Fragrance business Ellis Brooklyn has raised a $1 million seed round from Stage 1 Fund and Toni Ko, the founder of NYX.
Ellis makes eau de parfums, candles and body care. It was founded by New York Times’ Skin Deep columnist and author Bee Shapiro, and was early to the clean-ingredients trend in the fragrance category.
With the capital, Shapiro plans to deepen Ellis’ international distribution and hire an employee who “can dovetail not just our e-comm, but also the e-comms of our retailers,” she said.
“Our e-comm is way up. We had our biggest month ever, like in the history of our brand, in July in e-comm,” Shapiro said.
For many brands, fragrance sales have suffered as stores closed and consumers stayed home during the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, those sales switched into ancillary categories, like candles or home fragrance. But for Ellis, that wasn’t the case, Shapiro said.
“A lot of reports are like, ‘fragrance and makeup are down.’ I do know some cool brands though that are up, and I’m happy to say we’re one of them,” she said. Eau de parfums have sold well for the brand, she noted, which launched two fragrances — Sweet and Salt — right before the pandemic, along with a few other products. “It was a huge risk for us from a capital perspective. And honestly, it completely outperformed our expectations. It outperformed Sephora’s expectations,” Shapiro said.
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To navigate the pandemic, Shapiro got rid of the brand’s paid digital agency in order to focus on content production. Going forward, the business will also look to diversify geographically, a lesson Shaprio said she learned this year.
“If there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that during those really down months of March and April, some of our other markets handled COVID[-19] really well,” she said, calling out Australia and Germany. In the U.S., Ellis is sold at Credo, Sephora and Ulta Beauty. “If you asked me before COVID, we probably would have focused on the U.S. for at least another year,” Shaprio said.
The investors won’t be involved in day-to-day operations, but may help guide on macro strategy, Shapiro said. Shaprio knew of Ko from her years writing about beauty, she was formally introduced via Stage1, she said. “She’s a true entrepreneur,” Shapiro said. “Toni’s like, your classic always-up-to-something.”
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