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PopSugar Ramps Up Its Beauty Profile

The pop lifestyle web site is preparing to launch a full beauty collection.

Digital darling PopSugar is preparing to apply its trademark breezy in-the-know panache to mainstream beauty.

Beauty by PopSugar is due to make its debut in March with about 75 stockkeeping units of mostly color cosmetics. That is meant to be a prelude to adding future categories, including skin care, fragrance and hair.

The brand will be featured on PopSugar’s namesake web site and retailed in select doors of Ulta Beauty. Tara Simon, senior vice president, Ulta Beauty prestige merchandising, noted how the companies have had a long working relationship. “PopSugar, with its highly engaged audience, combined with its beauty authority, offers Ulta Beauty a perfect media platform to reach our guests. We look forward to being the catalyst that will launch Beauty by PopSugar next spring. This launch represents an opportunity for our brands to collaborate and curate a product assortment that we know will resonate” with the customers of both companies.

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The beauty line, which is being kept under wraps, is being developed under a licensing agreement with high-profile industry veterans — Pam Baxter, a former top executive at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Dior and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and media entrepreneur Cathy O’Brien — via their new company, Bona Fide Beauty Lab.

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“We have a monthly subscription box business now,” said Lisa Sugar, president and founder of PopSugar Inc. She established the digital publishing house with her husband, Brian, in April 2006 with a focus on pop-culture trends, beauty, fashion and celebrity, which recently was edged out in reader interest by health and wellness. The subscription-box business was started five years ago, as of August, and the company has shipped one million boxes so far. The web site was based on a classic editorial and advertising model, or as Sugar says, “the whole idea of content and commerce. We have been connecting it with our audience for 10 years. We would love to create new ways to extend that. For us, beauty is one of our most popular categories. So we figured this would be a great extension for us and being partners with these great veterans was a no-brainer.”

As a very popular and well-visited site — full of chatty lifestyle advice — PopSugar does not lack leverage.

Sugar fired off statistics during an interview earlier this week: More than 100 million unique [visitors] a month, as well as more than 300 million video views in the same period. All the content — from the web site, commercials, social media transmissions and feeds — adds up to three billion content views monthly.

The partners declined to discuss dollar projections, but industry sources calculate that retail sales of the new brand’s products, including new categories, could hit a target of between $250 million and $300 million by 2022.

Baxter and O’Brien had cofounded Bona Fide Beauty Lab with the intention of going into the business of identifying founder-led start-ups with sales in the $5 million to $10 million range.

This is their first project and appears far more ambitious. To get a footing, Baxter and O’Brien sent a questionnaire to 2,000 PopSugar followers. Although it takes 30 minutes to answer all the questions, which map out a customer’s beauty life, 800 respondents took the time and sent them back with every item answered, O’Brien said. It gave them clues to the consumer psyche, which helped them chart product direction, along with brainstorming with Sugar. A target customer, aged 18 to 34, emerged with a mania for selfies and preferences for facial sprays and tinted moisturizers, among other items. Sugar suggested multibenefit versatile products — a plus for hectic lifestyles. “Lisa wanted portable and comfortable,” said Baxter. “She didn’t want to carry a lot around.” They also learned: “Our girl is into lip balms [with] sheer transparent tint,” she added. The price points hover in the entry level of department stores.

The door is open to skin care because “our audience wants clean products,” Sugar said. “The generation is getting healthier and healthier. Self-care is a category that is growing.” Baxter said the team has already started probing fragrance possibilities. Another hot topic is personalization. “We will be able to do that — whether it’s through color products and how people will mix them together,” said Sugar, who focuses on the twentysomething customer rather than thinking about generations. Baxter added, “it’s for my cheeks, but I use it on my eyes. A lot of the formulas are supersheer and buildable.”

Baxter mentioned “eye putty.”

“It’s an eye shadow that is really sheer and transparent, with a youthful iridescence, it’s not a glitter,” although two shades are glitter.

When asked how PopSugar could set itself apart from all the makeup offerings flooding the Internet, Sugar said the constant feedback from its readers acts “as this huge focus group. They are going to tell us what they want and we will be able to react accordingly. We’ll be able to see from sales in the store— if it’s working — but then we will have a huge audience, bringing us feedback immediately. That’s one of the powers of having an online brand.”

As for the brand’s positioning, Sugar said it is an extension of the PopSugar ethos. “We talk about helping people, being their adviser, their trusted girlfriend,” she said, adding that “it has the playfulness of the trends that we know our audience loves to play with, but the ease and happiness of everyday. My goal is just to make everybody’s life easier and happier.”