Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle. We're profiling diverse, interesting women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Sonsoles Gonzalez has been an influential figure in the beauty industry since the '80s. She began her career in her home country of Venezuela, working for Procter & Gamble's Latin America Beauty Care division. She spent 24 years with the company, helping the brand meet the beauty needs of its Latinx consumers before heading to L'Oréal as their General Manager.
While Gonzalez made it her mission to celebrate all women in her work, she consistently noticed most brands neglected the evolving beauty concerns of its female consumers over 40-years-old. This especially rang true when it came to hair care, as Gonzalez herself struggled to find products that worked for her changing hair. It prompted the Venezuelan beauty veteran to leave her corporate life behind and launch Better Not Younger in 2019, the first company to specialize in hair-care solutions for women over 40. Ahead, Gonzalez opens up about her entrepreneurial journey and how living in Venezuela shaped her perspective on beauty and must-have beauty products.
When did your interest in the beauty industry begin?
My first assignment at P&G was on the Camay soap brand. Many might think bar soap is not a beauty product. But, in the '80s, in a country like Venezuela where women are economically challenged but incredibly beauty involved, Camay offered the promise of soft skin with a French fragrance. I fell in love with the idea of marketing to every woman's beauty dream. After this assignment, I went on to work on all of P&G's beauty brands.
You spent the first 16 years of your career at Procter & Gamble, working your way up to Vice President-General Manager. What was your experience like there? What are some of the essential career lessons you learned while at P&G?
Beauty Care was a small division for P&G Latin America back in those days, but we all knew the potential it represented. My legacy [at P&G] is that I helped build this division. Years later, the CEO of P&G, A.G. Lafley, said, "Sonsoles has placed P&G Beauty on the Latin American map."
I succeeded by taking the best P&G could offer—technology, scale, marketing excellence—and combining it with a deep, insightful understanding of [the consumer's] needs. For example, I knew that she would pay for products that delivered results (hence the need for small single-dosage Pantene packettes). I also understood how important it is for her to be recognized as beautiful, so our communication reflected this.
[During my time at P&G, I learned] to always stay close to your consumer, understand her like no one else. I also learned to challenge the status quo, be nimble, and bring passion to everything I do.
What prompted you to leave your corporate life behind and launch Better Not Younger?
After 28 years on the corporate path, I wasn't as inspired anymore. At 52, I thought I would have retired, but I realized I was not ready to quit. I still wanted to create and build beauty brands. I also felt large beauty companies were way too obsessed with millennials and usually ignored older women. Most brands I worked on consistently targeted women between 18 to 44. I always thought, What happens to women after 45? Do they disappear? The opportunity [to create a brand for older women] seemed ripe.
What's the most challenging part of running Better Not Younger?
On the one hand, being patient. I want to do so much, but I know brands are not built in a year or two. I have to pace myself and focus on what matters most first. Every growth stage brings new challenges—like not having specific resources or realizing processes need to be in place to ensure we are running smoothly while growing fast.
What's been the most rewarding part of creating Better Not Younger?
Knowing that women feel like their needs are being addressed, and they can achieve beautiful hair in their 40's and beyond. Secondly, I love seeing my team grow and succeed. Many of them could probably be making better money working somewhere else. Still, they believe in my vision and love the entrepreneurial opportunity. I hope one day they can also gain financially from this journey.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for anyone looking to launch a beauty brand?
First, always start with a clear point of difference. The world is filled with beauty brands, so what is yours uniquely bringing to the party? Once you have that, be ready to stand behind your vision. There will be many naysayers along the way trying to discourage you. Secondly, build a network of people that can help, advise and support you along the way (including financially).
How has growing up in Venezuela influenced your perspective on beauty?
Beauty is worshipped in Venezuela. We hold the record for Miss Universe titles. Women take care of their hair, nails, face, and bodies from a young age. Venezuelan women intrinsically understand the connection between self-care and self-confidence. Growing up in Venezuela also showed me the meaning of inclusive beauty. Because in Venezuela, all women—poor or rich, young or old—want to look as beautiful as possible.
What lasting impact do you hope to have on the beauty industry? What do you want your legacy to represent?
I want to expand on the notion of inclusivity. We see gender, race, and sexual orientation all being openly discussed during the past few years. Large beauty conglomerates are developing products for [diverse groups], and large beauty retailers are stocking them. Age is probably the last frontier of inclusivity. Beauty should not be defined by age.
What are your five favorite beauty products? Why do you love them?
- Lancome Dual Finish Versatile Powder Foundation ($44): Since my teens, I have been using it and love the texture and color shade.
- Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($34): I've always struggled with finding a facial sunscreen that won't burn my eyes, and this one doesn't. Plus, I love the story of this brand.
- Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Blush ($40): I love the two-step application and the glow it gives to my face.
- Olay Regenerist Regenerating Serum ($23): I love the texture; it works as well as more expensive brands.
- Better Not Younger Hair Redemption Butter Masque ($35): Nothing else leaves my hair soft and shiny without weighing it down.