Newcomer of the Year: Stéphane Rinderknech, chief executive officer, L’Oréal USA
To say that Stéphane Rinderknech started his role as chief executive officer of L’Oréal USA under less than ideal condition—a global pandemic—is an understatement. But Rinderknech proved he was more than up for the challenge, galvanizing the company’s 11,000-strong employee base in their response to the upheavals of the year.
The executive, who oversaw L’Oréal’s exponential digital growth in China when he was chief executive officer there, officially assumed his position on Jan. 1, but had spent the previous four months traveling around the U.S. to familiarize himself with the market and the teams. Rinderknech thrives on personal interactions and champions a collaborative leadership style, and while there were tough decisions to make—L’Oréal was among the first companies to bring workers back to its Hudson Yards headquarters—his connection with the company is clear.
True to form, as challenging as the crisis was, Rinderknech did find a silver lining. “Going through a crisis makes us stronger together,” he said in the spring. “There is a spirit here, and to lift it up, to continue to move forward, to be resistant, to protect the business and give our people a sense of direction, is very important.”
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Rinderknech is not the only L’Oréal ceo to come on in times of crisis—company ceo Jean-Paul Agon was just days into his tenure as head of the U.S. when the 9/11 attacks happened. Like Agon, Rinderknech also seized on the opportunity presented by the challenge, noting that the crisis increased the urgency of his mission to begin with. “There is going to be an acceleration of the digital transformation,” he said. “An acceleration within the acceleration. What we are going to learn is to adjust the content, build the capability, bring the consumer experience.”
Launch of the Year: Byredo Makeup
Rest assured that a man who once launched a fragrance called Elevator Music is not going to launch just any old makeup line. True to form, when Ben Gorham unveiled Byredo’s first color cosmetics collection, developed in conjunction with makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench, it upended many of the traditional codes of the category.
“Color seemed like a very visual, visceral manifestation of the brand,” said Gorham, “and after working in this invisible medium for many years, we had very strong ideas about what that could be.”
The result is unlike anything else in beauty—sculptural packaging, striking imagery and unusual hues. So, for example, Colour Sticks, in 16 shades ranging from acid green to peacock blue to black, can be applied anywhere, while a fine focus was also placed on textures.
“I wanted a product that wasn’t really defined by your skin tone and how you should wear it,” said Ffrench. “I think the cosmetics industry can take itself very seriously…I really wanted to make Byredo color a little bit different to anything that exists in a commercial way.”
Their iconoclastic approach worked: While distribution was kept tight—just 30 high-end doors globally—the products flew off shelves during a year when most of the makeup market was grounded.
Changemaker of the Year: Sharon Chuter, founder and chief executive officer of Uoma Beauty and founder of Pull Up for Change
Talk about a brave heart. When Sharon Chuter launched her makeup brand, Uoma Beauty, in April of 2019, inclusivity was at the very core of the brand’s ethos. “Diversity became a hot topic that every corporation was trying to tick off their list,” she said then. “As a person of color, I was looking at it, and there was no depth to it—it was shallow. Everybody was looking for a quick win—adding [foundation] shades is a quick win.”
In June, as the cry for social justice heightened following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Chuter stayed true to her mission by launching Pull Up for Change. The campaign called for any company that professed solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement to publicly reveal the number of Black people they employ in both the rank and file and leadership positions. It was a bold move on Chuter’s part—to challenge the industry you’re a part of is no easy feat. But Chuter’s impact was immediate. Within weeks the account grew to 130,000 Instagram followers, and companies like The Estée Lauder Cos., Shiseido, Kylie Cosmetics and Sephora revealed their numbers. Chuter is now working with companies directly, and has taken on an advisory role at companies she would otherwise consider competitors.
Chuter calls 2020 a “metamorphic” year, and has no plans on letting up. “We have a long way to go in the area of true diversity and inclusivity,” she said. “My goal is to continue to push forward, to challenge the status quo in every area—innovation, campaigns, organization and the industry at large. This is merely a small tip of the iceberg.”
