ULTRA VIOLETTE'S QUEEN OF SCREEN, AVA MATTHEWS.
What did you study at university? & What was your career path that led you to where you are now.
I studied Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. 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 and that if not, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. While I was finishing my degree, I was working full time at a boutique PR agency that specialised in beauty and fashion and hence kickstarted my love of beauty.
Even as a junior I got to work on great accounts: SK-II, Mecca Cosmetica, Aesop, Olay, Pantene, Jurlique, Essie Nails but after 4 or so years, I was itching to move somewhere – preferably NYC. 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 which was super tough but a good learning curve (silver lining).
After a year and a half in NYC, I was called by someone I really respected and admired to see if I was interested in a job at Napoleon Perdis as their PR manager. At the time I was like “hmmmm am I??” ha. But I knew I’d learn a lot which I did. I did that for 1.5 years and then transitioned to Communications and Strategy Manager for another 2 years. I worked across PR and marketing strategy as well as product development which was a toe dip into an area I’d been DESPERATE to get into.
When I felt I was no longer learning at Napoleon, I decided I wanted to go back to Mecca (meaning a move to Melbourne) and met my now business partner Bec. I looked after the Mecca Cosmetica private label, which meant: product development, marketing, creative, finances, sales, inventory. It was a pretty varied role, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. From there I moved literally around the corner to RATIONALE heading up their marketing team… Until I left to launch Ultra Violette!
How and why was Ultra Violette born?
The idea for Violette came to us while we were at MECCA and saw the opportunity for a dedicated sunscreen brand that ticked all the boxes of what women want and how it’s actually worn. I’ve said this before but there’s really nothing fun or beautiful about SPF – it’s a lot of cancer talk and men in white coats. But it’s such an important product - like THE most important product you can wear every day. So we wanted to create a wardrobe of beautiful looking, feeling, speaking SPFs that felt relevant. We spent 6 months before starting talking through the concept, looking at the commercials, the product range, the consumer behaviour – really stress tested everything and then in early 2017 decided to push the button and just go.
Who is the Ultra Violette woman?
That’s a really HARD question because it’s difficult to put her in a box. Overall I’d say: she’s clever, funny, kind but will tell it like it is, honest, a good friend, loves to travel – and to dance. Violette’s spirit animal is probably Elaine Benes (but maybe a bit warmer).
What does an average day look like for you?
Pretty varied TBH. I’ll generally wake up and then do an hour or so of work - check emails, sales and social media and answer any simple customer enquiries that come in overnight. I like to spend the morning with my boyfriend, easing into the day… he’s self-employed too, so has a bit of flexibility (I don’t like to rush the morning!). At 930am, I’ll usually head to the gym to meet my trainer or do some sort of exercise and when I’m back, it’s straight into work mode: emails, interviews, calls or whatsapps with Bec (if we’re not with each other in person, we’re chatting all day), checking in on our lab to see where they’re at with our next round of NPD. Bec and I are currently on the hunt for the best sunscreen developer in the world, so we’re often chatting to other chemists to see their capabilities and if they’re the right fit. I’ll spend a bit of time responding to customer enquiries online or through social media, and speaking with the marketing team at Adore Beauty, planning new product launches. Tomorrow we’re meeting with our accountant to go through our P+L prior to EOFY. I’ll usually work through until 5-6pm before thinking about dinner. I love to cook, I’m obsessed with food and I like to eat EARLY so I’ll often have dinner ready by the time Dion walks through the door at 630.
What’s your morning beauty routine?
Depends on the day. If I’m at home all day it’s: shower, skincare and a brush of the hair (maybe). If I’m going straight to work out it’s Rationale Immunologist Serum and Queen/Supreme Screen and if it’s a day where I’m wearing more makeup or seeing people other than my personal trainer it’s: shower, Rationale Immunologist Serum, Antioxidant Serum, Antioxidant lipid concentrate, PhotoDynamic Day Cream and then Queen Screen. I don’t wear much makeup but it’s usually Fluff Bronzer, Glossier Cloud Paint, Glossier Boy Brow in Brown, Kevyn Aucoin Mascara and Nars Eyeshadow in Sophia (the best!). I’m actually pretty minimal. Had you asked me this question 6-8 years ago when I was at Napoleon Perdis…It would have involved a lot of lipstick and some false lashes. I use only Oribe on my hair and I’ve trained my hair to only need to be washed every 5-7 days. Best time saver ever! I also don’t wash my face in the morning – I’m a full Rationale convert.
What does your nightly beauty routine look like?
I’m on Rationale Essential Six (if you couldn’t tell!) so I wash my face with #4 Proceramide Cleanser, apply #5 Catalyst Serum nightly and then mix the DNA Serum with the #6 DNA Night Cream. Occasionally I’ll do a mask (also Rationale). Sorry I’m not more interesting… If I’m going out, it’s usually a coppery/reddy-brown eye and a peach lip – I love the Too Faced Peach Palette and this LE edition Nars Palette. I guess I’ve found what works for me?? That or I’m really boring!!!
What has been your biggest pinch me moment so far?
Being asked to do Vogue Codes was pretty up there – I remember attending last year and thinking, I want to do this one day. I didn’t realise it would be a short 12 months later.
What is the best career advice you’ve been given?
Stick to your lane. Find your strengths and play to them, don’t bother trying to be everything to everyone – it’s a sure fire way to fail.
AND sometimes done is better than perfect.
AND a sage piece of advice from Mary J Blige: ‘All we can do is grow.’
What is your advice to anyone looking to start their own product line?
Don’t do it for the sake of doing it or because you think being a founder is glamorous (let me tell you there’s nothing glam about packing boxes at midnight or spending 45 mins on the phone to Aus post trying to find a lost parcel), carve out your niche, have a purpose and just go for it. Rely on your strengths, outsource the stuff you’re not good at – and assume you’re going to need more money and more time than you think.
Have a plan (preferably a business plan) and spend the time stress-testing or challenging it, have other people challenge it too – this is how you’ll figure out if you really want it. I can’t tell you the amount of people who’ve said to me, ‘TBH when you told me about Ultra Violette we weren’t sure cos it’s sunscreen’. And I’m like you may not have been sure but I was. Bec and I had done the numbers, we knew the market, we knew the appetite, we knew what was missing.
What’s next for Ultra Violette?
Trying to bring her to life, offline. Constant innovation in our space – how can we improve someone’s routine/day by creating a product that makes sun protection easier and better. How do we get people to trust us enough to buy sunscreen (typically a sore point for many women) online without having trialled. International expansion. Being able to pay ourselves a salary. You know, simple stuff!!