Melbourne woman Michelle Hu has forged a multimillion-dollar business with a solution to an everyday moment that's a struggle for many.
It's not often a moment of chaos can turn into something amazing – but for Michelle Hu, it sparked a multimillion-dollar business.
The 24-year-old from Melbourne had a light-bulb moment one morning back in 2016 as she struggled to get ready for work.
"I was getting ready in the dark, had shocking lighting and always misplaced items," she told news.com.au.
That's when the idea for Etoile Collective, a beauty-focused organisation and lighting solution, was born. Creating a range of acrylic makeup organisers and celebrity-inspired "Hollywood mirrors" that solved bad-light problems, Hu had no idea her side hustle would become such a successful business that she would quit her six-figure banking job.
"I noticed a disconnect in the 'beauty process' whereby each end of the spectrum was such a feel-good moment and in the middle, pure chaos," she said, explaining the beauty process typically starts when purchasing some new makeup or beauty goodies and ends with "confidence-boost" once the product has been applied.
But the process of using and storing products – the part of the process Hu describes as "the middle" – was a completely different experience, with products lost in the back of drawers or stuffed into overflowing makeup bags.
"The middle, at least for me, was chaos and stress," she said.
The brand positioned itself in the market as the conduit between these extremes to ensure the beauty process remains "joyful and stress-free" – stocking more than 80 different items to help organise and solve everyday beauty problems.
Although the first two years saw a gradual increase in sales, when Hu resigned from her banking analyst role to work on Etoile fulltime in 2018, she saw the business really "shift gears".
Another game-changing moment came when she shot a promotional video for one of her products using her iPhone and it went viral.
"I was always so concerned about how to create professional content for ads but we didn't have much of a budget to pay thousands of dollars to videographers and editors," she said.
"So I got out my iPhone and shot a timelapse of me organising one of our travel cases. That piece of content in particular catapulted sales in our travel range where we were selling approximately one case every three minutes."
Business is now officially booming, with Etoile surpassing its $5 million annual sales goal last financial year, which Hu said was "much sooner than expected".
"We reached seven figures within months of going full-time in the business where we were growing at an average monthly growth rate of 25 per cent," Hu told news.com.au. "Our next financial goal is to reach an annual run-rate of $10 million."
Current isolation and lockdown demands in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic have also seen a boost as Aussies use the extra time at home to complete DIY jobs and get organised.
"It's a little difficult to isolate the effect of Covid-19 versus our natural growth but overall, we're about 350 per cent up on last year," Hu said.
Although she also explained it was "hard to say" what item was the most popular with shoppers, she said the store's 45cm Ring Light and vanity mirror range were "bestsellers".
Financial success aside, Hu said the best part of seeing her business thrive was the "warming feeling" she has when she hears from a happy customer.
Many share photos of their impressive "make-up stations" online, including some well-known Aussie stars such as former Bachelorette Angie Kent and social media comedian Tanya Hennessy. One fan even created a TikTok recently with a selfie ring light.
"Your getting-ready space is typically where you start and end the day. So to know that we've helped create a beautiful environment where these men and women feel good, makes me incredibly happy," Hu said.