Highlander Partners has acquired a majority stake in clean beauty brand RMS, founded by Rose-Marie Swift.
Swift, a makeup artist for celebrities including Gisele Bündchen and Miranda Kerr, launched her line in 2009, and gained traction for her Living Luminizer, $38, an early highlighting product. Today, the RMS lineup includes Un-Cover Up, $36, Lip2Cheek, $36, Eye Polish, $28, Beauty Oil, $78, and other products.
The brand is sold with Sephora North America and Europe, as well as Bluemercury, QVC, Credo, Nordstrom, Net-a-porter and Violet Grey. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but industry sources said RMS has about $30 million in sales.
David Olsen, who was formerly chief executive officer of Cos Bar, global vice president at Net-a-porter, and is currently a managing director at Highlander, will step into RMS as CEO. He launched RMS on Net-a-porter, and he and Swift kept in touch through quarterly lunches at ABC Kitchen in New York, they said in an interview over Zoom.
Swift said her sister, who is a psychic, told her years ago that Olsen would invest in her. “She said to me years and years and years ago that, ‘David Olsen will be investing in you.’ [I was ] like, ‘don’t be ridiculous, he’s my friend,’” Swift said.
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“[That happened] before I was even an investor,” Olsen added.
“When I got the job at Highlander, my first call was literally Rose-Marie. I was, like, ‘Rose-Marie, I know you’ve got an allergic reaction to investors.…Two years ago, they weren’t ready.’”
Swift, who has openly spoken about her aversion to investors over the years since she launched her business, said the partnership with Highlander is “gonna be fabulous.”
“I still didn’t want an investor,” Swift said — but she said yes to Highlander because she felt like she and Olsen were on the same wavelength. “It’s not this huge firm with all these people giving their opinions,” she added.
Highlander, which Olsen joined in 2019, operates more like a family fund, Olsen added, and doesn’t have specific hold periods or any limited partners.
“Private equity doesn’t have a great reputation for building brands and what we wanted to do was have the ability to continue to grow with Rose-Marie’s foundation and build a really strong brand,” Olsen said.
The plan to continue growing the brand includes cleaning up the company’s infrastructure, building out marketing and deepening relationships with retail partners, the two said.
“It makes it easier on me,” Swift said. “I don’t want the pressure of everybody saying, ‘OK, look at this excel sheet.’ I just want to be left alone to do my creativity and do what I want to do without…all these ideas from 10 million people. So this is kind of genius, actually. I’m very happy about it.”
Swift will remain a shareholder in the business, and current CEO Elaine Sack will move into a role as chief strategic officer. Swift will remain the company’s face on QVC.
“I’m a bit of a comedian when I do my Zooms and all that stuff, and even on QVC, the audience loves me. I’m right up their alley because I’m real — I’m not fake and pretentious,” Swift said.
Swift will continue working on product development, and will focus on creating new refillable options, similar to the Re-Evolve Radiance Locking Primer, $40, the brand just launched, she said.
“The consumer can be comforted in knowing that Rose-Marie and the ethos behind the brand are always striving to be the cleanest as possible. We’ve giggled around here that maybe our marketing tag line should be, ‘We’re actually clean,’ because we do strive to be as clean as possible,” Olsen said.
Olsen said since he started at Highlander, he’d met with about 200 brands and was looking for one that was clean and profitable. The firm is considering building out a clean beauty platform, and making other acquisitions in the clean beauty space, he said.
Lindsay Carlson of William Blair advised Swift on the deal.
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