of two years to get a product up. I submitted the briefs early in 2013 and I was lucky enough to find formulators who had been in the industry for 20 years. What I was asking them to create wasn’t rocket science. It was just the simple, really high quality basics that I believed everyone needed. I then fell pregnant, which definitely gave me a very firm deadline because I needed to get the business up before I gave birth. 

We didn’t have a business plan but I knew what I wanted to create in my heart. And I knew the purpose of it and the goal of it. Looking back, though, I would recommend at least having a one pager. I remember learning that Amazon would write the press release for a product before it existed and I now often think about the Instagram post that would announce a product when I’m formulating it. From there I think it’s vital to get a sample of whatever it is you want to create. Even if it’s a terrible product from Alibaba. It’s just important to have a tactile experience and understand first hand what you do and don’t want. And I think once you’ve identified a real gap in the market, you have to run with it. 

 

What do you think it was about Go-To that resonated with consumers so quickly?

I hope and believe the simplicity of it. Our whole goal was to take the confusion out and to remove the complexity, frustration and intimidation of the beauty industry. Our consumer doesn’t have time to mess around, they just want products that are simple and that work. I also think the education aspect of the business stuck out. I wanted to make our customers feel confident in their knowledge. And I think having the credibility of being a beauty editor who was trusted and who a lot of our customers had probably been following for 10 years already definitely helped.

 

You mentioned earlier how the formulations side of the business has progressed since you launched seven years ago. Why has it become a longer process, now-a-days?

We’ve invested a lot into our formulations team and the staffing in our labs. We’ve got the best class formulators now. I also think that as we’ve grown, the sophistication of the products we want to bring out has increased. It’s that responsibility of never putting anything to market that isn’t the best it can be and something I can hand on heart say I would buy and use. We also don’t do trend or filler products and we’re working with natural ingredients, which means there can be some tricksters in there. It pays off in the end because I always feel really confident that whenever we go to market, we’ve done our due diligence and then some. 

 

Speaking of formulating products, the brand new Much Brighter Skin serum is launching on September 6. Why did a serum feel like the right next step for Go-To?

The initial brainstorming process is pretty simple in that I make things that I use. I have been using vitamin C for 20 years and then with getting older comes more pigmentation so I would use all sorts of pigment inhibitors and lasers on my face to try and fix the issue. So, brightening has been a big thing for me for many years. But I wanted to create a vitamin C that was also very calming and great for acne so we added the likes of niacinamide, sodium ascorbyl, phosphate, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture and add to that vitamin C punch. 

I’ve never understood the concept of vitamin C serums that contain other harsher ingredients, like AHAs, and I think that’s why there has been quite a bit of confusion around vitamin C serums. I just wanted to create a simple, effective product that brightened and didn’t cost hundreds of dollars and I’m so proud to say that we’ve done that.

 

Having trialled the product for the last couple of weeks, we can confidently say that it is very, very special. In terms of what else is in the pipeline for Go-To, what can you tell us?

I am the world’s greatest advocate for SPF in a skincare routine so that is definitely on the way. I’m talking about a seven year SPF here. It’s definitely been happening in the background for a long time but, especially over the last few years, there has been a much greater emphasis on sun protection (which is so overdue) and this has meant that what I want our SPF to be has changed. Our goal is to make it as good as the moisturiser or better. We want it to perform well under makeup and offer that completely stable, high strength protection. 

 

And finally, what is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to start their own beauty business?

I always say ‘strong views, loosely held.’ Take the sunscreen, for example. My goal is to get women wearing sunscreen everyday and if I had always thought that would be zinc, but that isn’t going to work with what our customer now wants, I will rethink it and evolve. I have no problems going back to the drawing board if it means we will create the best possible product for the people who have put their trust in us. 

Great advice! Thank you for speaking to us today Zoë.

The new Much Brighter Skin serum is available for purchase at gotoskincare.com and Mecca from September 6, 2021.

Hi Zoë! So lovely to chat to you today. Before we jump into all things Go-To, we would love to go back to the beginning of your publishing career. How did you initially get your foot in the door in the magazine industry?

I got my first job in magazines when I was 21 years old. It actually makes me a bit sad talking about how to get a magazine job now because there are so few. But back then, I remember that prior to finishing my degree in Media and Communications, I used to look through the newspaper in the publishing section and I’d basically apply for any magazine job. At one point I think I put my name forward for sub editor of a golf magazine. That’s how badly I wanted to work in magazines.

I ended up landing an interview for Mania magazine, which was a kids publication I ended up working on, and that led to my first ‘smartass CV’. I wrote my CV and cover letter as if I was the target audience, which was basically an eight year old boy. I think that’s what got me in the door. They saw that I could set myself apart and grab attention because I was hideously unqualified.

 

Ha! The ‘smartass CV’ sounds like a great way to make yourself stand out. You then went on to become the beauty editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and then the beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar. What were some of the greatest lessons you learnt about yourself in those roles?

