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Beauty With A Business Twist: Charlene Flanagan and Niamh Ryan of Ella & Jo

The founders of the popular Irish beauty brand on motivation, inspiration and their must-have products.

Charlene Flanagan and Niamh Ryan co-founded their beauty business Ella & Jo Cosmetics in 2016 having worked together in similar industries for a number of years.

Flanagan has been a professional bridal makeup artist and educator for almost a decade while Ryan, a trained skin therapist, owns an award-winning salon. We caught up with them to find out more about their growing business and get the inside track on what Irish consumers are buying.

What prompted you to set up Ella & Jo?

Niamh: It all started with the Squeaky Clean Brush Cleanser. At the salon I would ask clients, particularly those with breakout and acne-prone skin types, how often they clean their makeup brushes and would be met with nervous twitches and confused looks. A lot of people don’t make the connection between dirty makeup brushes and skin health. I couldn’t find a skin friendly solution on the market so I started researching and that’s when Charlene came into the picture.

What has been the most challenging part

of building a business?

We have had four babies in the first four years of setting up Ella & Jo, so finding the balance between work and home life was probably the most challenging for us. We’re so lucky to have had each other to fall back on when we needed it the most.

Did anything surprise you?

The level of work that goes on behind the scenes to get just one product from conception to shelf is absolutely phenomenal. We create all our products in Ireland and are lucky to have fantastic suppliers and manufacturers. We were both part of the entire process from writing the product briefs and ingredient selection to packaging proofing, marketing, e-commerce, forecasting, logistics and the rest. Looking back now with a growing team we are so surprised at how we managed it all.

What do you love most about what you do?

Being creative. We love brainstorming together and coming up with fresh new ideas. It’s the most exciting part, and then when you see all your vision come to life it’s a real 'pinch us' moment.

What was the best bit of advice you received?

We have been very lucky to have been part of two fantastic female entrepreneurship programmes, Going for Growth and EmpowerHer and have been mentored by some fantastic and successful Irish females. We are huge fans of Oonagh O‘Hagan, MD of Meaghers Pharmacy Group, who was one of our very first stockists. One of her favourite quotes is “The true test of a woman is what she says about another woman when she’s not in the room”. We both feel very strongly about community and empowering others but there is such power in those words and together we are stronger.

How have the last two years been for

the business?

Ella & Jo has seen a lot of growth in the past two years. We doubled our product range in 2021, grew our team and spent a lot of time looking at the business from on the balcony rather than on the dance floor. There have obviously been challenges with working from home with small children, logistical nightmares on a global scale, export opportunity put on pause and of course having to pivot the business model when one half of your business comes to a halt overnight. But we have a fantastic team and thankfully we can say the only way is up for Ella & Jo Cosmetics.

Have you noticed a change in what people
are buying?

There has definitely been a shift in online spending. The online space has made massive moves to make the shopping experience more interactive and as stress-free as possible. Women have always wanted to feel good about themselves and the pandemic really forced us to knuckle down and find moments in our daily routine for what brings us joy. For so many women their skincare routine, morning and evening, was a huge part of that, and even when things started to re-open again we saw no changes in their buying process.

What inspires your products?

The real everyday woman that wants to feel and look good, treat and pamper herself but also has that never-ending ‘to do’ list that can often get in the way. We inject moments of self-care into her day that are easy, luxurious, require no thought process and allow her to take a moment purely for herself.

What is your best-seller?

We sold one Ella & Jo Product in Ireland every 10 minutes in 2021, but our Melt The Day Away Cleansing Balm is our best seller. It only launched in June 2021 but the repeat rate of purchase is absolutely incredible. Once you start using Melt The Day Away in your skincare routine, you won't be without it ever again.

Are there any ingredient trends in the industry you’re excited about?

Oh, there are plenty! One ingredient which we have coming in our newest launch is bakuchiol. Bakuchiol is an incredible natural ingredient that has been creating a buzz in skincare circles for a while. Research has shown it has retinoid (Vitamin A) style results. We’re talking a reduction in hyper pigmentation and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, restoring firmness, refining skin texture and evening out skin tone but without any of the drawbacks.

Finally, what are your own top three beauty products and why do you love them?

Charlene: This is probably the hardest question of all! I would say St Tropez Gradual Moisturiser, our own Ella & Jo Melt The Day Away Cleansing Balm, and Note Cosmetics Volume One Touch Mascara.