Episode 144: Amy Carra, Senior Director of Brand Innovation at Universal Beauty Products, Inc.

When Amy Carra, Senior Director of Brand Innovation at Universal Beauty Products, Inc., was working for Air France and traveling the world, she never imagined a career in beauty. Her love affair with the beauty industry began with a position at Revlon, where she saw colleagues “playing” with makeup as part of their jobs and thought, “Hmm…this could be fun.”

Hear the rest of Amy’s story, from more jobs in big beauty to developing her own innovative skincare line as a corporate entrepreneur.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey, everybody. It's Jodi Katz, your host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. This week's episode features Amy Carra. She's a senior director of brand innovation at Delight Beauty. If you missed last week's episode, it featured Sarah Kugelman. She's the founder of skyn ICELAND. I hope you enjoy the shows.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I'm very excited to be sitting across from Amy Carra. She is the Senior Director of Brand Innovation at Delight Beauty. She's also a client of Base Beauty's. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Amy CarraHi, Jodi. Thank you for having me.
Jodi KatzThanks for being here. I just said a lot of words beauty: Delight Beauty, Base Beauty. I'm so excited that you're here. What's so fun is that you get to go meet with our team afterwards and get some work done.
Amy CarraYes. Looking forward to it.
Jodi KatzI'm going to start with my favorite question because I love minutia. I want our listeners to know how you're going to spend your day today.
Amy CarraSure. I actually flew in last night. I'm from Chicago. But I always love coming to New York because I spent over a decade here, all of my thirties, had my three kids here. It's really just nice to get away and be here. Obviously, I'm spending the day here with you guys and then meeting with Base Beauty. Then I'm hopefully meeting up with a friend for dinner tonight who I used to spend a lot of time with, with our kids. Then I have another meeting tomorrow with my manufacturer and head home in the evening.
Jodi KatzThese are easy trips from Chicago to New York, right?
Amy CarraYeah. It's like two hours and I know my way around, so it's good.
Jodi KatzDid you leave snow? Was it snowing there?
Amy CarraYes. It wasn't snowing, but there was snow on the ground. My husband sent pictures of the kids sledding because they had Presidents' Day off.
Jodi KatzOh, right. That's so fun. Yeah, we have not had a lot of snow here in New York. It's been pretty lame from the snow play perspective. My son was actually just saying like, "We haven't had any snow days. Like real school snow days."
Amy CarraYeah. Well, in Chicago, you don't really get many actual snow days because we're used to dealing with the snow. But when it snows, they're all excited to wear their snow pants, play in the playground with the snow pants and the boots. Yeah. They enjoy it.
Jodi KatzWe're going to go back in time through your career journey. You told me that you're actually originally from Chicago. When you moved back recently, this was going home again. After you graduated from high school, what was the path looking like for you?
Amy CarraSure. Yeah. After I graduated from high school, I went away to college, went to Washington University in St. Louis. Didn't really know quite what I wanted to do. Studied a little biology, chemistry, French, a little business. The French is actually really what kind of stuck. I love languages and travel. I did end up majoring in French. Didn't really want to be a French teacher though. I ended up getting a business minor so that I could hopefully continue in the business world and have some of that international perspective and use my French language skills. That's really where it started, where I used my French, and graduated from college.
Jodi KatzDid you get any jobs where that French came in handy?
Amy CarraI did. I did. I worked at a small French engineering company when I was just out of college, where the owner was French. I was really there because I knew French and ultimately ended up getting a job at the Air France sales office in Chicago, which was a lot of fun, loving travel and getting some flight benefits and using my French in that office. That was really a lot of fun. But then I ended up deciding that I wanted to go to business school to help figure out more focus of what I did want to do in the business world.
Jodi KatzLet's just spend a minute on what kind of benefits you get when you work for an airline.
Amy CarraOf course.
Jodi KatzWere you able to just hop on any plane you wanted?
