The Glossier effect: How a single makeup brand rose above the rest

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The beauty industry is a noisy, over-crowded and bustling space dominated by well-established companies with several brands under their umbrellas. Making a dent in it as a newcomer is next to impossible, like tapping lightly on the ground-level door of a 60-story building.

And yet somehow, one fledgling startup, without the support of a single traditional heavyweight, managed to match giants like L’Oreal, Rimmel and MAC when it comes to brand awareness and customer trust.

Glossier. One of the fastest-growing beauty companies in the world, founded by its now chief-executive, Emily Weiss, 33.


Weiss originally launched the brand solely as blog, titled Into The Gloss, in 2010. ITG, as it was soon shortened, quickly became known for its in-depth, detailed and astute ‘Top Shelf’ interviews with women other women wanted to be like. Not necessarily the picture-perfect supermodels or over-exposed actresses we were used to seeing in the media, but the journalists, authors, stylists and everyday women we idolized.

These women’s routines were realistic, honest and, most importantly, effective. It certainly helped that the interviews were accompanied by clean, bright, candid photographs of their beauty cupboards, wardrobes and dewy skin.

But the more Weiss interviewed real women, the more she realised, in her words, “how flawed the traditional beauty paradigm was”.

“It has historically been an industry based on experts telling you, the customer, what you should or shouldn’t be using on your face,” Weiss explained.

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It was this realization that lead her to, four years into the blog’s existence, start selling Into The Gloss beauty products. Almost overnight, Weiss raised US$10.4 million in capital and kickstarted her cosmetics brand under the business name Glossier.

Initially launched as curated capsule collections, the products came in minimal, clean, white and pink packaging and bore playful names – signaling a practical, pared-back approach to cosmetics. The first drop simply included a buildable moisturizer, a face mist, a skin tint and a skin balm.

"I don't think Glossier should be one of these brands that's untouchable and about glamour and aspiration, but you can't get there," Weiss told Fashionista at the time of Glossier’s launch. "Everyone can be a Glossier girl. It's about a certain spirit and independence and freedom and being a little silly."

Flash forward four years and Glossier has more than 20 products and over 150 employees, has raised tens of millions of dollars in investment, more than tripled its revenue in the space of a year and amassed 1.6 million Instagram followers, with New York magazine declaring Weiss to be “the millennials’ Estée Lauder”.

So how did she do it? And so quickly? We’ve rounded up the key pillars of Glossier’s success (well, some of them at least). Here goes...

1. Create products in tandem with your customer: Glossier collaborates with its customers to identify gaps in their beauty collection and constantly improve their products. Weiss calls her brand a “people-powered beauty ecosystem” with “products inspired by the people who use them”. They make a point of actually asking their customer what they want, rather than assuming they know best.

2. Skincare first, makeup second: Part of the success of Glossier is that it’s all about enhancing people’s natural beauty, rather than covering it up. This speaks to the new movement of natural, low-maintenance beauty, as evidenced by the “skincare” trend, and appeals to a generation of women who want a manageable, realistic and sustainable daily beauty routine, rather than something from the Kardashians’ wheelhouse.

3. Celebrate your loyal customers: Most of Glossier’s employees started out as customers, and, according to Tech Crunch, the brand recently started making of point of paying its most influential “Glossier Girls”, ambassadors for the brand who have amassed huge social media followings. Grazia rightfully called them the “Avon ladies of 2018”.

4. Be more than a brand: “When launching Glossier, the idea was to create a beauty company whose sweatshirt you wanted to wear, because it’s so much more than just a product,” Weiss told Business of Fashion. The brand has no target demographic when it comes to age, gender or background, but it has a target attitude.

5. Word of mouth is king: Weiss said most of Glossier’s approach is based around the stat that, “sixty percent of Americans rely on peer-to-peer recommendations on whether they decide to buy a beauty product”. Advertising has a part to play, but getting your product in front of tastemakers, opinion leaders and, hey, just real people, is key.

6. Keep it simple, stupid: Glossier doesn’t offer too many products, but rather throws its entire weight behind ensuring the products it does offer can do it all. As Tech Crunch explained: “Instead of offering 15 shades of lipstick, for example, it tells its customers it has developed the most universally flattering red lipstick in order to make it simpler for them to choose a shade.” It all plays into this dream of an easy, attainable and sustainable beauty routine.

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7. Stay current: Glossier launches something new every six weeks, on average, according to Tech Crunch. What can you take from this? Simple: Adapt, respond and stay ahead of the curve.

8. Speak to your customers as equals: “We like to think that whenever we talk to [our customer] through captions on Instagram or through email or through copy on the site, that we’re writing text messages to a friend,” Weiss said. This voice is prevalent in everything Glossier does

9. Finally, have great products: Last but not least, and possibly the most difficult to achieve, is a need for genuinely great products that deliver on their promise. For Glossier, this means rigorous testing of products before they launch and constant discussion of how they can be improved.