No beauty brand has ever been born online, and for good reason. Conventional wisdom states that cosmetics require customers to be able to touch and feel and smell the products before dropping often wallet-emptying sums and committing to apply them to their bodies. The Internet simply lacks the tactile quality needed to sell this most intimate of products.
Emily Weiss will have none of that. The 29-year-old founder of the hit beauty and lifestyle news site Into The Gloss (ITG) has spent nearly four years earning the trust of millions of online readers – women who tend to be mature, confident and successful rather than the innocent, young, and naieve girls coveted by traditional beauty publications. ITG is known for its honest and refreshingly frank reviews of new beauty products, makeup techniques, and celebrity looks. The no-holds-barred approach was enough for Industrie magazine to name Weiss “The New Queen of Beauty” and The Daily to honor her as “Beauty Innovator of the Year.”
Last month ITG took what seems like the next logical step in its evolution with the launch of Glossier, a self-described “content driven, vertically integrated beauty products company.” In other words, Weiss threw conventional wisdom out the window and bet big that her audience and ITG’s credibility would be enough to overcome all the reasons why an online beauty brand could never work.
Since leaving a job at Vogue in 2011 to focus on ITG full time, Weiss and her team have spent the last four years building trust and credibility among this audience. To put concrete numbers to that audience, Weiss has grown her new-media platform to nearly 1,000,000 monthly unique visitors and more than 194,000 Instagram followers, and 53,800 Facebook likes. These are the kinds of numbers, when paired with healthy engagement, that can catapult a new brand from obscurity into the mainstream.
With this as the foundation, Glossier is less a new brand, as it is an extension of an existing brand into a new category. The company’s inclusive and non-judgemental ethos of “skin first, makeup second, smile always” seems to be resonating. It’s still early, but the company seems to be having the kind of launch month that most upstart brands would dream about. The early reviews have been nothing short of glowing (or glossy?), and a brief pop-up shop beneath the company’s SoHo offices was a rousing success. But, returning to the kind of numbers that helped build ITG in the first place. the Glossier Instagram account has grown to an impressive 29,000 followers in less than a month. A single photo posted by model Karlie Kloss – and later reblogged by the company – of herself in a Glossier sweatshirt has received nearly 27,000 likes.
“Direct, real-time customer engagement drives everything we do, from product innovation to storytelling, to distribution,” Weiss says. “This investment, led by technology and ecommerce experts, enhances Glossier’s ability to offer people a deeply meaningful, immersive brand experience, meeting them online and on their terms.”
Unlike celebrities who routinely just slap their names onto third-party products and call them their own, Weiss has gotten her hands dirty, literally, in the cosmetics formulation process. Taking years of data from ITG’s own product reviews, feedback from its readers, and expertise from newly hired, but as yet unnamed “top cosmetic chemists,” Glossier created its own line of custom products meant to offer the best of what every woman needs in her skincare arsenal, but, and here’s the key, nothing more.
This is evident in the fact that Glossier offers just four products at launch: Soothing Face Mist, Priming Moisturizer, Perfecting Skin Tint, and Balm Dotcom. The line will grow over time, but always with a focus on offering the bare essentials in high quality, universally appealing, and affordable price points. A bundle of the first four items is available for just $ 80 with free shipping – and, per Weiss, “no lame subscriptions, because they’re lame.”
Weiss recently explained to the New York Times her less-is-more philosophy, saying, “Today, there’s an ease to dressing that’s crossing over into beauty. It’s sort of the idea of breathability.”
Designing and manufacturing cosmetics and managing the fulfillment that comes with selling physical goods is about as far from publishing as you can get. It’s also a capital intensive business that ITG would be hard pressed to finance on its own. With that in mind, the company announced $ 8.4 million in Series A funding today meant to help it double down on what has the early appearance of a hit product line. This mean growing the Glossier team and scaling production to meed mounting demand. The latest round was led by Thrive Capital with participation from 14W, Manzanita Capital, WME, David Tisch’s Box Group, Jay Brown, and Bonobos founder Andy Dunn, as well as existing investors Forerunner Ventures and Lerer Hippeau Ventures. Glossier has now raised a total of $ 10.4 million.
In today’s world, where consumers are constantly being bombarded by offers and advertisements and messages, brand authenticity is more important than ever. Digitally native brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club, and Honest Company have demonstrated that it’s possible to build deep engagement and affinity online even in categories where products are less conducive to buying without trying first. Rather than look to other beauty brands for inspiration, Weiss is wisely looking to these brand-driven ecommerce pioneers for guidance.
Eventually, Weiss aims to distribute Glossier through traditional beauty channels like department stores and third-party ecommerce retailers like Sephora and Dermstore. But today, it’s an online only brand, relying on the cult-like following of thousands of beauty-obsessed women to turn this industry on its head. Crazy as it may have seemed to some, Weiss’ unconventional plan seems to be working. She’s building an online beauty empire, one virtual brick at a time.