Amy CarraNot exactly, but it was definitely great benefits, but I didn't necessarily get all the vacation time that would allow you to use those benefits. It was pretty strict that if you were flying on flight benefits, you were flying standby. If you weren't able to get home, you were in trouble. It was pretty much go at your leisure. But we could look up and see how many flights were on various seats and usually know. But yeah, I took a trip to Tunisia, I took a trip to Greece. Often just two or three day trips because I didn't always have the vacation. But I was young and single. Definitely a lot of fun to do that.
Jodi KatzThat's so nice. It's such a great perk.
Amy CarraYeah.
Jodi KatzRight? Especially when you're in your 20s.
Amy CarraYeah, definitely.
Jodi KatzYou said you went to business school. What was your focus then?
Amy CarraMarketing. I went to DePaul University in Chicago and got my MBA in marketing. It was a sort of international program, so they did require an overseas internship during the summer. Wasn't able to find an internship in France because for such a short amount of time, a two month period, that was a little bit harder to find for whatever reason in France. I ended up interning in Germany. Don't speak any German, but that was a lot of fun. Again, two month internship at Daimler Chrysler.
Jodi KatzWhat did you do there?
Amy CarraI was in the finance department. It was really just working with the finance team, learning about that industry. It wasn't really a direction that I ended up wanting to pursue. But it was just a wonderful experience and opportunity.
Jodi KatzAre there times in your career now when you look back at something you learned when you were in Germany and you're like, "Oh, I'm glad I know that now"?
Amy CarraProbably more to do with just the people that I was with and the friends I made. There were a lot of international students in that circle at that time and interning there. I made some actually lifelong friends. Actually some friends from France as well, ended up going to their wedding. It's just interesting how the little things you do in life lead to whether it's friendships or job opportunities. For sure.
Jodi KatzWhat happened after business school?
Amy CarraAfter business school, I did end up going to New York, not specifically for a job. I was going because I had thought I'd found my Prince Charming, but that didn't end up working out. But then I ended up working at a French company. My first job in New York was at a French pharmaceutical company and was able to use my French a little bit there. But as it turned out, they ended up acquiring another company and moving to New Jersey. I had just come to Manhattan, didn't want to go to New Jersey, so I just happened to find my next job in the beauty industry. That's kind of how it all started. I kind of fell in love with the beauty industry.
Jodi KatzBefore the job in beauty, what did beauty means to you?
Amy CarraI enjoy the routine of beauty and taking care of myself. I was never a beauty junkie and makeup junkie. I did what I needed to do to feel confident and take care of my skin and wear makeup. But I had never seen myself as one of those people that had to have all the latest and greatest, the beauty trends. I just enjoyed it.

When I got that first job, it was at Revlon, and I remember I think I was telling you the day of the interview, walking around the office and just seeing everyone putting makeup on at their desk, painting their nails, which is just such an odd thing to see when you're not in the beauty industry and realizing that this is actually part of the job. It was just sort of like an a-ha, like, wow, people can do this for a living. Yeah, it was really cool. Then once you're in it, you kind of take that for granted. But yeah, you still put on makeup at your desk.
Jodi KatzRight. I would imagine it's very shocking coming from other industries and walking into a beauty company where we really are so free and open with our beauty habits and experimenting with beauty. It's expected. There's some people who don't want people to put lipstick on in public.
Amy CarraExactly.
Jodi KatzThat doesn't make any sense.
Amy CarraYeah.
Jodi KatzWhy wouldn't I put it on in public?
Amy CarraYeah. Exactly. It's not just that people were comfortable doing it, but it's you have to get into the mindset of the consumer and you really do have to experience all those things. But then of course, at the end of the day when everyone's going out to happy hour, they're like, "Try this lipstick. We're developing it. We're launching it next summer. Wear it tonight." It was kind of fun to feel like you were in the know and getting to try these products that aren't on the market yet.
Jodi KatzIt is always so fun. I don't think that ever really goes away.
Amy CarraNo.
Jodi KatzIt's always really special. Tell us about the job at Revlon.
Amy CarraI was there for about a year and a half, two years. I started out as an assistant marketing manager, I think. It was a great experience. I really learned all about the process of developing cosmetics products. I was working on what at the time was a new launch within Revlon. It was really getting to see every aspect of it just from the formulation, working with giving direction to the chemists, testing and saying, "Oh, this needs to be more red," or "This needs to be more creamy," learning about all the supply chain, the sourcing. I really, really learned a lot about what goes into it and all the moving parts involved in a big company that's launching products for hundreds of thousands of people nationwide. Yeah.
