Francesca Webster: building a beauty empire from Brisbane

June 26, 2016

Every woman looks in the mirror, but when do we honestly look ourselves in the eyes?

I love a good pampering as much as the next girl, but the thought of the multi-billion-dollar industry as a whole makes me suspect that I’m a sucker. I’d never do anything crazy like cancel my regular brow appointment, but I do sometimes feel the guilt of over-indulgence when I splurge on a spray tan or facial.

I felt a bit cheeky expressing these niggles to Francesca Webster, the founder of Brisbane’s ubiquitous Brazilian Beauty salons, but I was glad that I did. Fran’s vision for the future of the popular chain has inspired me to take joy from my salon visits and claim it as my right as a woman.


Originally from the UK, Francesca and her family moved to Australia in 2003 where she continued in her profession of IT. It wasn’t long before she identified an opportunity in Brisbane for a quality, standardised beauty salon, and thus Brazilian Beauty was born.

Within 18 months there were three salons, and today there are 21 Brazilian Beauty franchises across four states – a great success story.

Although Fran had no previous background in beauty, she has always had an affinity for the industry.

“When I turned 13 my mum took me to the salon to get my legs waxed for the first time,” Fran tells me in her soft British accent. “I’ve always been a girly girl! Even working the male-driven industry of IT, I’ve always loved getting my hair done and going to the salon for a treatment.”

Unrealistic beauty expectations

Five minutes into our chat it’s obvious to me that Fran is a really nice person, and I am reluctant to curtail her warmth by mentioning the negative aspects of the industry.

In the name of truth and, er, blogging I suck it up and ask her to comment on the idea that the beauty industry preys on women’s insecurities and encourages unrealistic expectations.

“It’s definitely true that the beauty industry has been guilty of promoting unrealistic images,” Fran says. “It got to the stage that when we were planning a new campaign or ad, we’d look at the stock images we had or the models we had available to shoot and they were all 20 year-olds-who were so retouched and perfect that they didn’t look realistic; they didn’t even look like realistic 20-year-old models.”

We all know what those ads look like!

Fran continues; “I think that type of advertising just got pushed too far, and it got to the stage where it wasn’t representing us as a brand or a team that wants to empower women, and that’s where our rebranding is going to take us.”

The new faces of the new direction

Brazilian Beauty’s rebranding campaign launched 26 June with the positioning line – ‘Believe in Beautiful’, and Fran and her team have employed an intriguing methodology.

The first step was a nationwide competition in search of the new faces of Brazilian Beauty. Contestants were invited to submit a natural-looking selfie along with a 200-word description on ‘what makes someone beautiful’.

“We wanted faces that represented the brand over a wide demographic,” explains Francesca. “Instead of seeing an ad of some perfect retouched model, we want people to think, ‘Hey that could be my friend from work, or my mother, or the lady at the post office. That could be me,’ she says.”

“I didn’t expect it to be so emotional,” says Fran, “but you just don’t realise the positive impact that you have on these women. I am not a crier, but I was moved to tears on quite a few occasions.”

A photoshoot with a difference

Campaign faces

“We set up the photoshoot like a bit of a social experiment,” Fran tells me. “All the models were in their own space in front of a mirror, and the photographer was behind that two-way mirror.

“The girls knew they were being photographed, but the idea was for them to look at themselves and just see. Every woman looks in the mirror, but when do we honestly look ourselves in the eyes?

“It’s those times when you look at your reflection, quit the judging and experience a moment of confidence and say, ‘I look good. This is me, this is who I am, and I look good.’ That’s what we’re trying to do with this campaign,” she says.

A beauty tip from the top

It’s not often you have the opportunity to ask a beauty mogul for her top tip, and just for the record, Fran has made sure she is fully trained in the services offered at her salons.

“Wear a sunscreen, every day, every time you leave the house,” Fran says decisively.

I make a guilty mental note to check my foundation’s SPF. I also opt for tanning, but the Brazilian will have to wait for another day in a braver future!

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