The situation that led Tricia Cusden to launch her business was heartrending. "When I was 64, my daughter Suzy had a baby with a chromosomal disorder," Tricia explains. Baby India wasn't expected to survive. After open-heart surgery, she spent almost a year in hospital, with Suzy at her bedside and Tricia looking after her sister Freya, then 3.
Thankfully, India came home. "Suddenly, being needed less, I felt lost," says Tricia. "I was 65 but wasn't ready to retire. I needed a purposeful existence."
For 30 years, Tricia had run a management consultancy. "But I didn't want to go back to that." So management consultancy was out — but entrepreneurship definitely wasn't. "I love the process of starting a business. It's one of the most exciting things you can do."
Tricia's first idea was to train as a makeup artist. "I thought, 'I love makeup. I've always enjoyed applying it — and have done so pretty much every day of my life for 50 years — so why don't I offer my services to older women, going to their house and making them look fabulous?'"
Instead, she decided it would be even better to sell makeup, tackling a critical issue that had long troubled her.
"I hated [how] the beauty industry ignored my makeup needs as an older woman," she says. "Absolutely nothing spoke to me as a 65-year-old — advertising, magazine articles, the models used…"
Then there was Tricia's experience when shopping for makeup. "I found that if I ever went to a makeup counter with one of my daughters, the sales assistants would never speak to me. I might have been there to spend money, but they would address my daughter because she was young. I wasn't interesting to them because I was old, so they clearly thought, why would I want makeup? That really annoyed me."
It seemed that "up to a certain age, they will engage with you about makeup as they can show it on young faces. After a certain point, they only want to sell you skincare and tell you you must try to look younger."
This ageism in the beauty industry, which Tricia experienced first-hand, is borne out by research in the UK and the US. But it wasn't just the industry's attitude to older women that annoyed Tricia. It was the beauty products themselves. "I found it hard to find makeup that worked well on my face. My skin was drier, having gone through menopause. My eyelids were crinkly, my lipstick feathered and bled into the lines around my mouth, foundations didn't last…"
So Tricia turned to Google and searched for cosmetics manufacturers. "It sounds mad. I knew nothing about the industry — nothing, zero, or zilch. But there's a good side to that. Your naivety carries you forward because you can't see any roadblocks."
She chanced on a website for a company that made bespoke makeup for independent beauty businesses. "Coming across this company was pure luck, but with my quest to create a range specifically for older women, it felt [like] those words had been written specifically for me. I called them, and they were in Ipswich in Suffolk, where I grew up. So I arranged to see them."
Driving to Ipswich from her home in Wimbledon, southwest London, Tricia knew the meeting was critical. "I had £40,000 ($50,000) for everything — product, packaging, website, video, photography… That was the limit of what I could risk. If they laughed me out of the room, saying I'd need £100,000 ($125,000) minimum, the idea would die there and then."
When she arrived, "this really nice man came out. I explained my idea, and he said it was brilliant! He understood perfectly, talking about formulating primers that would help stop foundation disappearing, prevent lipstick migrating beyond the lips, and smooth out crinkly eyelids."
The man was Alan Major, co-director of Creative Cosmetics. "Alan said they would create sample makeup with finer formulations, including very matte eye shadows, which are better on older skin than glitter and shimmer. And he said I would need to test everything personally to ensure it was right."
A networking game
Alan offered to make just 200 of each chosen product at a time. "A run of 200 is far below any usual minimum order," says Tricia. "It wouldn't make him any money, so he effectively invested in the business."
It was simple luck that brought Tricia to Creative Cosmetics. And it was the same with design and packaging, "which I hadn't even thought about, believe it or not!" laughs Tricia. "A friend pointed out that branding including a logo was essential — and her daughter-in-law happened to be a commercial brand designer."
Tricia had already chosen a name, Look Fabulous Forever, and registered the domain name. "We chatted at the daughter-in-law's kitchen table, and she sent me three alternative logo designs using either the name or the initials LFF."
