It has been almost exactly a year ago since Hourglass Cosmetics announced it was going vegan by 2020 in order to align with its consumer values. The Hourglass team, led by CEO Carisa Janes, has since gone to work. It has rid products of animal-derived ingredients, including beeswax, lanolin (a wax made from sheepskin) and carmine (a dye made from beetles’ wings), and relied on its relatively new parent company, Unilever — which bought Hourglass in June 2017 for between $250 million to $300 million — for help. Unilever has also assisted the brand in finding ways to be more sustainable. Unilever, itself, has several sustainability initiatives, including halving the water used by consumers for Unilever products by 2020 and halving the greenhouse gas impact of its products across their lifecycles by 2030.
Hourglass, which was founded in 2004, is known for its prestige and luxury products like the brand’s Veil Mineral Primer and Ambient Lighting Powders, which range from $14 to $350. By the time it was acquired last year, Hourglass was generating net sales of approximately $70 million annually, according to WWD. Hourglass is currently in more than 500 stores worldwide, including Bergdorf Goodman, Sephora, Nordstrom, as well as its own flagship stores in Venice, California and New York City.
Janes discussed with Glossy why Hourglass needs three years to go vegan and why the company sees innovation as luxury.
What’s required to go vegan?
The process [is] really going product by product, and shade by shade, looking at ingredients and seeing what is vegan and is not. Then reformulating is necessary. We’ve been working on it for a while — for us, carmine is the biggest issue, so that’s what we’ve been working on with Unilever: to find an alternative that is better, or at least as good. We don’t want to compromise the quality or performance of the product; it’s about finding that balance where you know the customer won’t even notice whether it is vegan or not.
Your goal is to become vegan by 2020, which is still a few years away. Why do you need three years?
When you think about it, it’s an inventory issue: We have so much inventory of existing products all over the world. We order products [over] a period of time — we don’t just order products, and they arrive tomorrow and [are] in stores. There’s a long lead time for developing, manufacturing, receiving store orders and shipping to stores, so we had to allow for that. But, we also wanted to give ourselves enough time to make sure the formulations were right. We felt 2020 was fast. In a way, you’re developing a new product. Internally, our timeline is 19 months [to develop products], so it takes time.
How has Hourglass been affected by Unilever’s ownership?
They are a purpose-driven company, and we have always had the purpose of being a cruelty-free luxury beauty brand. They have encouraged us to do more around purpose and to invest in sustainable and refillable products. They have made us a bigger company, because they have prioritized what is important to them, through us.
We have grown so much, and having Unilever behind us has allowed us to go so much faster than if I was [still] on my own. Even being able to buy inventory to enter all these new markets [like Spain and South Korea] is huge — before, financially, I didn’t have the resources to move quickly.
How do you think luxury is changing?
I don’t know how much luxury has changed in beauty [compared to fashion]. For me, luxury is a combination of innovation and integrity. As a brand, [Hourglass] is not a luxury brand because of the extravagance of the product, but because of the innovation. For example, we have a foundation called Immaculate for acne prone skin, and it’s $52 — but for a 14- or 15-year-old girl who wears it, it helps clear up her skin and that is a luxury. She saves her money when she buys that product because she’s not spending it on several products, and it makes her feel better about herself. Our new Confession lipstick, which is [heavier] and refillable and looks gorgeous — that is a luxury to someone like me.
What about the consumer experience, both in-store and online?
The consumer experience has changed because of technology, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not good; technology can make the consumer experience less luxurious in a lot of ways, especially because technology gets outdated so quickly. I still love service and having a knowledgeable sales person. But what’s mostly changed is social media and the DTC consumer experience. You can now educate and bring your brand to life, not only through traditional retail channels but also through Instagram and social [media].