A beauty brand with a cultlike following, Beautycounter, is moving in to the makeup retail giant Sephora in a bid to bring its clean mission to the masses.
The companies announced the tie-up Tuesday, the same day Beautycounter was named to CNBC's 2020 Disruptor 50 list of the world's most innovative start-ups. On Aug. 7 it will launch an assortment of some of its most popular products, such as its Vitamin C serum and overnight face peel, in Sephora stores. The products will hit Sephora's website even sooner, on July 7, for a limited time.
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"We feel strongly there are times to do strategic awareness ... around the importance of clean ingredients," Beautycounter Founder and Chief Executive Gregg Renfrew told CNBC in a phone interview. "We have an army of advocates, and we want more voices to our movement."
"Sephora has been a force for quite some time. They have taken a position on clean that is unparalleled in the retail industry to date," Renfrew said. "It's an opportunity to really validate the movement for clean."
For LVMH-owned Sephora, the partnership advances its commitment to stocking its shelves with more clean beauty products, building on an industry-wide trend toward using only safe and sustainable personal-care products. Beautycounter's merchandise will be featured online on Sephora's "Clean Makeup" page, alongside brands such as Kosas and Supergoop!.
"We also know our clients continue to seek high-performing, clean beauty products," Artemis Patrick, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at Sephora, said in a statement.
Beautycounter's business has been unconventional from the start — in that it eschewed the first-floor makeup counters of traditional department stores in favor of a model more akin to the cosmetics giant Avon.
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, it launched as a direct-to-consumer business in 2013, selling through its own website and web of consultants, of which it has more than 60,000 today. It was first founded by Renfrew in 2011.
Many of these consultants are so-called micro-influencers, according to Renfrew, and they tout Beautycounter's merchandise through their social media accounts with thousands of followers, or over virtual Zoom gatherings. They receive up to 35% commission on their retail volumes, she said. And many of the consultants will actually build out their own teams and sell together, Renfrew added.
Beautycounter currently has three boutiques — in Denver, in New York City and a seasonal pop-up in Nantucket — with another set to open in Los Angeles later this year.
The coronavirus pandemic, which forced many retail storefronts to temporarily shut, has validated Beautycounter's strong e-commerce presence even more so.
"This has been three years [of growth online] compressed into four months," the CEO said, adding that Beautycounter recently sold out of its Vitamin C serum in two and a half weeks.
"And while many people have moved away from what they think to be unnecessary spending, there is something about beauty and maintaining wellness that people continue to focus on," Renfrew added. "People are still taking care of their bodies."
Beautycounter is often lauded as a pioneer when it comes to transparency in the makeup industry. It has published a list of 1,800 questionable chemical ingredients, dubbed The Never List, that the company vows will never put in its products. Some of these include the disinfectant benzalkonium chloride and coal-tar hair dyes, a byproduct of coal processing.
The company has been an advocate for better government regulations on personal-care products, lobbying members of Congress for better laws to keep harmful chemicals out of the items that women and men are putting on their bodies daily. The last comprehensive law governing the personal-care industry was passed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1938.
"Up until recently, consumers weren't demanding this from companies. They assumed products were safe," Renfrew said. "I think we are now drafting off the food movement. What's in my mac and cheese? ... Maybe the same goes for my shampoo?"
In 2019 Beautycounter released a documentary about mica, an ingredient often used to make makeup sparkle and shimmer. And it partnered with certain human rights organizations to make sure the mining for mica was not employing child labor.
The company's growth internally comes as clean beauty has outperformed other categories. Clearly, consumers are more interested in the space.
Prestige clean beauty is up 11% so far in 2020 despite the overall beauty category's 14% decline, according to data from the NPD Group.
"Clean beauty is about safety. And today there is nothing people are more concerned about than safety," said Larissa Jensen, a beauty analyst at NPD.
Beautycounter has raised $106.9 million to date, according to PitchBook. The privately held company, whose roster of investors includes the U2 frontman Bono and the private-equity firm TPG, was most recently valued at about $400 million.