Talking to...Karen Betts

There’s no denying brows are big business, and there are few bigger names in that business than Karen Betts. Having trained an army of semipermanent make-up artists, she’s responsible for changing thousands of faces, and as co-founder of HD Brows she kick-started the power brow trend that took over the country. With three pro brands under her Nouveau Lashes division, her influence on the lash market is also significant.

After 25 years in the industry, Betts is now looking to leverage that well-known name to build her own brand internationally. Having just launched a line of semipermanent make-up pigments under the brand KB Pro, she is planning to grow that into a full service brand. “With Nouveau Contour, we’ve only been able to train in the UK as we’re a distributor for the Dutch brand,” says Betts. “With our own line we’re looking at exporting to 12 to 20 countries next year and more beyond that.” Ahead of the international push, Betts and her team at Nouveau Beauty Group are developing a course around treatment-ofthe- moment microblading,

which they intend to launch at the start of 2016. “Microblading is an on-trend name now but we won’t call it microblading because it’s not a consumer- friendly name; the thought of a blade will put people off,” says Betts. Instead she plans to revisit the model she created with Nilam Holmes-Patel when setting up HD Brows, explaining, “We created the seven-step treatment that includes waxing, tinting and threading but we didn’t call it threading brows or waxing brows, because it’s more than that. So we need a new concept like that. We’ve been looking at it now for the last two years, working out what would be the best consumer name for semipermanent make-up.”

Betts says the brand is likely to launch in the US, where she has strong contacts, first, as well as Australia and Italy, where she says there are some particularly good micropigmentation artists. “We’re looking for great artists like ourselves to be distributors. That’s the most important thing because we’ll have the marketing and business plans set up for them, but we want the techniques to be exactly the same all over the world.”

Teaching tips
Although the initial outlay on equipment may be significantly lower for microblading than for a full set up with a semi-permanent make-up machine, Betts says that investment in training needs to be taken just as seriously. In fact, the growing popularity of microblading, and the misconception that it is a simpler, less-invasive treatment is, she says, the biggest challenge facing the semipermanent make-up world right now.

“People are not taking microblading as seriously as permanent make-up with a gun,” she adds. “We’re seeing new training companies pop up offering two-day courses for £400. There’s no way you could train someone in a day or two if they’ve never done it before. Microblading is still tattooing so you’ve got to go through all the blood-borne viruses, understanding face shapes, colour theory, but that’s not being taught, so I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of unsatisfied clients in the next three or four years.”

Betts recognises that the cost of training is the main factor that deters therapists from getting into semipermanent make-up but argues that the long-term earning power far outweighs it. Betts herself charges around £895 for a set of brows at the Harley Street clinics she runs each week, and suggests newly qualified artists should start out charging £395, “but offer a discount for the first 20 to 50 clients”, gradually building the price to £495 as they gain experience.

Softer looks
While HD Brows may have fed the nation’s hunger for brows, Betts caters to the other end of the market with the semi-permanent make-up, creating only natural-looking brows, and the new KB Pro line was developed to reflect that. “I wanted the colours to last longer, to be a bit warmer, and I wanted additional colours, including more of a neutral brown, so I did a lot of research into colour theory then found a manufacturer who could make what I wanted,” she says. “The difference lies in aspects like not mixing too many colours together to make a shade so you keep the true pigment. For example, rather than using a yellow and a blue to make green we start with a green-based pigment, which will fade more evenly.”

Creating a more natural look is high on the agenda for all NBG’s brands next year as Betts says consumer demand has taken a definite swing towards more subtle enhancements. “A couple of years ago there were a lot of squarer fronts and heavier brows and now it’s becoming a lot softer with a really nice natural hair stroke,” she says. “People are going more natural on the lashes too.” So much so, she adds, that lash-lifting and tinting brand LVL now accounts for around 70% of NBG’s lash training, with extensions making up the other 30%. “It used to be the other way around but now people want to work with their own lashes,” she adds. “We’ve got 25 international distributors for LVL and we’ll be looking to double that in the next two years.”

The growing popularity of LVL means Betts is also plotting some new product development for that arm of the business. “We’re looking at growing the brand with more treatment products, so treatment mascaras, growth serums, a skincare range for eyes,” she says. “We’ll be developing a treatment for quicker volume lashes and we’re also looking at new treatments for around the eye area that might not necessarily be for brows or lashes.”

Category growth
Growing a specific service into a full lifestyle brand is also the core strategy for HD Brows next year. The business, which Betts runs separately from Nouveau Beauty Group, is about to go through a rebrand that will see it known as High Definition from early next year, to lay the foundations for diversion into new product categories. “With HD Brows I was involved a lot about two years ago but now we’ve got a managing director, as well as myself and Nilam, so I’m a lot less hands-on,” she says. “But we’ve got a lot of development there now. We’re planning a different strategy and launching franchising.” The first standalone High Definition Boutique will be company-owned to act as a model for future franchises and is slated to open in the second quarter of 2016. “We’ll launch it in the UK next year then we want to take the concept all over the world in the next five years,” she adds.

With ambitious expansion plans for all her brands, Betts may be set to take on the world in 2016, but says that when she looks back to where it all started she can hardly believe that she now runs an international company employing almost 200 people. “I’m dyslexic and I was a checkout girl when I was 16; if you’d asked me then if I thought I’d be doing what I do today I’d have said, ‘no way’,” she says. “But as the business took off, my feelings changed and now I always tell my team you should never have any fears because the most important part of success is believing you can do it.”