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The 2021 Beauty Inc Awards

Honoring the year's standout executives, brands, products and retailers.

Newcomer of the Year:

Diarrha N’Diaye, founder and chief executive officer, Ami Colé

Diarrha N’Diaye has always loved beauty — but despite deep diving into the category, she just couldn’t relate. During college, when she worked at the local Sephora, she found the storytelling and shade ranges lacking; as a young executive working in the social media realm at L’Oréal and as a product developer at Glossier, N’Diaye never found the beauty safe space that she experienced at her mother’s hair salon in Harlem growing up. So, she decided to create it herself. The result is Ami Colé, a line that promises no-makeup makeup for melanin-rich skin. “It was very clear that Black experiences and Black beauty were very much in the peripheral view and not really celebrated in their true glory,” N’Diaye said. For Ami Colé, N’Diaye wanted to meet the needs of everyday people who — like her — use makeup but still want to look like themselves. Investors bought into the idea: N’Diaye raised more than $1 million in pre-seed funding from high-profile investors including Katherine Power, Imaginary Ventures, Greycroft and Debut Capital. Although it took her a year to raise the money, N’Diaye didn’t waver from her vision. “For me, Ami Colé is about sparking joy in those communities and putting those people in focus and not in the peripheral, of beauty.”

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Newcomer of the Year:

Thirteen Lune

Nyakio Grieco
Nyakio Grieco Courtesy of Nyakio Grieco

Nyakio Grieco founded her brand, Nyakio Beauty (now owned by SheaMoisture) almost 20 years ago, but it wasn’t until after the murder of George Floyd that she realized just how challenging it really was to be a Black founder. As the outpouring of support for Black-founded brands ensued, Grieco had another epiphany — there was no single platform curating brands with Black and brown founders with products that work for everyone. So she joined forces with 11 Honoré’s Patrick Herning and created Thirteen Lune. With her own brand, it took 18 years to launch into her dream retailer — Target — she said. But she wants Thirteen Lune to help brands get there quicker. “Just by giving them the opportunity to really be seen and heard will propel that,” Grieco said. It was a vision that resonated: early investors include Gwyneth Paltrow, Sean Combs, Naomi Watts and Gregg Renfrew of Beautycounter. The buzz didn’t stop there — in July, Thirteen Lune announced it was partnering with J.C. Penney for an in-store and online presence as that retailer revamps its beauty strategy. “It just gives us an even greater opportunity to connect with our consumer,” said Grieco. “A lot of what we’re observing right now can come off as performative. And from the very first moment of conversations with J.C.Penney, what I knew to be true, is that there is nothing performative about this.”

Newcomer of the Year
Newcomer of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

Changemaker of the Year:

Tracee Ellis Ross, founder and CEO, Pattern Beauty; Diversity and Inclusion Adviser, Ulta Beauty

Tracee Ellis Ross
Tracee Ellis Ross Michael Buckner/DDH

Actress and entrepreneur Tracee Ellis Ross has always been adept at using her voice for the greater good, and this year, she turned up the volume. In February, she took on the role of diversity and inclusion adviser at Ulta Beauty, a role designed to provide counsel and drive accountability as the retailer looks to double down on its diversity efforts. “Ulta has the opportunity to set the tone of what can come next for organizations across the country, beyond beauty and retail,” said Ross, outlining three key areas in which she hopes Ulta will make impactful change. They are creating a pipeline for talent, establishing best practices for incubating and supporting brands and pursuing diversity in all aspects of the business, including areas like public relations, legal and consultants. Good thing that Ross — whose Pattern Beauty hair care line also entered Sephora this year and whose hit show, Blackish, will air its eighth and final season next year, is a self-professed workaholic who relishes having an impact. “My schedule is important, so is my sleep,” she said, “but the thing that makes it feel seamless and exciting is the fact that I’m guided by the same vision and principles through all of my things. It’s not like I have to become a different person everywhere I turn.”

 

Start-up of the Year:

Violette_Fr

Violette Serrat may be one of the hottest makeup artists of the moment (her YouTube videos have garnered over 28 million views), but when it came time to launch her eponymous line, the standard range of color cosmetics was not for her. Instead, Violette (who goes only by her first name professionally) launched a cross-category brand, all with the unifying theme of ‘French girl chic.’ There were 11 stock keeping units to start with, including a fragrance oil, six eye paints, hair powder and a hydrating mist called Boum-Boum Milk. A pop-up in Soho soon followed, as did a collab with the French label Bisous Skateboards. Serrat, who was also named Guerlain’s creative director for makeup in August, said her goal was to reinvent the beauty market model. “I want to reposition beauty as a lifestyle,” she said,” not just about the face.” The vision resonated: Violette_Fr hits its first-month sales goal on Day One.

