Since taking the helm at Beautycon in 2015, CEO Moj Mahdara has transformed the experiential installation from a small, invite-only YouTube creator event in Los Angeles to a full-scale makeup summit, drawing more than 30,000 fans and industry insiders in LA, New York, London and Dubai.
In many ways, Beautycon was ahead of the curve. Today, more beauty brands from mass players such as Maybelline and luxury companies like Chanel and Nars are trying to flex offline events to drum up brand awareness and, of course, sales. Even beauty retailer Sephora is gunning for a piece of the burgeoning cosmetics and skin-care event space with Sephoria. But for its part, Beautycon is moving the other way: from a purely experiential event to retail.
In late November, the company introduced its latest format: an 11-week store called Beautycon Pop, featuring 25 up-and-coming, female-fronted brands, like Mented, FaceTory and MDMflow. While the first location for Pop was Los Angeles (tickets for the store ranged from $35 to $45), Mahdara sees the experience moving to Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and internationally in 2019. Beautycon is supporting its shop platform via its first-ever online retail store — a way for digital audiences to engage outside of its festivals. “Content and commerce are now interchangeable,” said Mahdara. “The beauty industry needs both.”
We spoke with Mahdara about Beautycon’s ever-changing business model, its focus on inclusivity and diversity, and its point of differentiation from Sephoria.
In 2015, the idea of a beauty festival or summit was not commonplace. What demand did Beautycon see?
We were and are going through a paradigm shift of, “What does beauty mean?” For a long time, the word “beauty” had been a bit of a gilded cage. It was a compliment that did not come without a burden — to be beautiful came with a certain level of maintenance or affluence. What is really cool about Gen Z and 2018, and about digital engagement, is that people are redefining what beauty means to them. Beauty comes with a sense of agency now, and it gives customers a way of finding their tribe. That is what Beautycon festivals have really become: a way for a fan or customer to explore a brand or products or communities that corresponds to who she is and what she wants.
Why does marrying retail with your festivals make sense now?
These festivals became the stomping ground for a ginormous retail marketplace; it is no secret that we do tens of millions of implied revenue on an annual basis. The [earned media value], social lift and brand lift for all of our brand partners has been enormous, so it was a natural conversation for us to explore e-commerce and physical commerce. Pop is a test. We asked ourselves, “Where does Beautycon belong in the conversation of a retail platform and e-commerce?”
You can find beauty almost anywhere today. How challenging was it moving from an experiential player to becoming a retailer?
It really wasn’t. When we saw the implied revenue being earned from the festivals, per brand, and also that digital demand — because consumers felt like there was no way to engage if they were not at the festival — it made sense to make more or different Beautycon moments outside of the festivals.
How did you curate Pop from a merchandising point of view?
People know us as a marketplace platform that is about mission. It is not an accident that we chose to launch with 25 female founders. When we think about KNC Beauty, DedCool, Mented or Beauty Bakerie, these are run by incredible young and new founders that are looking for interesting ways to come to market, and we are providing that for them. The indie beauty market is a growing industry with double-digit growth year over year, and the consumer is obsessed with up-and-coming indie founders and brands because they are serving them in a different way from traditional or legacy companies. We are a perfect place to cater to those customers, who are looking for a more diverse or special story. Beauty is not just about makeup or a concealer. For a customer today, it is about your vibe and how it makes you feel included. The brands we partnered with are as much about mission as they are about physical products.
What was the strategy in using Pop as a way to expand to more geographic locations?
We are committed to keeping the festivals in New York and LA, knowing that they are 30,000-plus-person properties and are on track to continue to grow. [Tickets for Beautycon festivals range from $50 for a day pass to $1,000 for two days of VIP treatment, where fans can skip lines.] We think that Pop, which is an experiential retail concept, lends itself to more markets. We are planning on iterating each location — they will be 5,000 square feet to upward of 20,000 square feet. Atlanta is an incredible location for our consumer and the diverse and inclusive products we are passionate about, but we also see a lot of engagement from Chicago and the Midwest, so we wanted to think about locations like Chicago. We want to go to Texas, too, and we do not just want to be in singular metro cities.
How are you responding to more beauty brands and retailers like Sephora trying to double down on experiences?
I am glad we were able to poke the bear. I was deeply disappointed that in this age of women supporting women that [Sephora] ran us in circles [in meetings around a partnership] for 15 months. You do not want any startup founder to go through that, where they are just there to learn from you and essentially take your idea. Imitation is the highest form of flattery — it happens all the time. I am very inspired by a lot of the brands out there that are thinking about retail and experiential in a different way: The Museum of Ice Cream continues to be very impressive, what Kylie Cosmetics does with her trucks still feels very new. The consumer wants community and education, so it is important to provide that with products. Amazon provides the deals and commodities of things that you need, but for things that you want, every brand digitally and physically is going to be forced to create communities for their audiences. Audiences today expect brands to act like a cultural reflector, not just someone selling something. A lot of people will say Supreme is a streetwear company or a skate company, but in actuality, it is an education platform for culture and art. We see ourselves very much in the same way.