Meet the beauty brand bucking the downturn

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Famed department store Selfridges was the first to go. And then, one by one, all of Sand & Sky’s British stockists – including Harvey Nichols and Liberty of London - announced that they, too, would be shutting their stores because of Covid-19.


Watching the closures from Australia, Sand & Sky co-founder Sarah Hamilton admits the situation looked grim. “It was just… doomsday. Within 24 hours all our physical retailers shut down. All open purchase orders were cancelled.”


Fortunately, Hamilton’s anxiety was short-lived, and, just as sales from physical retailers flatlined, online sales began to soar. Now, the brand – which is known for its signature Australian Pink Clay Porefining Face Mask – has become one of the few retailers to buck the global downturn, and, according to Hamilton, it’s on track to outperform its pre-Covid-19 sales projections.


“Online just went crazy,” says Hamilton, adding that e-commerce sales have risen by 150 per cent in Australia, and 400 per cent in Italy (where the brand has a manufacturing base). Many of their online retail partners have also experienced unprecedented growth. “It’s just phenomenal. We feel very lucky and grateful.”

Sand & Sky’s success reflects the boom in skincare sales since the pandemic erupted, as shoppers hunker down at home during social distancing restrictions.


However, Hamilton says the brand was especially well-positioned to handle the crisis because the majority of its sales are direct-to-consumer, and because it had a well-established social media following “because [social media] is where people are spending their time”.


But the brand’s performance during the pandemic is just the latest chapter in what is one of Australia’s biggest beauty success stories.


Sand & Sky launched in 2017 with a single product – the Australian Pink Clay Porefining Face Mask – and became an overnight social-media sensation as young women clamoured to post photos of themselves on social media wearing the distinctive pink mask.


Today, the brand – which was founded by Hamilton and her twin sister Emily – has sold more than 700,000 masks. It’s not the first business for the pair; before Sand & Sky, they founded beauty sampling business Bellabox, and later sold a 50-per-cent stake of the company to Fairfax Allure Media in a $6m deal.


Delivering fast results


As a direct-to-consumer brand, social-media success was always going to be critical; as Hamilton notes, these platforms drive sales. So, when the sisters were developing Sand & Sky, social media was foremost in their minds. “At the time of launch, we were in an era of black and white, minimalist packaging that looked great in show homes, but we wanted our product to be colourful and look fun on social media feeds, because that’s where it sells.”


We wanted our product to be colourful and look fun on social media - because that's where it sells

- Sarah Hamilton, Co-founder, Sand & Sky

The pair turned to Instagram advertising and influencers, including YouTube vloggers. “We asked the vloggers to put the mask on at the start of their tutorial and that was really successful for us,” says Hamilton. “Massive engagement for very little spend.” 


A focus on the customer journey


With a background in finance for media companies here and in the US, Hamilton has always applied a keen analytical eye to the customer journey. “It’s a very performance-driven company, not just for sales. If packages are late or ripped, that’s annoying for the customer, so we want to catch those issues early so we deliver a high standard of customer service.”


Moving beyond DTC


As they built the business, Sand & Sky began working with retailers. “As a direct-to-consumer beauty brand – and there are so many of us now – retailers give us credibility,” explains Hamilton.


Half of all sales of Sand & Sky’s clay mask come from generic searches for ‘face mask’, states Hamilton - a trend she believes can be attributed to the high level of 5-star customer reviews. “They might have heard of us through another channel and be encouraged to buy based on other customers’ feedback,” she adds. “Every sales channel offers opportunities.”


Covid-19 has meant adapting the brand’s messaging across these channels, with Hamilton admitting that initially they were wary of joining the highly news-driven and political conversation. “But we quickly changed that because, actually, we’re happy that people are staying at home and we want to help them stay at home.”


Now, Sand & Sky has turned its attention to creating fun and positive content to entertain its loyal following on social media – offering everything from online guided meditation sessions to virtual masking events and panel events about healthy living. This month they are even launching a new face polish powder. “We did push [the launch] back by two weeks,” says Hamilton. But the opportunity seemed too great to miss. “We thought, ‘Well, why wouldn’t we?’ We just want to keep pushing.”


Felicity Robinson is the co-founder of PRIMER, and has worked for marie claire and Sunday Life. Anna Saunders is the previous executive editor of marie claire.


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