Start-Up
Start-Up of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

Sustainability Initiative of the Year:

Ren Clean Skincare, #Weareallies

Clean, clinical skin care may be one of the most competitive categories in beauty, but when it came to tackling the really big issues, Ren Clean Skincare put aside its competitive spirit in favor of the greater good. To coincide with Earth Day, the brand created the “WeAreAllies” campaign, joining forces with Biossance, Caudalie, Herbivore and Youth to the People to ramp up their sustainability efforts. Ren’s own sustainability efforts date from 2018, when it pledged to reach zero-waste status by the end of 2021 via recyclable or refillable product packaging. Under the initiative, each ensuing brand will vow the same by the end of 2025. For its part, Ren has seen consumer demand rise firsthand — its first product housed in ocean plastics sold out almost immediately. “Millennials and Gen Z, they want sustainable products and cannot stand the idea of products going into a landfill,” said CEO Arnaud Meysselle. “Five years ago, I remember a study in the U.S. about the reasons to buy and purchase beauty products. Sustainability was around 5 percent, he said. “The low end of this test is now more than 50. This is the future. Beauty must be sustainable.”

 

Newsmaker of the Year:

Katherine Power

Katherine Power
Katherine Power Courtesy of Katherine Power

Katherine Power was one of the first entrepreneurs to leverage insights and data gleaned from digital content into brand creation, and this year marked another first for her. Power successfully launched a SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, making her a rare female in a male-dominated field. Powered Brands, founded by Power and Greycroft, raised $240 million in January and is looking to create a next-gen conglomerate comprised of beauty, wellness and related brands. Power knows whereof she invests: She’s the founder of WhoWhatWear, and the chief executive office of Clique Brands, which owns Versed skin care and Merit color cosmetics. All of her brands focus on women, mostly Millennials and Gen Z, who shop with a different value equation in mind, she said earlier this year at the Beauty Inc @ 20 conference. “It’s really a mind-set,” Power said. “They are digitally connected. They’re seeking to level up when it comes to wellness and they’re willing to pay more money for brands or products that have great value to them.”

 

Impactful Deal of the Year:

The Estée Lauder Cos. + Deciem

The Ordinary
The Ordinary Courtesy of The Ordinary

Call it a match made in beauty heaven. The Estée Lauder Cos. increased its stake in Deciem, the parent company of The Ordinary, to 76 percent in May, with an agreement to buy the remaining 24 percent after a three-year period at a purchase price that will be determined by Deciem’s sales. The May transaction valued the company at $2.2 billion, making it the largest deal in Lauder’s history. Be that as it may — the model of acquiring a small stake in an explosive brand, then scaling up investment is one that Lauder has perfected. It acquired MAC Cosmetics over three stages — and grew sales tenfold, from an estimated $65 million to $660 million during its first five years of ownership. Deciem’s growth has been equally as impressive. For 2020, sales nearly doubled to about $460 million, despite the pandemic. “We have a strong track record of developing and scaling brands,” said chief executive officer Fabrizio Freda. “Our model is about scaling brands around the world. Our strength is the ability to develop each brand, while keeping each one very different, one from the other.”

 

Social Responsibility Award:

L’Oréal USA for EDGEplus Certification

At a time when purpose and culture are as important as profits, L’Oréal USA became the first company worldwide to become EDGEplus cerfitifed, a new certification from EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) that enables organizations to go beyond gender and measure the intersectionality between gender and race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability and nationality. To receive the certification, L’Oréal developed an internal pay measurement tool to track pay equity globally. The process began in January and included a comprehensive review of L’Oréal USA’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies, as well as statistical analysis of the entire U.S. workforce of more than 11,000 employees. L’Oréal also surveyed 3,500 employees on their perceptions of the company’s culture, fairness of opportunities, pay equity and flexible work arrangements. The results showed that L’Oréal USA exceed the EDGEplus requirements for pay equity, and that the company had “virtually eliminated a pay gap based on gender,” according to a statement. Said Stéphane Rinderknech, chief executive officer of L’Oréal USA, “It is reassuring to have a partner like EDGE validate the path we have taken and support us in the next steps we must take to achieve our goals.”

