Women Of Style: Sephora’s Julie Bornstein

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Julie with Mary-Kate and Ashlen Olsen. Photo: Courtesy 

From working with celebrities on fragrance launches to coming up with cool rewards for loyal customers, Sephora’s Chief Marketing and Digital Officer Julie Bornstein has every beauty-loving girl’s dream job. And she’s more than earned it. Over the last six years Bornstein has helped triple the size of the the brand’s e-commerce business and establish it as an industry leader in customer service and mobile shopping. A Harvard grad with previous experience building Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and other all-star brands, Bornstein has accomplished much in her career. And would you believe she’s also a wife, mother to two kids and a business mentor? Meet the incredible Julie in today’s Women of Style interview.

Early Life & Career

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Julie as a child. Photo: Courtesy

Growing Up

"I grew up in Syracuse, NY - it's not known as a hotbed of cultural activity, but my household was always interesting. My family is very dynamic, intellectual and argumentative, so there was always a good debate to be had. Not surprisingly, two of my sisters became lawyers."

"A strong sense of civic duty was instilled in us at an early age. I volunteered and took a leadership role on the teen advisory board for Planned Parenthood. I hope to pass this value onto my kids as well."

My other passion was fashion, design and shopping. Early on, I wanted to be either a fashion designer or interior decorator. I would sketch outfits and compile catalogs and loved to visit the textiles room at my mom’s interior decorator’s workshop. My friends and I spent most weekends at the mall and I became an expert shopper at a young age.
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Looks from DKNY's resort 2015 collection. Photo: Courtesy of DKNY

Her First Job

"I wanted to try working in business (which was unheard of in my family of doctors and lawyers). I figured it may as well be in an area of interest, so I wrote letters to the HR departments of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. I got my first job in at DKNY in merchandising."

"I learned the process of how fashion products were designed, manufactured and brought to market, which was fascinating."

"I also learned that my natural tendency to spot and solve problems wasn't just in personal life, it was something that also happened at work. I saw that there were many inefficiencies to business that technology could solve years before the world went digital."

"I made a friend in IT (and since it was 1992, IT was called MIS) and no one yet knew how valuable she was so I asked her to help me on a little side project. Together we worked to create a computer program to update our manual forecasting process - which was being done entirely with pencil and paper at that point. We used actual sales data from the prior year and got better forecasting results in a fraction of the time. That, to me, was exciting."

"It’s funny to look back now and realize my love of technology and fashion was first formed over 20 years ago. It's also where I learned the power of collaborating with the right people, and the value of different skill-sets."

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Sephora's Beauty Insider members who spend more than $1,000 every year earn 'VIB Rouge' status.

Career-Spanning Themes

"I've been lucky to work with some pretty iconic brands that are well-respected and have a strong authentic connection to their customer. The customer connection and focus on experience has been a great launching pad for new customer-centric innovation."

"Whether at Starbucks; bringing music more front and center to the store experience, at Nordstrom; bringing the great product and service to the online world, or at Sephora; launching a unique loyalty program, it has been exciting to work for brands that have earned the trust and love of their customers, and very gratifying to help further develop those businesses."

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Perks of the job: meeting Oprah. Photo: Courtesy

Her Typical Day at Sephora

"No two days are ever alike, but the common thread is that I'm working with smart, fun and inspired people to figure out how to continue to make the shopping experience at Sephora better. In one minute we're thinking five years out, and the next we're reviewing final campaign materials that go live next week. It certainly keeps you on your toes."

"I meet regularly with different teams to discuss everything from daily business results, to new campaign concepts and new technology projects, to organizational and people issues (lots of these, this is a big part of leading a large team). I also meet regularly with investors and entrepreneurs who are interested in e-commerce, beauty or a partnership with Sephora, its fun to stay connected to the start-up world and is an advantage of our proximity to Silicon Valley."

"The wide range of subjects keeps work fun and interesting every day. And every now and then, there’s a chance to meet with a celebrity too."

"Plus, I love the people. And no day passes without a discussion or two about kids, favorite new lipsticks, or which parts of our finished lunch goes into the recycle vs the compost bin (we are in SF after all)."

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Photo: @sephora

Job Challenges

"Finding enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Me, my team, the company...are constantly dreaming about new ideas, and thinking about what we could do next for our customers. We want to be the first to get it, and do it right. That's what's made Sephora so successful so far. To execute well, you need to stay focused and you need to help the team stay focused. You have to balance the big ideas and constant ideation with prioritizing solid execution. So prioritizing, and getting to as much as you can, while maintaining your sanity, is definitely a challenge. Fortunately, it’s a labor of love."

