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Morphe’s Next Act: Acquisition, Incubation and Influencer Evolution

Forma Brands, Morphe's newly named parent company, has acquired hair-care line Playa, and is working on incubating other brands in skin care, body care and wellness.

Morphe is moving forward. 

A year after selling 60 percent of the business to General Atlantic at a $2.2 billion valuation, Morphe’s parent company has acquired a brand, hair-care line Playa; incubated several others, and changed the company name — the broader business is now Forma Brands, which chief executive officer Myles McCormick noted was Latin for form and beauty.

The moves signify Morphe’s shift from a single-brand entity into a multibrand business. The company was originally known for makeup brushes sold at industry trade shows, but it is now priming itself for the public markets. “When and if it does make sense, or the company could be a public company, we want to be prepared to do that,” McCormick said. “That’s the goal — we want to be a company that’s capable.” 

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Adding more brands is a big part of the overall strategy. 

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With Playa, Forma’s first venture into hair, McCormick said he liked the brand’s approach to clean formulations and effortless, wash-and-go hair. Founder Shelby Wild and her team will stay on with the brand, McCormick said. 

“Her approach to clean formulas using natural active ingredients with botanicals, that, together with that effortless approach, feels like to us where the hair-care industry and the beauty industry at large is heading,” he said. “As you think about bathroom makeover for the Millennial and Gen Z consumer, we think she just really checked all the boxes.” 

Forma will provide back-end support to help Playa manage things like inventory — the brand has had out-of-stock issues, McCormick said — and gradually expand globally, and into different categories, like body and sun care. Playa will also start creating products for other hair textures, like curly hair, he said. 

Playa serves as a good example for the types of deals the company is looking for, McCormick noted. Forma is not in the market trying to compete to buy $100 million brands, he said, but rather is looking for smaller companies it can plug into existing operations and distribution partners, which include Ulta Beauty in the U.S., Douglas in Europe and a smattering of Morphe stores globally, to grow them. 

Playa is just one of the brands Forma is working with going forward. The company has a licensing-type agreement with beauty influencer Jaclyn Hill under which Hill controls creative but leverages Forma’s business resources. McCormick referred to it as a partnership, and said Forma had not taken an ownership stake in Hill’s company. 

The business also just launched Morphe 2, a sub-brand meant to appeal to consumers wary of the Instagram-makeup aesthetic with multipurpose products. 

“We felt there was a big opportunity to do something where we believe the trends to be headed in makeup, but also be able to service and offer the existing consumer base things they really love about the Morphe brand in terms of its pigmented, value approach to cosmetics. With Morphe 2, we’ve layered hints and tints and applications that are more multipurpose,” McCormick said. 

The brand tapped TikTok teens Charli and Dixie D’Amelio for the launch. 

That age group is one that McCormick says has “very different preferences” than Millennials when it comes to makeup. “Their preferences lie largely in lighter makeup applications, multipurpose products,” he said. “Ultimately this is a consumer who is spending a little bit less on cosmetics and skin care.” 

For its next Gen Z-oriented launch, Forma is moving beyond beauty and into wellness with an affordable gummy supplement line called Such Good Everything that is slated for a September debut online and with Morphe’s usual retail partners, McCormick said. Young wellness consumers today care about things like vegan formulations and natural ingredients, but also care about formats, he noted. “Things like gummies, liquids and powders, versus pills,” McCormick said. 

Such Good Everything will launch with a small assortment and then the company will watch how the customer interacts with it and roll out “a pipeline of products that will extend out to health and wellness use cases — everything from energy to stress and multivitamins — but in a way that is really positioned for that younger consumer,” McCormick said.

Two other brand launches — one in body, and one in skin care — are planned before the end of the year. 

As the company grows, it’s added new executives to high-level positions. Simon Cowell, the former ceo of Bare Escentuals, will become president of Forma, and Erika Savage, former senior vice president of Interscope Records, will lead partnership development. Cathy Beaudoin, former president of Amazon Fashion and founder of Piperlime, has been appointed to the Forma board.

This year has been one of evolution for the Morphe brand too, in terms of broadening the offering in its own retail stores and severing ties with canceled influencers Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star.

Asked about an Internet rumor that Star was a financial investor in Morphe, McCormick said, no — “he’s never been an investor in the business.”

Influencers like Star played a big role in Morphe’s rise, and the shift away from some of those big names is an evolution in the company’s strategy. The business had long partnered with YouTube beauty stars early for product collaborations that drove millions of dollars in sales.

But now, McCormick says the influencer landscape looks different.

“I’d say in large part the landscape has matured,” McCormick said, noting that the company plans to use different strategies in different geographic markets moving forward, and that the company’s influencer base has grown from the hundreds to more than 2,000. “Our strategy has been to be more nuanced in our approach, whether we’re dealing with a powerhouse influencer versus an up-and-coming influencer versus a microinfluencer.”