Social Responsibility
Social Responsibility of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

Breakthrough Brand of the Year:

Ilia

In an industry not immune to hyperbole, Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint lives up to the hype. Since its launch in 2019, the hero product has sold 1 million units, sparked a skin tint trend that has transcended brands and channels and helped the brand triple sales, from an estimated $35 million in 2019 to a projected $100 million-plus this year. Not bad for a 10-year-old brand that was clean before clean was cool, but never wavered from founder Sasha Plavsic’s vision of creating makeup products gentle enough for reactive skin that would also provide long-term benefits. When the rest of the world caught up with her, Plavsic was ready — with revamped branding, relevant products and a rebooted team. Now, the brand is one of beauty’s buzziest, and Plavsic is ready for whatever comes next, secure in the knowledge that some things will never change. “I love what I do and I love creating product,” she said, “so it’s important that one day, should we choose to find a home that can accommodate a larger strategy globally, that will have to be at the forefront to ensure there’s a real partnership in the understanding of the brand.”

Break-Through Brand
Break-Through Brand of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

Market Maker of the Year:

Olaplex

When it launched in 2014, Olaplex created an entirely new category in hair care: bond building. The company led the surge of a new breed of brand: One that successfully combined prestige and professional distribution, and when it went public this September, Olaplex continued to set precedents, raising about $1.8 billion and earning it a valuation of around $16 billion. Under chief executive officer JuE Wong, Olaplex has effectively harnessed the skinification-of-hair trend, doubling down on its commitment to professional hair stylists during the dark days of pandemic-induced salon closures, while also powering its premium retail business. It was one of the few beauty companies to post a significant increase in 2020 — with sales growing 90 percent to $282.3 million — and the momentum continues. For the first six months of 2021, Olaplex posted a 171 percent increase, and Wong said she’s just getting started. “We are the skin care for hair care,” she said, noting that while the focus is on hair, Olaplex’s patents also have applications in the skin and nail categories. “We’re going to continue our path of going deeper and broader into the hair care space because we believe there’s so much more headroom and runway for us.” Strength in numbers, indeed.

Market Maker
Market Maker of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

Launch of the Year:

CoverGirl Clean Collections

From the moment Sue Nabi was named chief executive officer of Coty Inc., she was clear that the turnaround of CoverGirl would be integral to the enterprise’s overall success. She also made it clear that time was of the essence. For Team Coty — message received. For the first time in four years, CoverGirl gained market share and stabilized its in-store shelf space. The turnaround started with the launch of Clean Fresh makeup, the first clean, vegan, cruelty-free color line at mass, which heralded the coming of LastBlast Clean, a vegan iteration of the brand’s popular LashBlast mascara, and culminated in Clean Fresh skin care. The brand also doubled down on heritage franchises like Simply Ageless, signing Niki Taylor to be the face of the brand. “I was always a big admirer of CoverGirl when I was on the other side,” said Nabi, a former L’Oréal veteran. “I had this strong intuition and belief that this brand had everything to be back to success, nothing was missing.” As an early mover in clean makeup, from its inception, “it was not normal that CoverGirl was not leading and benefitting from these trends,” Nabi continued. “Sometimes intuition helps you do the right thing without waiting months and months to have studies that explain to you what to do.” Mission accomplished.

Launch of the Year
Launch of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

CEO of the Year:

Alex Keith, Procter + Gamble Beauty

Alex Keith Portrait
Alex Keith Portrait Simone Lezzi/WWD

In WWD Beauty Inc’s annual ranking of the world’s largest beauty manufacturers by sales, only one company in the top five managed to eke out a sales increase in 2020: Procter & Gamble. Chief executive officer of beauty, Alex Keith has not only reversed the fortunes of P&G’s beauty business, she has reinforced its position as an industry leader in key areas like sustainability, innovation and consumer marketing. Keith spearheaded the creation of the Responsible Beauty platform, a systems-thinking approach to business that encompasses everything from product development to corporate behavior. It has been so successful that P&G recently named Keith executive sponsor of corporate sustainability for the entire enterprise. Back in the beauty sphere, while stalwart brands like Olay, Pantene and Head & Shoulders have all performed well, Keith is also leading with an eye to the future, incubating brands both large and small to better serve consumer needs. From My Black Is Beautiful hair care to See Me Beauty for estrogen-depleted skin to Nou, a Gen Z-focused hair care brand developed exclusively with Walmart, Keith has shown she knows how to stay one step ahead of consumers. “All of our brands that are huge brands started as small brands,” she told WWD earlier this year. “We’re always innovating and at the heart of innovation is experimentation.”

