We Interviewed the Founders of Clionadh Cosmetics

Clionadh Cosmetics has become a household name in the indie makeup community – and for good reason! Their eyeshadows are absolutely stunning. My favorite shade I own from them is Glyph, a beautiful blue-purple duochrome that I cannot get enough of. Their Stained Glass Collection exploded in popularity, and I am patiently waiting for a restock so I can pick up some bundles. So, we were so excited to be able to interview the owners, Maggie and Leigh! Read on to hear about their inspirations, struggles, and future goals!

*All pictures from the Clionadh website or Instagram unless otherwise stated. This post is not sponsored, and all opinions are our own.

IM: How did y’all come up with the name Clionadh and what led you to start an indie brand? What was your focus when you started out?

CC: Maggie and Leigh have been makeup enthusiasts and fans of indie brands long before Clionadh. When they graduated from post-secondary school the same year, they discovered they had quite a bit of spare time and a mutual passion, so the sisters started a fun hobby while they were transitioning into the workforce. Clionadh quickly became more than a hobby and snowballed into what the company is today, and they are so incredibly grateful.

The first product line they ever launched was a series of highlighters and blush toppers, which are still available today. The sisters knew right off the bat that they wanted to be inclusive, so these highlighters are intended for all skin tones, and their signature shade called Clionadh comes in light, medium, and dark. 

The name Clionadh comes from the Irish deity who represents love and beauty. The family has a diverse background but wanted to pay homage to the Irish part, as they both have an admiration for the history and folklore there. 

IM: You are a duo – can you explain your relationship and how you delegate between yourselves? Have you fallen naturally into different roles? (I hope this question makes sense.)

CC: Maggie and Leigh are sisters, and Maggie is 3 years younger than Leigh. Although the two think like sisters and both have their hands in every aspect of the business, they have definitely fallen into roles based on natural strengths. 

Maggie has a background in chemistry and is by far the product expert, focusing more in production and product formulation. Leigh has a background in English literature and graphic design, which gives her the skills to work more in marketing, communication, and customer service. 

Being sisters with a super small team alongside them means everyone gets to help out in all aspects of production, which is pretty special.

IM: Your Stained Glass Collection has been a huge success. How did you initially develop the idea and how difficult was it to execute?

CC: Leigh has traveled quite a bit around Europe and both her and Maggie fell in love with the architecture and art – namely the stained glass found in churches and cathedrals. This is where the name for the Stained Glass Collection and the names for the shadows came from. This being said, the full original collection of 55 Multichromes was all Maggie. The duo wanted to create something that would stand out while providing top-notch quality and her chemistry background drove her passion with this one.

A key factor for them was creating an extensive line with a ton of options so people can find exactly what speaks to them. It was a lot of work and they created hundreds of testers before finding the right formula for each multichrome, but they think it was worth it!

IM: How did the success from the SGC affect your business? How have you dealt with the difficulties of keeping it in stock? 

CC: The SGC has allowed the sisters to grow their business, grow the team, and develop in areas they would have never imagined when they were starting out. It has opened a lot of doors for them. They now have employees that are trained to focus on specific areas of the business.

There are lots of positives when it comes to business growth, but when you grow too quickly, it becomes a question of scaling as quickly as possible. As an example, in Fall 2019, the company moved into a new workshop. Barely a year later, in late 2020, they moved again into a workshop that was approximately four times the size of the previous one. More people, more equipment, more space – these are all things that have to come into play with a rapid expansion, all without compromising on quality.

Keeping items in stock has been the biggest challenge. They were selling out so quickly and felt like they just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Having all of their products handmade means needing a lot of hands, and they didn’t have the space. Now that the sisters have their bigger workshop though, the next step is to expand the team to help with packaging and to get higher grade equipment to speed up the production process. Many of these items are already in the process of happening – Clionadh has big plans for 2021!

IM: Every product you make is made by hand, including the packaging (your Archeo and Paleo palettes are works of art). What are some of the difficulties that come with making everything by hand and what are some of the positives?

CC: There are some obvious difficulties with everything being made by hand, such as the time and labour being exponentially increased. Most of the company’s time is spent on production, including the shadows as well as the packaging. They have been switching to pre-made packaging though, which leaves more room for new developments and other exciting things. With Leigh’s design background, these pre-made packages will still be special and bring something unique to their future releases. 

On the positive side, their products are one of a kind, personal, and special. The team puts their heart and soul into every product that leaves the workshop. 

Leigh and Maggie are planning on bringing back the Archeo palette, but this time around, it unfortunately won’t be feasible to do packaging by hand as the sisters’ time is needed elsewhere in the company.

IM: What products do you want to add to your line? What inspiration leads you to adding new products? I think I saw y’all mention that nature is a huge inspiration for you – what was the clearest inspiration from nature that struck y’all?

CC: Inspiration comes from all sorts of things. The world around us is a big one – nature, history, music, animals, fantasy. Maggie and Leigh are both artistic people so they are organically inspired by the expression of artistry in the world.

The clearest example of this is probably the 66.5 Degrees North Collection, which was hugely inspired by the place the sisters live in Canada. It represents a cold and beautiful winter not only reflective of Northern Canada, but also of where they live. 

They have a few ideas for new additions to product lines, including adding to the Paleo and Archeo collection. Things are happening behind the scenes!

IM: How do you decide what to keep in stock and what to discontinue? For example, you recently decided to discontinue your Paleo palette – what led to that decision?

CC: The simple answer is that the sisters need to create room for future projects. They came out with a sister palette for Paleo, the Archeo Palette, and they have plans for a third installment as well. It is extremely challenging to continue to offer all three, especially because the products are handmade. It all depends on labour and time.

IM: How do you incorporate customer feedback into the way you run Clionadh?

CC: Customer feedback is really important to Clionadh, especially since Maggie and Leigh are sisters. The two think in similar ways, so having people from around the world and from different walks of life helps them consider different perspectives. It’s important and they appreciate it. 

As an example, they felt their customers really wanted a preorder system to ensure everyone would have a chance to access the products they had their hearts set on without fear of them being out of stock. They listened and moved forward with the idea.

IM: How does your location (being in Canada) affect your business? We are both in the US so we really only see how things are over here!

CC: The biggest barrier is definitely financial. They need to pay customs on anything coming in from the US and they also need to pay more in shipping, which makes it more expensive for their customers unfortunately. In addition, everything is generally sold in US Dollars, so as a Canadian company, the exchange rates needs to be factored in. Accessibility to raw materials from the US can be tricky as well. Even though they are right there (Toronto is only 2 hours from Niagara), the border still causes significant challenges.

IM: Where do you see Clionadh going in the future? You mention on IG that you wanted to expand your team. How do you handle bringing on new team members?

CC: In the future – bigger! The sisters see the company branching out into different product categories, having a larger team to help us handle various business needs, expanding their production, and growing into their new space.

Bringing on new team members has been interesting for the duo. Clionadh was originally just the two sisters, and now they are hiring people they don’t know. It’s a huge learning experience and can be quite stressful. It involves learning to communicate with a team instead of just between themselves – delegating, organizing, learning to allow other people in. It’s both rewarding and difficult because Clionadh is such a passion project.

Clionadh has been through a lot of growing pains and it has been a huge journey in 2019 and 2020 but they are really appreciative of the support from their customers and fans, and they are excited to see what the future brings.

Thank you so much to Maggie and Leigh for answering our questions! If there are any brands you would like to see us interview next just let us know here!

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