welcome to on beauty, a series where we take an in-depth look at a person’s relationship to beauty, how that relationship has transformed over the years, and how they feel seen. This week we are talking about Annie Kreighbaum, the co-founder of Software Services, about growing up in Texas, her time in copywriting, and why she decided to start a personal care brand.
“My first memories of beauty were in department stores. I used to go to Neimans Marcus with my mother, and we stopped at the Chanel counter, at the Bobbi Brown counter, at the Erno Laszlo counter. I was also very attracted to the Spice Girls and I would put together a full look and paint my hair red with temporary hair dye. I’ve always found makeup and finding out what techniques work for you so interesting.
“I started doing beauty really early, around middle school. I think because I had the most products, I was always the one who ended up doing everyone’s makeup before a dance or before going out. I love it. Me and my co-founder, Rebecca [Zhou], we always come back to the idea that beauty is our love language. Telling someone, “Hey, you should try this product” or doing someone’s eyeliner is so intimate.”
“A lot of fitting into a group of people is through visual cueing via the aesthetic decisions we make. When I went to college [at UT Austin], I really became a very specific South Texas sorority girl, which at the time meant you were very tanned, had perfect eyebrows, crisp white teeth, and Tory Burch outfits . It wasn’t for me. But soon after, I met some of my closest friends, who I’m still friends with today, and they were part of the Austin music scene. Just experimenting with different hair and makeup looks to go to shows was really fun; it was influenced by glam rock, hippie culture and the 60s. That’s when I really developed a sense of humor around my makeup and my aesthetic decisions because it was this weird world where everyone was a little weird. It was a safe space, and I honestly think I wanted attention. I was so inspired by everyone’s looks that it pushed me to try different things. I would do really big hair or fill my unibrow with mascara. It was my way of rebelling.
“For me, the night starts when you meet your best friends and start getting ready beforehand, and it’s your chance to transform into a different version of yourself through clothes and makeup.J love the level of detail involved and the process of researching new techniques.
“When I moved to New York, no one batted an eyelid at the ugly beauty look I was experiencing at the time. But it was also cool to move to town for the first time because I was exposed to so many role models. I had always felt like this could never be my world, and it was really intimidating – I was 5’4 and constantly worried about my body image. J was bullied a lot when I was younger, not only about my body but being way too big for a kid, I hadn’t really grown in my features yet. But when I started working with models in New York, it made me realize that everyone has stretch marks and everyone has their own weird blocks about their bodies, even those really beautiful women. actually helped with my own body image.”
Annie during her years working at Into the Gloss and Glossier
“It kind of relates to why flexible services are so exciting to me. We’re able to develop body care products for things that are still considered taboo and create the feeling that everything what you are dealing with is normal.
“I think the customer is way more sophisticated than what brands give them – you don’t have to have big flashing pink lights on your brand or talk using a bunch of emojis. And vice versa. You don’t have to put it in a metallic black tube and make it very discreet to say, “Oh, no, this is men’s skincare. You don’t have to feel like a pussy.” Good design is genderless.
“We try to open up the category and approach our formulas so that they solve the problem you have while not exacerbating other body skin issues. Your body has fungus because it is under clothes, you sweat—it’s a warm, humid environment and your face doesn’t face the same conditions. You need to approach formulation differently because many common skincare ingredients can actually feed the fungus, you So you have to avoid them. Focusing only on the body has helped us create super effective products.
“Having been an online editor [at XOVain and Into the Gloss], I draw inspiration from the data behind the content. I would see patterns and find out which stories really took off organically. What I realized through the editorial is that nothing is niche. If you have this problem, there will also be thousands of other people dealing with it. And they’re probably looking for a place to land when they search online. That’s why we have Mass Index, which we always say is like a mix of WebMD and an editorial site that’s a little more fun to read. We want people to find solutions that don’t just involve buying products, because we won’t be able to make a product for everything, and you might not even need a product. You might be able to fix some of your body skin issues with small changes, like not washing conditioner out of your hair and on your back.”
“Things have changed so much since I started in the beauty industry. I think the amount of choice people have is nice, but there are two sides to it: there’s so much overconsumption and waste in the beauty industry. There are so many brands that don’t need to exist. What I’ve learned in my career is to ask yourself two questions before putting on a product in development: does this already exist? And if so, can we improve it? If not, then I think you should be more critical about whether or not you should go this route, not only because you’re adding more trash to the earth, but there could be five other brands that make something even better from a marketing standpoint.
“It took us six months to convince ourselves to launch this brand because we weren’t feeling well. We’ve looked for a ton of brands that are all amazing. One of our last clients as a consultant, before we decided to do Soft Services, was Hudson Hemp, a regenerative hemp farm that was also working on carbon sequestration. We learned so much about regenerative agriculture, which is closed-loop agriculture; you’re not adding anything new to the system, and that’s how you reduce your carbon emissions. So how do you translate that into an industry? I don’t know, all the answers and on paper we’re probably failing miserably just by existing as a brand. We keep that in mind though, and we want to prove that you can produce more thoughtfully. We don’t deliver a lot of sustainability messaging, but it’s a huge investment internally in the business. We push for more information and ask questions like “Where does this ingredient come from?” And we send auditors to the factories to make sure it’s clean and the workers are treated well. We had the fortunate to have partners who can guide us and to have built a brand in which we believe.