Women in Business Q&A: Nina Leykind, Founder of Eyeko Cosmetics

Women in Business Q&A: Nina Leykind, Founder of Eyeko Cosmetics
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Lash lover Nina Leykind named "Mascara Queen" and "beauty industry veteran" by TIME magazine and WWD draws on over 16 years experience in the industry creating and marketing niche brands. Established since 1999, Eyeko has become the go-to brand for your eyes only. Created by beauty veterans Max and Nina Leykind their line of mascaras and liners is favoured by celebrities and acclaimed make-up artists alike.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As an only child I was lucky to have the undivided attention and support of my parents to follow my dreams. Although they were both doctors, they never tried to dissuade me from following a less conventional, creative-led path -- despite it being a completely foreign concept to them!

Growing up in London was such an extraordinary experience, and one I am forever grateful for. The city is a hub of culture and creativity where I was naturally drawn to fashion, art, design and film. I ultimately chose Fine Art as the focus for my Bachelor's degree.

Creating and marketing cosmetic brands has drawn on much of my early experience, both inspiring and informing my work. I'm a naturally collaborative person and believe an open dialogue and flat versus hierarchical organizational structure. This collective work environment allows everyone is involved in all aspects of the business and striving towards the same goal of making incredible products and getting them into peoples hands. This type of relationship has allowed Eyeko to become the fastest growing mascara brand in Space NK since the brand refresh in 2011, as well as winning numerous product awards and enjoying sell-out launches!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Eyeko?
Prior to launching Eyeko in 1999, I ran a successful London based Public Relations agency that represented a variety of different lifestyle brands, such as: Hard Candy, Energy Brands, Nylon Magazine, and Lee Stafford Hair. Public Relations was a great fit for me as I love championing ideas and spreading the word about unique, beautiful products.

While working in PR, I learned a lot from various entrepreneurs I met, many of who are still mentors to me today. It is also how I met my partner in life and business, Max.

My husband has been a catalyst in encouraging and challenging me to stretch my creative prowess to come up with ideas for new cosmetic lines and products. From inventing a light-up lip gloss called "Liparazzi" in 2006 inspired by my friend Emma Bunton (Baby Spice) and was distributed to over 1,000 stores globally to re-inventing mascara by creating zero-waste squeeze tubes that don't dry out the formula.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Eyeko?
We just launched Eyeko Bespoke, the worlds first personalized mascara service exclusively at Harvey Nichols, London. Eyeko Mascara Editors and Lash Stylists advise and prescribe the perfect, custom-made mascara just for you. The response from consumers, media and retailers has been phenomenal and I'm excited to roll-out first nationally then globally.

Of course it's always a buzz when someone you meet is wearing your products; I love that so many of my personal style icons and women I admire choose to wear Eyeko and rave about it! It's how we met Alexa Chung who was a fan of the brand before coming on board as Creative Consultant in 2013.

As with anything you do in life, there are daily challenges that come with running a business. As a natural optimist, I try not to dwell on the negative but learn from it and keep moving forward. One thing that drives me mad though is the spinning, rainbow pizza icon of death that seems to always pop up on my screen when I'm on deadline or my children need to print something for homework!

What advice can you offer to women who want to work in your industry?
There are so many routes into beauty making it a viable and rewarding industry for so many women! Personally, at a fast-growing, niche brand like Eyeko I think sales experience is key for whatever role you apply for as ultimately we are making products to sell whether you're in marketing, R&D or operations it's good to have that skill set. As it's a predominantly female industry I think flexible working hours and support for working mothers is more commonplace. We're a small, fast-growing niche brand and always on the look out for candidates with drive and passion over experience.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is no easy fete. Max and I would not have been able to do it without our parents, particularly my mother who is always on hand to babysit. Working for ourselves, we've been fortunate enough to work around our children's schedules so we have never needed a nanny. Now they're 8 and 12 so in some respects it's easier as they're more independent, and although I know they see plenty of us, it's never enough time - they grow up too fast! They have a lot of perks from our work in terms of travel as a lot of our press trips fall in the school holidays. We took them to Southeast Asia for Easter for our Sephora press trip and managed to tag on a few days in the Maldives. They're so well travelled that not only does our 12 year old daughter have her own travel blog but also a British Airways Silver Card!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Nailing that work / life balance! I think that's why there's a rise in female entrepreneurs - "mompreneurs" - where women can take control of their careers instead of facing tough choices like swapping career progression for flexible work hours.

I think it's important for young women to be confident and vocal about what they can bring to the table and their aspirations and goals. Women are "do-ers" - it is in our blood. I am always amazed at the strength and aspirations of my female colleagues.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Max and I have been immersed in the world of Eyeko for over 15 years so having mentors to talk through business with is like therapy! The best advice I've been given is "focus on what's working and expand on that." When Max and I started working together we had our fingers in many pies including several beauty brands and a record company! About 5 years ago we stripped it all back to not only focus on Eyeko but specifically on eye make-up and creating the best mascara.

Mascara is my must-have product, and I know it is a must-have for women around the world, which is why we wanted to immense ourselves in such an exciting niche category.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I've been lucky enough to meet a number of iconic women who I look up to, including Martha Stewart, Joan Collins and Victoria Beckham. What connects all of them and what I find most inspiring is their ability to be adaptable and keep moving forward despite adversity; criticism; and all that life throws at you.

In the words of Frank Sinatra's tune "That's Life", I think it's inevitable in business that some things will work whilst others won't so all you can do is keep going and be open to new directions.

What do you want Eyeko to accomplish in the next year?
As Eyeko continues to grow, I am excited to see what the next year has in store of us! Particularly, I am eager to take Eyeko Bespoke (as seen at Harvey Nichols) to the next level through this individualized way of expression that has never been done before. I feel the past year or two has been about building brand awareness and this year is about consolidating that visibility now that we are in 25 countries.

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