I love creating new experiences for our customers that make shopping for beauty easier, more convenient, more fun, more intelligent. Whether it's creating a new mobile app, building tools for our sales associates, or envisioning the next generation store, inventing new approaches to shopping is my passion. I also love retail, where you are measured every day by the sales you deliver.
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Julie with Marc Jacobs, who launched his first-ever makeup line exclusively at Sephora. Photo: Courtesy

What Most People Don't Know About The Beauty Industry

"While you might think of beauty as a basics, replenishment business, it's actually very fashion, trend and innovation driven. And there's definitely a science to the art of makeup. The technology, the data behind some of the innovations - in-store, online or even in our products - is quite remarkable. That's what I love about being based in San Francisco. Innovation is in our DNA."

Personal Style & Family

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Julie, with colleagues at a company event. Photo: Courtesy

Her Work Wardrobe

"Black. Many variations of. As a company, we have a dress code in which we all wear black, grey, white or red – our brand colors. It began in support of our sales associates who wear the uniform in stores, and we've carried it over to corporate headquarters. I love the brand spirit it creates. And, since I love fashion, it’s a constant challenge to find new ways to keep the palette interesting."

What To Wear On A Job Interview With Sephora...

"One of our colors. A dress, or nice pants and a jacket to be specific."

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Photo: @stitchfix

Her Shopping Habits

"I mostly shop online at around 11pm or early weekend mornings. My favorite sites are Shopbop, Neimans, Anthropologie, Modcloth, Zappos for kids shoes, One Kings Lane, and of course, Sephora. And my newest way to shop, through the online personal shopping service, Stitchfix (I’m on the Board so I’m a bit biased but its an amazing service.)"

"Once a year I’ll meet a girlfriend of mine in East Hampton and we’ll spend a full day hitting every shop there (love Henry Lehr), and I try to get a few trips to Barneys when I’m in New York."

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Tibi, $595

Her Summer Shopping List

"Summer booties. I’m always cold, so I'm thankful that it’s now somewhat normal to wear boots year-round...especially here in San Francisco."

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Jennifer Aniston celebrating her fragrance launch in 2011 with Sephora. Photo: Getty Images

Her Beauty Icons

"I’ve always thought Sienna Miller has the most beautiful, natural look. I’ve also always been a huge Jennifer Aniston fan since the Friends days. She’s adorable and funny, and I love that we’ve had the chance to work with her twice at Sephora, first on her fragrance launch and then through her part ownership of Living Proof."

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Nars Bronzing Powder in Laguna, $38, Ole Henrikson Truth Serum Collagen Booster, $48, Kat Von D Tattoo Liner in Trooper, $18, Kat Von D Painted Love Lipstick in Lovecraft, $19.

Medicine Cabinet Essentials

"Ole Henrikson Truth Serum. It's the perfect first step in the morning under the rest of your routine. Kat Von D lipstick and liquid eyeliner, both incredible, long lasting, amazing quality essentials. Oh, and Nars Laguna bronzer. Admittedly, its hard to stop the list there so if you want to see more, I keep a personal 'Best Beauty' list on Pinterest." 

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Foreo Luna for Men (black) and Sensitive Skin (white), $199 Each.

Her New Obsession

"Foreo. It's a new cleansing device that’s simple and really improves appearance of fine lines and pores, while helping moisturizer or serum absorb better."

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GHD Gold Professional 2” Styler, $225

Her Tech Gadget Go-Tos

"My iPhone is the one item I literally go nowhere without. Until they figure out how to get it inside my phone, my credit card is attached to it. I also can't live without my Drybar hairdryer and GHD flat iron (those are tech gadgets, aren’t they?!). I used my Jawbone Up writsband for a few weeks but the lack of steps from my office job was getting depressing so until I get myself a treadmill desk, I leave it at home."

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Julie with her family. Photo: Courtesy

How She Unwinds

"I come home and take a walk around the neighborhood with my kids. (I live about 25 mins outside of SF in the ‘burbs). It's green, calming and when we walk, I get to have great conversations with my kids – somehow people talk more freely when they’re walking. Plus, it’s the only way I seem to get at least a few steps a day."

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Julie on the cover of WWD's Beauty Inc.

How She Finds Balance

"I'm really committed to leaving the office every day by 5:30 so I can spend my evening with my family, and then work a few hours after my kids go to bed. I have a sitter two evenings a week, my husband and I have date night on Tuesday and we go out with friends on Saturday. And we plan amazing vacations which, as all working moms know, are the most quality family time. Work and family are very fluid, and I work a lot around the edges. My kids know I love my work and are always interested in helping me solve whatever work challenges I’m facing.

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