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What’s at Stake in the KKW Beauty Rebrand

While details of Kim Kardashian West’s cosmetics rebrand have yet to be unveiled, her coming entrance into skin care, and bringing each of her beauty categories under one umbrella, underscores prevailing trends in the industry.
Kim Kardashian West, KKW Beauty, Desktop, ecommerce, beauty
KKW Beauty announced the brand is undergoing a relaunch, and its site would go dark on August 1. Getty Images.

Starting in August, the KKW Beauty site will no longer exist — at least, not in its current form.

On July 7, the direct-to-consumer brand announced in a statement from its namesake founder, Kim Kardashian West, that it would soon temporarily cease operations to prepare to return as “a completely new brand with new formulas.”

A spokesperson for both KKW Beauty and Kardashian West said the brand’s revamp has no connection to her pending divorce from Kanye West. The idea, the spokesperson said, of bringing Kardashian West’s beauty empire under one overarching brand and website was “Kim’s vision from the beginning.” The brand also declined to comment on whether the rebrand was prompted by ongoing litigation with Seed Beauty, KKW Beauty’s manufacturer, who is suing minority stakeholder Coty Inc., over the disclosure of trade secrets. Further fuelling that speculation is the fact that Kylie Cosmetics, Kylie Jenner’s makeup and skin care line, also named in the suit, is simultaneously undergoing a rebrand of its own. (Coty Inc. owns a majority stake in Kylie Cosmetics.) Coty Inc. did not respond to request for comment.

Regardless of the reasons behind the KKW rebrand, the move is undoubtedly the start of a new chapter, one that may see the new brand reach beyond its famous founder as it expands to new, in-demand categories like skin care and prioritises innovation in formulas and sustainability in its packaging, putting its assortment on par with beauty’s biggest players.

This form of brand evolution can help attract investors or scale a business or its offerings or simply elevate the brand’s perception beyond that of an individual.

Although Kardashian products often become successful because of their direct association with their founders — Kardashian’s KKW and Kylie Cosmetics being the best-known examples of this — ditching the Kardashian name from the brand itself may not necessarily erode the brand’s popularity. Khloe Kardashian’s apparel venture with partner Emma Grede, Good American, is one example of a Kardashian-backed brand that has succeeded without the accompanying name, while Kendall Jenner’s 818 tequila brand, which debuted in February, just signed a distribution deal to bring it to market in all 50 states. For its part, Kardashian West’s shapewear brand Skims is valued at $1.6 billion, though the nomenclature does include a nod to her given name.

Brands that move away from a famous founder’s name do so to shield it from negative publicity or to broaden the appeal of the brand itself, said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at branding agency MBLM.

“This form of brand evolution can help attract investors or scale a business or its offerings or simply elevate the brand’s perception beyond that of an individual,” he said. “In the case of KKW Beauty, this brand evolution is likely a combination of legal and product changes that will likely stay inextricably linked with Kim herself.”

While Coty Inc.’s stake in KKW Beauty is only at 20 percent, as KKW Beauty reveals its skin care line — name still to be determined, though a trademark was filed in August 2020 for Skkn by Kim — this autumn, the beauty conglomerate will surely be paying close attention to how the line performs. In an earnings call in May, Coty chief executive Sue Nabi said while the company does not currently need to acquire any new brands to round out its beauty or skin care portfolio, it is keen on growing its skin care division. If Kardashian’s skin care line excels, Coty may be interested in more than a fifth of KKW Beauty’s future, particularly if the brand is no longer so explicitly tied to Kardashian’s own star power.

It’s also worth noting that to house fragrance, cosmetics and skin care under one umbrella is an asset to anyone who evaluates the brand’s worth in the future. The move into skin care — and housing it within the larger KKW Beauty umbrella — takes a page from the traditional legacy beauty brand playbook, where department store brands offered everything from foundation to toners, said Larissa Jensen, vice president at NPD Group.

“These brands that grew up through social and went DTC, they actually suffered last year,” said Jensen, adding that their focus on makeup, a category that underperformed during the pandemic, proved to be a weakness. That also explains why some are actively moving into the skin care category.

But just because the skin care market is growing, especially within the “cleanical” (clean and clinical) segment, doesn’t mean all brands that launch a cleanser or toner will be successful.

“The biggest thing to consider as a celebrity brand in expanding into say a category like skincare is authenticity,” Jensen said. “You could have short-term success based on name alone, to a degree, but at the end of the day, the consumer is looking for a product that’s going to work and looking for a product that is created by experts.”

Although details of KKW Beauty’s skin care line have yet to be released, Kardashian West has publicly spoken about her own medical skin concerns before, namely her battle with psoriasis, the chronic condition that results in skin rashes and dryness. This is one way to tap into that “authenticity” so many brands attempt to signal to consumers.

Still, it’s all speculation until the actual KKW Beauty rebrand is revealed. What is a sure thing, however, is what we do know about the rebrand makes clear that every brand is making the prevailing trend of sustainability in beauty a part of its business (or at the very least, its marketing). Sustainable, clean and vegan products are outpacing growth in the market as a whole, according to NPD data.

“It would only be logical to go after the successful components of the market and see how they could be translated for your brand,” Jensen said.

Related Articles:

The Art of Going Dark on Social Media

How Long Can the Kardashian Empire Reign?

What Kim Kardashian’s Olympic Coup Says About American Fashion

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