When Brad Scoggins and Joshua Morgan founded their unisex beauty brand Little Barn Apothecary in 2015, the gender-neutral fashion, cosmetics, and skin-care trend had not reached fever pitch. Especially in beauty, the move toward inclusivity had not yet started in full force.
But Scoggins and Morgan felt that “skin didn’t have a gender” and that their brand, which sells body washes, scrubs, face mists, cleansers and soaps, could be for everyone. “We have to change the stigma that beauty and skin care is made for a certain gender. We create skin care and self-care for people,” said Scoggins.
Little Barn hit on a forthcoming trend in beauty early on, joining brands like Aesop, which has promoted unisex products since 1987, and Calvin Klein, which sold its CK One fragrance to men and women in 1994. In 2017, market research firm Mintel reported that it expects gender-neutral beauty to be a huge global trend in 2018, saying: “Consumers are moving away from traditional gender stereotypes and expectations. As such, they are going to come to expect brands to push a gender-neutral message to the fore of their new product development and marketing campaigns.”
On the skin-care front, gender-neutral brands like EIR NYC, Panacea and Non Gender Specific are positioning themselves accordingly, as are unisex makeup launches, like Jecca, which was recently part of the L’Oréal Open Innovation program, and Mugler Cologne.
For Little Barn Apothecary, which expands its assortment to shampoo and conditioner this week, it is devoid of traditional feminine and masculine notes, from a product, packaging and messaging point of view. The Little Barn Apothecary customer demographic ranges in age from 25 to 40 years old and, although 75 percent of customers are women, it is not marketed that way, especially when it comes to its retail presence.
The brand is currently sold on its own e-commerce platform (which accounts for about 15 percent of its business), as well as in nearly 400 Ulta stores and 17 Anthropologie stores, and on both retailers’ websites. On Ulta and Anthropologie Little Barn Apothecary is displayed in different sections of the stores and online. At Ulta, Little Barn Apothecary has a full display in the Prestige Skincare category of the store, where it is merchandised alongside other male- and female-friendly brands, like Juice Beauty, Mario Badescu and Murad. At Anthropologie, it sits in the company’s new Wellness concept section with self-care companies like This Works and Skin Gym, which sells amethyst face rollers. That Little Barn doesn’t “target consumers based on gender” and is a natural-ingredient brand plays well for both departments and, of course, both sexes in physical stores and online.
This is not the case for EIR, which launched in 2014 and is known for its surf-inspired sunscreens and body oils. In larger retail stores, like Anthropologie, the brand is displayed in its Men’s Grooming shop. EIR recently expanded its assortment to include a body spray and cuticle and hand cream two weeks ago. “It felt like a more natural place to be,” said founder Jun Lee. Though EIR’s demographic is 70 percent female versus 30 percent male, Lee explained that through customer insights, it found that women are buying across the family and the male consumer is better for repeat purchases.
Lee’s partnerships with lifestyle retailers like The Detox Market and CAP Beauty have proven to be the most successful for EIR, and those stores make no distinction between male and female beauty brands. “Unisex beauty is pushing traditional retailers to rethink male and female products and marketing, because a lot of us don’t want to sit in just one space,” she said.
This is true for Non Gender Specific, which launched in January in select retailers, like The Phluid Project, and promotes itself as a “brand for all humans.”
“We have a very healthy balance of 60 percent women and 40 percent men, but we recognize that there are over 70 known gender-identities, and so our marketing is 100 percent product and ingredient based,” said CEO and founder Andrew Glass of NGS’s clean beauty approach. “We’ve strategically not introduced a face to the brand to keep branding as neutral as possible.”
Brand strategy consultancy firm Wolf & Wilhelmine partner Ambika Gautam Pai explained that a unisex marketing approach, especially in larger retailers, is smart business. “These bigger players are still subscribing to the old models of identity,” she said, noting Sephora as an example of a retailer stilling separating products by gender. “Having a product live in the men’s section or the women’s section of a store is a case of retailers prescribing people’s identities, which is fundamentally at odds with the way people want to think about identity right now.”
Mugler Cologne has noticed this firsthand. The brand is applying the approach to its upcoming five-scent gender neutral expansion, which is based on its 2001 signature scent. The new line is out exclusively in September at Nordstrom, Nordstrom.com and Mugler.com. On its own platform, Danyelle Boilard-Paul, U.S. executive evp and gm of Clarins Groupe, which owns Mugler, said the new fragrances will be cross-categorized under both the women’s and men’s sections of the e-commerce site. It’s a way for this heritage brand to attract more gender-inclusive 18- to 34-year-olds. As such, the colognes are meant to promote various sensations like “togetherness” or “electrifying.”
Bigger industry players are catching on, said Kayla Villena, senior analyst at Euromonitor International. “Millennials and Gen Z consumers tend to eschew gender-based marketing,” she said, noting that premium fragrance brands like Jo Malone and Tom Ford have seen success from pushing a gender-neutral message — Jo Malone, for instance, grew sales 19 percent globally from 2016 to 2017, outperforming the 7 percent fragrance growth of parent company Estée Lauder brands and the global premium fragrance growth of 5 percent.
“This new generation doesn’t want to think about feminine or masculine at all,” added Alexandra Brichet-Wolf, Clarins Fragrance Group U.S. and Europe regional marketing director of Mugler Cologne. “Not talking about men or women specifically is a new way to talk to and acquire customers — that’s the goal here.”