Founded by former Smashbox executive Michele Gough Baril, DTC beauty brand Iris&Romeo secured $2 million in seed round funding.
Closed in early April and announced on Monday, the round was funded by BrandProject, which is known for funding DTC and tech startups including Persona, Freshly, Atolla, Peachy and Daily Harvest. This brings the nearly 2-year-old company’s total funding up to $3 million, following two angel rounds of $600,000 and $400,000 each. The brand saw 30% month-on-month growth through the pandemic, thanks to a boost from celebrity fans including Olivia Wilde, Eva Chen and Anna Sophia Robb, who posted about gifted products sans fee.
Known for its hero product Best Skin Days, a tinted moisturizer with SPF, the age-inclusive brand’s hybrid makeup-skin products are made “for women in their power years,” said Gough Baril. She said they generally fall between the ages of 30 and 50.
“We were attracted to the skin care-meets-makeup category for the woman on the go who doesn’t have the time or patience for a 10-step routine,” said Manica Blain, venture partner at BrandProject.
BrandProject has seen “considerable success” investing in beauty startups, said Blain, adding that doing so “has been a priority and will continue to be going forward, especially as we emerge from Covid.”
Iris&Romeo earned 55% of its revenue from unpaid efforts in the past year, and its main social channels are Instagram and Facebook for now. “Our main strategy was just seeding product to the right people,” said Gough Baril. “It was all organic and it was all through my networks, essentially,” she said.
Gough Baril had initially put fundraising on pause due to Covid-19.
“I basically preserved the cash that we had and bootstrapped through 2020,” she said, saying that investors had told her there would be “lower valuations” due to the situation. “It essentially cost a lot more to get the capital, and I just didn’t want to be in that position.” Now, she said, investment conditions have improved. “I would say it’s not exactly back to where it was before the pandemic, but investors are optimistic and beauty is resilient.”
According to Blain, “the pandemic has certainly prompted us to consider other sub-segments of consumer [investments for BrandProject]. We are as engaged as we ever have been with our founders, and it’s actually resulted in us more actively investing over the course of the last 15 months.” The firm closed a new $43 million fund during the pandemic, and its investments increased during Covid. She said the company is also “actively investing” out if its permanent capital pool BrandProject Studio.
Gough Baril plans to use the new funding to grow her team and expand the brand’s product offerings, especially focusing on skin-makeup hybrid products that have become winners during Covid-19. She plans to expand the shade range for Best Skin Days, as well as launch two new products this year, adding another complexion product and moving into the eye category.
BrandProject is also supporting the brand in day-to-day operational support in areas including marketing, strategy, technology and finance. According to Blain, “We like to think of our operating team as a temporary extension of the founder’s team in those early days.”
For now, Iris&Romeo is focused on DTC sales, but it has been “starting conversations” with retailers, said Gough Baril. “I think it’s really important as the brand scales, as we grow, that first we solidify who we are in direct-to-consumer and that we get that message right, get the branding right and start building the community.”
Gough Baril founded the label in October 2019 after leaving her high-pressure Smashbox job in 2012 and running her own consultancy. The brand name is partly an homage to a retired racehorse named Romeo she adopted. She credits Romeo as her inspiration to leave Smashbox for a simpler life on an old dairy farm in Northern California, where she took care of him and a herd of 30 rescue horses.
“I had this moment in my life where I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ and ‘What is my life about?’” she said. “It was a moment where I was seeking meaning, honestly, and I didn’t have it in the role I was in. I ended up walking away from the beauty industry because there were so many things that I didn’t align with in terms of my values,” including the level of sustainability and ingredients. The brand uses glass containers and its products are free of PEGS, parabens, phthalates, chemical sunscreens, formaldehydes, mineral oil, sulfates, synthetic fragrances and flavors.
According to her, the brand is a reflection of changing beauty norms. While the industry “was very superficial” and “about perfection” over a decade ago, “This is not what we want anymore.”
In fact, “I don’t even like the word ‘the beauty industry’ anymore,” she said. “I much prefer to say something about the wellness industry.”