No beauty brand in the world has a story quite like Glossier.
Launched off the success of the indie beauty blog Into The Gloss, founder Emily Weiss grew Glossier into a billion-dollar unicorn in less than a decade. The successes and obstacles Weiss met have been well documented in the press and in Marisa Meltzer’s 2023 book, “Glossy,” including a failed sub-brand called Play.
Weiss stepped down from CEO and into the role of executive chairwoman in 2022, and since then, industry insiders have wondered about the fate of Into The Gloss, which is still a standalone site. Into The Gloss and Glossier are one company, and the advertisers that once kept the lights on at the blog are no longer part of the business model.
In October, after periods of growing pains and radio silence, Into The Gloss began posting more than it has in years. Glossier chief marketing officer Kleona Mack told Glossy that, despite breaks in content and industry rumors, ITG is not being shut down.
To learn more about the journey Glossier has had maintaining the cult-status site, Glossy talked with inside sources, some of whom preferred to stay anonymous.
When April Gargiulo got an email from an Into The Gloss intern back in 2015, she thought she was being pranked by a friend. Her brand, Vintner’s Daughter, was new and had a single product. She couldn’t believe that her favorite beauty website was reaching out, let alone that it had found her online. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gargiulo said. “This is Into the Gloss — the Vogue of beauty.”
Gargiulo grew up in Napa Valley and had created her brand’s Active Botanical Serum using the ethos of wine country. “I wanted something impeccably made from the highest quality raw materials, and I wanted it [to work like] several products in one,” she said. “At that point, all I had was one extraordinary product, a website that worked and myself.”
Thankfully, her web developer had snuck wine-related keywords into the backend of her new site.
“The email [from Into The Gloss] said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a story on wine-related skin care and would love to talk with you,” said Gargiulo. “Next thing I know, I am talking to the writer, Victoria [Lewis], on the phone and sending her product to try.”
As an avid reader, Gargiulo knew her serum didn’t fit into the story the team was planning, but she hoped that maybe Lewis would try it anyway. Either way, she was thankful for the connection.
Two weeks later, Gargiulo woke up to a flurry of traffic on her site. And that day, she saw nearly a 10x lift in her daily sales, which were about 25-30 bottles per day in early 2015. “My first thought was, ‘Something’s wrong with my website,’ and so I started looking around,” she said. “Then I realized, ‘Oh, my gosh, these are real orders. What is going on?’”
Gargiulo traced the traffic back to Into The Gloss’s newest post: “The Face Oil to End All Face Oils,” a glowing, in-depth review written by Lewis about the serum Gargiulo had shipped to New York after their call.
For weeks later, the rush of traffic from Into The Gloss stayed steady: Vintner’s Daughter was averaging hundreds of daily orders of the $185 serum at its high, taking the brand’s sales up to tens of thousands of dollars per day. For many consumers, Vintner’s Daughter’s does-it-all serum was a breath of fresh air in a landscape saturated with 12-step routines.
“We ended up selling out more than once,” Gargiulo said. “That moment changed so much for me. … Up until that point, beauty retailers did not want to talk to me. They did not understand how to talk about a single product or sell a single product. … They didn’t understand what I was doing.”
Suddenly, beauty retailers from all over the country were jockeying for her attention. “That was a defining moment for Vintner’s Daughter,” Gargiulo said. “It was like lightning in a bottle.” Today, the brand sells three products and retails DTC and with Neiman Marcus, Revolve, Violet Grey, Moda Operandi and CAP Beauty, among many other retailers.
For insiders like Gargiulo, it’s hard to understate the impact that Into The Gloss has had on the beauty industry.
Into The Gloss was launched as a blog by Emily Weiss in 2010 when she was an intern at Vogue in New York City. Over the next few years, she led a small and nimble team — many of whom have gone on to major beauty industry success — to create some of the most dynamic beauty content of the time.
Weiss and her tiny team offered can’t-look-away profiles — the most popular being called “Top Shelf” — as well as honest reviews and a voyeuristic look into the medicine cabinets of New York City “it” girls. In this pre- and early-Instagram era, millennial women were looking for something different from traditional media covering the beauty industry.
“It was a big deal,” said Dianna Cohen, former ITG intern and current founder of hair-care brand Crown Affair. “The day a story would get released, I knew I was going to learn so, so much. For me, it was my beauty Bible.”
Cohen interned at Into The Gloss from 2012 to 2013 and likens transcribing Weiss’s early beauty interviews to an invaluable education about the industry. She’s since launched and grown her brand, Crown Affair, which sells at Sephora, Goop, Violet Grey and DTC. The brand has had six rounds of funding, with its most recent round being $2 million in March of this year, according to Pitchbook.
“At the time, it was the only game in town for relatable product usage [guidance] and discovery,” Cohen said. “I have always had such deep respect for it as a publication.”
Around this time, Into The Gloss’s traffic hovered above 2 million unique readers a month, with 60% being direct to the site, according to a person with insider knowledge.