 

Marketer of the Year

Laney Crowell, founder, Saie Beauty

Laney Crowell
Laney Crowell Theresa Balderas for Saie Beauty

Blogger Laney Crowell launched the clean makeup brand Saie in 2019 with a buzzy group of investors that now includes Unilever Ventures, Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie and Gwyneth Paltrow. Despite launching in the teeth of the pandemic, their bet has paid off: Crowell’s vision of clean makeup with skin care benefits has resonated. “If your product doesn’t have a double benefit, it just feels like it’s not relevant right now,” she said earlier this year. No wonder that Saie’s Slip Tint is the top-selling clean tinted moisturizer and the conditioning Mascara 101 continues to be a hero. Crowell is also attuned to the mores of her target audience, from deploying a text-based concierge service to launching a vintage clothing collaboration with hand-dyed slips, among other items, designed to appeal to customer’s sustainable lifestyles, provide a dose of inspiration — and celebrate the one-year anniversary of Slip Tint, natch. The next drop, slated for January, will be timed to a new product launch, as well. For the fashion blogger turned beauty entrepreneur, pioneering interesting pairings whether on the product or marketing front looks like a perfect match.

 

Collab of the Year

Revlon x Megan Thee Stallion

Revlon x Megan Thee Stallion
Revlon x Megan Thee Stallion Courtesy of Revlon

When the going gets tough — the tough innovate. That’s what Revlon and brand ambassador Megan Thee Stallion did, when they decided to buck the traditional launch channels for their high-profile makeup collab and instead turned to StockX, launching that platform’s first makeup release. The Hot Girl Sunset collection, a pouch featuring an eyeshadow palette, false eyelashes and a lipgloss, debuted in a limited edition of 450 sets with a starting price of $40. Within the first week, the price had risen to $161 before descending again to settle around $55 as of press time. Meanwhile, back in the world of broader distribution, Revlon’s more widely distributed collabs with the entertainer helped it achieve significant top-line improvement and decrease net losses versus the year before. Jefferies analyst Steph Wissink called Revlon’s performance, “slow and steady progress,” and chief executive Debra Perelman expressed optimism that the company’s turnaround plan was working. “We are well positioned to capture the opportunities ahead,” she said.

 

The Wellness Award:

Amyris

Amyris
Amyris Courtesy of Amyris

Biotech and beauty are becoming ever more inextricably linked, as consumer demand for healthy, sustainable personal care products continues to increase. Answering the call is Amyris, whose impact is being felt both on the supply side and the brand side. The company’s lab-produced squalane has become its bread and butter — it manufactures about 70 percent of the world’s squalane already and is increasing the market by 25 percent a year according to CEO John Melo — but Amyris is also expanding its expertise to the brand-building space. After the successful launch of Biossance in the skin care space, the company entered hair care, with the launch of JVN, a line from celebrity stylist Jonathan Van Ness, and Rose Inc., a color cosmetics line developed in partnership with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Granted — most biotech companies aren’t dabbling in the celeb space, but for the model/actress/entrepreneur, there was no better way to differentiate her offerings and clearly signal her intent in building a brand with staying power. “As consumers, we are so much more aware,” said Huntington-Whiteley. “We pick things over a big more. We ask the questions, we have high expectations with our brands and we vote with our dollars. We understand these brands stand for something beyond just the product.”

 

Retail Deal of the Year:

Sephora @ Kohl’s

Sephora at Kohl's
Sephora at Kohl’s Courtesy of Sephora

In a year in which the beauty market share battle really heated up, Sephora and Kohl’s came out guns blazing. The two powerhouse retailers teamed up to create Sephora @ Kohl’s, opening an estimated 200 shop-in-shop concepts this year, with 800 total planned for the next few years. For Sephora, the appeal of the deal is size, speed and location — Kohl’s has a strong presence in strip malls, where Ulta Beauty also dominates. For Kohl’s, Sephora brings instant access to beauty’s hottest brands — and the Millennial and Gen Z shoppers who love them. Early results bore out the thinking on both sides. In the first few days of opening, sales exceeded expectations. “The numbers are significantly better than forecast — well above what we expected,” said Artemis Patrick, global chief merchandising officer of Sephora. “There is strong pent-up demand.” Moreover, the partnership complements, rather than cannibalizes, the retailer’s existing shopping base. “The power of this partnership is scale,” said Doug Howe, chief merchandising officer of Kohl’s, who noted that 70 percent of that retailer’s 65 million active customers are women. “And there is very little overlap with the Sephora shopper,” he added. Game on.

