Brand Manager / Mecca Cosmetica
When native Sydney-sider Ava Matthews first creeped into The Cool Career stratosphere it was the start of spring. The stock standard spring things were in progress, you know… the birds, the change in plants, dewy, warmer mornings, and the annual pilgrimage that all women go through to awaken their dull skin from winter’s hibernation. So naturally I went to my local skin and make-up Mecca, yes… THE Mecca Cosmectica and flopped into the make-up chair. Before I could open my mouth, in strolled a blue-eyed babe with a bold, red lip (and eyebrows that would make Brooke Shields quiver) – that squealed as she gazed upon the shelves. That women was 30 year old Ava Matthews, Brand Manager of Mecca Cosmetica and this is her #careerstory.
Ava is cut from strong fashion stock, with both her parents working in the creative industry. She grew up in a world where celebrity and models were the norm, and after-school activities weren’t swimming or calisthenics, but backstage visits at Fashion Week!
Ava’s career pathway proves that sometimes life just takes off, and in those instances you would be foolish, not to follow your gut (even when you have just polished off ALL the dumplings from HuTong Dumpling Bar). What sets Ava apart from her peers is, and has always been, her particular breed of intelligence and wit. Spend an hour scrolling through her socials and you could be confused with watching an episode of ‘GIRLS’ – seriously, this girls ability to talk off the cuff, and make random… hilarious – is what makes her so irresistible. In a world of Brand Management, where you control everything from the idea, to stock control, to marketing, to analysis, it seems that Ava has carved out her own niche, by being her own clever, witty, addictive ambassador.
In todays #careerstory, this hilarious beauty superhero talks about her time at High School, her surprise end of year score, how she wound up working for Australia’s Beauty Behemoth, Mecca Cosmectia, and why her team is fundamental to her success. Welcome to 2017, let’s get dirty.
Hey Ava, I am truly stoked that you have agreed to share your career advice for our #girlgang. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience has shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. My parents are divorced so I split my time between both homes, although they were both within 10 minutes of each other. Both of my parents are creatives; my mother a Fashion Editor and my father a fashion photographer – and they both worked and travelled a lot so I had a fairly unconventional upbringing. I’d wake up for school many days to find a whole production crew at our house complete with models (Miranda Kerr, Naomi Campbell – to name a couple) in my backyard getting hair and makeup done, or after school I’d go to Fashion Week (back when it was at Fox Studios) or my mum couldn’t be at my birthday party because she had to dress Kylie Minogue for Mardi Gras. Really normal stuff. I always knew I wanted to do something like that, but not. And I don’t have the eye my mother and father have…and I’m not reeeeeally into fashion, although I’ve always loved beauty. When I was a teenager my mum put an actual punch-coded security lock on her bedroom door (like they have in back rooms of a retail store) to stop me “borrowing” her makeup, accessories and clothes.
Ok, completely sidetracking the conversation, but I had two sisters and my mum did exactly the same thing! However, mine only had a lock and key, not a full blown security system. How funny! What a childhood. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to SCEGGS Darlinghurst from age 4-17 (kindy- year 12) and for the most part LOVED school. To this day, my closest friends are the ones I made when I was 4 at school. It’s kinda bizarre, you don’t meet many people who can say they still have their school friends as their besties at the age of 30+… But anyway, when I started at SCEGGS it was not the school it is now – Darlinghurst was not the place it is now. I started school in 1990 and I remember having to step over prostitutes on my way into school. School excursions involved teachers telling us to not step on “the needles” (aka heroin syringes). And we definitely experienced more than a handful of “flashers”. But I think that’s honestly made me a stronger, more street-smart, less naïve person. Not much shocks me…. And I compare my friends to our Ascham/ Kincoppal/ Kambala counterparts, and we’re just a bit tougher (I think).
