5 minutes with... Imran Shezad, founder of Zero Skin

Born in Manchester and beloved by Rita Ora and P. Diddy, this unisex skincare brand reached sales of £14m within two years.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 06 Feb 2018
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Down to business

Where did the idea come from?

I’ve always been into skincare and bought luxury brands like Crème de la Mer. I wanted to get into the industry and I knew that South Korea is the most developed market in the world for skincare. I travelled there in 2015 looking for the best new products to bring to the UK.

What happened next?

I found five that I liked but they weren’t perfect so I came home and spent a year refining the formulations. The manufacturer would send me new samples every week, which family and friends would test out. We finally launched in August 2016.

Why go gender neutral?

The truth is that almost all skincare can be used on a man or a woman. It’s all down to the marketing.  I saw the movement for gender fluidity coming. Right now, old gender norms are going out of the window, so it’s great to be in sync with the next big thing.

How much did it cost to launch the brand?

I spent £25,000 getting this off the ground. But the month that we launched, we made £35,000 in revenue, the next month that jumped to £100,000, so we’ve grown really quickly. This year we’re forecasting £14m in turnover and we’ve done that growing organically, with no outside investment.

Where did you get that £25,000?

I ran my family business for seven years before launching Zero Skin - a burger and milkshake chain. That’s how I saved up my start-up capital. But I really wanted to go into business for myself, doing something I was passionate about.

What was your biggest challenge to date?

We’d spent ages getting the formulations just right and then we sent them off to the regulator for testing so we could get all the paperwork. They came back and said we had to change a couple of things. I almost quit. We had to reformulate yet again, and pay for more samples. It was a really challenging time.

What’s the secret to your growth rate?

Social media. The month before we launched, we sent around 200 products out to bloggers and influencers on Instagram. That’s how the brand initially took off. Then celebrities started sending us direct messages asking to try the products. Once we had this amazing profile online, Missguided and Pretty Little Thing – two of the ‘it’ clothing brands for young people – approached us, saying they were moving into beauty and wanted to stock our products. Our rivals are L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, so we’re up against really big brands. It’s amazing that we’ve taken off given how small we are.

How small exactly?

My sister Rox, seven staff, and me.

Are you purely an e-commerce brand?

Not any more. We’ve just landed a deal with Debenhams and we’re talking to other department stores too. 

What are your bestsellers?

Our coffee scrub, which is an exfoliator for the body, is probably the best seller. But our black peel-off mask is huge too. It removes blackheads and looks really striking in pictures.  We’ve noticed a lot of copycats selling that mask over the last six months, but ours contains an extract of caviar, which is how customers tell us apart.

Has your Manchester base been a help or a hindrance?

It’s been a massive help. This is where a lot of up-and-coming brands are born. Missguided and PLT are both from Manchester, so is BeautyBay, which also stocks Zero Skin. We all support each other. Zero Skin is now a global brand, however, sending products all over world, from China to the UAE.

What are your future plans?

We want to keep launching new products. We’ve just brought out a lip exfoliator; [reality TV star and model] Katie Price posted about it on Instagram yesterday. We’ve always done quirky products, but now we also want to move into daily skincare, like cleansers and moisturisers. The dream is to be a full beauty brand, with products for face, hair and body. A lot of brands like ours have been bought by the big corporations but I want to keep growing this on my own. 

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