BABTAC member, Caroline Hirons about earning her stripes at CIBTAC and transitioning from counter girl to becoming one of the original and most respected beauty bloggers of our time.
However you dress it up, Caroline Hirons has got a lot to say and is known, in and out of the industry, for saying it. Those super savvy skincare clients you get coming into stores and salons – blame Hirons, she’s had people hanging off her every word since she launched her blog in 2010. Now with her YouTube channel and regular guest slots on This Morning, she’s got more reach than ever and has even had to dial down her banter since going global.
“In the early days I was much more off the cuff but that doesn’t translate outside Great Britain – we’re great at self-deprivating humour whereas Americans take everything I say as verbatim. Also, putting humour into things gives people a reason to dismiss you as not serious, which is just not the case.”
Quite the opposite, in fact. Yes, she’s got a sense of humour and is relatable IRL, but she’s certified, trained and qualified to call herself an expert. It’s also what distinguishes her from her peers across the social platforms.
“I knew I needed the piece of paper and training from CIBTAC to be taken seriously and I do think that’s the number one difference between me and other bloggers in 2019. When I came on the scene, I was qualified and had done endless hours of work on people – it just puts you in a different arena, experience wise.”
Not that blogging or social media was her end goal – or why she trained with CIBTAC. The only reason she started the blog was because she kept Tweeting about face wipes and people told her to ‘do a blog’ so she could expand on her gripes in more than 140 characters. For Caroline, the accreditation meant she could take her career to the next level.
“Having that foresight to get a really good internationally recognised certification was the foundation for everything else I’ve done since.” Which is a lot. Despite her mother and grandmother being in the industry, Caroline took on roles as a secretary, PA, sales assistant and nannying before landing a job as a counter girl on the Aveda counter. “When my first two children were quite young I realised I could get a weekend job – I’d always gone to the same woman on the Clarins counter and she’d moved to Aveda so I called her and asked if she had any jobs. In those days you had to have a passion and be stable and I had two kids so wasn’t going anywhere,” she recalls. “I started that Saturday, then on the Sunday the other girl called in sick – I worked and took more money than the day before when they had a full team. And I was selling far more skincare than I was haircare, which on an Aveda counter 20 years ago, was unheard of. Then, on the day my son started school full time, my manager left and I went from being weekend girl to business manager which was a big jump.”
Rising through the ranks at lightening speed is something that’s stayed with Caroline her entire career. A genuine passion and ability to connect with people could explain why but she also believes it’s down to her mindset around work.
“Both my parents being in management meant I’d seen great examples of how to treat people and how not to treat people - being nice to people, being respectful, working hard - so while I didn’t have any management experience at that time, I think Aveda thought my maturity level was there.”
From Aveda, Caroline went to Space NK as manager, which is where she was working when she qualified with CIBTAC - one of her proudest career moments to date.
“Jim [my husband] and I were working full-time, we had two small children and I was pregnant again but I thought – I’ve got to take the exam or this could go on forever. Trying to accumulate the hours in order to take the exam was tough so I was really chuffed when they called and said I’d passed with credits.”
It was at Space NK that Caroline’s love of skincare mushroomed. On-counter facials alongside products from different countries and brands fuelled her fire and is what landed her her next job at Chantecaille where she was taken on to train all Space NK staff on the new skincare range.
“I was with them for five years, devising their training and treatments and then taking those treatments all over the world. Sylvie Chantecaille became my mentor and what was great is that Sylvie’s mentor was Estee Lauder – the woman herself so I had second hand knowledge of how all those things Lauder is known for professionally were done.”
Chantecaille was the last brand that Caroline worked with full-time. Arming her with all the skills she needed to go solo, she quickly became a consultant for brands who needed help with everything from training to launching new products to finding retailers. Since then she’s had brands big and small queuing up to get her advice including Iiaa, The Organic Pharmacy, Dr Dennis Gross and L’Oreal.
THE NOT SO 9-5
But it’s no longer just brands that want Caroline’s input, her 294k followers on Instagram are keen to hear what she has to say, too. As are the viewers of her YouTube channel and readers of her blog. As a result, she’s now had to move from a serviced office to a bigger space so she has somewhere to deal with the thousands of samples sent to her by brands in the hope she’ll talk about them and also a room to film in. She’s also invested in staff. Her niece is her PA, her eldest son does the rough edit of her videos before passing them back to her for final edit and she has a photographer to help with all those flatlays and ‘like’ worthy set-ups.