I wasn’t the most diligent student, to be honest. I think I only started studying halfway through year 11?? I also remember watching the final of Australian Idol the night before my first HSC exam… So… yeh. It wasn’t because it wasn’t cool to be smart, or to study, but I think I was just lazy – and stubborn. My parents never put a huge amount of pressure on me, I think they just figured I would right myself in the end. I may have also been suspended at some point in year 10 (very briefly, and I think just to scare me a bit – it worked!). SCEGGS was/ is an amazing school – the teachers really encouraged us to be ourselves and they were very much into female empowerment and that success didn’t necessarily look like JUST marriage and children. We were encouraged to have careers and lives and be independent and travel and learn. It was just a really wonderful environment. I’d send my (future) girls there in a heartbeat – my sister is in year 8 there at the moment and loves it as much as I did.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I guess so. We had careers counsellors there to guide us but I think I already knew what I wanted to do. Before year 12 started, I’d become obsessed with ‘Sex and the City’ and thought Samantha Jones was the best : glamour, sex, great outfits – what wasn’t to like… I loved being around people (and chatting), and I liked English, public speaking and writing so I assumed that I’d be okay at PR. I’d done some work experience the year before in a PR agency and an event agency and realised events weren’t for me – too much detail. So I was guided towards a Communications (Comms) degree and the best comms degree (I’d been told) was at University Technology Sydney (UTS). Given my aversion to studying, I didn’t think I’d get the marks to get in so I had a couple of backups (including Bathurst Uni and Sydney Uni). Long story short: I ended up putting my head down at the last minute and getting the marks I needed to get into UTS. No one was more shocked than me to hear the electronic voice telling me I’d neared 97 in my HSC/ UAI.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Yes, I worked for a beauty/lifestyle PR agency for a week as well as a large-scale event company for a week. They were both friends of the family and I had a great time – although realised I much preferred PR to event planning. I am not naturally organised (much to my mother’s chagrin!) and am much more of a bigger-picture thinker – I’m not into the minutiae. I think I downright sucked, actually. I’ve just hosted a work experience girl for the week and made a huge effort to make her feel welcome, I remember being so scared at 14/15/16 – and these were with people I knew!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Yes I studied a Bachelor of Communications: Public Communication at UTS. I chose this degree as I’d heard from multiple sources that it was the best one. It was great, but intimidating. I felt a bit like Elle Woods there, all the other students were interested in working in politics, or charity, or big bank corporate comms strategy, and I wanted to work in beauty? Also, unlike a few other universities, at UTS you can’t pay to bridge the gap between your UAI and the mark you need… So I think a lot of the other members in my class were like “how did you get here??”. But it allowed me to work and do what I needed to and actually wasn’t too full on in terms of studying and work load (thank GOD!). I got barred from our uni library in my first year (don’t ask) and I don’t think I went back for the remainder of my university life.
When I moved to New York I did a year of study in international business through St Mary’s (a UK university) which essentially amounts to 1 year of an MBA (I don’t think I’ll be doing the other 2 years, quite frankly).
I love that you were able to tell from an early age, what you were passionate in and follow that path. Your work experience in PR and events really proved to be beneficial. Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Career journey… God I feel like this might take a while. During my second and third years of university I interned and then worked full time for Worling Saunders (a fashion and beauty PR agency) while I was studying full time. Let’s just say, I missed a fair bit of uni, and then would have to go around (Cher Horowitz style) convincing all my lecturers that I deserved better marks (you were docked for missing more than 2 or 3 classes a semester).
At Worling Saunders I met one of my now-mentors, Gary Saunders, and he really was amazing, letting me work on things and do tasks that someone at my level possibly may not have otherwise – let’s just say I wasn’t only getting coffees (although, he did once introduce me to Cate Blanchett, in jest, as “his bitch”. I got to work on some great accounts: SK-II, Mecca Cosmetica, Aesop, Olay, Pantene, Jurlique, Essie Nails and then realised I LOVED luxury beauty (and specifically Mecca) and so after a while he gave me that account (well, I think I may have bullied him into it). Worling Saunders became Saunders & Co and there I stayed for close to 5 years – primarily on Mecca Cosmetica. It was such a great learning experience, I had a lot of autonomy on my accounts. But I then decided I needed a sea change. So I put the wheels in motion to move to Manhattan which I did in early 2010, first working in marketing for a boutique hedge fund and then working in a lifestyle PR agency – also an amazing learning experience.
