On this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’, Nick and Natasha sit down with Linda Stephenson to discuss cosmetics manufacturing in Ontario. 

A chemist, botanist, and microbiologist by trade, Linda has over 30 years of experience in the cosmetics industry, including a stint at one of Ontario’s most successful cosmetics companies, Make-up Art Cosmetics (MAC). Founded in 1984, MAC found a market niche by offering products that featured innovative colours and quality not available from their competitors. Thanks to a company culture of professionalism, celebrity endorsements (including Madonna), and a ‘makeup counter experience’ led by professional makeup artists (rather than department store employees), the company grew quickly. In 1994, the company was bought by global cosmetics manufacturers Estée Lauder, which helped them grow into the international brand they are today.

Cosmetics manufacturers like Estée Lauder, Cosmetica Laboratories, Crystal Claire, and Lush employ nearly 7,000 people in Ontario, primarily in the GTA. Some make their own products from start to finish, while some manufacture for private labels (similar to what food processors refer to as ‘co-packing’). These companies make more than just makeup – their product offerings include deodorants and antiperspirants, sunscreen, lotions, shaving cream, soaps and shampoo, hand sanitizer and hair care products.

As seen elsewhere in manufacturing, foreign companies often prefer Ontario for manufacturing lower-volume product runs where quality is essential. Linda specifically mentioned how Ontario cosmetics manufacturers are known for short runs, quick turn-arounds, and their attention to detail (many offer ‘turn-key’ services, taking a product from concept to finished good). As such, companies choose Ontario to manufacture specialized cosmetic products over competing jurisdictions like New Jersey, which focus more on commoditized production. The rules and regulations governing cosmetics manufacturing in Ontario, which are among the most stringent in the world, also engender a global reputation for quality.

Allowing for shorter product runs reduces barriers to entry and competitiveness, especially for smaller companies. Furthermore, the market for cosmetics (makeup in particular) is different from other sectors in that the connection between product quality and cost is not always clear. Brand image (largely affected by marketing) plays an important role in affecting consumer behaviour. The desire to purchase a specific item of makeup can be driven by a celebrity sponsor just as easily as the quality of the product itself – sometimes even despite the quality of the product.

Keeping up with consumer demands and industry trends (like ‘greener’ packaging, specialized products, and vegan ingredients) requires companies to find innovative ways to evolve their processes. Changing product formulations while maintaining quality and performance requires innovation and skill – things that Linda admits Ontario has in abundance.

Ontario’s cosmetics manufacturing industry is world class. Have a listen and learn for yourself on this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’.

Select cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers in Ontario include:

  • Apollo Health and Beauty Care – North York
  • APR Beauty Group – Scarborough
  • Canadian Custom Packaging – North York
  • Clamar Cosmetics – Pickering
  • Cosmetica Laboratories – Scarborough
  • Crystal Claire Cosmetics – Scarborough
  • CSR Cosmetic Solutions – Barrie
  • DECIEM – Etobicoke
  • Estée Lauder – Markham and Scarborough
  • Lush Cosmetics – Etobicoke
  • Orchard Custom Beauty – Mississauga
  • Pinnacle Cosmetics – Etobicoke
  • Scents Alive – Vaughan
  • Sigan Industries – Brampton

00:00-02:30 – Nick’s intro
02:30-03:30 – Meeting our guest
03:31-04:39 – It’s not makeup, it’s cosmetics!
04:40-06:00 – The long history of cosmetic products
06:01-07:27 – The math behind Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
07:28-09:33 – Ontario’s competitive advantages – skilled people and specialized products
09:34-10:14 – Who makes cosmetics in Ontario?
10:15-13:59 – Make-up Art Cosmetics (MAC) and Ontario
14:00-17:00 – Cosmetics manufacturers pivot during COVID
17:01-18:46 – The importance of understanding and studying the Microbiome
18:47-19:46 – Make-up Art Cosmetics (MAC) and Ontario (part 2)
19:47-23:57 – Ontario’s competitive advantages (part 2) – start-ups and tech
23:58-25:35 – Classic products made using new tech 
25:36-28:51 – Greening cosmetics
28:52-29:57 – Cosmetics, volatile chemicals, and regulations as a competitive advantage
29:58-31:37 – Supply chain disruptions during COVID
31:38-33:44 – Nick proposes a Trillium Network cosmetics line, Linda discusses the entrepreneurial spirit in Ontario