Nick Smith: 'Brow Queen' has eyes on growth

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Cosmetics chain's founder has big ambitions for overseas expansion.

Phoenix Renata, owner of Phoenix Cosmetics, is a bout to open her first Australian store, in Tasmania. Photo / Dean Purcell
Phoenix Renata, owner of Phoenix Cosmetics, is a bout to open her first Australian store, in Tasmania. Photo / Dean Purcell

Only in the weird world of fashion and beauty can a practitioner be called the Brow Queen.

"They call me the Brow Queen; I call myself the Brow Nazi," says Phoenix Renata, the ambitious 27-year-old founder of Phoenix Cosmetics, a fast-growing makeup and beauty-care company.

Renata earned the appellation by winning the Metro magazine best brows award, so it is with some trepidation that I present her with my mono-brow.

Thankfully, the beauty profession applies different standards to men and women and, apparently, a bushy brow attests to my virility and old-school masculinity. What a relief that metrosexuality's deforestation has yet to reach the forehead.

"But so many [Kiwi] women neglect their brows," argues Renata, "and if you go overseas, somewhere like New York, and there are brow bars everywhere because brows are a big thing.

"I wanted to bring that here because Kiwi women need to invest in their eyebrows and they need to have a great brow shape."

Lest female readers fear Renata is an advocate for radical brow-hair removal, she is at pains to point out that she dislikes the napalm brow look and disdains popular methods of rapid hair removal.

"Great brows don't mean thin brows. Having your brows done doesn't mean you're getting your eyebrows waxed off - it means we're going to create an amazing shape for your eyes, that complement your face."

For the record, Renata and her staff use tweezers because it's more precise.

Renata is an interesting business case study because she comes from a humble background - her mum reads tarot cards for a living; dad's a musician. She wanted to become a makeup artist since her teens and set up the company at age 21 - whereupon she became pregnant.

The hot pink chaise longue at her Auckland headquarters, upon which our interview is conducted, is where she used to lay her baby to sleep while she worked in the early days of the business.

She readily admits she has no life beyond business, daughter and partner.

But today she has stores in Auckland's Kingsland, Takapuna, Pukekohe and Howick, as well as outlets in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch - all fulfilling her ambition to create a national brand presence.

Most of the growth has come in the past two years, when recessionary conditions abated.

Her second and third stores opened in 2008; everything else came last year and this year.

Next month she will open her first overseas store in Launceston, Tasmania. Melbourne awaits, she says.

If you're wondering why a boutique beauty outfit is setting up shop in Launceston and Pukekohe, Renata explains that these are poorly-serviced but affluent areas, and the Pukekohe branch is one of the most profitable in her chain.

In the year ending March she recorded more than $1 million in turnover. She aims to crack $2 million after she launches her Australian network (she has six stores planned).

Renata is one of the most driven business people I've met in this job. It is only a faint surprise when she says of her early ambition: "I wanted an international brand. I wanted Phoenix Cosmetic stores throughout the country and then I wanted to take it international.

"I wanted to be just as big as Calvin Klein."

She still wants to be as big as Calvin Klein. The business is based on the Phoenix range of cosmetics, including a foundation blend custom-made to each client's requirements, lashes, nail and beauty treatments - and the best brow shaping you can get in the country, as judged by Metro.

In her downtime she runs her own beauty school and writes for a variety of media.

Some of her success is through her work doing makeup for designer Annah Stretton's fashion shows. The pair recognised their complementary skills and products and have opened several stores together.

Renata describes Stretton as her mentor, someone she can rely on in the fickle and occasionally false world of fashion.

How long is it going to take to turn into an international brand?

"Australia first, but I'd say 15 years.

"Hopefully it doesn't take that long, but let's be realistic."

- NZ Herald

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