This week, I look at the brands changing the haircare conversation, discuss the word “normal” in beauty and personal care, and check in on investing circles.
After a year of living with Covid-19, it sounds trite to say that every person in the U.S. has had their routines upended. As it relates to beauty, stay-at-home behavior upended makeup usage, forced clients to become their very own dermatologist or aesthetician, and curbed in-salon treatments and services. And while that remains the norm, not all news was bad in beauty last year. For example, prestige hair care saw 7% sales growth when the overall market was down 19%, per NPD Group.
While many hair-care companies saw growth — thanks to through lines like the skinification of hair, along with wellness and self-care — the new leaders of hair care, like Bread Beauty Supply and Crown Affair, look nothing like their big brand competitors. And that’s the point. They’re charting their own paths with a limited number of products, inclusive points of view and a community mindset.
Both Bread and Crown Affair launched last year, in January and July, respectively, with a focus on a less prescriptive hair standard. On Bread Beauty Supply’s website, the phrase “You do you” is featured in bold its “About” page, followed by “Do more. Do less. Do you. Get it?” Meanwhile, Crown Affair is meant to be the at-home solution for hair, catering to those who air-dry. Crown Affair has yet to launch a shampoo or conditioner, instead debuting with a smattering of “ritual” products including a single brush, a hair oil, a comb and scrunchie. Below, a more in-depth look at the brands that were made for right now.
Bread Beauty Supply
The disconnect of “glossy, photoshopped, overdone, styled” imagery and consumer expectations of hair brands was what led Bread Beauty Supply founder Maeva Heim to launch her line last year, she said. Heim, who is based in Melbourne, first experienced the conflict upon seeing the array of women with relaxed hair at her mother’s hair salon. Heim started relaxing her own hair at the age of six and didn’t stop until 2016, when a relaxer exploded in her suitcase on a work trip. She started conceiving Bread Beauty Supply, which is about embracing one’s natural style, in 2017.
“I started building Bread to be something completely different. The hair category was and is still pretty undeveloped. I know the person who is buying Bread is buying Fenty Beauty, but [when we launched] at Sephora, there were nothing in hair with that same [inclusive] context. We wanted to be that answer,” said Heim, who previously worked at L’Oréal Australia.
Heim said that many of the lines that were made exclusively for curly or textured hair, or that could do double duty for women with those hair types, were DIY businesses. “It’s very much been like a cottage industry or kitchen counter thing — brands made in homes. Those brands either stay small, or sometimes they go on to become really big and end up in retail spaces, but they tend to look and feel the same. And then you have the brands that come from [conglomerates]. Because they are from larger companies, they’re going by data. And the truth is that you often don’t have hard data on the things that provide an emotional connection to consumers.”
Sephora had started talks with Heim in 2017 and inked a deal with Bread well before its launch last year. However, the summer 2020 timing was fortuitous for Sephora and its broader BIPOC founder and racial justice initiatives. Bread is now one of eight Black-owned brands carried at Sephora. Its hair mask and hair oil have sold out multiple times since August, and its first new product — a macadamia oil for hair and body — launched on Tuesday. Bread Beauty Supply will double its U.S. store count to 200-plus Sephora locations this month. On the international front, it will launch with Sephora Australia stores in April. It recently sped up its launch at buzzy online destination Cult Beauty at the end of 2020, due to outsize demand in the U.K. Bread would not share sales, but said its social following has experienced more than 400% growth.
“There’s still so much work to be done to get to a point of default, where a woman with textured hair can go into a hair aisle and know that there’s an option for her there,” said Heim. “Digitally we’re doing that less, but in a retail spaces, like Sephora, we have to call out [who we are]. That’s why we now have visuals on packaging, and that’s why we call it out in writing. As a brand, we have to communicate that way until it feels more like the norm.”
For Dianna Cohen, founder and CEO at Crown Affair, she could have easily hacked out a millennial hair brand and bet on fast digital growth. Cohen previously worked at Away and Into the Gloss, but she was looking for something more “thoughtful,” even after raising $1.7 million in seed funding.
“Hair is a category that’s so driven by word of mouth. You’re at brunch with girlfriends, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re wearing a scrunchie. Where is it from?’ Or you’re telling someone, ‘This hair oil has changed my life,'” she said.
Crown Affair debuted in January 2020, and Cohen said the business strategy originally included pop-ups, events and activations. That quickly shifted with the onset of Covid-19.
“We had to strategize how we were going to [cover] the same amount of surface area without paid advertising and growth at all costs,” said Cohen. “That wouldn’t make sense for our brand.”
Cohen said that wasn’t only due to Crown Affair being an emerging brand, but it was also because of what it stood for. “My whole philosophy is fewer products. In a weird way, this year has been a catalyst for rituals that you have at home. In beauty, it’s like, ‘I can’t see my stylist.’ ‘I can’t run to my salon.’ ‘I don’t need a three-minute miracle mask.’ Instead, I can actually sit here and soak my hair for 20 minutes because I’m home and I have the time,” said Cohen.
