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Beauty Beat: Too Faced: Growing From Indie Roots

Like a modern-day, male makeup Goldilocks, Too Faced co-founder Jerrod Blandino has preferred his company not too small, not too big, but just right.

LOS ANGELES — Like a modern-day, male makeup Goldilocks, Too Faced co-founder Jerrod Blandino has preferred his company not too small, not too big, but just right.

“I didn’t want to hit hard and burn out quickly,” said the 35-year-old bleached blonde, who has gone from a self-described “counter kid” to a grown-up, if playfully chatty, cosmetics executive. “I wanted to grow it slow and stay cutting-edge.”

That cautious approach is being tested by Too Faced’s recent full-throttle momentum, which has carried the brand into more than 500 stores in the U.S., including Ulta, Nordstrom and Sephora. The Irvine, Calif.-based company has also begun to invade the global scene this year, with the United Arab Emirates, Australia, China, Turkey, India, Chile and Russia among the countries getting helpings of Too Faced products.

Blandino’s founding partner, Jeremy Johnson, 32, called “action man” as opposed to Blandino’s “dreamer” in the brand’s marketing materials, estimated international sales would constitute 41 percent of the total this year, up from around 25 percent in the prior year. All told, retail sales are expected to jump from slightly above $50 million in 2006 to nearly $70 million in 2007.

“We’re going from middle sized to being big; taking over where Stila left off, where Benefit is,” Blandino declared. “We are becoming one of those established, crucial brands in A-list department stores that has a voice and something to say.”

To make sure its voice is heard, Too Faced is unleashing a slew of new collaborations and marketing projects and increasing its advertising budget by slightly under $1 million this year. Starting in May, Too Faced is partnering with the USA Network on its six-part series “The Starter Wife” starring Debra Messing. Too Faced items will be given away at the May 31 premiere, during events at W hotels in Los Angeles and New York to kick off the series and as part of a radio sweepstakes.

For fall, Too Faced has teamed up with retailer Miss Sixty on a runway-inspired palette molded after the company’s Quickie Chronicles, small makeup booklets that nod at cheeky pinup books of the past. The $28 Miss Sixty color palette, which Too Faced plans to distribute to Miss Sixty stores, has four lip glosses, four eye shadows, an eyeliner duo and blush.

Other fall releases include a $35 brow kit called Brow Envy, a $25 bronzer called California in a Compact and $18.50 glosses in four colors: pink bling, sapphire spark, violet vapor and diamond dust. Building on the popularity of its plumping serum called Lip Injection, which became Too Faced’s bestseller after its 2006 launch, the company is introducing a $38.50 so-called plastic surgery alternative set dubbed Fantastic Plastic with Lip Injection, eyelash enhancer Lash Injection and foundation primer Wrinkle Injection.

Much of Too Faced’s growth has been tied to Sephora. The brand started selling at Sephora stores in 1999, a year after Too Faced’s founding.

“Too Faced was one of the first brands in our U.S. stores, and it continues to be a star performer,” said Betsy Olum, senior vice president of Retail Marketing at Sephora USA. “Its success lies in the ongoing creativity and innovation in its product assortment.” Sephora stocks more than 150 Too Faced items, including top sellers like Quickie Chronicles palettes, Candy Bar lip and eye shadow sets and Lip and Lash Injection.

To set Too Faced apart, Blandino and Johnson have strategically avoided categories swamped by department store competitors. Novelty products, rather than staples, have been their calling card. After initially dabbling in lipsticks, they discontinued them about two years ago. “If it is dead and it is over, we get out of it,” said Blandino. “We are trying to come out with a new innovative way of making [lipstick] unique.”

Glitter eye shadow was one of Too Faced’s early hits; Madonna wore it to the MTV Video Music Awards soon after the brand got off the ground. Influenced by Madonna again nearly a decade later, Too Faced this year rolled out $15 Lash Gems that add shimmering plastic balls to eyelash tips.

Shawn Tavakoli, owner of Los Angeles-based retailer Beauty Collection, said Too Faced has retained customers — mostly in their teens to early thirties — because of its consistency. “They are not a skin care brand, they are not trying to sell bath and body products. They are a cosmetics brand,” he said, adding that Too Faced is one of the retailer’s top five color cosmetics brands.

Too Faced has been gradually adjusting its product mix as it matures. After attracting shoppers with its novelty, it now hopes to keep them interested long-term with a few key items. The firm recently released foundation and mascara items with a twist: The $32.50 foundation is crafted like a wand with a built-in brush and the $19.50 mascara uses elastic polymers to fatten lashes.

Next up for Too Faced: evolving into a lifestyle brand. In 2008, Blandino and Johnson expect Too Faced to begin marching into handbags, clothing and sunglasses, among other merchandise, through carefully selected collaborations and licensing deals. “There are so many different places we can go with our brand,” said Johnson.

As it becomes larger, the trick for Too Faced is to maintain the upstart irreverence that separated it from establishment beauty players. “We need the ‘It’ girl,” said Blandino. “You don’t want them to ever, ever find you passé.”