Beauty is the latest industry to get hit with a slew of new vertical online retailers — a signal that the direct-to-consumer movement has begun to touch nearly every category that consumers are buying.
This story first appeared in the May 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The future of retail is the end of wholesale,” stated Julie Fredrickson, the cofounder of the e-commerce, direct-to-consumer beauty brand Stowaway. She’s passionate about this type of retail, which has already touched the apparel and accessories sectors with brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos, Everlane and BaubleBar.
In February, Fredrickson launched Stowaway with Chelsa Crowley, billed by the two as “right-size” beauty essentials. A beauty balm, concealer, cheek and lip rouge, lipstick, eyeliner and mascara are all compact enough to carry around without being too small and inadequate for daily use. For instance, Stowaway’s 1.6-gram lipstick retails for $15, compared to Bobbi Brown or Dior lipsticks, which are 3.5 grams each and retail for $26 and $35, respectively.
“We were compromising our cosmetics in different ways. I was carrying around product I didn’t necessarily like because it was small. These are sizes you can carry and finish,” Fredrickson said of the new brand, which is only sold on stowaway.com. She has no intention of ever taking the product down a wholesale route.
Emily Weiss’ launch of Glossier in October arguably made the biggest debut in the space over the past year — a combination of well-known brand ambassadors on board from the get-go and Weiss’ reputation as a trusted beauty source, solidified by the success of her four-year-old Into the Gloss Web site. Then there is Stowaway, which launched three months ago, and two new players in the space: Onomie, a skin-care line vying to be the Clinique of the online world, and Trèstique, an eight-product line entirely comprising makeup in stick formula.
“I’ve never finished a lipstick, Chelsa’s never finished a lipstick. It became an interesting business problem. Once you see it you can’t unsee it,” said Fredrickson, meaning that the thought of letting product go to waste tends to stick with you. She believes there is potential in the beauty space online. Fredrickson noted that the majority, or 70 percent, of the $60 billion a year industry is controlled by 10 conglomerates.
Beauty is the only industry that’s yet to be disrupted by technology, Fredrickson added, likening what’s happening in beauty to Warby Parker’s entrance onto an eyewear scene largely controlled by giants like Luxottica and Safilo.
“At a macro level, everybody is finding traditional ways of growing are quite difficult in terms of going through typical retail channels,” said Praveen Kishorepuria, senior manager in Kurt Salmon’s retail and consumer group.
He thinks the raw data that can be obtained by going direct is invaluable — and the direct access to customer behavior and purchasing products allows a company to be nimble and use information to quickly build on the customer experience.
Onomie is among the latest to join the fast-growing beauty sector of the direct-to-consumer online space. Although its product offering is small — it launched with just two products to start on May 7 — cofounders Kal Vepuri and Lauren Hoffman said they’ve created “high-tech skin-care products that look and feel like makeup.” These are a concealer that works to both cover and fix dark circles and a highlighter that brightens the outer eye area and corrects fine lines and wrinkles.
After conducting extensive consumer research, they decided that eyes would be the first area of focus.
“[It’s] where people have the most concerns,” Hoffman explained.
Both products underwent clinical testing — eight-week tests for each — and careful attention was paid to the respective formulas.
Trèstique — or “cool sticks” in French — is an “alternative” makeup routine, according to cofounder Jennifer Kapahi, who teamed up with business partner Jack Bensason a year ago to bring the brand to market.
The products will be launched at trestique.com next week. In addition to tinted moisturizer, blush, bronzer, concealer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick and eyebrow pencils, the cofounders created custom “tools” for each product. They engineered a magnetic makeup pencil that on one end contains the product and the other, either a smudger, a brush or other custom tool designed to help with application.
Prices range from $24 for eye pencils to $32 for the tinted moisturizer, blush or bronzer, with refills for makeup. Tools are available for $5 to $10.
While it’s still too early to measure the effect these new companies will have, it’s clear that a new era has begun. More players are sure to pop up.