LONDON — Sweaty, acne-prone adolescent boys are largely ignored by the beauty, grooming and wellness industries. It’s the teenage girl who normally gets all the attention from brands and marketers, while any boy in need of a hair, skin or grooming fix is left to root around for products geared toward grown men, or women.
This is just what Stephanie Capuano, a California native who lives in London, discovered when her 14-year-old son was packing up for boarding school a few years ago.
“About two weeks before he left, I think stress — and puberty — hit. His skin started breaking out with those pesky little spots across his nose, and then he started to smell — there was this crazy body odor that came on. And there I was, a mother always wanting to make smarter choices — about food, laundry care and bathroom cleaning products. But the products I found for young men, and teenagers, were not up to scratch,” Capuano said.
She recalls making trips to Boots and reading the labels of popular products. She found aerosol deodorants that were bad for the planet, and skin care laden with harsh chemicals.
She ended up at Space NK, and bought an expensive tub of clearing pads for her son’s spots — cutting them in half to maximize the supply — and said the whole experience got her thinking.
Hunting in pharmacies and beauty counters, Capuano did find some suitable, all-natural products, but they smelled strange, and often the packaging was frumpy — or at least not appealing to urbane kids who are into streetwear and shopping on Depop.
“I wanted something stylish and aspirational, something that they would actually use,” she said.
In a bid to satisfy those requirements Capuano, who’d had a career in pharmaceutical and biotec public relations before moving to London, created 31st State.
She named the brand after her native California, the 31st state to join the Union in 1850, and tailored the products around adolescents and young adults. She tried to make them smell good, and look good on the bathroom shelf with gender-neutral branding, sun-bleached colors and a typeface that looks like it’s been handwritten.
The range, which is vegan, was created with a product development consultant who’d worked in the past for The Body Shop, and who specialized in non-chemical formulations.
Together, they came up with a tight edit of seven products, including overnight clearing pads, a 2-in-1 hair and body wash, deodorant and a spot-control gel.
“It took a long time to get it right: Most of us want to feel like our skin care is actually doing something, and I learned that a lot of products have ingredients that are unnecessary. You can really strip down the number of ingredients, choose them wisely, and you still have the same effect.” she said.
Capuano and the consultant, Claire Bristow of Genius Beauty, made an effort to appeal specifically to Gen Z, and considered ingredients that would resonate with them. To wit, the products contain copper, zinc, magnesium and silver.
The business is primarily direct-to-consumer, but it also sells on Asos.com and Free People in the U.S., and through Liberty, Next, Ocado, Flannels and Victoria Health in the U.K. All products are made in the U.K. and the packaging is fully recyclable.
Prices range from 5.99 pounds for the roll-on deodorant to 15.99 pounds for the clearing pads.
Capuano said direct-to-consumer sales have been doubling, and even tripling, in some cases compared with this time last year, due to a surge in online sales during lockdown.
She said that during the pandemic the foaming face wash, 12.99 pounds, has been flying off shelves, while there are plans to bring a solid deodorant to the market by Christmas. The brand is also working on a face scrub and a mist for back acne.
Girls can use them, too: Capuano said her husband refers to the clearing pads as the “boyfriend jeans” of the product line because they’re so popular for a variety of skin types.
“I leave it on the kitchen of counter. Everybody uses them,” said Capuano, who is in her 40s, and who has two sons and a daughter.
“I started it for boys, but we’re thrilled that girls use it, too. Everything about this generation is fluid — it’s like no other generation before. They will embrace anything that sits within the lifestyle they adhere to.”
In the spring, 31st State attempted to bring its community of mostly 16- to 24-year-olds closer together, building on the brand’s existing blog with a project called Gen Z, The Corona Diaries.
Capuano wanted the community to write personal essays and submit photos, talk about their feelings during lockdown. She wanted them to open up about not being able to go to school, university or summer festivals, about not being able to see friends and spending more time on social media.
She ran the submissions, unedited, on the site. “From the get-go I wanted this to be a brand for Gen Z, by Gen Z. I can’t tell you what’s in the mind of an 18-year-old, and from the start we always felt like we needed to be asking them and listening to them.”
Looking ahead, Capuano is looking at pushing further into the wellness category, possibly launching nutritional gummies or even sexual wellness products.
“There’s room to talk to this generation about sexual wellness in a different way,” she said.
Capuano believes that Gen Z is fascinating on a number of levels. “They have no stigma around talking about mental health. They are open about seeing therapists, or taking antidepressants or supplements, and they are very, very open about their sexual wellness, too,” she said.
Having gained traction in the U.K., 31st State is starting to build on its presence in the U.S. market. It also wants to expand in Europe and Asia.
Capuano said that, outside the U.S., the brand’s California vibe “has become a state of mind. This aspirational idea of California resonates everywhere around the world — even better than it does in California. It’s about doing things that are a little more natural and progressive.”