NEW YORK, United States — A recent series of posts from Trendmood, an Instagram account dedicated to promoting the newest beauty products, are practically indistinguishable from one another. There’s Juvia’s Place “The Nomad” eyeshadow palette; Lethal Cosmetics “Dreamsign” eyeshadow palette; two posts about Colourpop’s “Going Coconut” eyeshadow palette; a teaser of Tati Westbook’s Tati Beauty “Vol 2” eyeshadow palette and Me Love Me A Lot Makeup’s first eyeshadow palette.
Seemingly anyone who can claim a social media following in the mid-six figures has their own line of beauty products these days. Ulta Beauty alone carries over 600 distinct labels on its website, a universe that includes established players like Lancôme to one-year-old makeup brand for kids and teens, Petite ’n Pretty. Hundreds, if not thousands of direct-to-consumer brands have sprung up in Glossier’s wake.
“There’s been an explosion … there’s a brand launching a product every single week,” said Manny Gutierrez, aka Manny MUA, the beauty influencer with nearly five million YouTube subscribers and founder of Lunar Beauty. He released a “Life’s a Drag” eyeshadow palette last year, and just last month debuted a “Moon Spell” palette for the holidays. “When there’s so much of it [consumers] just get overwhelmed.”
Here’s a partial list of celebrities who have launched their own lines in recent years: Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Jen Atkin, Huda Kattan, Jeffree Star, Negin Mirsalehi, Marianna Hewitt, Lilit Caradanian, Annie Lawless, Anna Petrosian, Tati Westbrook, Sazan Hendrix, Christen Dominique, Kristin Ess, Sona Gasparian, Kathleen Fuentes (KathleenLights) and Patrick Ta. Millie Bobby Brown released a range of “clean” skin-care items, Tracee Ellis Ross launched hair-care line Pattern Beauty, Michelle Pfeiffer got into clean fragrance with Henry Rose, and Kesha will soon introduce colour cosmetics brand Kesha Rose Beauty. Even SpongeBob now has a vegan and cruelty-free collection of colour cosmetics with “Jellyfish” lip gloss and a “Bikini Bottom” eyeshadow palette.
Celebrity backed beauty products are nothing new — Elizabeth Taylor’s “White Diamonds” fragrance was still a bestseller 20 years after its 1991 debut— but the rush of new brands and collaborations is a product of the social media era. The days of mass-market brands that appeal to everyone is waning, with niche products catering to hardcore fans on the rise. Still, many of the new influencer-driven brands are similar-looking makeup lines. Products are predominantly eyeshadow palettes and lip colour — items that look great on Instagram but don’t require a deep knowledge of skin types or shades.
It’s not about too many – it’s about too many brands we can’t tell apart.
Trendmood founder Sophie Shab said she receives eight to 12 beauty packages per day, on average, a combination of new and existing product from from influencers, indie labels and established brands. Conservatively, this could add up to 280 packages per month (and far more around the holiday season where 20 to 35 deliveries per day has become the norm), or about 3,360 product deliveries per year.
Some experts see a shakeout coming. A few of these lines are destined to become beauty aisle staples (Kristin Ess is on her way, where her line of hair care and tools is said to be on track to hit $100 million in global sales this year). But makeup sales are falling in the US, where women are starting to favour a more natural look while prioritising skin-care. And growing consumer consciousness about sustainability is starting to make putting out a dizzying amount of products feel passé.
Plus, unless you’re a makeup artist, no one needs that much eyeshadow.
“It’s not about too many – it’s about too many brands we can’t tell apart,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Retail Strategy, a consulting firm. “If you can’t elevate the message and all you do is iterate, there are plenty of other people to do that.”
How Celebrities Stormed the Beauty Aisle
The current brand boom has its roots in the celebrity fragrance craze of the 1990s and early 2000s. Back then, it was a new scent every few months from Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears; now it’s the latest Huda Beauty eyeshadow palette or Kylie Cosmetics liquid lip colour.
