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Sculpted boss Aimee Connolly: ‘I have been surrounded by girl power for as long as I know’

Aimee Connolly says investing in bricks and mortar has paid off for her beauty business and she has plans for further expansion in the UK and US in the next year

The luxury of a high street presence is one reserved increasingly for big multinational chains and a select few with deep pockets. Headlines about rising commercial vacancy rates and companies closing up physical stores have grown ever more prevalent since the pandemic.

Defying such trends, one prime spot on Dublin’s Grafton Street has a proudly pink resident. The flagship Sculpted by Aimee store opened in 2022 though founder and chief executive of the make-up brand Aimee Connolly admits people thought she was “mad” to make the investment.

“People were like: ‘You are crazy. You’re not only looking for bricks and mortar, you’re looking on one of the most expensive streets,’” she tells The Irish Times, perched on a blush, velvet high stool in the store’s glamorous upstairs studio space.

Connolly’s a busy woman and we are meeting before her store opens on a Friday morning when the store shutters along the street are half open, window washers’ hose pipes snake across the pavement, and a fleet of delivery vans line one of Dublin’s main shopping thoroughfares.


Her store looks out over St Stephen’s Green and the neighbouring shopping centre, as well as one of the most expensive streets in the State in terms of retail rents (and 16th most expensive in the world, according to a report last year by Cushman and Wakefield).

The Grafton Street store has been followed by three more store openings in the past two years at prime locations in Kildare Village, Victoria Square in Belfast, and, most recently, Carnaby Street in London.

Connolly says her investment in bricks and mortar has paid off in terms of profit but having a physical presence is not just about “what goes through the till”.

“It’s about having an experiential space where people can come and learn, access every single product under the sun, book in for a lesson, a makeover, or one of our events. It’s kind of where you feel the DNA of Sculpted,” she says.

“For me, the flagship is like the home. It’s a destination where – to pay homage to my humble beginnings – I can also bring Sculpted make-up artists into a home like where I would have started out on counter,” she adds.

I was very much going against the norm of more is more. I was saying no actually, less is more, and here’s how you can do it in a few easy tweaks

Connolly got her first gig in make-up in Dundrum’s Urban Decay counter as a transition year student before going on to establish herself as a leading Irish make-up artist, working for clients, hosting workshops, regularly appearing on TV and writing a weekly beauty column.

Sculpted started out as a solution to a common problem Connolly was encountering while working with clients – make-up trends were too complicated and the selection of products on the market was overwhelming for consumers.

“How I was approaching make-up at the time, I was very much going against the norm of more is more. I was saying no actually, less is more, and here’s how you can do it in a few easy tweaks,” she says.

Her first two products, launched in 2016 and still in the range to this day, were a three-in-one face sculpting palette and a double-ended brush. The Sculpted range now has more than 150 products on offer, all based on the principle of making beauty simple and accessible for everyone.

Connolly recalls the earliest days of her business, selling her products through a Facebook-powered website, and “bombing around” in her car to convince buyers to stock her brand – her first deals being with CH Chemists, Meaghers, Cara (now Allcare), McCauley and McCabes pharmacies.

“They were super supportive to back me because at the time I had absolutely no case study to say ‘I’ve sold this and I can do this and get this return’. They were also taking a chance. I approached and successfully succeeded in getting into those five key chains, and then the rest just spiralled,” she says.

Her expansion since then has been entirely self-funded. Sculpted is now sold in-person at more than 450 locations between stockists and her own stores, as well as online.

Sculpted turned a profit before tax of €2.4 million in 2022. That was down from €3.04 million in 2021 as Connolly began her investment in bricks and mortar but still marked significant growth in just three years from profits of €381,266 in 2019.

We’re really lucky with the year we had, and we don’t plan on slowing down

Abridged accounts don’t include yearly revenues for the business but Connolly says turnover has seen “chunky” percentage growth each year – from 100 per cent year-on-year growth in the first five years, to about 70 per cent growth in 2022 and 60 per cent growth in 2023.

In terms of the profits last year, Connolly is tight lipped though she confirms the figures will show “a very thriving business that’s set for global growth” when they are filed with Companies House.