 

Innovative Product/Makeup:

Clinique Even Better Clinical Serum Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 25

In a year in which the “skinification” of every category was the most directional product trend, Clinique’s Even Better Clinical Serum Foundation was a standout. The product ticked off virtually every major box: On the skin care side, there’s three different serum technologies and a dark-spot fighting molecule, as well as vitamin C, salicylic and hyaluronic acids and, of course, sunscreen. Makeup-wise: the paraben-, phthalate- and fragrance-free formula delivers 24-hour, color-true wear. Sustainable packaging you ask? The plastic cap (designed to not come loose in transit) can be easily separated by the recyclable glass bottle. Consumers responded — Even Better lived up to its name with four-star reviews across platforms and had a halo effect on the overall Even Better Clinical franchise in skin care, too, which contributed to a 20 percent gain in skin care for parent company the Estée Lauder Cos. for its most recent quarter.

Innovative Product
Innovative Product of the Year Chelsie Craig/WWD

 

Innovative Product/Skin Care:

Live Tinted Hueguard Mineral SPF 30 Primer + Moisturizer

Even before its release, Live Tinted’s Hueguard Mineral SPF 30 had amassed a 10,000 person wait-list that garnered a 20 percent conversion rate when it launched in July. The product is the creation of Deepica Mutyala, who spent two years developing a zinc mineral sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast on darker skins — a beauty pain point that few have been able to crack. The multitasking product is both a primer and moisturizer, designed to protect against UVA and UVB light, as well as blue light. “I went to manufacturers and asked them why someone hasn’t innovated the white cast situation in SPF,” Mutyala told WWD. “Is it because it costs more? It does. Is it because it takes more time? It does. Or is it because brands haven’t cared to prioritize this community? Their response was the latter — it hasn’t been a focus.” The YouTuber and entrepreneur, whose stated mission is to change beauty standards, has struck a chord with investors, too, raising a $3 million seed round of funding in September.

 

Innovative Product/Hair:

Susteau Moondust Hair Wash and Conditioner

As beauty brands ramp up their conservation efforts, water usage is becoming top of mind. While waterless beauty is still a nascent category, newcomers like Susteau are increasingly bringing it top of mind. The brand, which launched at Sephora, has pioneered powder-to-liquid shampoo and conditioner formulations lauded by editors and influencers alike for their creamy consistency and efficaciousness. Susteau is the brainchild of chemical engineer Kailey Bradt, who envisions a complete lineup of luxurious — and waterless — personal care products; the brand bills itself as clean, conscious, concentrated. Next up: treatment and styling products. “There are shampoo bars out there, but no one is really using them. I wanted to create something accessible in price point that is also focused on performance and experience,” said Bradt. “Sustainability is important but it’s not what sells product. Products have to be better for the planet and people, but give the same performance you get from a salon-marketed line.”

 

Innovative Product/Fragrance:

Ralph’s Club by Ralph Lauren Fragrances

That Ralph Lauren Corp. and fragrance licensee L’Oréal launched its biggest men’s fragrance to date in 2021 isn’t newsworthy on its own. But the way in which they brought it to market was. Ralph’s Club, the brand’s first new male scent franchise since 2003, launched with a virtual reality club of the same name that was inspired by a seminal Ralph Lauren fashion experience in Manhattan back in 2019, featuring a fashion show and live performance by Janelle Monáe. That experience was exclusively for invited guests, but Ralph Lauren Fragrances cast a wider net, creating a virtual club for anyone who purchased the fragrance in which users could get behind-the-scenes content as well as original music and exclusive performances by artist and songwriter Prince Charlez. Buyers, who gained access through a QR code, could also create their own playlist. “We wanted this to be a digitally native launch, to have a lot of content and be extremely immersive, because that’s where consumers are spending their time,” said Alexandre Choueiri, global president of Ralph Lauren Fragrances at L’Oréal. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”