Being suited to pandemic living is working for Crown Affair. Thus far, the brand has only spent around $12,000 in paid efforts, including $5,000-$7,000 that were earmarked for the holidays. Crown Affair is hitting approximately $150,000 in revenue a month, amounting to organic month-to-month growth of 40%.
“I talked to 200 investors, and it was so hard to find someone who was like, ‘Wait, if you spend $1 million on ads, and you only have $1.5 million in revenue, then what’s it worth?'” said Cohen of her business acumen. Brand Foundry Ventures and Heidi Zak are among her investors.
The sticky customer experience has been facilitated through Crown Affair’s revamped word-of-mouth strategy. Crown Affair is launching its third season of Seedlings, a group of 100 women who provide ongoing feedback through Zoom and a private Linkedin Group. A related project, called Guides, is a new way Crown Affair is hoping to further spread the word this spring. A tweak on the standard affiliate model (based on how much product each ambassador can sell), Guides will focus on the amount of time they can spend connecting with customers on its site and via phone or Zoom. Guides will allot time to Crown Affair and talk about overall hair routines or goals, Crown Affair products or anything a shopper likes.
“Building a sticky brand requires taking the time to have real conversations — on the phone, over email or in DM,” Cohen said. “There’s no magic pill or quick fix. Having real conversations with someone or a group of people about their hair, their rituals and what’s inspiring them these days is the way we’ve built a break-even business in a year.”
As a part of Unilever’s new Positive Beauty commitments, announced globally Monday night, it is eliminating the word “normal” from all beauty and personal care packaging and advertising. Unilever commissioned a nine-country, 10,000-person study that found that 56% of people think the beauty and personal care industry can make individuals feel excluded. Seven in 10 people agreed that using the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact. That count rose to eight in 10 for individuals between the ages of 18-35, in line with conscious consumerism favored by millennials and Gen Z. Fifty-two percent also said they now pay more attention to a company’s stance on societal issues before buying their products.
Ahead, Esi Eggleston Bracey, evp and COO of beauty and personal care at Unilever, explains the necessary change.
What do you think “normal” meant in beauty before the events of the last year, and what does it mean now?”
We found that “normal” referred to what was most common and prevalent — what was viewed as the common for the majority. The problem is that it excludes those who are not in the majority. The diversity and variety in America and in the entire world are exploding, and so “normal” is simply outdated and not relevant. It is also quite generic and doesn’t actually spell out which benefits a product provides or on which specific hair or skin qualities a product works best. This is increasingly what people want to know, so they can make their own decisions.
How does this relate to the conscious consumerism of Gen Z and millennials?
Both generations are incredibly passionate about making positive change in the world, and they’re passionate about supporting brands and companies that care about the issues they care about. In fact, 55% of American teens say they are more likely to purchase brands that support a cause they care about. Unilever has a long history as a purpose-driven business, and with our Positive Beauty commitments, we will continue our ambition to do more good — not just less harm — for people and the planet. We are encouraged that our beliefs are so aligned with that of the younger generations.
How else does Positive Beauty come to life?
There is a lot we want to change, and removing ‘normal’ is just one action within the set of commitments we have made to create a real and measurable impact. As part of Positive Beauty [which the conglomerate hopes will reach 1 billion people per year by 2030], we are committing to taking action through our brands to improve health and wellbeing, and advance equity and inclusion. We want to help end discrimination in beauty and champion inclusion, by challenging narrow beauty ideals and building a more inclusive portfolio of products. We also want to drive gender equity, including stepping up brand programs and advocacy to challenge the status quo and unstereotyping advertising. We are focused on improving health and wellbeing through existing educational initiatives in hand-washing and oral hygiene, and expansion into new areas, including physical health and mental wellbeing. We want to protect and regenerate 1.5 million hectares [3.7 acres] of land, forests and oceans by 2030, which is more land than is required to grow the renewable ingredients in Unilever’s beauty and personal care products. And we are supporting a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics by 2023, working alongside lawmakers, animal protection organizations and like-minded companies. Twenty-three Unilever beauty and personal care brands are now PETA Approved, and more are working toward certification.
News of Note
This week, VMG Partners, the investment firm behind Drunk Elephant, Briogeo and Perfect Diary, announced a raise of $850 million within its growth fund to support brands in beauty, wellness, food and beverage, and pets. Robin Tsai, general partner at VMG Partners, said the fund was raised in about three months and enables the firm to keep with its founder-first and growth strategies. Known to be a first mover in beauty and wellness, VMG tackled an earlier-stage investment last year with its Series A in Nécessaire.
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What we’re reading
Cosmetics will not be required to undergo animal testing in China, starting May 1.
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