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John Legend‘s New Love

The superstar has partnered with the brand incubator A-Frame to launch a skin and body care brand, Loved01, that addresses the needs of "melanin-rich" skin types.

John Legend’s got some new moves.

The winner of countless accolades — including the EGOT — is bringing his considerable talents to beauty with the launch of Loved01 (pronounced “loved one”). The unisex skin and body care brand launches Feb. 1 with six stock keeping units ranging in price from $10 to $15. They will bow on Loved01.com, as well as with CVS Health online and in 2,000 doors. Then, it will enter 500 Walmart doors in March.

Legend is the latest in a long line of celebrity contenders for the beauty shopper. Early arrivers included Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics; last year saw a slew of entrants like Hailey Bieber’s Rhode, Kim Kardashian’s Skkn by Kim and Brad Pitt’s Le Domaine join the fray.

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But Legend isn’t a total stranger to the space. He was an early investor in Bevel, Tristan Walker’s grooming brand for Black men, and he composed the score for Olympian Simone Biles’ animated content series for P&G Beauty-owned SK-II.

“I’ve collaborated with other skin care brands over the years, like Kiehl’s and SK-II, and it’s an important category for me,” Legend said in an exclusive interview with Beauty Inc. “I care about my skin and taking good care of it, as I’m on TV and taking photographs a lot. Everybody deserves to have products that are formulated with them in mind.”

To that end, Legend, in partnership with the incubator A-Frame Brands, tapped dermatologist Dr. Naana Boakye to help ideate products for the needs of melanin-rich skin. A-Frame Brands also developed Naomi Osaka’s Kinlò, as well as Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade’s Proudly.

“I was always interested in launching my own skin care brand, but I didn’t want to do it just because I’m famous,” Legend said. “I might be able to sell a bunch of skin care products, but I wanted it to have a reason to exist.”

The superstar is the first to acknowledge how crowded the field has become — “we even make jokes about it in marketing meetings, like, ‘oh, another celebrity brand,’” he said — but insisted that the team waited until they had a truly differentiated and impactive offering to come to market.

For Legend, marketing his own brand is an opportunity to better serve an underrepresented community, as well as a business opportunity. “When we talked about what my specific brand would look like, we decided to address that particular gap and formulate products with melanin-rich skin at the forefront of our design and formulation decisions. That’s something that’s rarely done,” he said. “Beyond being fair and being equitable, it’s just a huge market that’s being underserved and often ignored. Whether in science or in business, we feel it’s a real opportunity.”

Furthermore, accessibility was key, hence Legend’s big bet on the mass market channel. “What made this particularly attractive to me was the idea of doing something formulated for melanin-rich skin, something that doesn’t exist in this volume in the market right now,” Legend said. HumanRace, created by Pharrell Williams, is sold in prestige retailers like Goop and Selfridges as well as its own channel, while S’able Labs, created by Idris and Sabrina Elba, is solely direct-to-consumer.

John Legend
John Legend Yu Tsai/WWD

“At CVS, we’re committed to carrying the brands and products that meet the evolving and individual skin needs of all of our consumers,” said Andrea Harrison, vice president of merchandising, beauty and personal care, CVS Health. “We’re thrilled to introduce Loved01 to our growing assortment of innovative and elevated offerings that provide unique skin care solutions for all of the communities we serve at an accessible price point.”

For the first year of its partnership, Loved01 will be merchandised in a front-of-store endcap in 2,000 CVS stores, as well as online.

After a deep dive into the needs of melanin-rich skin, Legend and the team decided to home in on hydration. Rosehip oil and sea buckthorn oil are the hero ingredients, in addition to shea butter, jojoba oil and coconut oil. “We wanted there to be a moisture story around the cleanser as well,” he said. “We’ve got bamboo and aloe vera in the exfoliating cleanser.” (To note: The exfoliating cleanser is wife Chrissy Teigen’s favorite, Legend said.)

Inclusivity isn’t just a product focus, it’s also the brand’s secret sauce. “What I was attracted to is the alignment of brand values and ethos that A-Frame was working toward with their different talent partners, which John inherently encompasses,” said Kia Lowe, Loved01’s president, who hails from L’Oréal. “What makes celebrity brands work is when there’s a lot of care and passion for what you’re doing — consumers are just so smart these days and they can sniff out anything that feels disingenuous.”

Lowe also pointed to Humanlevel, Legend’s initiative which he introduced in 2021, which aims to “uplift communities disproportionately impacted by institutionalized racism,” per a press release upon its announcement. It offers an executive fellowship program in partnership with nonprofit Fuse Corps, in addition to local policy advocacy.

“John has a very strong legacy and history of working on equity above and beyond music,” Lowe said. “That really appealed to me, and it’ll appeal to consumers.”

Lowe “runs the brand,” Legend said, noting her work with manufacturers, marketing teams, PR teams, stakeholders and retailers. “She does way more than I do, but I’ve always been involved in product discussions and messaging discussions, particularly around how we design our products — the look and feel of them.”

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Legend tapped his go-to creative team to help him design the product. “They work with me on my album covers, my wine bottles, on my Vegas residency. They also worked with me on this because they understand my aesthetic and how to tap into my values as a person, and how I like to present my art to the world,” he said.