Staff numbers have also more than tripled at the company in the past year or so, from 25 in 2022 to 77 currently. “We’re really lucky with the year we had, and we don’t plan on slowing down,” she says.

Connolly says the company is set on expanding its retail presence in the UK by the end of the year, as well as launching in the US in the first quarter of 2025.

“The UK is our biggest international market focus right now, and that’s going really well,” she says. It accounts for 25-30 per cent of Sculpted sales. Connolly says the planned UK expansion will involve either a new Sculpted store or a deal with an existing retailer.

Her initial focus in the US will be New York, she says. Connolly, who hopes to replicate her “trio matrix” of flagship stores, retail partners and online sales in every market, is considering which of those channels will come first in the US.

Connolly says that starting her own business seven years ago seemed more like an inevitability than a brave decision.

“I started getting towards graduation stage, I was 22, all my peers were doing the usual graduate programme applications, and I just knew in my gut that I was never going to work for anyone else,” she says.

“When people say how did you have the confidence to start your own business, I didn’t consider it confidence. I was just like, ‘sure of course we’ll try this’. There was just a business gene in me, a need and a curiosity to go the extra mile, whatever that entails,” she adds.

Connolly also gives some of the credit to her entrepreneurial mother, Clare Connolly, who went back to college in her 40s to switch career and start her own property business. “She has a total can-do attitude, so that’s definitely passed down to me thankfully,” she says.

While Connolly says there was no specific “big break” moment for her business, social media has been one of its “secret success factors”, as both the Sculpted Instagram page and her own personal profile have about 200,000 followers apiece.

“I think anyone who doesn’t appreciate social media in this day and age is not running their business correctly. It’s so powerful, it’s an instant marketing tool, and it’s a way to reach millions of people in [sometimes] a cost-efficient manner that you couldn’t physically do any faster any other way,” she says.

I’m allergic to ego or that classic Irish notion of being mad about yourself

“It’s a massive lever for us. We’re big on education, so it’s a brilliant visual tool to guide people and have that instant interaction with community as well which really we have to nurture,” she says.

Sculpted by Aimee is also closely woven with Connolly’s own identity, not only in the name, but also in how she “walks the walk” – posting daily updates to her followers about how she uses her own products and behind the scenes in her business.

“When I was a make-up tutor, I was used to being the centre of my brand so I really liked the notion of Sculpted by Aimee because I love the human element. We do find a massive benefit in having a founder who can be the face of the brand and be the talking point,” she says, although she adds that it does come with certain risks, like the fear of being “cancelled”.

“It’s is something that we do debate a lot as we globalise... but I think we’re striking a good balance where yes, I am the founder and the creator of the brand, but the brand can also stand on its own,” she says.

As a young, female chief executive of a multimillion euro company, Connolly says she rarely stops to think about if she is any different from other business leaders.

“I think I’ve been really lucky, coming from an [all female] single-parent household into an industry that is very dominated by females, that I have just been surrounded by girl power for as long as I know,” she says.

“Do I reflect on being a young female [CEO]? Probably not, but I also think that’s part of my personality – I’m allergic to ego or that classic Irish notion of being mad about yourself. What has forced me to stop and think is when people say their business class did a case study on Sculpted or their thesis was on Sculpted – that’s pretty cool to think that you’re having an impact,” she says.

In terms of the future, Connolly has big ambitions but also has her eyes wide open about the fierce competition in the beauty industry.

“We are lucky that we’ve had great growth, and a lot of years to understand what we do well. But any founder is kept awake at night at times during their lifetime in beauty where they think, woah, we’re up against so many [brands], particularly when it comes to new markets,” she says.

Despite the challenge, she is clear on her ultimate goal – for Sculpted by Aimee to become one of the top 10 beauty brands globally.

“I am ultra confident we’re going to get there. It’s going to be a long journey, it’s going to be a steep climb, but ultimately I believe that we deserve to be there, that the team is ambitious enough, and that we’ll make many millions of make-up bags around the world super happy,” she says.

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is an Irish Times journalist.