Whole New Mind

Holistic thinking builds the foundation for a brand

by Pauline Tingas,
Senior Editor
It’s a right brain/left brain thing—and Hana Zalzal credits both sides for her success. The founder of Cargo cosmetics, Zalzal started her education in the school of architecture at the University of Toronto before switching to a civil engineering degree and then going on to earn an MBA.
She says drawing on both skill sets, analytic and creative, has been key in the successful development of her 10-year-old cosmetics brand. “There’s a design aspect [to managing the brand], and it is solution based,” she says, “The analytical training helps that out—it gets me thinking with a problem/solution approach.”
Take Daily Gloss, a lip product introduced by the brand in 2005. The problem? Zalzal was traveling and didn’t want the burden of full-sized products. “I could pick the colors, but not how much I take with me,” she recalls. That conflict, what she dubs the “last frontier” of customization, found resolution in a standard blister pack used for pharmaceuticals; she simply repurposed the packaging to house 30 perforated “doses” of lip gloss that could be torn off and tucked into a bag or pocket as needed.
Looking outside the beauty industry is a common, and successful, strategy for Zalzal.
Food packaging, for instance, was the inspiration for her recent liquid foundation launch. Housed in a collapsible flexible pouch, the product’s packaging format was a first for the category, winning favor not only for its unique design presence, but for more practical applications: unlike standard foundation bottles, the flexible pouch doesn’t break; it lets users squeeze out every last bit of product; and the package footprint becomes less space-hogging as the product is used.
That kind of turn-it-on-its-head thinking has been a signature of Cargo since the beginning. When Zalzal launched the company in Canada back in 1996, the industry was steeped in what she describes as “ornate, overpackaged” brands. Rather than join the fray, though, she infused her products with a sleek, urban aesthetic (round metal tins have become a signature) that established a niche in the marketplace.
“We really pared down the packaging,” she says. “And it went over tremendously.”
Cargo built on that reception and expanded to the United States in 1998; the brand is now available worldwide through retailers like Sephora. The global appeal likely can be credited to the fact that the packaging universally communicates the essence of the brand—the idea of makeup as women’s cargo.
To that end, Zalzal says, Cargo’s go-anywhere packaging has been a valuable tool in building and marketing the brand—both on the shelf (“It’s the first thing a consumer sees” ) and off the shelf (the designs help to garner editorial for the brand). “That’s the power of packaging,” she says.
But it’s even more than that. Zalzal took a gut-instinct strategy with her packaging that succeeded in doing everything today’s brands are spending millions in marketing to do: make deeper connections with consumers. In fact, the brand is among a group of upstarts in the 90s that is credited for shifting the way the entire industry now engages its audience.  
“There used to be a dictatorship in terms of makeup—the beauty advisor at the counter was the authority,” says Zalzal. “We look at makeup as the servant, not the master. And we’ve seen packaging get more fun—there’s more experimentation.”
That’s also why the innovations pipeline at Cargo is not likely to slow anytime soon. “We’re always challenging and pushing ourselves to evolve, to be smarter and easier,” Zalzal says.
And while packaging fits right in at the front end of that product development cycle, Zalzal is quick to say that new packaging concepts won’t necessarily make it to retail simply on the fact that they are unique. “We don’t force the packaging,” she says. “Packaging on its own without the right product won’t work.”
In that case, experience is typically a good fix. Development of Cargo products like Daily Gloss and the brand’s liquid foundation had unique challenges in that the suppliers came from outside the industry; they hadn’t worked with cosmetics before. “When you’re innovating something that no one’s done before, there are always things you can’t predict,” she says. “But,” she encourages, “the more innovating you do, the more suppliers you work with, the more successful your outcome will be.” BP
Name: Hana Zalzal
Age: 42
Title: Founder, Cargo Cosmetics
Cargo’s birthday:  Fall 1996
Where or when do your best ideas come to you? 
“Florida. We take the kids down, and we’re removed from the day-to-day of business; that’s where I have moments of clarity. Also, people-watching on the subway.”
What do you consider the ultimate branded package?
Daily Gloss
What are you currently reading?
The full collection of Curious George stories (to the kids)