Beauty brand Ilia is poised to dominate the clean beauty category.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Ilia has been resilient and bucked the downturn in makeup sales. Ilia has doubled its year-over-year revenue every year since 2017 and looks to approach over $100 million in sales in 2021. WWD reported in Jan. 2020 that Ilia ended 2019 with about $22 million in retail sales and expected at the time to earn $35 million in 2020. In the last 18 months, the brand went through a refresh, launched Super Serum Skin Tint and then expanded shades, focused on its e-commerce and brought its field teams in-house rather than furloughing them during the quarantine period. There are almost 100 employees at this time. Ilia also announced in September that it 1% of all sales from its hero Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 will go toward the charitable initiative 1% For The Planet, and will focus its efforts to plant 1 million trees by end of 2023.
Ilia is sold through Sephora, Dermstore, Credo and Nordstrom among other retailers. Brand sales are just under 50% DTC e-commerce, said Lynda Berkowitz, Ilia CEO. The brand has raised over $14 million over two fundraising rounds through Silas Capital and Sandbridge capital, among other investor partners according to Crunchbase.
“We had many great things happening on top of a really turbulent economy [in 2020]. It was a perfect storm, but it impacted our business positively,” said Berkowitz.
As a brand that hovers around the $100 million sales mark, Ilia is ripe as a potential acquisition target or for an IPO. Berkowitz said Ilia is exploring options regarding the brand’s future, including additional investment or distribution partners for its international expansion, but also stated that Ilia is not in any “official process.” Currently, Ilia is sold through Mecca in Australia, Sephora e-commerce in Europe, and has upcoming undisclosed U.K. expansion plans to be announced by the end of the year.
In 2021, Ilia has focused on consolidating its internal operations. Key hires included Jessica Zeller was brought on in January as svp of global marketing and public relations, coming from Kendo Brands. Additionally, Kym Davis was brought on as vp of product development in June, also having worked at Kendo Beauty (specifically on Fenty Beauty) and Glossier. Furthermore, Ilia developed an in-house customer service department, as well as marketing, social and creative teams.
“Having a strong leadership team has made a world of difference because every department has a strong, well-aligned strategy,” said Berkowitz. “Part of being successful is realizing when more hands and more talent are needed.”
Ilia has remained product-centric since its launch in 2010. Berkowitz said that complexion products make up more than 50% of Ilia’s sales, and over 50% of new customers purchase the Super Serum Skin Tint as their first purchase. Furthermore, “loyal” customers use over five Ilia products. Ilia has a broad customer base, namely “millennials and their mothers,” said Berkowitz.
“[Complexion] is a very emotional [category] because everyone wants to have clear skin. It’s a very personal thing, so to have half our business in complexion shows consumer trust,” she said. “Our focus has been on how to continue to introduce customers to the Super Serum Skin Tint, growing that franchise and continuing to build that credibility and loyalty.”
Another hero product includes Limitless Lash Mascara, which launched in 2018. At Sephora, Ilia’s Limitless Lash Mascara is the No. 2 best-selling mascara behind Too Faced Better Than Sex. Berkowitz said the marketing around the product has been limited, and that success is owed to word-of-mouth. To support hero products and major launches, Ilia now has a full-fledged approach including customer sampling through its e-commerce and Sephora, paid ads and influencer marketing. Ilia distributes over 3 million samples per year and 70% of new customers arrive at Ilia through social media, including ads and influencers, she said. WWD reported Ilia spent $2 million on sampling in 2020.
“While women weren’t necessarily putting on a full face of makeup to go out on Saturday night, they were still putting on mascara for Zoom calls,” said Brian Thorne, Silas Capital partner and Ilia board member. “[Ilia] was able to acquire customers with a relatively low price point and the lower-consideration-purchase of mascara. Then [the brand] further guided her down the [acquisition] funnel to shade matching and eventually to purchase the Super Serum Skin Tint.”
As of now, Ilia is also building out brand awareness via out-of-home and connected TV ads in September. Ilia first began OOH ads in Feb. 2020 in Los Angeles and New York City at the time of its Super Serum Skin Tint launch. Ilia will also conduct frequent wild postings, billboards and even a direct-mailing campaign at an unspecified time. In September it had a New York Times full-page weekend ad. The connected-TV ads have shown up on Bravo, E, HGTV and Hulu, among other channels and platforms.