Jodi KatzAs you had this job, your reason for being in New York, which was a relationship, ended.
Amy CarraYes.
Jodi KatzWas there any part of you that was like, "Oh, I'll go back to Chicago right now"?
Amy CarraSure. I think that other situation ended, didn't work out, and I had to really make a decision. What am I doing here? Do I want to stay here? I think I just needed to kind of follow this path for a while. It was scary. There was also the factor of I had this big sendoff. Oh, I'm going off to... I didn't want to just turn around and go home, and, oh, that didn't work out. Obviously, I ended up finding my path and I'm glad I stayed. I did eventually find my Prince Charming in New York.
Jodi KatzWell, you have to be so brave. I think as common as career shifts on the show or relationship shifts, and figuring out what feels right when your plans are changed or changed for you, it really takes a lot of courage to say, "I'm going to try something that's not what I expected."
Amy CarraYeah.
Jodi KatzWhere do you think you got that courage from?
Amy CarraI've always been a relatively independent person, wanting to do things or travel independently and do things on my own, kind of figure it out. I think it's just part of in my nature. But don't get me wrong, it was scary. But yeah, just finding a way and knowing that something has to work out, things will pass into a new phase.
Jodi KatzYou do seem like an optimistic person to me. Is that true?
Amy CarraI think cautiously optimistic is probably the right word. I definitely like to know and have a plan. But I also think I recognize that you have to deal with changes when they come your way. Yeah.
Jodi KatzOnce you had that job at Revlon, how long did it take for you to realize, "Yeah, beauty is where I'm supposed to be"?
Amy CarraI think I knew pretty much right away. Also, just being in Manhattan, that sort of once you get a job in the beauty industry, you realize all the other career opportunities that are in that industry. I think I just knew I enjoyed it, I enjoyed all the aspects of it.

I think ultimately what was missing for me or not even missing, but what I didn't want to yet walk away from is more of the international side of things. What I was working on at Revlon was a very domestic focused launch and project. I did really want to not give up on the opportunity to have a more global experience, not necessarily physically being global.

Then there was an opportunity that came up at Avon, which is a global company, in their global brand marketing department. I luckily was able to get that opportunity, and so then switched gears to Avon, which is a different business model, but working with all the four regions around the world to sort of harmonize the beauty launches that were going on and where they could be a global project they could. But where they needed to have sort of tweaks and shifts for different cultures, we would help manage that. Makeup is very different say in Brazil than it is in Taiwan, so sort of working with the different regions to meet their needs.
Jodi KatzThat's a very big ship to steer when you're talking about a company of that size. What was one of the most valuable things you learned during that experience?
Amy CarraFor me, it does always come back to the people you work with are the most valuable asset and thing you're going to take away from it. But I think if I had to think about... I think it always comes back to just persevering when there are challenges. I think every job, you might have someone who's difficult to work with or a timeline that's unrealistic or something goes wrong with a manufacturer overseas. Just learning how to try to solve problems rather than just identify them somehow in the big picture is what kind of I learned during my time at Avon. Because in a company that big with so many moving parts, again, there's always problems and the people that are able to sort of succeed and move forward, try to find the solution, not just point them out.
Jodi KatzYes. My philosophy is come with a plan A and a B. Sometimes having a choice in those moments when things aren't going exactly the way you want, just knowing that there's options makes people feel more relaxed. It's sort of creating more of a sense of control when really the situation might be out of control. I love that. I love that you have such a focus on people, too. That's my philosophy as well. You were at Avon for six years, is that right?
Amy CarraYep. Yep.
Jodi KatzWhy leave Avon?
Amy CarraI was actually there, enjoyed my time there. Avon, now looking back, you can see the Avon has gone through a lot of changes and a lot of that was starting during the time that I was there or really coming to a headwind during the time that I was there. There was several rounds of layoffs when I was there and ultimately I succumbed to some of the layoffs in the global marketing department. That was why I ended up departing from Avon.
