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Can Zara Crack Beauty?

The brand has mastered the art of quick, trendy fashion. But it remains to be seen if it has the right formula for beauty.
Zara Beauty. Oliver Hadlee Pearch.
Zara Beauty. Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

The beauty boom is making its way into the world of fast fashion: this week, retail behemoth Zara announced the launch of Zara Beauty, its first comprehensive, self-branded beauty line.

The collection, which will be available in stores and online May 12, includes products for the lips, eyes, face and nails in over 130 colours at a price point to be expected of the fast fashion favourite, ranging from $8 to $26. Developed with British makeup artist Diane Kendal, the slogan of the new line, which the retailer describes as “inclusive and clean” is “there is no beauty, only beauties.”

Zara has mostly stayed clear of beauty, save a tinkering in lipstick with a collection inspired by makeup artist Pat McGrath and a perfume collaboration with Jo Malone, even as competitors like H&M, Asos, Forever 21 and Boohoo have entered the space. But so far, those efforts have failed to gain real traction, as it’s hard to do beauty fast and it’s hard to do fast beauty that’s memorable.

Zara is hoping to be the outlier, and is focusing on what sets it apart from other fast beauty launches. The retailer is emphasising its products’ “clean” status, citing formulations in accordance to European regulations, which are much more stringent than in the US, as well as its commitment to refillables. It carries a wide range of colours, much like today’s most talked-about beauty brands, at a reasonable price. And it has high-profile names attached: beyond Kendal, Zara tapped the nine photographers, including Steven Meisel, Marilyn Minter and Mario Sorrenti, to create a corresponding portfolio of commercial images.


But that alone won’t guarantee Zara Beauty’s success. The retailer won’t just have to capture loyal Zara shoppers, but new consumers, too — who may not be used to thinking of the fast-fashion giant as “clean.” And if the line is to have staying power, Zara must be as agile when it comes to beauty trends as it is in fashion.

“At the end of the day, the consumer is going [into Zara] for the apparel. Is the beauty line enticing enough for her to purchase there versus going into wherever she would typically buy her beauty products?” said Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry advisor for market research firm NPD. “That’s what it boils down to.”

In today’s beauty climate, Zara Beauty’s positioning of itself as “clean” and “inclusive” is essential to attract the socially-conscious Gen-Z audience Zara is hoping for. But it’s not a true differentiator for the brand.

“Clean is almost becoming table stakes now,” said Beauty Independent editor Claire McCormack. “You can’t really launch a beauty brand in the year 2021 and be like ‘We love parabens! We love sulfates!’”

Getting consumers to think of Zara as “clean” presents another hurdle. No matter its product formulas, fast fashion retailers generally have an environmentally-unfriendly reputation. Shoppers aren’t accustomed to thinking about Zara as a “clean” retailer.

“Consumers have become more conscious, so I think there’s been really a souring to things like fast fashion. That’s something that they’re going to have to talk about, or address. Is this more fast beauty? Because consumers may not want that,” McCormack said.

There’s also the matter of getting Zara’s customers to think of the brand for more than fashion. To start, Zara beauty director Eva Lopez-Lopez says the retailer will make space for beauty in its stores, with dedicated beauty spaces in 22 stores to start and more to follow. The retailer will also have employees who are knowledgeable about the brand’s beauty line on the floor.

McCormack posits that because of shifting shopping habits, that physical presence could make all the difference in getting consumers to buy Zara Beauty — especially given that it’s set at a price point which allows for trial and discovery.


Additionally, Jensen says it makes sense that Zara is entering makeup, as it’s a space fashion brands have more authority, opposed to skin care, even though it’s performed better during the pandemic.

“Especially the way Zara is approaching it ... I think that makeup as a category could stand to benefit the most from this resurgence of positivity,” Jensen said.

The makeup category has had a hard year as consumers opted for bare faces instead of caked-on ones, and stayed on their couches instead of heading out to a bar. According to data from NPD, the prestige beauty sector, including makeup, skincare, fragrance and hair, declined 19 percent between 2019 and 2020, numbers that likely reflect overall trends in the market. The makeup category alone declined 34 percent. Even now, makeup is still what Jensen calls a “challenged category.” In the first quarter of 2021, prestige beauty overall was up 11 percent, but makeup was down 9 percent, pointing to a slower recovery.

Still, Zara “thought it was the right moment to appear,” Lopez-Lopez said. Despite the numbers, there’s reason for that optimism: as vaccinations are on the rise and reopenings accelerate, experts predict a bounce back for the colour cosmetics category. And as shoppers begin buying Zara’s staple products, such as dresses or “going-out tops” again, they may just want to pick up a lipstick to go with them.

Related Articles:

Why Fast Fashion Has Been So Slow to Tap the Beauty Boom

Sephora’s Bid to Dominate Global Beauty Retail

A Rare Look Inside Zara


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