In 2019 lip scrubs are ubiquitous (especially to anyone who’s strolled down a Sephora aisle in the last 15 years). But it wasn’t always this way. The sweet exfoliants usually made from sugar and oils are designed specifically for the delicate skin on your lips. While they might be a no-brainer for all the beauty gurus who scrub and moisturize religiously, many probably don’t know they have Sara Happ to thank.
“In 2005, I Googled the term ‘lip scrub’ and Google returned no results,” says Happ. “I got chills because I thought ‘If this doesn’t exist, I can make it in my kitchen.’”
Seeing a hole in the market, Happ drained all $10,000 from her savings account at the age of 25, and started experimenting with sugars and edible essential oils bought from Whole Foods and concocted the first batches of her new invention from her kitchen. Initially, she sold them to five women-owned boutiques in Los Angeles. She was doing all of this on the side, and continued to work during the day.
One year later, Sara Happ Lip Scrub was featured in People magazine — and overnight her website crashed from the amount of orders she received.
“I had a mentor who once told me, ‘Don’t leave your day job until there is no choice,’” says Happ. After her major media mention, Happ found herself with thousands of orders to fulfill, and knew the day had come when there was no other choice. She showed the magazine feature to her boss and put in her notice. That decision was the catalyst for a 14-year journey through the ups and downs of lip care — and it started with her making $250,000 in sales in that first year, all from her kitchen.
Finding inspiration in stagnation.
Happ says she hadn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, but always did have an entrepreneurial spirit. Her original life plan? Broadcast journalism.
“I wanted to be like Diane Sawyer,” says Happ. But after graduating from USC and landing a job at ESPN, she found herself incredibly underwhelmed. The passion that her colleagues had for their jobs and for sports was the same passion she had — only hers was directed at make-up and beauty products. However, this fish-out-of-water feeling only drove her to find a different kind of fulfillment in the beauty world. “I always say I was inspired by how uninspired I was.”
She’ll be paying lip service to lips forever.
Because lip scrub was seemingly an all-new idea, Happ knew she needed to package the item to make it as appealing as possible. From the pricing to the marketing, to the formula itself, she became laser focused.
“I never set out to create a brand, I set out to create a product,” says Happ, crediting her company’s success with this intense focus. “Laser vision is a great thing because you’re so obsessed with doing it perfectly.”
Although over the last 14 years, her company, Sara Happ: The Lip Expert, has expanded to numerous other lip products, that focus remains. “People ask ‘Will you expand to body and face?’ and I say, No, because there are great products out there already for my body and for my face. The lip industry is empirically broken and there’s a lot of holes to be filled,” says Happ.
Now, the Sara Happ line is sold online, and in high-end cosmetic stores like Bluemercury and Nordstrom. The collection currently includes the original scrub, which costs between $20-$24, a ‘Lip Slip’ balm retailing for $20-$34, tinted lip make-up ($24), plumpers ($28-$34), and overnight lip treatments like clay masks — that are, yes, just for your lips.
A slow and steady growth beats a boom and bust.
Modern tales of entrepreneurs often boast of overnight booms and the consequences of young adults suddenly having more money than they know what to do with, but Happ’s story is far more moderate.
“We’ve grown 20% year over year,” says Happ of her multimillion-dollar business, and this steady growth is a symbol of the company’s independence. With the exception of some friends and family crowd-funding back in 2006 to pay for a space in a cosmetic lab — she raised $19,000 — Sarah Happ Inc. is fully self-funded, and has been profitable every year for 14 years.
Today, Happ says their only goal is to keep putting out the best products possible and reaching even higher. “We have stuff in the pipeline today that you can Google and it doesn’t exist yet.”