In 2014, Weiss leveraged the extensive knowledge she and the team learned through ITG interviews and comments to create Glossier, a streamlined skin and makeup brand launched with four products. It perfectly reflected the no-makeup makeup aesthetic ITG often discussed, and the line became an instant hit.
Within a year, Into The Gloss closed advertising on the site and began promoting Glossier products more, which angered some original readers, according to people with insider knowledge. Some original advertisers included L’Oréal’s Lancôme and Estee Lauder Companies’s Bumble & Bumble.
Around the same time, the rise of Instagram and influencer marketing began to change the definition of a strong content strategy. “ITG worked because there were personal recommendations before influencer marketing took over,” said a person with insider knowledge.
As it pertains to revenue and followers, Glossier’s portion of the business went on to eclipse the success of Into The Gloss. Although one company, they maintained their separate sites, which left the team in uncharted territory. “Managing content and commerce, even in the trailblazing way that ITG was doing it, is exceedingly hard to do, which is why it doesn’t really exist,” said one person with insider knowledge.
Outside of Goop, Net-a-Porter and Violet Grey, few retailers have been able to find success with content and commerce. Brands have found it even more challenging.
“The audiences became different,” said a person with insider knowledge. “People thought that, because the brands were related, Into The Gloss was biased.”
At this point, in around 2019, Glossier was the revenue driver and ITG was down to a skeleton team. Traffic continued to drop and, internally, the team began to panic. What the Into The Gloss reader loved about the site had begun to fade, and the original readers didn’t take to the Glossier products like the younger, new consumers had, according to insiders. While ITG had successfully grown its Instagram, currently at 1 million followers, the site’s top franchise, Top Shelf, was underperforming on social media, compared to other types of content.
At this point, it was clear that the audiences had split. “Most of the fans of Glossier didn’t know about Into The Gloss, and the Into The Gloss fans didn’t care about Glossier,” said a former employee. By 2019, original ITG staffers were resigning, including the in-house photographer and the editorial assistant. People kept leaving, and they weren’t getting backfilled, said an insider.
Soon, the Into The Gloss team started playing with new ideas: They recorded a podcast, which never aired, and developed new newsletter concepts, according to a person with insider knowledge.
In 2019, Weiss hired a seasoned web editor from Elle with mostly fashion experience. But the resulting short, snackable content fell short against the expectations of the ITG reader. Insiders told Glossy that it became more challenging to access the type of talent that its readers had come to expect. Could the days of featuring stars like Cindy Crawford, Serena Williams and Victoria Beckham be behind it?
“The way that Glossier has raised capital makes creating content [on ITG] a hard game to play,” said a person with insider knowledge. In 2019, Glossier raised $100 million in Series D funding, which valued the brand at $1.2 billion. “People might think, ‘So you’re photographing me for free for your brand?’” said an insider with knowledge. “Once you lose the traffic and reach, it’s sort of like, ‘What do we do now?’”
In August of 2020, an anonymous Instagram account called @OuttaTheGloss began rolling out posts, allegedly on behalf of former Glossier employees, citing unfair treatment in the brand’s brick-and-mortar stores. Its first post garnered more than 25,000 likes and, within days, publications like CNN and Fortune had covered the allegations. The @OuttaTheGloss account went dark later in the year.
Through the pandemic, ITG’s posting slowed. A round of layoffs hit ITG and Glossier in August 2022, partially blamed on the failure of a new color makeup sub-brand called Play, which launched in 2019 and didn’t perform as well as Glossier’s core offerings. An insider with knowledge about the brand told Glossy that there were conversations about sunsetting ITG.
One person with insider knowledge described the vibe in the office as chaotic.
Into The Gloss launched on TikTok in 2022, but where ITG’s Instagram grew to over a million followers through the years, ITG’s TikTok has yet to pass 1,000 followers. Meanwhile, Glossier’s IG currently has 2.9 million followers and its TikTok has more than 700,000.
In the fall of 2022, writer Mattie Kahn called out ITG’s radio silence on Twitter: “Realized this afternoon when I was procrastinating that Into the Gloss stopped publishing in June! Inevitable, but I will miss it. Loved looking at all those psycho beauty routines. Each one a unique wacko jewel.”
Her tweet promoted an article by beauty writer Rachel Strugatz on Business of Fashion titled “What’s going on at Into The Gloss?” ITG responded a few days later with an open letter from editorial director Ashley Weatherford. “Things have been quiet on the ITG front these past few months because in that time, I had my first child, took parental leave, and have been navigating both the highs and lows of new motherhood,” Weatherford wrote in the update. “Hindsight is always 20/20, and in retrospect, we should’ve said something earlier, but we are here to assure you that ITG is here to stay!”
“Missed you. A new ITG is coming. Here, on intothegloss.com, and elsewhere. Link in bio to read about where we’ve been,” read a corresponding Instagram post. Comments on the post were hopeful: “Longtime lover of ITG!! Glad you guys are back <3,” said one commenter. “So happy to hear from y’all! I was getting worried; I missed y’all’s voices,” read another.
But for the next four months, despite an occasional post on the site, the social platforms sat silent. “There was a moment when they just sort of stopped,” said Cohen. “It was a light-a-candle moment.”
