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'If I Can Make It, Anyone Can': Beauty Entrepreneur Cristiana Arcangeli

Cristiana Arcangeli is the face of the beauty and fashion industries of Brazil. The leading female entrepreneur talks MBAs, the Latin American economy and what it takes to succeed in entrepreneurship.

Mon Dec 16 2013

When Cristiana Arcangeli first became an entrepreneur, she had to do it the hard way. There was no internet, no ease of access to incubators and MBA programs had yet to take off in the business school world. 

She was transitioning from dentistry - a field far removed from the glamour of Brazilian fashion. 

Now, she is perhaps one of the most recognizable faces of the fashion and beauty industries in Latin America. 

A leading female entrepreneur, she is the creator of Phytoervas Fashion, cosmetics brands PH Arcangeli and Phytá Cosméticos. She has appeared in the Brazilian versions of The Apprentice and Extreme Makeover.

She is renowned for her entrepreneurial empire across Brazil and has collected a raft of awards and accolades, including Most Influential Women of the Country, during a near 30-year business career.

Cristiana is the embodiment of a fashion and beauty entrepreneur: beautiful, charismatic and adorn to celebrity status in Brazil. 

She has succeeded in a world that vastly under represents women. Today, just 4 per cent of CEOs in Fortune 1000 companies are female, and just 16 per cent of board members in that index are women.

She first invested in the beauty industry back in the '80s – when gender representation was even worse. Her first product line, Phytoervas, was one of the first to be salt-free and contain all natural ingredients. 

But her inspiration came in an unlikely form.

While her parents have entrepreneurial backgrounds, Cristiana was first interested in dentistry. 

"It's actually a very long story," she says. "My mother has a car-parts factory and my father has a pipeline company, so everybody always had this vein of entrepreneurship."

Did she want to follow in the family footsteps?

"I found that as a dentist, I was so impressed with the things we could do for our health that I started producing a shampoo line with natural ingredients.

"There was a real need for a natural and organic product and nothing existed like this in Brazil at the time. That's how it all started."

Cristiana sold her dentists' cabin, for a meagre amount in today's economy, but it was enough to get her started in the business world.

These days, there are many incubators and start-up schemes to help young entrepreneurs. But Cristiana self-started her SME and Phytoervas was a leader in the industry for several years. She sold the brand to Bristol Myers Squibb in the late '90s.

After launching cosmetic lines PH Arcangeli and Phytá Cosméticos, she sold the brands in 2006 before taking on the food industry four years later. In 2010, Cristiana launched a new product category known as alimetics; consisting of foods with cosmetic properties. 

She has started many entrepreneurial ventures. 

But it is in the fashion world that she is perhaps most famous. She created Brazil’s first fashion week event, Phytoervas Fashion, and the Phytoervas Fashion Awards, which launched more than 60 designers and drew record audiences of 61,000 over eight years.

"I stepped into fashion without planning it," she says. "I've always liked it. We were just always launching new products and new lines, and completely new and innovative things."

Despite a slower economic output, the beauty industry is big business in Brazil. According to new figures released by Canadean, the industry is expected to grow 11.7 per cent by 2017. 

"Part of this success comes from bringing consumer’s things that they were not expecting," she says, "but when they see it they say: 'how could I have lived without it?'

"I think the beauty industry is big, but we are bringing a new product and there's not much competition. We're launching in the US and Mexico, and there's little competition there too because these are completely new concepts." 

Cristiana has achieved great success and her business empire today is vast. But she had to build it from the ground-up, with little help. She did not attend business school, but did it cross her mind?

"I think I should have done," she says. "But I couldn't, so I had to learn day-to-day. Maybe it would have been easier; you gain a lot more skills and get more training."

Is that what entrepreneurs need, to succeed today?

"There are a lot of things you need, but mostly you need the talent and skills to face challenges," she says. "You also need a very good idea, because things are so competitive today. You need an idea that you're passionate about.

"When I started there was no Internet, no global knowledge that can be accessed as quickly as today. There is so much information now that people have to be more informed. 

"MBAs and business schools are very important today. They are imperative."

Cristiana has no plans to go back to education. She has just expanded her new health-drink product range - beauty’in - and earlier this year she signed a partnership with the British Fashion Council to sponsor London Fashion Week and Vodafone London Fashion Weekend.

Since launching the brand in late 2012, it has been taken on by prominent department stores across Britain. 

But it has not been easy getting her range off the ground. "We have a difficult tax structure in Brazil and, while the economic situation has been improving for the past twenty years, it’s still a challenge," she says.

"With consumer goods, I think it’s a challenge because of the economics in South America. But there are a lot of opportunities, you just need to persist.

"The currency is more stable now and we have a lot of investments from abroad, so now is the time for Brazil to make things happen."

If, like Cristiana suggests, you use business school to become an entrepreneur, there are a few qualities you must possess to achieve success. 

"I would say you need a good idea, you need innovation and you need to be challenged," she says. 

"Take on your challenge and be persistent.

"If I can make it, anybody can."