Jodi KatzWas that the first time you were laid off?
Amy CarraYes.
Jodi KatzWere you ever fired from a job?
Amy CarraNo, I wasn't. Even though I had seen layoffs before and I had always known it's corporate, it's financial, it's still hard. When it happened at Avon, there were probably a hundred of us, 200 of us. But it's hard.
Jodi KatzYeah. I've been fired and laid off many times in my career. It was always in my 20s because once I was in my 30s, I was running my own business. I couldn't fire myself. I think the hardest part, before even this idea of financial insecurity, it was my ego. My ego got bruised. It felt sad. That was, I think, always more challenging for me than the "Oh, well, how am I going to pay my bills?" I guess I just assumed there'd be another job eventually. But the ego, yeah, it was painful.
Amy CarraYeah. Well, just kind of second guessing, is there anything that specifically I should have done differently? I think I know that in certain cases, that's not the case and it has nothing to do with anyone in the room or in the building. Other times, it might, but, again, things will find their way.
Jodi KatzAt that time, what was the next step for you?
Amy CarraI was actually pregnant with my second child when the layoffs were announced. It was a little bit scary, but there was a generous severance package for all the people that were let go. There was a bit of a cushion there for the fall. But it was just daunting what to do. I wasn't yet showing in my pregnancy. I still had, I don't know, six or seven months left. But you just think, "Well, what do you do? Do you interview for a job when you're starting to show?" All these questions. I explored looking for a job. I explored consulting or temping. Even just that process of how forthcoming are you supposed to be or do you have to be, and all those questions.

Ultimately, I didn't end up finding work and I was able to accept and enjoy the pregnancy and the situation. Fortunately, I was able to do that. Then shortly after what would have been similar to had I gone through the pregnancy and gone on maternity leave and come back, that was around the time that I started looking and I did find a job consulting. This time it was at Coty, working on the Sally Hansen nail care brand. I had spent a lot of time working on the nail care category at Avon, so it was a good fit. Interestingly, I was covering for someone who was on her maternity leave. It's just interesting how that works out. But yeah, so that was a short-term experience. I was there for two or three months.
Jodi KatzBack to this idea of being able to say, "I'm just going to enjoy the pregnancy," that's a hard thing to do because you had a switch on, which was, "Let me go find another job." How did you turn that switch off and just say, "You know what? I'm just going to chill and be pregnant"?
Amy CarraYeah. Well, fortunately, it was my second pregnancy so I knew what was in store and what was coming. I also of course had a toddler already at home. I don't know if it's just maternal instinct or what it was, but I just realized, okay, this is what I'm going to do and I'm going to go through this part of my life and enjoy it and figure out the next step after the baby's on the outside.
Jodi KatzYeah. The idea of being pregnant with a toddler is not easy.
Amy CarraYeah.
Jodi KatzDid you give up your babysitter, or daycare, or whatever situation you had for your toddler at that time?
Amy CarraNo. She was in a daycare not too far away. No, we still kept her there. As you may know, in New York, it is extremely hard. There's waiting lists. It was very hard to get a spot. That was already the second daycare. While we were waiting for a spot in that one, we were in another one. Knowing that it was temporary, we kept her there obviously when if I felt like not sending her for a day because we could, I wouldn't. But no, you had to kind of keep that spot going if you knew you were going back to work.
Jodi KatzRight. I actually didn't have children in the city, so I'm getting flashbacks of my friends talking to me about this. Yeah. The challenges of having that spot.
Amy CarraYeah.
Jodi KatzOkay, you had your time at Coty and that was limited. What was the next step for you in the career?
Amy CarraKnowing that that was only a temp position, I was keeping my eyes opened, and I ended up getting a job right perfectly timed, fortunately, at the Hain Celestial Group, which I hadn't known, I hadn't heard of. They are predominantly a food company, but 10% of their business at the time was in personal care. They had four or five different personal care skincare brands. But that was my first exposure to this sort of natural, organic, good-for-you type of product. That was something that was kind of just coming into the mainstream. I don't think it was quite mainstream at the time. It was a great learning for me to understand all of that, that side of really looking at the ingredients and natural, organic, I learned all about what those mean, what those different claims mean, et cetera.