You really have to be a specific type of person to survive there – it’s not easy. It’s the most incredible city though. Then after a year and a half, another now-mentor of mine had made the switch from editorial to brand and asked if I was interested in a job at Napoleon Perdis as their PR manager working under her. This was probably the biggest career highlight (and probably a life highlight to be honest) and I learned an enormous amount – professionally and personally – working for Lucinda. I worked as PR manager for 1.5 years and then transitioned to Communications and Strategy Manager for over 2 years. In this role, I worked across PR and marketing strategy as well as product development. It was a HUGE learning curve for me, and I had the opportunity to work across a lot of projects and areas of the business I wouldn’t have had I worked for many other brands. While there, I conceptualised and developed a collaboration with Slim Aarons’ estate which has absolutely been a career highlight. This was project was a bit of a toe dip into the more strategic elements of NPD and where I really started to love that side of the business. I was across everything from negotiating use of his images with Getty (who own the estate) to the product development to marketing, education, advertising… There wasn’t any area of the launch I didn’t involve myself in really. Napoleon was really a great place to learn as we did everything in house, so unlike some global companies where you might be adapting an already created strategy for the Australian market, you’re creating it from scratch.
Fast forward to Mecca Brands – and Melbourne – where I’ve been for about 2.5 years. And god, I think all of it has been a highlight. I’m a large part of my role is Product Development and there is something SO satisfying about dreaming up a product in your head and then 12 months later seeing it on shelf in store. Plus, Mecca has gone through some incredible growth over the time I’ve been there, so witnessing and being a part of that has been so amazing. I don’t know that I’ll ever see anything like it again in my career, to be honest. Additionally, the people at Mecca are an incredibly inspiring, intelligent, collaborative and supportive bunch. Best in class, really.
Wow, wow, wow, what a trajectory. You have achieved SO much, took chances and Wow… Love it. So tell us, how did you get into the job that you are in now?
I am the Brand Manager for Mecca Cosmetica, and my role encompasses: Product Development, Marketing, creative, finances, sales, inventory and stock for the Mecca Cosmetica Signature Line. It’s a pretty varied role, which is part of the reason I love it so much. So I basically conceptualise, create and market every product we produce as a team (which includes input from our amazing store team members) – from the very start (recognising a product need), the packaging, the name of the product, the cost of it, to the copy, the marketing, the logistics and operations, how it looks in store – in conjunction with the wider business.
As I mentioned, I used to do the PR for Mecca Cosmetica through an agency so had established relationships with the team. After 3 years at Napoleon I decided it was time for a change and I ruminated on where I was in my life, what I wanted to do and where I wanted to get to… And thought about all the companies that might be able to provide this and landed on two: Mecca Brands and Estee Lauder – so I put that out to the universe. I hadn’t considered ever moving to Melbourne, but figured I was young and single so why not? So I emailed the Head of Brands and Marketing to see if there were any potential opportunities, and we had a conversation followed by a few more and then a couple of trips to Melbourne and here we are! Ha. In all honesty, it was a little harder than that and the interview lasted three months (Mecca take their culture and hiring process very seriously for good reason). I remember sitting in my office at Napoleon after my first call and giving the universe a deadline on which to deliver this job, and if it wasn’t by this particular date I would just take that as a sign it wasn’t meant to be at that juncture in my life. Anyway, I received my official offer on the date I’d given as my deadline. Sounds wacky but sometimes those things do happen…
Now that is a great recruitment story, it’s fantastic to hear that Mecca consider cultural fit when hiring. It’s so important. What is the hardest part of your current job?