Shortly after, Trica would contact a printer, a connection of Alan Major's. "We didn't need much packaging, so I asked if he'd do short print runs." Being open was crucial: "I was always honest. I'd say I haven't got much money. I've got to do this as economically possible. Can you help me? And they would."
Forging contacts also brought Tricia a photographer. "The instructor on my makeup artist course put me in touch with Ronnie, a photographer friend. He was charming. Again, I was honest about my budget, and he did everything at mates' rates, even doing the photography at my launch party for free." Ronnie also filmed two makeover videos using LFF products, which would become central to Tricia's success.
Building on such relationships, Tricia feels, is fundamental to developing a business, "Especially when everything has to be done on a shoestring. If you have endless amounts of money, people flock to you because you're paying top dollar."
Having an engaging backstory also helped Tricia nurture those relationships. "I honestly believe that my story was quite compelling — a 65-year-old who is fed up with the way she's being ignored/overlooked/patronised by the beauty industry seeks to change this. You create a compelling narrative for your business idea and then use patience and charm to win people over!"
Time for liftoff
Look Fabulous Forever launched in October 2013. "It felt brilliant; makeup is such a pleasurable thing. It's creative, plus you're helping people feel good about themselves," says Tricia. "Also, right from day one, the business started generating revenue and garnering positive feedback from friends who became my first customers."
Tricia started out doing makeover parties in people's houses. "They would invite friends, watch makeup being done, and then buy the products."
To generate more awareness — and to supplement sales from the parties and the LFF website — her photographer Ronnie suggested YouTube.
"I saw YouTube as a place where young people posted wacky videos about cats," says Tricia. "I didn't think anyone would watch our videos!"
Ronnie said there was nothing to lose — and it was free. "So the videos went on YouTube with a link to the website to buy the makeup."
Tricia started checking YouTube every day, watching the viewing figures climb. "At first, 100 people would see it in a day, and I'd think, wow! Then it was 1,000 views a day, 1,500 views, 2,000 views… Now our first videos have had over 4 million views!"
In December 2013, two months after launching, Tricia had a stand at a Christmas fair. "I drove there and back in the rain, had no time to eat, got home at 10pm, and didn't sell much makeup. Afterwards, when I checked the website, I saw I'd sold five times more online. And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with lots of five-star reviews."
That was the moment she realised LFF could be a brilliant online business. "It was a no-brainer. Sales started coming in from all over — Hawaii, Saudi Arabia… I kept thinking this is bonkers; it's worldwide. There's no limit to this! And the YouTube videos were key to this transformation."
The run-up to the launch and those early months were, says Tricia, "a massive learning curve. I discovered that selling online was a hundred times easier than selling face-to-face, that customer service is critical to success, and that having a mission to change ageist attitudes was a huge motivation for everything we did."
The power of publicity
In spring 2014, with the business growing, Tricia got a call from her daughter, Anna. "She was a PR consultant in art but wanted a change. She said she'd love to join me and get publicity for LFF. I said there was no money and no job title, but I'd love her to come!
"Anna got our Facebook presence going, got us on Twitter, and got our face primer a mention in the Daily Mail. The response was crazy!" says Tricia.
Anna also entered LFF for several awards. "We were shortlisted for the Guardian Entrepreneur of the Year and got a half page in the newspaper. Again, the response was fantastic."
The following year, Tricia's daughter Suzy also came to join LFF. "She's great with spreadsheets, great with money, great at processes and systems. She became our Operations Director, taking over all the stock, ordering, money, cash flow… She professionalised everything."
Then, at the end of 2015, something happened that made sales skyrocket. BBC Breakfast, a British television show, sent a crew to interview Tricia for a series on unusual entrepreneurs. "The piece went out twice on New Year's Eve, at 6:50am and 7:50am. At 9am, I checked our website. Over 1,000 people were on it, and sales were going bang, bang, bang. It was phenomenal. Our website nearly crashed. I felt the adrenaline of excitement — and terror. What if we ran out of stock?"