Jodi KatzWhat a good company to go to for that type of education around naturals, because they've been doing it for so long.
Amy CarraExactly.
Jodi KatzI feel like in beauty now, you can't not know that.
Amy CarraRight.
Jodi KatzYou can't ignore that this is really relevant to the customer these days.
Amy CarraRight. Two of the main brands that I was managing were Avalon Organics and Alba Botanica, which particularly Avalon Organics had been around for a while and was one of the first to actually do certified organic ingredients. That was all new to me. Learning that and not just learning what that meant in terms of developing products, but understanding that's a completely different consumer. At the time, it was a completely different consumer. I think gradually everything's melding together, but-
Jodi KatzRight. Isn't that interesting? You would have had isolated that customer completely from the one wearing purple glitter lipstick. You would've said that's not even in our target. But now it's just not true.
Amy CarraRight.
Jodi KatzWe shop across all these different categories. Okay. Let's fast forward a little bit because now you have three kids and you want to leave New York and go back to Chicago. Why?
Amy CarraYeah. I love Chicago. It's where I'm from. I enjoy New York, but I'm aware of the pros and cons. For me, I had always hoped to go back to Chicago. My parents are still there, my sister and her family are nearby in Indianapolis. But I also knew that things don't always work out how you planned. But fortunately, at this point, I have three kids, a husband with them, and he was open to making move. It was during my third pregnancy that it was like, okay, let's figure this. If we're going to make this happen, let's do it while we have these three small kids now.

Yeah, during my maternity leave at the Hain Celestial Group is when we officially made the decision. Of course, I wanted to get in touch with my boss while I was on maternity leave and give her as much notice as possible. Yeah. She was very receptive and great. The team there was great. A lot of working moms. It was a pretty smooth process to part ways.

Then it was again going to the unknown. I wasn't really going to try to look for a job. I looked, whatever looking on the internet means. But I really needed to focus on getting my three small kids and my household all sorted out and sell the condo we were living in, figure out where we were going to live. We just accepted that one thing at a time and I'd figure out the job when I got there.
Jodi KatzHow long did you wait until you started looking for a job once you moved?
Amy CarraI waited a while. We moved when my youngest was six weeks old, which was-
Jodi KatzWow.
Amy CarraOh, yeah. That was craziness.
Jodi KatzOh my gosh.
Amy CarraCraziness.
Jodi KatzDid you drive the family?
Amy CarraNo. We sent the moving trucks and then we drove with a small amount of the items. Then my husband and I came back with the baby a couple of times back and forth. His parents live here in Manhattan, so we were kind of able to do a little bit piecemeal, but I was breastfeeding so I couldn't separate from my son at the time. Eventually, we all made it there. Fortunately, like I said, my parents live there. We didn't even have a house figured out. We just figured we're going to show up on my parents, and so we did that. We were probably there for about six months. But we had found a place and picked it out. Yeah. It was a crazy time, but it all worked out.
Jodi KatzHow many months after you finally found your home and got settled that you decided that you're ready to look for a job?
Amy CarraI think I was periodically looking a little more here and there and I realized within the first six to eight months, okay, I need to start figuring this out. I think the process was actually... It took a lot longer than I expected. A lot, because when I was describing earlier when you get your first job in the beauty industry and then you realize there's a lot of opportunities for that, with that career in Manhattan, that's not the case in Chicago. I think I was a little bit naive to think that I wouldn't find something or that those skills would be more easily transferable to something else. But going through the job search process, I realized more and more that I do like beauty more than some of the other industries that I was considering. There was a lot of food industry and other CPG, consumer packaged goods, industries. But I kept feeling like I want to do beauty.

Eventually, I found this small entrepreneurial company, Universal Beauty Products, that was looking for someone to help them sort of expand and branch out in skincare, which is not a sort of large part of this company portfolio at the time. It just worked out. It was the right fit and I was hired there and was able to bring to life Delight Beauty.
Jodi KatzIt's so cool because you got to be an entrepreneur within an organization, which a lot of companies I think would hope that they could facilitate and incubate, but a lot of them really can't. You were able to invent a brand.
