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Bite Beauty’s Lip Lab Makes Made-to-Order Debut in California

The customization concept has set up shops in San Francisco and Santa Clara.

The appeal of customization isn’t limited to a single coast or a country.

Bite Beauty has planted Lip Lab locations in San Francisco and Santa Clara where customers can tailor lipsticks filled with food-grade ingredients to their preferences. The new locations, which bring the Lip Lab concept to California and follow the launch of a Toronto flagship in September, will test Bite Beauty’s ability to replicate the personalized services it honed in 2013 at the first Lip Lab location in New York and set the stage for the future growth.

“In a sea of sameness in terms of the shopping experience for cosmetics, I think this is a really unique opportunity for people to leave with a product that’s perfect for them,” said Bite Beauty founder Susanne Langmuir, continuing, “My goal would be to open a substantial number of additional locations. We have opened three quickly that are doing incredibly well, and we have a retail team in place making sure the standards are the same in each one.”

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In Lip Lab’s early stages, Bite Beauty produced every lipstick from scratch. Since then, its introduced an entry-level customization service Langmuir to streamline the process. Customers pick scents, textures and shades from Bite Beauty’s existing libraries, and watch as lipsticks designed to suit them are promptly completed in front of them. The original fully bespoke service remains available and is priced at $150 for two individualized shades and a Lip Lab lip kit, while the streamlined customization option is $55 per person for one lipstick or $80 per person for two lipsticks.

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“In our [manufacturing] facility, when we make a lipstick, it takes five hours and there are 10 to 12 artisans involved in each lipstick. We had to condense that to the most unique aspects so the client gets to experience it, and we make the same quality lipstick each time,” explained Langmuir. She detailed lipsticks are finalized in three steps at the Lip Labs: they’re melted and flavors are incorporated, spun in high-speed centrifuges at more than 1,000 revolutions per minute, and poured into metal molds and cooled in uniform shapes. The result is commerce theater that’s distinct from what shoppers expect at Sephora, the beauty specialty retailer that carries Bite Beauty. Toronto-based Bite Beauty is owned by Kendo, a division of Sephora parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Lip Lab’s customization doesn’t require a ton of space. Langmuir figures the best size for a location is between 500 and 750 square feet. The San Francisco outpost on Fillmore Street is 500 square feet, and the branch at the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center in Santa Clara is 775 square feet. The Lip Lab store design centers around customized lipstick workstations — there are 12 in Santa Clara — and features bold lipstick graphics and a shade range display highlighting key lipstick themes, including metallic, pink, red, neutral and rich berry.

“Having something that’s intimate works for us,” said Langmuir. “SoHo is 8-feet wide and 35-feet deep and, when I leased the location, I was worried because it’s a bit of a bowling alley. It’s generally packed, though, and it creates an environment where there is a buzz. I think of the Lip Lab as similar to a restaurant, only you can see what they are making for you. Smaller footprints are ideal.”

The Santa Clara and San Francisco locations are temporary, which the New York location was initially as well, to allow Bite Beauty to evaluate how the Lip Lab format fares in divergent settings. Fillmore Street is home to the likes of Rebecca Minkoff, Current Elliott and Rag & Bone and caters to the Bay Area’s most stylish residents. Department-store-anchored Valley Fair is a shopping staple of the Silicon Valley with sales per square foot among the highest for a mall in the nation.

Although Langmuir declined to discuss the revenues generated at the locations or specify the amount of locations Bite Beauty is considering opening going forward, she pronounced Lip Lab a marketing and financial win for the brand. “We want to make sure we have something sustainable as a business model, but we also want to make sure it is a heightening experience for the brand and all its elements,” she said before asserting, “The new stores have hit the ground running.”