Cohesion between all of his products also informed the brand’s name. “We settled around Loved01 because my career has been built around love. I talk about it when I do graduation speeches, my wine’s called LVE, my album names have been ‘Love in the Future,’ ‘Bigger Love.’

“We wanted to put Loved01 out there as the title because we believe that everyone deserves love, and deserves products that are made with love and care and intention. We felt there was an audience out there that was missing that love and care,” he continued.

Still, competition in skin care — particularly among brands with famed founders — is fierce, and Lowe said the accessibility and universality of that message is key. “Our brand ethos is that you don’t have to be wealthy to experience luxurious things, and we wanted to offer a product that was efficacious,” she said. “That was the grounding force of the launch. The other is that we aren’t just d-to-c, we’re launching with two really big retail partners.”

Legend’s timing looks promising. The mass market outlook for skin care remains bright for 2023. According to data from IRI for the year ending Jan. 1, skin care grew 5.5 percent, with moisturizers, hand and body lotions and cleansers growing 14.8 percent, 8 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively. As reported, skin care has become a growing strategic priority for the mass market’s giants, like Coty Inc., L’Oréal and E.l.f. Beauty.

Neither Legend nor Lowe commented on sales, though industry sources think the brand could reach anywhere from $10 million to $30 million in first-year sales.

A fellow contender at mass is Naomi Osaka’s Kinlò, which offers sun care for deeper skin tones and is sold at Walmart and d-to-c. That brand is also an A-Frame brand, and Lowe said within that larger ecosystem, the brands swap notes and collaborate more than they compete.

“I talk to the brand president of Kinlò pretty much every day. We’re on Slack all the time, and everyone serves as a great sounding board,” she said. “We do a lot of problem-solving together, making sure that we’re negotiating for the right things, and we even tackle anything from our microinfluencer strategy to bigger topics around brand awareness.”

They even run in the same retail circles. Last year, Kinlò also entered Walmart, with Osaka telling WWD at the time, “This partnership with Walmart is all about accessibility, allowing the brand tor each even more customers with affordable sun care products, no matter who they are and where they live.”

Loved01 products. Photo courtesy of Loved01.

Celebrity-founded brands have been key to Walmart’s revamp of its beauty aisles. Last year, as an exclusive, the world’s largest retailer introduced Itk, the Maesa-incubated skin care brand from TikTok creators (and sisters) Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight. It also has Af94, the mass market sister brand to singer Halsey’s About-Face, and a shop-in-shop concept with prestige beauty retailer Space NK. Loved01 will live in the brand’s skin care section.

Last year, Creighton Kiper, vice president of beauty, merchandising at Walmart, told WWD he saw gaps in Walmart’s assortment of “brands that suit the biology of different skin tones or skin types.”

Loved01’s products may be specialized, but Legend wants to take the brand as wide as possible. “We want the entire country, we want to go global as well. There are folks who have melanin-rich skin all over the country and all over the world,” Legend said. “Globally, it’s a huge portion of the 7 billion people that live on this planet. It’s important for us to communicate to everyone that we made these products with them in mind, and we want them to be able to access these products.”

That footprint will eventually expand. Lowe said in three to five years, the brand will explore international distribution, “but I would really like to do exceptionally well in the U.S. first.”

Lowe’s focused on key markets in urban areas — ”the markets that you would think over penetrate with Black and Brown people,” Lowe said. That includes coastal regions, New York City, Los Angeles, Texas, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and the brand will employ a mix of digital and physical advertising.

“We are focused mostly on digital, but we do have some out-of-home opportunities that we’re looking at in key markets, as well as experiential, now that we’re post-pandemic,” Lowe said. “With digital, John is leading the way as our core influencer, but we’re also working with a variety of different content creators and influencers to bring our message to life.”

Loved01 bills itself as “clean,” and is also cruelty free and vegan. Science played a key role in the development of the products, in collaboration with Boakye.

“We have a mission around making sure the science and the business around dermatology and products that are taught and being formulated and sold to people with melanin-rich skin,” Legend said. “We’ve done some initial learnings around even how dermatology is taught and how products are tested. So often, our skin is ignored in dermatology textbooks and FDA trials when measuring whether or not a product is safe or effective.”

Each product is also formulated with a pH range tailored to melanin-rich skin. “There is some reporting that darker complexions and more melanin-rich skin is slightly more acidic, so we also formulated to make sure that the pH range wouldn’t disrupt the skin and cause more inflammation and more problems, just to really help soothe and calm.”

The debut lineup, which includes an exfoliating cleanser, face and body moisturizer, face and body oil, shave cream, toning mist and face and body wash, will also expand to meet other skin concerns.

“We’re going to be expanding quite a bit,” Legend said. “More specialized products, and products focusing on pigmentation. Just a range of things we think will be a little bit more specialized. We’ll address a lot of the key issues that folks are dealing with.”

Added Lowe, “Rosehip and sea buckthorn oils are in everything. They have very strong anti-inflammatory properties. We know that Black and Brown skin can sometimes react to outside aggressors, environmental aggressors and inflame the skin. We really tried to formulate with that in mind, too.”