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Three Times a ‘Go’ for Gen Z Skin-Care Brand Founders

The Black-owned Topicals beauty brand targets chronic skin conditions, and amassed a wait list of 10,000 pre-launch.

Black-owned skin-care brand Topicals today launches with a wait list and $2.6 million in funding from big name backers like Netflix chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John and influencer Hannah Bronfman.

The initial investment round was led by Lerer Hippeau with participation from Mucker Capital and the chief executive officers of Warby Parker, Allbirds, Casper, Harry’s, Bombas and Red Antler, according to Topicals. Actors Yvonne Orji and Issa Rae from HBO’s “Insecure” are also investors.

Not everything went exactly to plan in the run-up, however.

Topicals’ March launch was stalled by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and the rescheduled May launch got waylaid by social unrest, when the 23-year-old cofounders turned their focus to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

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After two false starts, the L.A.-based company is now selling its first medicated skin-care products, Like Butter and Faded, through its web site, and the Pop-In@Nordstrom concept that showcases new and exclusive merchandise inside physical stores.

“Omnichannel — and being where your customers are — is extremely important for us because a lot of the skin conditions we go after are not typically represented in higher-end beauty retailers,” Topicals cofounder and chief executive officer Olamide Olowe told WWD. “We wanted to make sure our customer has that same experience that everyone else gets to have in the beauty world.”

Destigmatizing chronic skin conditions is a priority, added Topicals cofounder and chief product officer Claudia Teng.

Topicals is not Olowe’s first start-up. As a 19-year-old UCLA pre-med student, she co-created the SheaGIRL Beauty skin-care brand, which was sold to Unilever as part of its Sundial Brands acquisition in 2017. Teng, who also was pre-med, worked in clinical research at Stanford University’s Department of Dermatology prior to partnering with Olowe.

Topicals’ pop-in engagement inside four U.S. Nordstrom stores runs through Nov. 1, at which point Olowe and Teng will determine next steps for brick-and-mortar retailing.

“Olamide and Claudia are inspiring, young entrepreneurs who have been steadfast in building their brand, leveraging their personal experience with skin conditions, to create something we haven’t seen before,” said Olivia Kim, vice president of creative projects and home at Nordstrom. “We’re proud to offer Topicals as part of our Pop-In@Nordstrom New Beauty assortment.”

Formulated for chronic skin conditions, Topicals products are vegan, fragrance-free and made for all complexion shades. Faded ($36) is a gel for dark spots, a skin condition Olowe has endured for some time, and Like Butter ($32) is a hydrating mask for eczema-prone skin like Teng’s.

“We grew up feeling like outsiders in the beauty world,” Olowe said during a Retail Brew virtual event last week. “We grew up feeling like our skin conditions made us ‘less-than’ or made us dirty or different.” Topicals aims to eradicate that negativity by building a community where those with chronic skin conditions can speak freely, with humor, as its motto “Funner Flare-ups” suggests, while sharing input to guide the brand’s next moves.

“We’re all about iterating and testing,” Olowe said, noting Topicals products have been in development a year, informed by consumer feedback on formulations, packaging and marketing — all of which had to be adapted when the pandemic triggered border closures. When full-size product could not be imported, Topicals’ sample sizes sold out in 72 hours.

While sample sizes did not deliver the “full experience,” Olowe acknowledged, the pre-launch sales built demand and a customer wait list of 10,000.

Recognizing that people with chronic skin conditions are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, Topicals will donate 1 percent of profits to mental health organizations; the company already donated $10,000 to support Sad Girls Club, Therapy for Black Girls and Fearless Femme 100.