That time of my life was filled with energy. I was young, didn’t have a family and just wanted to work really, really hard. I was an obsessive writer and an obsessive beauty lover because I felt so qualified to talk about it. I had this immense privilege of being able to speak directly to formulators and brand founders about their products and was able to thoroughly understand the market. So, I think I quickly realised that, no matter what I was writing about, it was a way to connect with the reader. And that connection became really important to me, really early on. I always treated beauty like I was a friend who was just trying to help everyone get through the confusing maze of skincare, in particular, but also makeup and hair and treatments and procedures. 

I also always lead with information rather than the product. Because I think there’s a real danger in beauty when you introduce a new product and explain the benefits rather than presenting your reader with information that can help them solve a problem. I always wanted to share information before I would try and make the reader buy something, to educate them and make them feel confident and competent about that area. At the end of the day, I was very aware that I was acting as this vessel and messenger between a brand and the consumer and I took my responsibility very seriously. I think because I had no money I was always very conscious of telling people to spend money on a particular product. So I definitely think the main learning was focusing on education and connection rather than selling.

 

This ethos certainly comes across in your Go-To Skincare products. Going back to the initial idea for your skincare brand, how did you turn this into a viable business?

I honestly can’t believe how quickly we got five products to market. Especially because now-a-days it takes us a minimum of two years to get a product up. I submitted the briefs early in 2013 and I was lucky enough to find formulators who had been in the industry for 20 years. What I was asking them to create wasn’t rocket science. It was just the simple, really high quality basics that I believed everyone needed. I then fell pregnant, which definitely gave me a very firm deadline because I needed to get the business up before I gave birth. 

We didn’t have a business plan but I knew what I wanted to create in my heart. And I knew the purpose of it and the goal of it. Looking back, though, I would recommend at least having a one pager. I remember learning that Amazon would write the press release for a product before it existed and I now often think about the Instagram post that would announce a product when I’m formulating it. From there I think it’s vital to get a sample of whatever it is you want to create. Even if it’s a terrible product from Alibaba. It’s just important to have a tactile experience and understand first hand what you do and don’t want. And I think once you’ve identified a real gap in the market, you have to run with it. 

 

What do you think it was about Go-To that resonated with consumers so quickly?

I hope and believe the simplicity of it. Our whole goal was to take the confusion out and to remove the complexity, frustration and intimidation of the beauty industry. Our consumer doesn’t have time to mess around, they just want products that are simple and that work. I also think the education aspect of the business stuck out. I wanted to make our customers feel confident in their knowledge. And I think having the credibility of being a beauty editor who was trusted and who a lot of our customers had probably been following for 10 years already definitely helped.

 

You mentioned earlier how the formulations side of the business has progressed since you launched seven years ago. Why has it become a longer process, now-a-days?

We’ve invested a lot into our formulations team and the staffing in our labs. We’ve got the best class formulators now. I also think that as we’ve grown, the sophistication of the products we want to bring out has increased. It’s that responsibility of never putting anything to market that isn’t the best it can be and something I can hand on heart say I would buy and use. We also don’t do trend or filler products and we’re working with natural ingredients, which means there can be some tricksters in there. It pays off in the end because I always feel really confident that whenever we go to market, we’ve done our due diligence and then some. 

 

Speaking of formulating products, the brand new Much Brighter Skin serum is launching on September 6. Why did a serum feel like the right next step for Go-To?

The initial brainstorming process is pretty simple in that I make things that I use. I have been using vitamin C for 20 years and then with getting older comes more pigmentation so I would use all sorts of pigment inhibitors and lasers on my face to try and fix the issue. So, brightening has been a big thing for me for many years. But I wanted to create a vitamin C that was also very calming and great for acne so we added the likes of niacinamide, sodium ascorbyl, phosphate, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture and add to that vitamin C punch. 

I’ve never understood the concept of vitamin C serums that contain other harsher ingredients, like AHAs, and I think that’s why there has been quite a bit of confusion around vitamin C serums. I just wanted to create a simple, effective product that brightened and didn’t cost hundreds of dollars and I’m so proud to say that we’ve done that.

 

Having trialled the product for the last couple of weeks, we can confidently say that it is very, very special. In terms of what else is in the pipeline for Go-To, what can you tell us?

I am the world’s greatest advocate for SPF in a skincare routine so that is definitely on the way. I’m talking about a seven year SPF here. It’s definitely been happening in the background for a long time but, especially over the last few years, there has been a much greater emphasis on sun protection (which is so overdue) and this has meant that what I want our SPF to be has changed. Our goal is to make it as good as the moisturiser or better. We want it to perform well under makeup and offer that completely stable, high strength protection. 

 

And finally, what is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to start their own beauty business?

I always say ‘strong views, loosely held.’ Take the sunscreen, for example. My goal is to get women wearing sunscreen everyday and if I had always thought that would be zinc, but that isn’t going to work with what our customer now wants, I will rethink it and evolve. I have no problems going back to the drawing board if it means we will create the best possible product for the people who have put their trust in us. 

Great advice! Thank you for speaking to us today Zoë.

The new Much Brighter Skin serum is available for purchase at gotoskincare.com and Mecca from September 6, 2021.

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