Start-up of the Year: Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez may be one of the world’s most beautiful women, but for the launch of her makeup line, Rare Beauty, she wanted to go far beyond the superficial, focusing instead of self-acceptance, confidence and embracing one’s unique qualities. “Our mission is to shape conversations around beauty, self-acceptance and mental health,” she said in an early Instagram post. To build on this, the brand launched a “WeAreRare campaign, featuring user generated content. Gomez, who has openly talked about the impact of depression and anxiety on her life and her bipolar diagnosis, also created the Rare Impact Fund, with the goal of raising $100 million over the next 10 years to increase access to mental health resources.
The message resonated. Sales were reportedly strong at Sephora, where Rare Beauty launched exclusively, and reviews were overwhelmingly positive. In a year which saw a slew of celebrity launches, Gomez’s brand truly achieved a Rare feat—meaningful differentiation.
Sustainability Initiative of the Year: P&G Beauty for Responsible Beauty
In a year dominated by extreme anxiety about our health, our fundamental freedoms and our climate, P&G Beauty sought to alleviate some of the collective apprehension around sustainability and the safety of the products consumers use every day. The Responsible Beauty platform, launched in the spring, was designed to create an interconnected approach to solving some of beauty’s most pressing problems, including transparency, safety, inclusivity and sustainability in terms of packaging, ingredients and manufacturing processes. “To develop solutions that generate further solutions, we need to consider the world as interacting systems, rather than seeing things as a static snapshot or isolated issue,” said Alex Keith, ceo of P&G Beauty, who spearheaded the project.
To that end, that company put together an advisory board consisting of five outside organizations—the Rainforest Alliance, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the World Wildlife Fund, Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and Skin Health Alliance.
Together they created a series of guidelines and best practices that P&G has already started implementing across its personal-care portfolio. Secret deodorant, for example has been a strong voice in the equal pay for women movement, while Pantene has used its global might to combat gender and identity bias.
“The COVID-19 crisis has shown how globally interconnected we are,” said Markus Strobel, president, P&G Skin & Personal Care. “For beauty, this means going beyond environmental practices to address the interdependence of all product development and corporate behavior—all activities that impact the beauty consumer and the world in which we live.”
Newsmaker of the Year: E.l.f. Beauty
In a year when many companies were playing block and tackle just to stay in the game, E.l.f. Beauty went on the offensive—launching one buzzy brand, acquiring another and using its social media prowess to drive its core business, too. The company entered the coronavirus crisis as a top-five mass market brand, according to data from Nielsen, having successfully revived its business on the back of a breakout Tik Tok campaign—one of the first beauty brands to do so—and a slew of hero products like Putty Primer and Camo Concealer. It continued to win on social with initiatives like Eyes.Lips.Famous, the first Tik Tok reality show.
Not content with resurrecting its primary business, E.l.f. also went into expansion mode. In February, it acquired clean beauty brand W3LL People for $27 million. For E.l.f., the deal signaled a bet on making clean beauty accessible and gave the business access to the brand’s three founders, a position it capitalized on in August when it announced a deal with superstar Alicia Keys to launch Keys Soulcare. The line, formulated by dermatologist Renée Synder, W3LL People’s cofounder, launched just in time for the holidays and is a cross-category offering, starting with a scented candle and skin care, and the idea is to grow from there.
True to what’s been working for the company overall, Keys Soulcare launched with a content-first Instagram initiative (a month before products went on sale in December) and the idea is to expand from there. “Our strategy is content-first and less about the transaction and more about what [Alicia] has to say,” said Tarang Amin, chief executive of E.l.f. “She has been a real inspiration in being able to bring light to what otherwise is a really dark time. It really speaks to her broader substance and meaning. I think it’s the perfect time to start with that messaging.”
Transformational Deal of the Year: Puig + Charlotte Tilbury
Puig emerged victorious in one of the most hotly contested deals of the year when it announced in June that it had acquired Charlotte Tilbury. The Barcelona-based family owned firm took a majority stake in the luxury makeup and skin-care brand, alongside BDT Capital Partners, which has a minority interest. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a source at the time pegged the brand’s purchase price at $1.2 billion.
