Bite Beauty wasn’t just supposed to be all about the lips
Bite Beauty, a Toronto-based beauty company, has ruled the lip colour category since first hitting Sephora’s shelves in 2011. But a beauty line that only speaks to one product category wasn’t the original plan.
“I was actually working on a full range of cosmetics,” says founder and creator Susanne Langmuir. Finding herself with the challenge of formulating certain items without silicones and synthetics (which is still central to the brand’s DNA), she switched gears, despite nay-saying mentors and a ticking timeline.
“Anyone I talked to in the business said not to make my products in-house and not to just do lips, like that was the kiss of death,” she says. “I was so stressed. I was in the final stages, we had already allocated [retail] space and I sent the email saying that I think we should drop all these other products.” She revealed her big idea to really saturate the declining lip category, backed by a strong belief. “And Sephora’s response was ‘Let’s do it,’” she says.
Soon after, the lipstick market began to bite back. “When you focus on something, I think you have a chance to be the best at it,” says Langmuir. “Lipstick was something I always identified with. I think every woman identifies with a good lipstick. It’s ageless, and it’s a small item.”
Bite Beauty’s founder started in fragrances and essential oils
Seeing possibilities where others see limitations has been part of Langmuir’s business savvy since her early days in the fragrance world. “Perfumers are a unique breed of pretty sensitive people,” she says. “I was just born that way – I was always aware of sensorial things.”
One of her formative mentors, the nose behind signature Aveda Chakra scents, was an early champion of natural ingredients.
“When I trained with George Chapoulie 20 years ago, he had already stopped using synthetics, and perfumers thought he was crazy,” she says.
At 25, Langmuir started an aromatherapy company, renting out a kiosk in a Toronto-area mall to sell essential oil blends – or at least try to. “Everyone thought it was potpourri,” she recalls.
In the years that followed, she focused on fragrances and steadfastly built a career around her own label, in addition to product development for brands as varied as Playboy, Elizabeth Arden and Anthropologie.
“Even when I was creating and [had] launched Bite Beauty, we were sending 40-foot containers of product to Urban Outfitters because that was our bread and butter,” she says. “It was like the artist waitressing to pay the bills until she has her big break.”
Bite Beauty’s ingredients are good enough to eat
When I met Langmuir in early spring, the topic on everyone’s lips was a new line, Amuse Bouche Liquified Lipstick.
In keeping with the brand’s commitment to food-grade ingredients, the collection uses monoi butter to deliver intense nourishment with a semi-glaze texture.
“Monoi is an ingredient I discovered in Tahiti,” she says. “It is solid at room temperature but melts at the temperature of your lips. It gives you hydration and a beautiful finish and has a really nice application experience.”
The island paradise has played a key role in Langmuir’s life lately, both professionally and personally. It’s where she studied the black pearls that inspired a runaway-hit lip gloss collection that debuted earlier this year.
“I was taking pictures [of pearls] and sending them back to the lab – they were blending and shipping samples to me in Tahiti,” she says. “Because we produce everything in-house, we were able to react really quickly and produce Prismatic Pearl, which is off the charts, from a sales perspective.”
At home, Langmuir has become devoted to tamanu oil, another South Pacific gem.
“It’s [from] an incredible tree that has one root on land and one root in the ocean,” she says. “I love that significance. That’s become part of my ritual, using this green, smelly oil. Oil is best applied when you get out of a bath or shower because of osmosis. When your skin is still a little bit wet, you just soak it up.”
The rest of her wellness routine is decidedly less exotic and includes small, regular meals, daily ravine walks with her dog and the occasional side of French fries. “Most of the things I do are intentional,” she says. “Sometimes I do things that aren’t good for me just because I really enjoy them. I don’t hold back on indulgences that make me feel good – I just try to space them out.”
Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Kimchi, $30 at sephora.ca.
As Langmuir swatches a few of the 12 new luscious colours with names to match (Marsala, Demi-Glace, Candied), I get a first-hand demo of one of her skills: She can eyeball the perfect lip colour for any woman.
“I don’t know where it came from,” she says. “I really thought my background was fragrance and blending [scents]. I still create 95 percent of our colours. As much as I’m surprised that I have this ability to colour-match and create dimensionality and colour, the people who work in our Lip Lab really amaze me.”
Starting out as a pop-up shop in SoHo in New York, the Lip Lab has grown into four permanent storefront locations, with international possibilities on the horizon. Offering a glossy, high-energy environment where you can custom-mix a lip colour in a matter of minutes, these Lip Labs are another example of Langmuir’s ability to visualize and create.
“It’s a beauty experience that transcends picking out a product and buying it off the shelves,” she says, pinpointing the success of the bricks-and-mortar babies as a career highlight.
“It’s one of the bigger things that I’m proud of. As a company, we didn’t really have the resources to take that risk, but it felt right. And three years later, we have lineups. We still turn away one-third of the people at the SoHo store every day.”
Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Cayenne, $30 at sephora.ca.
Bite Beauty is now part of the LVMH family
Whether in business, for personal growth or with her kids, goal setting helps Langmuir stay on top of her game.
“Most of achieving ideas or goals is really knowing what they are as if they’ve already happened,” she says. “Intimately knowing all the layers to something – how they will look and feel – is the best compass for achieving things.”
A few years ago, when Bite Beauty was bought by luxury beauty powerhouse Kendo, an LVMH company, it was the beginning of a dream partnership but no small coincidence.
“It’s actually pretty funny,” she says. “For years, when we had a decision about the brand – an aesthetic decision or positioning – I would ask ‘What would Louis Vuitton do?’ ”
With Langmuir’s sights set on building a globally recognized brand that will similarly stand the test of time, her greatest achievement can be found closer to home.
“Being a parent is a journey and partly administrative, and it requires a lot of detail,” she says. “But I love seeing an evolution of somebody becoming a person with their own ideas. Having two boys see a mother who works hard, travels and stands up for ideas is really fulfilling. Being able to talk to them about lipstick ideas is amazing – they really get colours and undertones.”
Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Liquified Lipstick in Éclair, $28 at sephora.ca.