Tricia rushed to Ipswich to see Alan Major at Creative Cosmetics. "He said he'd run the production lines overnight and restock us by the end of the week." She then wrote to everyone who had ordered, explaining the delay and sending a free makeup brush to apologize. "A lot of those people are still customers today."
Customers remain at the heart of LFF, so they never airbrush images and always use older women in marketing and videos. "When I launched LFF, I didn't just want to start a makeup brand. I wanted to start a movement to celebrate the lives of older women," says Tricia. She even set up a private Facebook group during the first Covid lockdown to create a supportive community for those women. The group now has 8,600 members worldwide.
"We often get feedback on our YouTube videos telling us that the real older faces we are showing add to customers' confidence in our advice," adds Tricia.
"And this review — just one of over 9,000 on TrustPilot — expresses what many people tell us: 'Great to find LFF. I had almost given up on makeup, but now I feel excited to experiment with this brand. The cosmetics seem to help my older skin feel alive and vibrant.'"
The next steps
In 2019, LFF expanded into skincare, and in 2021, into haircare. "Our skincare range grew out of a desire to use the best ingredients to enhance and nourish older skin (it took two years to formulate the products we really wanted). The same with haircare — the best products for older hair, which is often finer and has less volume than younger hair."
Most recently, LFF took its most significant step yet. "I knew Alan [Major], who's my age, and his co-director Paul Pepper would soon want to retire," says Tricia. "I was worried because I didn't want to source our makeup anywhere else. So one day, when [my daughter] Suzy and I were driving up to see them, I told her, 'You know, if we were clever, we'd buy them.' Later that day, Alan said out of the blue, 'You don't fancy buying us, do you?'"
That was early March 2022. In June 2023, the deal went through. But, acquiring another company is complicated. "We knew we'd have to really look under the bonnet of the business, do due diligence, check all their machines, get to grips with everything," says Tricia. "Doing the actual deal was a complex negotiation process, so we got help from a specialist in mergers and acquisitions. We were very happy and relieved when we finally got it over the line.
"We've kept on all the factory staff — we really rate them," she adds. "We'll be producing makeup for other brands, too, now. To grow that aspect of the business, we've brought in a color specialist and recruited a new managing director for Creative Cosmetics."
Look Fabulous Forever turns 10 this autumn, and Tricia hasn't looked back since that first seed of an idea. "Lots of people have ideas, but entrepreneurs are the ones who take action. And most successful businesses are based on solving a problem — in my case, the lack of makeup for older faces."
Reflecting on entrepreneurship, Tricia advises young people not to be afraid to take some financial risks. "You can always go back to a job, recoup any losses." For people her age, she recommends setting a limit.
"I had my £40,000, which I calculated I could afford to lose. If you're older, don't risk the roof over your head, and don't remortgage your house to the point where you have no equity left. If you put all that money into a business and fail, your future security has gone. Even now, [after] buying the factory, I'm very conscious that I must not start saying that if we need extra money, I'll remortgage. I tell myself, don't even go there, Tricia! That's crazy stuff. Because at 75, I couldn't go back to a job to recoup those losses."
"I'd also say that, if you're older, you should limit your exposure by using other people's money. When I'd established the business, and it was obviously growing, I found it very easy to get investment."
Right at the beginning, before LFF launched, one beauty industry insider dismissed Tricia's plans out of hand. "He said older women didn't buy makeup, and the business was a really bad idea. I'm proud to have proved him wrong!
"When I started LFF aged 65, I desperately wanted to find a new direction for my life. Ten years on, I often have to pinch myself when I reflect on everything that has happened. It has undoubtedly been the best 10 years of my life. I have seen LFF go from strength to strength, I have had the pleasure of working alongside both of my daughters, and we have just acquired the factory — how amazing is that!"