Amy CarraYeah. Yeah. That's really what it was. It's like I was able to be a brand founder within an organization and I think that's just due to the fact that our owner and CEO is open. He's interested in new ideas and new opportunities and put his trust in me I think because of just the relationship that we built. I have a lot of things that I learned from these large global brands and manufacturers that are sort of foreign to a small company like that. Just things related to supply chain, sourcing, market research, all those things, being able to bring bits and pieces of those but still fit them into a very entrepreneurial organization where you can make decisions much, much more quickly than a layered organization with VPs, and senior VPs, and directors, and the senior directors, and all these different people, that a decision that may normally take two or three weeks, I can make on the spot.
Jodi KatzI'm proud to say that Nylon magazine called Delight Beauty one of the newest brands to watch in 2020.
Amy CarraI know.
Jodi KatzWhy do you think that is? What do you think about Delight is really compelling for people?
Amy CarraIt's hard to say because one thing I've learned in this industry is that there are so many different types of consumers and so many different types of needs to be met. For me, I think I have to say there's probably a lot of me in Delight Beauty. I think having kind of been in the industry, I sort of try to identify with all different types of consumers. I think, for me, I don't think of myself, as I said, as a beauty junkie, but I love it. I love using products. Hopefully, Delight Beauty is tapping into like-minded consumers who do like beauty but don't want to feel intimidated by all the complicated steps or ingredients, and they just want to enjoy it, and pamper themselves, and feel good about it, but not feel intimidated. Especially, I think it's great for moms who are busy. That's really what I hope can resonate with consumers.
Jodi KatzWhen we talk about the brand here, we giggle, because a lot of us are moms, around the idea that the customer is, she just had her first kid and it's that kind of like four or five month period after the baby was born, where finally she gets around to showering most often and she doesn't have so much spit up all over her and she starts to kind of reinvest in herself. Right?
Amy CarraRight.
Jodi KatzBut she is not interested in complicated or, like you said, intimidating things. I think that's what is resonating with the customer and editors, that it really is just... It's simple. It's a skincare line that does not require overthinking and tons of YouTube videos to watch. It's just there for you the way that you need it, which is kind of refreshing in our industry where it's all about layering on a thousand different things and many, many steps, and dozens of products.
Amy CarraRight.
Jodi KatzSince many of us are moms, we can tap into that mindset. Now you don't have to be a mom to be busy, but it's those moments where you sort of have this a-ha moment that you're ready to reinvest in yourself.
Amy CarraRight. Yeah. I also think there's other brands out there that are simple or basic, but I think what I hope to offer with Delight Beauty is that it also just in the way it looks and feels, that it just also brings a little delight to them. It's simple, but you still feel special when you use it.
Jodi KatzWell, you and I are around the same age, so this reference makes sense to us, but the Calgon products.
Amy CarraOh, yeah.
Jodi KatzWe talked about this a lot in the beginning. Anyone listening who's 42 or older, these commercials for Calgon, which was I guess a bubble bath product in the '70s and the '60s, the commercials were always this very overworked woman. She was just multitasking. She's a mom. She works. She was cooking. She was gardening. She's doing all these things. She just needed a moment to herself. She'd disappear in her bath tub into a bubble bath and Calgon actually took her away to her fantasy land of peace and quiet. That was her delight. Right?
Amy CarraRight. Exactly.
Jodi KatzHopefully your customer today doesn't feel so encumbered by the rest of her day that she needs to shut everybody out as dramatic a way as Calgon, but certainly she feels like she needs her moments and the little moments to smile.
Amy CarraYes.
Jodi KatzNow that you have this role at Universal where you are a founder within a bigger corporation, what do you see is next for Delight?
Amy CarraI'm hoping to see it continue to grow and I'm looking to add new items to the collection, slowly but surely, and really just continue bringing Delight and see where it goes. I think, while I like to have a plan of how that's going to play out, just like everything, you never know. I'll just have to see and continue to support it and continue to evolve with it.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your story with us today.
Amy CarraThank you so much for having me.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Amy. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. For updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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