“I love photography but I never had time to do it properly. The content and ideas are all still mine (no-one could ever write in my tone of voice which, for anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written will make perfect sense, LOL) but I’ve brought people in to help support me.”
Let’s not forget she still consults one day a week too.
At home, it’s her husband Jim who keeps things ticking over and who quit his job after child number four so Caroline could persue her career.
“I loved my work and it was better paid – he hated his job. It meant that when the opportunities came along I could take them and the kid’s had the benefit of a parent being at home. It wasn’t as common back then for the woman to be out working and the man to be at home but you both have common goals which is a happy family and happy life so you make it work.”
And those opportunities come thick and fast in Caroline’s case. But also on Caroline’s timeline. “I don’t work with a set plan, it’s more about if it feels like the right time to do something. I didn’t touch YouTube for about four years after I’d started my blog as I still had so much to write down and I’ve never been rushed by anyone else.” The same rules applied when it came to her collaboration with Pixi and the launch of the Double Cleanse product in 2016. “I did it because it was a great idea and it made sense – the double cleanse was something I was known for advocating. It opened the floodgates for people approaching me about doing moisturisers or this or that but it wasn’t about raising my profile and I’ve turned everything down since.”
What about her own range? “I doubt I’d put my name on a box (partly because people always say ‘Hirons’ wrong and it drives me mad) but I’d get behind a brand. On my time frame though, which is great because if I was working with a corporate they’d have had me out with a 20 piece range by now.”
A MOUTHPIECE FOR THE MASSES
Sticking to her guns is what’s earned Caroline respect not only with her fan base but also those working in the industry. Setting up projects like Give and Make Up that encourages people to send disused or unwanted beauty products to Refuge and Women’s Aid, along with her shoutouts calling for more regulation in the industry, she now sits as an advisory member of the British Beauty Council.
“These two day training courses and people who suddenly feel like they’re allowed to give Botox horrify me. I also don’t want people to be put off by going for treatments which us why I see it much more as championing the industry and is why BABTAC’s so important. I started the hashtag #trainedqualifiedandinsured purely for the fact that it’s not just my opinion and what I’m saying is based on science and years of training.”
A conduit between the professional industry and the woman on the street raises the question of responsibility. It’s a big weight to carry on your shoulders when you know mentioning one product could cause it to sell out - especially now, when the virtual space has turned everyone into an expert.
“The good part about online is that it’s brought a wealth of information to everyone but that’s also the negative part because some people read a Google document and think they’re an expert in the field. It’s a minefield for the consumer and I understand why they’re confused – I’ve only been able to make my way through all of the information because I’ve been growing in the industry with it. That’s why I think very much of the success of the blog has been my ability to cut through and say – here’s what I think, here’s what this ingredient is, here’s what that ingredient is, now you make your own mind up. I’m old enough to remember the old way of doing things but young enough to embrace the new and try and make them both work.”
With her career showing no signs of slowing down, as Caroline hits her 50th year, 30th wedding anniversary and celebrates her daughter’s 18th, those celebrations just keep on coming. Would she change anything?
“Only how people treated me – I have definitely let people get away with treating me in a certain way and when you’re young you think ‘they’re mean and so you leave’ whereas now I’d pull people up on it but everything is a learning curve. Every day you have to be open to learning something new – hire people that are better than you, or in my case younger, and learn from everyone. Never think you know it all – that’s the joy of being older – you realise you don’t know anything!”
It’s that matter of fact attitude and feet on the ground approach that keeps Caroline relatable - to therapists, counter staff and readers. She knows that if she walks through a beauty hall people will recognise her but she also admits that she’s not by any stretch famous outside of the industry, which is how she likes it. That said, with the likes of Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby now tapping her up for advice on national TV, who knows what the future holds…
Caroline, The Skincare Queen will be holding a Q&A session to inspire you on 'How to Build your Social Media following' at our Innovative Conference being held in Windsor this September. For more information and tickets CLICK HERE