Australia’s iconic tanning company Bondi Sands has skyrocketed to global success over the past decade with customers across the globe now sporting the signature glow.
The simple idea came in 2008 when one state government introduced strict regulations for tanning salons.
Founders Blair James and Shaun Wilson, who surprisingly hail from Melbourne, saw a gap in the market for an at-home instant tan and, in 2012, Bondi Sands was launched.
Named after the iconic Sydney tourist hotspot, the brand capitalised on the dream of achieving a “natural golden tan that is so uniquely Australian”.
It launched with three products hitting the shelves in Australian pharmacies and supermarkets – but there was no way to guarantee success.
However, in just 12 years they have managed to take over the tanning market, becoming one of the biggest brands in multiple countries.
Bondi Sands has now been acquired by Japanese-owned multinational, Kao Group, for almost $450 million and the duo hope to see the brand grow even more.
How did the company get started?
James was involved in the tanning business years before launching the company.
At the age of 25 he started a tanning salon in Melbourne called Body Bronze. At times the business would be so busy he would be turning customers away, and those customers were often forced to use a tanning product at home.
Customers would often complain that at-home tans were never the same as the salon.
He got to work figuring out what made the perfect spray tan solution and then saw the opportunity to take it to the market.
Bondi Sands was “designed to fill a gap in the market,” after Victoria imposed regulations that would stop people under the age of 18 from accessing tanning salons.
It was also launched at a time when the market was filled with “low quality, unnatural looking self-tanners,” which motivated James and Wilson to begin a “journey of research and discovery to develop a quality, natural tanning formula that resembled the quintessential bronzed Aussie tan”.
“After running my tanning salon for seven years, I think we knew what customers wanted in the products, so we knew our formula was really good,” James told NCA NewsWire.
“It almost came across as this little Aussie battler, in a way, and people wanted to support that brand, and they felt they were getting quality.”
The first three products captured Aussie hearts almost instantly.
With skin safety at the forefront of people’s minds, fake tanning was just taking off as Bondi launched their signature coconut scented tan which was initially available across Australia in Priceline stores.
They aimed to keep costs as low as possible, with the idea that young people would be able to buy it with their spare pocket money.
In 2013, Bondi Sands launched in New Zealand, before officially becoming available on the UK market in 2015.
The team consisted of just four staff members until 2016, with the tan launching in Ireland and the Netherlands just two years later.
America joined the Bondi bandwagon in 2019, when it became available for US purchase through Walgreens, and then other chains like Ulta and Target.
“We’re growing rapidly in the US,” James said.
“We have such strong distribution network around the world and it’s stocked in over 45,000 stores around the world now which is really unmatched by any self tanning brand.”
Social media has played a huge part in the brand’s success, with the pair recognising the value of using influencers to spruik the products.
They managed to get US celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski to advertise the products which led to global attention.
Jenner posed in a white bikini with the self tan bottle in a picture, captioning the image: “My new favourite self tan all the way from Australia”. The advertisement post reportedly cost $250,000 but was worth every penny.
Now selling 56 products across 32 different countries, Bondi Sands has become a household beauty name, with a new focus set to move them beyond the humble fake-tan can.
Selling the Aussie dream
James and Wilson have recently sold their golden empire to Japanese beauty giant Kao Corporation, who currently own other well known brands such as Biore, John Frieda and Jergens.
But Bondi fans need not fear, James said the product they know and love isn’t changing any time soon.
Although details of the sale haven’t been shared, it’s rumoured that Kao bought the Aussie business for as much as $450 million, in an attempt to put their company’s focus on skin protection.
Karen Frank, president of Consumer Care Business, Americas and EMEA, said Bondi Sands would be a “perfect fit” for the Japanese company.
“Quality, innovation, environmental responsibility, accessibility and community are at the forefront of everything it does, ideally aligning Bondi Sands to our own brand values and corporate philosophy,” Ms Frank said.
“The addition of Bondi Sands to our consumer family of brands will greatly advance our mission to be the pre-eminent leader in the global skin protection business and continue our journey of offering diverse products that promote a ‘Kirei’ lifestyle that is healthy, inclusive and sustainable for all.”
James, however, said the sale isn’t a reason Bondi fans should start panicking – the brand they trust isn’t going anywhere.
“We do not want to remove manufacturing from Australia,” he said.
“Australian made is a big part of who we are, but there will be challenges at some point in terms of location and trying to be a global brand.”
“As we grow into the suncare and skincare categories, this takes a lot of investment.
“We want to see Bondi still around in 100 years and if we’re going to do that, we needed a partner that believed in our brand positioning investing in this next phase because the reality is our self tanning range will be outsold by our suncare in the coming years.”
“We’ve got a new range come out next year, which we’re really excited about,” James said.
“Customers have nothing to fear about any changes to the formulation, towards costs or anything. I would expect them to get better.
“I think, if anything, people are maybe a little bit concerned that okay, they aren’t Australian owned anymore.
“But it will remain as Australian brand in terms of how we conduct ourselves.”
Meet the makers
According to his LinkedIn profile, Wilson graduated from Deakin University with both a Bachelor of Applied science, and a Master of Business before launching Bondi Sands alongside James in 2008.
In 2020, long after Bondi hit the market, Wilson completed an executive course for global business leaders at Harvard Business School.
He’s also spoke about “accelerating business growth and scaling” at the Forbes Business Summit in November 2022.
His social media is filled with sparkling events – international holidays, romantic getaways and dinners with his model fiance Tess Shanahan, and many Bondi Sands branded parties.
Wilson, 40, proposed to Shanahan on July 30, with photos of the special moment shared to Instagram soon after.
A 28-year-old model, Shanahan is the perfect brand ambassador for Bondi Sands, regularly posting content with new products.
The second half of Bondi Sands, Blair James, grew up watching ads for Nike with his dad and talking about marketing techniques from the age of six.
His interest in the marketing world taught him the value of hard work, and shaped him into the tanning titan he is today.
James graduated from Yea High School in 1998, before becoming the director of Body Bronze in 2006.
The course of his career changed when he decided Aussies deserved salon quality tans at home, and started Bondi Sands alongside Wilson.
“I look back at when we launched Bondi Sands and it‘s funny, 13 years on when you go back and you look at what you’ve made, it makes you cringe a little bit,” he said.
“But I think customers knew our formula was really good, and they were willing to try it.
“When I create something like this, it’s actually quite personal for me because when you see a product launch, like our new Technicolour range for example, that’s what I’ve dedicated my time to, along with the rest of the team.”
He said the brand has helped him grow his confidence, and taught him to trust what he believes in.
“Over the last 10 years with Bondi, my confidence in my ability to create something new has grown so much, and that’s been really impactful.”
He also married wife Melanie James in a glitzy wedding in Lake Como in August, 2022.
The pair are expecting a baby in October.