No one will be surprised by this: the numbers side! I’d come from jobs where I’d never had to open excel (I used to make my assistant at Napoleon do all my excel!!), had never seen a sales figure, had never had to read a P&L, consider COGS… But this would soon become a part of my daily life. My boss was INCREDIBLY supportive and helped me navigate all of this. I don’t naturally think this way so it’s an ongoing battle, although I am VERY happy to have learned all of this now.
Because it’s a pretty varied role, you’re constantly having to use both sides of your brain – switching from a COGS worksheet to a marketing strategy can be tricky!
Thank you for that in-dept account. Numbers… ahhh they get me as well. What does a day a typical business day look like for you at Mecca?
That literally changes every day! Let’s look at last Tuesday as an example. As soon as I get up I check Instagram and my emails but then I was out the door early to be in one of our Youtube videos on primers for the social team. I then rushed back to the office to meet with our Product Developer on our product pipeline for the next 6 months to make sure we’re on track for all our launches. This includes both the product (fill) and the component (packaging), so if we’re launching 10 products, there’s potentially 40 different elements involved. I then have a meeting with the head of signature line and our Creative Director to go through the wider brand strategy for 2017.
I had a lunch with one of our fill suppliers to touch base on our upcoming launches – and they brought along some new samples of a product they’re developing for us… That afternoon I worked on a marketing plan for our Sun range and presented our 1st quarter product launches to the sales, education, marketing, buying, digital, social and ecomm teams.
As I am a self-confessed procrastinator, I left my month end narrative (where I basically do a wrap up of the brand sales vs target and any high/low lights) to the end of the day… So I am frantically pulling numbers into the early evening.
What an interesting role, so many different layers. It’s also fabulous that you are involved in content creation, with your social media teams. I personally love the videos that Mecca is creating for YouTube. The content is a fabulous extension to your product. So Ava, who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Hmmm… Lots of different people as I continue to grow up. BUT, I would say, my parents for their work ethic. They’re very hard workers and both very good at what they do. They’ve also both encouraged me to be me and do whatever makes me happy without pushing me any which way. And it’s a plus that they both get the industry.
My mentors and dear friends: Lucinda, Gary, Jason. They’ve very much helped shape the person I am today – career and otherwise (although they may not necessarily want to touch that!!).My maternal grandfather was also an inspiration, he was an entrepreneur and very active in the art, music, and race track industries.Anyone taking a leap to do new, interesting things… It’s a very brave act to start your own business.
You are right, it takes courage to start your own gig. Finally, I am dying to know. What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Hmmmmm…. Be nice, be helpful, be persistent, READ, send thank you notes (thanks Lucce), be proactive and passionate, know when to speak up and when to keep your head down (if not sure, better to not), ask questions, be gracious and interested. Starting in beauty retail will always help if it’s the beauty industry you’re interested in… Mecca Brands have an amazing graduate program for the store teams and Jo Horgan (CEO of Mecca Brands) loves to hire from her stores.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: intothegloss.com, mecca.com.au/themeccamemo, smh.com.au (always a Sydney girl at heart), astrologyzone.com, netaporter, fashionista, byrdie, thecut.com, mindbodygreen.com, thenewpotato.com, the yellowfin website that allows me to check my sales, which I do – daily!!, the-file.com, businessoffashion.com.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: @meccacosmetica (duh), @glossier, @manrepeller, @jenatkinhair, @jillyhendrix, @palomija, @patmcgrath, @fabienbaron, @meccamaxima
- Books: I’m going to reel off some more recent reads because if I listed everything I’d never finish this: Shoe Dog, Originals (How Non Conformists Change the World), Catch 22, Sweetbitter, The Girls, Bad Feminist, Prep… I could literally go on and on.
- People: my boss and work wives, Lucinda, my colleagues and team, my friends, my parents… usual suspects. You know who you are!
- Others: MUSIC. Can’t live without it.