Think you can’t live without coffee? Bree Johnson and Jess Hatzis have built their careers on it.
According to approximately a billion Instagram quotes, life begins after coffee. For Melbournians Bree Johnson (pictured far left, a strong three-quarter latte) and Jess Hatzis (a double espresso girl), the hyperbole rings truer than for most.
“Like all good stories, ours starts in a café,” says Bree (31), who with Jess (30) and friends Alex Boffa and Steve Rowley founded beauty brand Frank Body in 2013. The café in question belonged to Steve — now Bree’s fiancé and then fielder of requests for used coffee grinds. “His customers told him it was an amazing exfoliator,” says Bree.
At the time, she and Jess were running digital communications company Willow & Blake, which they’d launched after working together while they were at university. Quick to pick up the scent of a potential new side hustle and the possibilities within the burgeoning natural skincare market, the canny businesswomen started concocting their own coffee scrub in Bree and Steve’s kitchen. “We felt ridiculous covering ourselves in coffee,” says Bree. “But when we washed it off, our skin felt amazing.”
“We felt ridiculous covering ourselves in coffee, but when we washed it off, our skin felt amazing.”
After fine-tuning their formula to establish the ideal composition and grind size for optimum exfoliation, Frank Body’s Original Coffee Scrub was born. One hundred percent natural and locally made (“although not in our kitchen anymore”, says Bree), it quickly gained popularity in Australia and the company — which was started with less than $10,000 — turned over $3 million in revenue in its first year. In 2016, that sales figure was $20 million.
Now shipping worldwide and carried by big-name stockists including Urban Outfitters and Mecca in New Zealand, Frank Body is something of a poster child for a new generation of cult beauty companies.
Its appeal undoubtedly owes a lot to its branding. “Skincare can be so boring,” says Bree, when asked about Frank’s cheeky aesthetic. “So we like putting funny one-liners and bum icons wherever we can.” Described by its founders as a little dirty but still clean enough to take home to your mama, the Frank ‘character’ reflects the brand’s upfront and, well, frank approach to skincare.
“Skincare can be so boring, so we like putting funny one-liners and bum icons wherever we can”
It’s a style that hasn’t always worked in their favour — the original Frank Body Instagram account was deleted due to ‘inappropriate imagery’ (read: pictures of bums). Costing them 5000 followers, it was a big blow to the brand in its infancy, but Bree says the team was undeterred. “Frank is all about a no-pants party,” she says.
“We’re eagerly awaiting a time when #freethenipple doesn’t need to be hashtagged.”
Despite the early setback, social media remains a crucial part of their marketing strategy. “It’s great for talking to an engaged audience and makes brands more accountable,” says Bree. The drawback is being at the mercy of changing algorithms shifting the goalposts in terms of who sees what content.
Other challenges for Bree and Jess include finding work-life balance and managing a team of 30 employees. “It’s the best and the hardest part of our job,” says Jess, who admits that being assertive doesn’t come naturally. “We’re lucky to be surrounded by talented people who we call friends, but sometimes people can forget that their bosses aren’t oracles. Solving problems on the fly all day, every day, can be tough.”
This may be so, but it hasn’t stopped the duo from being acknowledged as outstanding women in business. Early this year, Bree and Jess were awarded the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award, which (in honour of the champagne house’s former head, Madame Clicquot, who took over the company at the age of 27) recognises the success and vision of female entrepreneurs under 35.
The brand’s cruelty-free stance is key, as is ensuring all ingredients are ethically sourced.
Having built reputable names for themselves in the business world, Bree and Jess also continue to hit the right notes with their customers, with whom Frank Body’s core values of honesty and transparency resonate. The brand’s cruelty-free stance is key, as is ensuring all ingredients are ethically sourced.
Frank Body Coconut Coffee Scrub, $21, Original Coffee Scrub, $19, and Glow Mask, $24, from Mecca.
Given caffeine particles are easily absorbed into the skin, Bree says they’re always looking to develop new products that harness the benefits of coffee. In 2015, this was achieved with the launch of Frank Body’s face range — an instant hit with customers. In March, a five-minute morning Glow Mask made with antioxidant-rich coffee seed extract, goji berry extract and raspberry and cranberry seed oils was added to the product stable.
But could the best be yet to come? Are there any imminent launches we should be saving space for in our Christmas stockings? “I have one word for you,” says Jess. “Shimmer.”