If you haven’t heard, Glossier opened a SoHo flagship last week. And come Thursday, the brand will extend its reach further when it enters about 600 Sephora stores in the US and Canada, the most aggressive retail push in the company’s almost decade in existence.
And despite some well-documented (often by me) growing pains, Glossier has proved it has staying power — and not just as a viable player in an industry that’s traditionally been exclusionary to up-and-comers and subject to the whims of trend cycles and viral moments. Founder Emily Weiss’ disruption in 2014 has transformed the rules of beauty with an aesthetic and experience in a way that multi-billion-dollar legacy brands (and start-ups) still can’t replicate.
Weiss is, in my opinion, the most prolific beauty founder in decades.
In light of Glossier’s homecoming to New York and launch into Sephora, I posed two questions to a dozen people who work in beauty, as well as non-industry friends and acquaintances with varying degrees of knowledge of the landscape: “What is the most important beauty brand?” and “Who is the most important beauty founder?” of the last 15 years. Besides Glossier or Weiss, none could name another brand or founder.
In return, I was asked: “What makes Glossier so special?”
Since the beginning, Glossier has been clear in what it is and what it stands for – a curated offering of skin care and makeup essentials intended to enhance customers’ natural attributes, not change or perfect them. It doesn’t deviate, and young people feel that. Customers know when something is reactionary (every celebrity coming out with a beauty brand, for example) or created for trends’ sake. When Glossier deviated with Glossier Play, the glittery makeup line introduced in 2019, the company walked it back and shut the sub-brand down within a year. And despite the “Euphoria”-esque makeup craze dominating beauty today, it has no plans to bring it back.
Weiss’ desire to control communication with customers – through branding, visuals, “experiential” retail and where and how purchases took place – is what makes Glossier so successful. It’s also why the company ran into challenges.
If the brand abandoned its direct-to-consumer roots, it would have scaled more efficiently and been available to more customers in more places. But if Glossier hadn’t stuck to that business model, the brand probably wouldn’t have been able to cultivate the relationship it has with its customer base today. When Glossier launches at Sephora this week, the retailer doesn’t have much brand awareness building to do; most Sephora shoppers are well acquainted with the line and its products. It will however, have to compete on the shelf in a crowded and noisy environment filled with both legacy brands and startups trying out-Glossier Glossier.
“Six or seven years in, [customers said] ‘Okay, we get it. We understand your brand. You’ve laid the foundation’… but can you please just start selling it closer to me?’ I don’t think we were wrong in the beginning, we needed to evolve,” Weiss told me in an interview earlier this month at The Crosby Hotel. She called the decision to finally sell Glossier somewhere other than its own stores and website became a “no brainer.”
“In our desire to hold ourselves to that incredibly high standard and offer people the best possible customer experience, we were denying people the experience they want, which is to touch and feel Glossier,” Weiss said.
For those who claim Glossier is selling out with its move into Sephora, here’s a sports metaphor: Glossier entering Sephora is analogous to LeBron James joining the Miami Heat in 2010.
James, at 18, was the number one draft pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the worst record in the Central Division the previous season. For seven years, LeBron tried to make it work in an environment that wasn’t naturally set up for him to succeed. Despite his talents, he didn’t believe he could win a title if he stayed in Cleveland. Once James decamped to Miami in 2010, he went on to win his first championships in 2012 and 2013.
Ultimately, James took the traditional path to success and left his hometown team for the Miami Heat, which manufactured one of the greatest basketball teams of the 2010s. Weiss, who built her brand the unconventional way — with no help from a leading beauty retailer — is now choosing the traditional path to success: Sephora.
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