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The Brow Boom

Micro-categories are big business in beauty — and brows are the latest mini market to explode over the past three years.

Micro-categories are big business in beauty — and brows are the latest mini market to explode over the past three years. And with near-constant introductions of products, services, and salons, companies large and small are not about to miss this moment.

Los Angeles-based brow artist Kristie Streicher has been meticulously shaping brows into her signature “feathered” form, a natural, on-the-cusp-of-bushy look for a decade. “At first people would look at me like I had two heads when I said they couldn’t touch their brows for six weeks, but about two years ago the market started to catch up. Thank Cara Delevingne,” said Streicher, who charges $220 for the service. Her brow plucking protégés are less expensive, starting at $85 for a shaping.

For several years, Streicher was based inside salons, but recently outgrew that setup. “I had two little chairs in an L.A. salon, but because my work has been in such demand for the past two years, I needed more space,” she said. In October 2012, Streicher saw 100 clients. This October that number almost tripled to 280. So on Nov. 18 she’s opening up her own space, a beauty studio, Striiike, with her two sisters — makeup artist Jenn and hairstylist Ashley — in a cool-kid section of Beverly Hills. “It’s a creative work space, but it’s calm and chic. There’s not the frenetic energy of a salon,” said Streicher. The three sisters will see their celebrity clients — like say, prepping Emily Blunt during award season — and everyone from housewives to lawyers. “This is an exclusive space that’s accessible to everyone,” said Streicher.

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Streicher is both trailblazer and beneficiary of a beauty market that’s crazy for eyebrows. According to analysis by The NPD Group, at $143 million, U.S. sales in the prestige eyebrow market have nearly doubled since 2011. Sales are up 35 percent from last year, compared with an increase of 6 percent in the total prestige beauty market. “From a fashion perspective, consumers have gotten validation that groomed brows is a great look,” said NPD vice president and global beauty industry analyst Karen Grant. She added that a major driver of growth is the need for brow services and products on both sides of the age spectrum. “Older women need to finish their look, as brows are an area where hair begins to thin,” said Grant. “And younger women want full brows because they’re fashionable.”

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Small categories like brows also tend to be a major part of a beauty company’s overall growth strategy. “One of the ways brands gain credibility and awareness is to become subject experts,” said Grant. “Consumers say, ‘OK, this company knows how to do this.’ They earn trust then expand beyond their original categories, bringing their customers along for the ride.”

Anastasia Beverly Hills is one such story. The company launched its collection of brow pencils, powders and gels in 2000, and has since grown to be the number-one prestige brow brand. In March, Anastasia is launching a full collection of color cosmetics in 120 Macy’s stores. The brand will also expand its brow product line to Sephora locations in France and Australia next year.

Benefit Cosmetics, the fourth-largest player in prestige brows, is launching a new grooming bar concept at the beginning of December, Brows-a-Go-Go. The 350-square-foot space will be in New York City’s no-nonsense Midtown East neighborhood, where working men and women can pop in for brow waxes on lunch breaks and after work. “The concept is consolidated — a smaller footprint. We’ve taken our best services from our boutiques and applied them here,” said Lisa Edwards, vice president of boutiques.

Benefit’s business is up 30 percent over last year, said Aurelian Lis, general manager of the Americas for Benefit. That growth is driven in part by brows. “It’s a loyal segment. You get new customers, but the existing ones keep coming as well. That combination accelerates growth,” said Lis.

Gimme Brow, priced at $22, is a tinted gel Benefit launched last year that is designed to add volume to brows with tiny fibers. It has been a hit with sales of 5 to 10 percent of the company’s nearly $1 billion in revenue as estimated by industry sources. “The biggest difference I’ve seen in the market is the professionalization of brows. Before consumers just wanted shaping tools, but now people want the styling products that go along with the professional brow,” said Lis.

The beauty industry isn’t hesitating to provide. The fourth quarter of 2014 and early 2015 will see a deluge of eyebrow products. RevitaLash, known best for its lash growth serum, launched a brow treatment-styler, called Hi-Def Tinted Brow Gel, for $32 last month that features peptides, which reportedly prevent breakage. Bobbi Brown is adding two new shades, including one to address the needs of aging Boomers with gray and white hair, to its popular gel Natural Brow Shaper & Hair Touch Up range. Next year, in the mass market, L’Oréal Paris will introduce its Brow Stylist Plumper a fiber-infused brow gel, retailing for $8.99. Long-time niche brow and makeup brand Ramy Beauty Therapy will offer up new tweezing stencils, and a brow fill-in powder that transitions from white to taupe when applied. The products are $24.99 each.

Despite soft beauty business in Europe, brows have been performing there as well. “Because of the economy, Europe has been struggling in beauty — makeup, skin care, everything,” said Grant. “But brows have been growing. This is a global phenomenon.” Capitalizing on the trend, U.K.-based eyebrow threading salon Blink Brow Bar began selling its gels, pencils and powders on Net-a-porter in January — under the name B The Eyebrow Experts — and opened its first U.S. location at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York last month. “Every cosmetics brand is investing in eyebrow products now, but no one is doing a Blink-type concept in the U.S. yet,” said founder Vanita Parti. “We’re a premium threading bar where customers can be confident that they’re going to leave with great eyebrows.” She’s estimating the Saks location will bring in $1 million the first year. “We can do that in London, so I’m hoping for that in New York,” said Parti.

Though today’s brow aesthetic is decidedly “more is more,” not everyone is born with Brooke Shields-esque arches. Also bubbling up in the market are improved ways to achieve that full look. In early October, Blink began offering a Build-a-Brow extension service, $170 for 90 minutes, a process similar to lash extensions in which individual brow hairs are glued to existing hair. So far Blink has done about 20 Build-a-Brow services. On Nov. 1, LashDip, creators of a semipermanent mascara, also revealed an extension service. The silk brow “hair” is produced exclusively by the brand in varying lengths and four colors that reportedly allow LashDip artists to achieve a very natural-looking, customized full brow. “We’re looking for a stealthy correction that matches the texture of brow hair,” said president and director of innovation Gina Mondragon. The service costs $100 per hour.

As the brow market evolves, continued expansion will rely on innovation and options for consumers. “This phenomenon is not just about pencils. It’s gel, powder — there are so many ways to achieve a variety of finishes. The key is that consumers can go to brow bars for accessible services, and then they have these effective tools in hand to maintain their new look,” said Grant. “The market is relatively small, so there’s so much more room for growth.”