Bobbi Brown has long tapped into her forward-looking vision, whether it’s creating Jones Road, the clean makeup brand she just introduced that will be entering skin care soon, the wellness label Evolution 18 or her eponymous color-cosmetics collection.
The serial entrepreneur called herself both a worrier and a supreme optimist, and shared tips for successfully pivoting with WWD’s Ellen Thomas.
Four years ago after Brown left the Estée Lauder Cos. — which acquired the Bobbi Brown brand in 1995 — she trained to become a health coach at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.
“That led me on this search, and I found an opportunity and a hole in the market,” she said. “I’ve always been someone who really believes that the better you treat the inside, the better the outside looks.”
Launching a new color-cosmetics line was not top of mind for her.
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“It really just kind of happened,” said Brown, who understood she herself was wearing a lot less makeup.
“I realized the better I took care of myself, the less traditional makeup I needed,” Brown said. “I started also experimenting more with things that I put in my body. I became someone who was searching for a clean makeup brand.
“It’s not that I went out to create a clean brand, but when I set out to create these new formulas, it had to be clean,” she continued.
As much as possible, Jones Road’s packaging is sustainable. That chimed with a shift in consumer desires for products that are healthier for people and the environment.
“I am someone that believes in being the healthiest version of yourself,” Brown said. “It’s not about being perfect, but it’s about always seeing what you could do to improve who you are, where you are, how you feel and how you look. It goes hand-in-hand.”
Bobbi Brown makeup was launched in the Eighties as natural, nude makeup, when artificial, crazy colors were à la mode.
“What I’m doing now has really a lot to do with where I’m going, not where I’ve been,” she said, explaining that path includes teaching people how they can apply certain products to look better instantly. “It’s not complicated. It’s not fancy. It’s a modern approach. It’s a no-makeup makeup — and that doesn’t mean not wearing any.”
Jones Road doesn’t have an agency or a big strategy.
“We have a handful of really awesome, smart, dedicated people in my office who get together and talk about what we need to do,” Brown said.
Nimbleness is key.
“I have learned so much reading the comments on Instagram, talking to people during my Instagram Live and then reposting the pictures so people could actually learn,” said Brown, adding she’s shooting with an iPhone and doesn’t retouch images.
Many people appearing in Jones Road’s advertising campaign are not professional models.
“I really want to show all different women, ages, ethnicities — different and beautiful women,” Brown said.
She prefers beauty shining from the inside out to traditional beauty.
“Any women could be beautiful,” added Brown. “She just has to realize that she is.”
Upcoming for Jones Road is a pop-up slated for her hometown of Montclair, N.J., and skin care in the near future.
“It will be also of clean ingredients,” she revealed.
So far, the concept is resonating. Brown said one week after launch, consumers are obsessed with Jones Road’s mascara and balm.
Was she concerned about introducing color cosmetics during the coronavirus pandemic, when makeup sales are down? Brown said: “I’m someone that worries about everything.
“I worried that people wouldn’t hear about them, like them, buy them. That’s a normal thing that anyone that has a brand [is always concerned about],” she said. “But as far as launching during a pandemic, I wasn’t worried — because one of the things about me is I’m really naïve. I’m very optimistic. I don’t see roadblocks; I only see solutions, and the positive about launching during this pandemic.”
That includes the ability to cook up Jones Road in her kitchen — literally.
Brown wants the brand to remain direct-to-consumer for now, due to the control and margins that affords.
“It’s a great learning for us,” Brown said. “We have been reached out to from many different retailers. We’re not ready for expansion.”
If she were, it would be to do something new.
“I did not build and start this company to sell it again. I really love what I’m doing,” the makeup artist continued. “It’s my passion project. It’s what I love and believe in. I just want to keep creating better and new products.”
Brown believes it’s paramount to be aware of a brand’s customer and what’s happening in the world.
“We’re going through this intense time,” she said. “It’s really important to communicate and to have an authentic conversation, and able to offer your customer an understanding of why you’re doing something and how it can be a benefit.”
Brown’s a great communicator and educator, who has written nine books. But for Jones Road, social media is the communication vector of choice.
She’s also a tremendous pivoter.
“I’m always someone that either says that doesn’t make sense [or] let’s try it this way,” she said. “I like common sense. I get board really easily and am very curious. But mostly, I’m someone that likes to shift because I see that there’s an opportunity.”
For those less naturally inclined to pivot, Brown suggests having someone to bounce ideas off of and to realize there’s no such thing as making a mistake.
“It’s just a message to do something different and to pivot. It is OK that some things don’t work out,” she said. “That’s how you learn.”
Brown has had numerous mentors, including her husband Steven Plofker and Mickey Drexler, the former chief executive officer of J. Crew Group and Gap Inc.
“Mickey was the one person who really gave me permission to be myself,” she said.
Brown is inspired by numerous beauty brands today, such as Glossier and Tina Craig.
“There’s so many,” said Brown, who believes there is room for many different brands in the same space. “I never looked at people as competitors. I thought it was really important to stay in my lane, do what I do, and make it best and different. We’re a lot stronger together than we are fighting each other.”
She learns through magazines, newspapers, her iPad and people via Instagram.
Brown hopes her legacy will include “that I created not just products to help people feel good about themselves, but I really helped empower women to be a better version of themselves.”