Though it was one of the few billion-dollar deals of the year, it was a small price to pay to catapult Puig, which has been a force in fragrance and increasingly fashion, into a strong contender across all beauty categories. “After more than a decade where our focus has been to strengthen our position in the prestige fragrance market where we have reached a market share close to 10 percent, we decided to enter the other beauty categories where we were not present in the makeup and skin-care world,” said Marc Puig, the company’s chairman and ceo. “The partnership with Charlotte Tilbury was a perfect opportunity for us to participate with an iconic luxury makeup and skin-care brand that has been able, in a very short time, to revolutionize it. We want to support their development so that they can reach their full potential.”
Puig, which also owns Christian Louboutin Beauty in the color cosmetics space, has signaled it is serious about becoming a cross-category contender—with more deals possible. “In the future, Puig plans to continue strengthening its position in the fashion and fragrance world,” said Puig, “as well as in the makeup and skin-care categories with unique and highly desirable brands to become a challenger in the beauty industry.”
The Social Responsibility Award: The Estée Lauder Cos.
Over the past decade, Fabrizio Freda has often talked about the importance of agility when it comes to keeping a large company relevant and growing. This year, the chief executive officer of the Estée Lauder Cos. showed that pivoting proactively to respond to internal needs is a key part of his playbook, too.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, Lauder was quick to respond with help for both front-line workers and its internal workforce, creating a medical advisory board, an employee relief fund and mobilizing its workers in its Melville, N.Y., plant to produce hand sanitizer. When the new civil rights movement broke out in early June following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the company participated in Pull Up for Change and pledged to hold itself accountable for making meaningful change in three key areas—its own employee base, its product portfolio and through the suppliers it works with. In a tough year in which Lauder, like others, announced some layoffs, the company showed its commitment by issuing quarterly updates on its progress across all goals.
Lauder also initiated a comprehensive civic engagement program for employees around the election, and achieved carbon neutrality, reaching net zero emissions in its direct operations. The efforts are being spearheaded by Nancy Mahon, senior vice president of ESG at Lauder, who pledged that such commitments will be integral to the company’s future growth. “We look over the longer term and we focus on the health and safety of our employees and communities,” she said earlier this year. “We are very optimistic about the future. It’s clear that to continue to be the leading beauty prestige company, we need to lean even further into ESG and sustainability, and we really look forward to that.”
Breakthrough Brand of the Year: Youth to the People
When Sephora Americas chief executive officer Jean-André Rougeot repeatedly calls out your brand during interviews, you know you’re doing something right. So it is with Youth to the People, the buzzy skin-care brand that appeals to Millennials and the retailers who love them. The vegan brand, cofounded by cousins Greg Gonzalez and Joe Cloyes, pioneered the superfoods-as-skin-care trend. Sales have doubled year-on-year since launch, and investors have come calling, too. Sandbridge Capital and Hourglass founder Carisa Janes each took a minority investment in the brand. Despite the tough conditions of 2020, Gonzaelz and Cloyes maintained their momentum, launching two new products, converting their retail field teams into online advisers and doubling down on digital. Looking ahead, international expansion is on tap. The brand is already available in Europe and Australia via Sephora, and has set its sights on the U.K. for 2021. Youth is also looking to improve its sustainability profile by reducing is carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. “We’ve always been a brand that is direct about what we believe in and care about,” said Cloyes. “Now more than ever, it’s about connecting with community and being transparent about our values and beliefs.”
The Wellness Award: The Honey Pot Co.
The Honey Pot Co. hasn’t just been a key driver of a new approach to the sexual health category—it helped invent it. Founder Bea Dixon has always been one to speak her mind, whether that is unabashedly talking about vaginal health or the challenges Black female entrepreneurs face in getting their brands off the ground. She did so in a nationwide Target commercial earlier this year, prompting some online trolling. True to form, though, Dixon turned it into a positive experience. After the company’s community vociferously supported the brand, Dixon harnessed that energy to fuel the business further. “That moment really changed the trajectory of the brand this year and the pace and momentum haven’t stopped since,” she said. The social justice movement also brought more visibility to Dixon, who is Black and founded the plant-based feminine hygiene brand six years ago. Target was her first retail partner, and she’s since expanded into thousands of mass, drug and grocery doors. As for next year—the momentum shows no signs of slowing, with plans calling for new categories and more doors. “Sexual health is a growing category because women are having more open conversation about their needs and wants,” said Dixon. “We’re rolling out a ton of new products, so we’re betting big that 2021 is going to be a huge year for us.” Sweet.