It’s easier to start a beauty brand in 2019 than it was to launch a fragrance in 1999. A new line can be sold online and marketed by its creator on social media, though securing aisle space at Sephora or Ulta certainly still helps.
Jenner also deserves some of the credit — or blame. In November 2015, the then 18-year-old released her “Kylie Lip Kits” in three shades. They sold out almost instantly. In March, Forbes declared Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. Many influencers have followed her lead, though none have achieved quite the same level of success.
There’s a huge opportunity in beauty but it’s got to be about more than a vanity brand.
Influencers, as well as both startups and established brands, are also putting out more specialised products. They’re looking to hop onto the booming markets for clean products, wellness and in-home treatments, such as hair removal and chemical peels.
“A very noisy and articulate consumer that’s been talking about the importance of plant-based, organic and natural … that’s driving a lot of people to look elsewhere, and for brands to launch into what they consider to be ‘white space,’” said Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at WGSN, a trend forecasting company.
How to Stand Out in a Crowded Market
D-list celebrities may want to tamp down expectations for their upcoming eye palette, but industry experts say there are still under-served consumer segments. Creative new products aimed at Gen Z, Baby Boomers and women of colour could face less competition.
“There’s a huge opportunity in beauty but it’s got to be about more than a vanity brand,” said Susan Lyne, president and partner at BBG Ventures.
The firm is an investor in Mented Cosmetics, a makeup line founded by two women of colour — KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson — who were unable to find their shade of “nude” lipstick. The “pigment first” brand launched in January 2017, eight months before Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty.
Building a Lasting Brand
Influencers and their collaborators need to rethink what “longevity” means.
Just because a brand might have a vice-like grip on Gen Z consumers today doesn’t mean they won’t get cancelled faster than you can say “James Charles” — or replaced by a newer, more culturally relevant line.
Even brands that avoid these pitfalls should anticipate a limited shelf life. When makeup artists like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier launched their lines in the 1990s, a 25-year lifecycle was conventional wisdom in the beauty industry. Today, that figure may be closer to a decade, Liebmann said.
That requires adopting a different business model — one geared toward rapid growth out of the gate but also one that will be attractive to a buyer a few years down the road.
The normal trajectory of a business is being truncated.
“The normal trajectory of a business is being truncated,” said a founder in the beauty space. “It’s less likely that you implode, it’s more likely that someone comes and crushes you — or you make it to the other side and get bought.”
Instead of the manic rate at which brands drop new products — Anastasia Beverly Hills has launched eight eyeshadow palettes in under six months, for example — companies should spend time developing fewer, better products. It’s possible for lines to deliver constant newness without overwhelming consumers.
A “less is more” approach to product dovetails with the adoption of more conscious consumption. WGSN sees a “buy less, buy better” mentality taking hold, where consumers are reducing their beauty regimens to “functional, results-driven” products only, which no longer includes a surplus of eyeshadow palettes.
Is There a Beauty Brand Bubble?
Lyne predicts the market will sort itself out.
“When enough of those don’t make money, it will become a much less attractive direction for influencers to go in,” she said.
However, Robin Tsai, managing director at VMG Partners, a private equity firm that invested in Drunk Elephant and Briogeo, doesn’t expect the deluge of beauty lines to slow down. Instead, he sees the market adapting to a new reality where megabrands will take a back seat. He predicts the industry will soon be driven by a lot of smaller lines that each speak to a more specific consumer demographic.
“There aren’t going to be that many brands that actually speak to a broad swath of consumers,” Tsai said.
The reason: a customer who prioritises doing research about the brand, the founder’s background and values the ingredients in the products they’re buying. In other words, trying to be a brand for “everyone” can result in being a brand for no one.
“They can choose what’s most compelling to them. It’s a great thing for consumers, but it’s a bit more challenging as an entrepreneur,” Tsai added. “There’s going to be a lot of people with beauty lines. There’s not going to be a lot of people with successful beauty lines.”