They were once treated as fancy dress accessories or bought for big occasions, but fake eyelashes have now become big business.
Worn by thousands of women anywhere and everywhere – to work, on nights outs and even to the gym and the supermarket – the beauty trend will be worth around £1.5bn within five years, so standing out from the growing, crowded lash bar market is tough, but so important.
And Ashleigh Stevenson has just the answer – fake eyelash vending machines.
The 27-year-old beauty entrepreneur from Newcastle was one of the first lash technicians to set up business in Newcastle and, thanks to a large following on social media and large numbers of regular customers, her Gosforth salon The Lashloft, where she has six other lash technicians, is often fully booked, week after week.
So to reach out to new customers, satisfy existing ones who can’t get a booking, and to raise awareness of her brand and business, she created the Lashloft vending machines.
The vending machines sell her handmade ‘fans’ of lashes – from natural falsies to glamorous, dramatic sets, for £10.99 and the glue for £6, all at the push of a button.
The machines sells 18 styles of her lashes in vending machines in Newcastle’s Eldon Square, the Metrocentre and in Manchester, and a new machine is about to be unveiled in Milton Keynes.
She said: “It’s been amazing, everyone’s loving them. And we are a social media generation so Instagram has helped it blow up.
“I got so full that I couldn’t take any customers on, and it was frustrating me that I would always be stuck at that level.
“I was sat talking to my fiance one evening about how I could grow the business, and it just popped into my head. In America they have vending machines for cupcakes and even Chanel perfume, so why not have one for my lashes?
“Matty said I should go for it. He’s a roofer and the manliest man you could ever find, but he comes up with some great ideas and has been brilliant at pushing me in my career – he’ll say ‘don’t find a problem, find a solution’. It was Matty who tracked down a vending machine manufacturer to work with.
“The machine is basically customised to become The Lashloft vending machine, and Matty has installed them at the shopping centres for me too.
“And they work brilliantly, and are selling really well. I go to refill them with lashes and glue every couple of weeks and want to roll them out nationally.
“Since first launching them I’ve been offered space in Glasgow and Essex, and an even bigger deal could happen too.
“I’m in talks with a businessman in Abu Dhabi who wants to franchise the machines in an exclusibe deal across the UAE – and it’s something I’m definitely considering.”
The former All Saints school pupil first got involved in the industry after enrolling into a beauty course at Gateshead College.
However, she had to put her career on hold for a few years after falling pregnant with her son Brody, now eight, when she was 19. The course included learning massage and reflexology, but that involved using oils that pregnant women are advised to avoid, so she felt she had no choice but to quit.
After having her son, she began working in a hair extension salon but decided to go freelance when Brody was due to start school and she needed more time to be with him.
She explored lashing, then a relatively new beauty trend, and gained the necessary training and qualification after taking courses bought as presents by her mum and her fiance, Matty Pearson. The qualification also allows her to carry out her own training course and academy.
She said: “At first I did lashing just for myself and for my family, not thinking I was going to make money, a business and a career out of it. It was a hobby, something to keep me busy whilst Brody was in reception.
“I wanted to do something that wasn’t offered by the salon I’d worked in, so that it wouldn’t clash.
“I only knew of two to three people in Newcastle that were lashing at the time, and I saw an open market so went for it.
“I only planned on working a few short days per week but quickly realised I was pretty good at lashing and required an extra pair of hands and so I taught another girl everything I knew.”
The business was called The Lashloft because that’s exactly where it was based initially – in the converted loft of the home she and Matty shared in Great Park.
She set up a salon in the Great Park area of Newcastle, which offers everything from individual lash extensions to the application of ‘mega volume’ and ‘Russian volume’ handmade fans of lashes.
Ashleigh said her salon takes lots of bookings from heavily pregnant women wanting full fans of lashes to be applied, sometimes when they’re on their way to the delivery suite.
“It’s a crazy world we live in!” she said. “We call them push lashes or labour lashes. And they book in as close to their due date as possible, leaving it to the absolute last minute before having them applied. It’s scary how late they leave it. I had one customer message me to say she was on her way and she was four centimetres dilated.
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“I wouldn’t release the photos I had taken of me when I had my son, but all new mums do that picture now. They want to put photos on social media as soon as they can, looking awake even though they don’t feel it.
“Lashes have that effect – they open up your eyes, frame your face and giving you confidence.”
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