This Aussie bloke is probably responsible for your fake tan addiction

Blair James

It’s hard to believe that roughly six years ago, self-tanning was a treacherous path less travelled until two gentlemen across the ditch decided to create their own, and in turn, kick-starting the formula that many have come to rely on as a staple in their beauty regimen: Bondi Sands.

Like most great businesses, the idea to create Bondi Sands came down to solving a problem and seizing an opportunity. The former being that self-tanners were at the time considered a risky business, with the desired outcome often falling short. And the latter: the Victorian State government was about to ban the use of tanning beds.

Whether you’ve come from a background of sun tanning or spray tanning, you’d have had to be living under a rock to not realise how far DIY fake tanning has come.


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As we learn more and more about the dangers associated with sun exposure – particularly here in New Zealand – the faux glow is the increasingly popular way to go when it comes to achieving coveted tanned limbs all year long.

While not all formulas are created equally (having all experienced our own tanning horror stories), Bondi Sands has become a household name synonymous with a dependable self-tan.

Melbourne-based co-founder, Blair James shares the intriguing story on how Bondi Sands found its success – both in its formula and its spot in the bathroom cabinets of thousands of bathrooms – with Fashion Quarterly below:

Two Aussie blokes making a self-tanner that would go on to become an award-winning cult beauty favourite is quite an unlikely story – but it happened! How did Bondi Sands come about?
The initial idea came about when I owned my own tanning salon. There was a stigma around the colour quality of self-tanners at the time, so we [co-founder Shaun Wilson] decided to create our own natural-looking and affordable home solution. That was six years ago, and now Bondi Sands is available in 15 countries with a range with 35 SKUs including multiple world-firsts. It’s been pretty exhilarating!


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What has been the most surprising part of this journey for you?
The willingness from our consumer to jump on board with our new products and their loyal nature. Our original Liquid Gold customers are the same ones sharing their experiences now with our new Liquid Gold Foam, a hybrid of two of our bestsellers. Seeing their real-time results play out in pictures and reviews has been super rewarding.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Understanding our consumer, and having the first-hand experience in hearing what they were looking for in an at-home tanning product. Nothing is random, we made Tan Eraser as we wanted to remove the requirement of harsh exfoliation and the admin involved in tanning mishaps. Likewise, we made Protect and Tan (an SPF with DHA tanning properties) as our customer wanted to have a glowing base but still enjoy the sun safely.

What do you love most about your job?
My role is part ‘mad scientist’ which I love, because I enjoy being creative, brainstorming ideas and finding new ways to solve problems for our consumers. I am as much involved in NPD [new product development] as I am our next marketing strategy, testing the boundaries and pushing the realms of what people think they can achieve.


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What is your biggest accomplishment at work or a moment you’re most proud of?
The launch of Express Tan earlier this year was such a key moment for me. There were so many elements that were totally brand new for us, from the product innovation and concept to the packaging, bottle design and even the way we launched it to market via a global social launch event. After its launch, Express Tan went on to become the number one best-selling fake tan in the world and the whole Bondi Sands team is incredibly proud of this achievement. We pride ourselves on being the most innovative brand in the self-tanning market and when our customers show us such unbelievable support it makes all the hard work worth it.


Photo: Mike Rooke for Fashion Quarterly Issue 4, 2018

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
We’ve grown exponentially since we built the business eight years ago, it can be challenging to know how to build the team and the infrastructure around that. We want to stay lean but it has also been when we have rolled the dice that we have made our largest gains.

What motivates you?
From a brand point of view, I’m really motivated by the idea of being known for innovation and for following our own path and plotting out our own innovations that we brainstorm as a team. I also am really motivated by the fact that our employees are so on board with the Bondi dream, and feel like they are a part of the brand and our vision for what is to come.


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What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
Knowing how far to push boundaries and not just accepting what you’ve been told.

What is your life motto?
Don’t just accept what you’ve been told – challenge and learn from yourself as well as others.

What’s the best piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust your instincts, believe in your initial vision and stick to your guns.

Who do you most admire in business? Why?
Richard Branson. He’s built an empire based on not conforming, he has fun and does the right thing by people and therefore garners so much respect throughout his whole supply chain and beyond. I just like the way he does business.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
My friends are very much family to me, and my girlfriend Mel is a huge support.

What are your favourite traits you are drawn to at work or when hiring?
We surround ourselves by smart operators so we don’t ever need to look externally for the next big thing. I really value openness in people and my team around me, in terms of openness to new ideas, views, plus sharing of knowledge and open dialogue in a team environment – I really value that as I love to throw ideas around.

You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you and for Bondi Sands?
We are also really excited to be launching into a key retailer in the USA in February that we think will see us take the business to a new level in that market.

Photos: Instagram, Supplied