Then, in February of this year, the Into The Gloss IG broke its silence to promote a Top Shelf-inspired, user-generated TikTok content called “TopShelfie”. “We’re kicking off some special features on Tiktok this month! Are you following us over there yet?” the post read.
“I thought [the site] was done,” Madison Utendahl, a NYC-based founder of brand marketing firm Utendahl Creative told Glossy. But then, this summer, whispers began passing through the beauty industry that the Glossier team was planning a revival.
Top Shelf articles featuring longtime readers like Cohen, Utendahl, and cookbook author and social media influencer Jordan Rondel went live in quick succession starting in October.
“When [Into The Gloss] reached out, I thought, ‘Hell yes!’” Rondel told Glossy. “Ten years ago, I used to fawn over everyone’s profiles and learn so much about new beauty products. … It felt like a bucket list moment.”
“So many women I aspired to [be like] had a Top Shelf,” said Utendahl. “It was such a wonderful experience. It was easily one of my favorite shoots I have ever done.” Freelance journalist Daise Bedolla interviewed Utendahl, and Alexandra Genova was the photographer.
Since October, ITG has published 10 Top Shelf profiles, the most concentrated publishing schedule of original content the site has had in years. “So obsessed with this ITG rebirth!” wrote one commenter on Instagram. The most recent post was Friday and featured Sophia Penske, who owns a creative agency and is an advisor with Gagosian Art Advisory, a firm in New York City that does art appraisals and other services.
Influencer Meredith Duxbury, model and designer Lauren Chan, and journalist Marjon Carlos are also among the newest subjects, joining former editor Chloe Hall, comedian Ali Wong and others who’ve been featured more slowly throughout the year. Most of the stories are written by freelancer Bedolla.
Glossier CMO Mack told Glossy that, while there have been speed bumps, the site is not being shut down. “Into The Gloss is the heart and soul of Glossier…” she said. “We are not winding down ITG.”
“I’m really proud of the work that Daise and I are accomplishing,” said ITG editorial director Weatherford. “That’s particularly when it comes to broadening the idea of who’s featured on Top Shelf. … We are more frequently stepping outside of our NYC comfort zone and featuring people across the country and globe. [That includes] parents, entrepreneurs, 9-to-5ers with side hustles, minimalists and maximalists.”
“In the great reset that Glossier and ITG have had, they did the work to be inclusive, and I think that’s why Glossier and ITG are doing so well now,” said Utendahl. A quick review of the site offers people with a broad mix of backgrounds, careers, opinions and social media prowess. “They’re choosing people with a real POV, not just a lot of social media followers,” said Utendahl.
“[Daise] had a kind and gracious way of interviewing. … We got into the weeds of my experience of going from relaxed [hair] to braids to natural, which are delicate subject matters for a Black woman. It speaks to the evolution of ITG and Top Shelf. I don’t know that I would have been invited to be on the site back in 2016 or 2017; it very much was a white, ‘girl boss’ brand. I don’t remember seeing many women of color in the beginning.”
“[Our society often] struggles to acknowledge when brands do make an evolution and do come around to be more inclusive,” said Utendahl. “It’s a testament to the brand.”
“I am personally excited that it’s back,” said Cohen. “So much of the beauty content online today is the lowest common denominator, but there is an opportunity for Daise and Ashley to bring that feeling back, … to build something that only they can.”
“Into The Gloss, like many legacy media platforms, is growing and evolving with the changing way in which our community consumes beauty news,” said Glossier CMO Mack, who oversees the marketing efforts of both ITG and Glossier. “We are experimenting with new platforms and channels, and excited to bring our unique approach to beauty to new audiences. … You can expect one new Top Shelf every week.”
At least one challenge will be marrying the ITG and Glossier audiences, which Utendahl identifies with. “I don’t shop Glossier at all, but I have always been a fan of ITG,” she said. “I think there’s a millennial and Gen-Z divide, and that’s OK. As a businesswoman, [I know] it’s smart to diversity [content streams].”
This experimentation will be critical for 2024. “We know there is awareness [of ITG] among the Glossier consumer and we’re working to expand that awareness for Gen Z and Gen Alpha,” said Weatherford. “We love TikTok — it’s a big factor in Gen Z’s embrace of Glossier. You can definitely expect more from us on this platform come next year.”
Weatherford added, “You can also expect ITG to show up more in places beyond the blog,” she told Glossy. “I’m so excited to bring ITG into the hands of more people in 2024.”
Keeping original readers and subjects in the fold is clearly a consideration. Last week, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Vintner’s Daughter, Into The Gloss reshared the story on Instagram that put Vintner’s Daughter on the map all those years ago.
The incoming traffic didn’t flood the Vintner’s Daughter site, and nothing sold out, but it did move the needle. “[The traffic was] nothing like back then, but when the Instagram posted, it was our highest volume on the website for the day,” Gargiulo said. “I don’t think it can happen [to brands] like [it did to Vintner’s Daughter in 2015] anymore, but we were lucky that it did.”