Glossier, social media and the changing face of beauty

Cult beauty brand Glossier is launching in the UK next week – but what does this mean for the beauty world as we know it? Samantha Silver discusses

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By Samantha Silver on

I’m on the phone to the woman who birthed the cleanser that I’ve been shipping from the USA for the last eight months and the only concealer that will cover my profound, kid-induced dark circles, when I realise that she is in fact the same age as me. Emily Weiss, 32,  founding editor of Into The Gloss and founder and CEO of cult beauty brand Glossier, is a beauty powerhouse, an Esteé Lauder for the Instagram generation, who regularly tops Forbes lists – and I’m interviewing her in my pyjamas. Weiss launched ITG – a blog dedicated to beauty – seven years ago, taking us into celebrity bathrooms and documenting "shelfies" before a selfie was even a thing. It was during this time that she had the idea for Glossier: “I was interviewing hundreds of women from around the world, from Isabel Marant to Selena Gomez, and I realised that there was a real disconnect between the beauty brands and the customer. They weren’t communicating with her – they were talking down to her, or speaking at her, rather than having a conversation, which was leaving a lot of women at arm's length.” For Weiss, the solution was obvious: “There was space to create a more mutually beneficial experience, where women can engage with the company”.

And so, a 28-year-old Weiss raised the $2m of capital needed to launch Glossier and promptly ushered in a new marketing paradigm that has truly changed the beauty shopping experience. If you’re not yet familiar with Glossier, here’s what you need to know: it’s a line of 30 beauty products, with names like Balm Dot Com, Milky Jelly Cleanser (my true love) and Stretch Concealer, which start from $12 (£9) and land through your letterbox inside a millennial-pink, bubble-wrapped pouch with a sheet of emoji-like stickers tucked inside. Clever names, prices and the perfect shade of pink aside, Glossier's disruption of the beauty industry in less than four years is undeniable and it’s thanks to a unique selling model. Until this year, Glossier was only available to buy online from a US landing site. You couldn’t try it; you couldn’t test it. Weiss meticulously created a brand identity that is as relatable as "your beauty best friend" and a selling model focusing on "co-creation" between customers and product creators that really works. Glossier gets inside the mind of its customers – for example,  last year they invited 100 of them to weigh in on what they’d want from a cleanser. Milky Jelly is now one of their most repeated purchases.

Glossier’s arrival in the UK (October 9) marks a big shift in beauty. We’re changing the way in which we buy it and what we’re looking for from brands. Jen Atkin, the Kardashians' long-time hair stylist, founded The Ouai because, “I felt that hair brands hadn't been speaking to the everyday girl.” The Ouai uses the tagline "haircare you can relate to, FINALLY", while Huda Kattan, a Dubai-based make-up artist and beauty blogger with an astonishing 21.5 million Instagram followers, founded make-up brand Huda Beauty in 2010 with user-focused and user-friendly YouTube tutorials.

Culturally, thing are changing; 51 per cent of millennials are likely to purchase beauty on social media. And, whereas a decade ago it was celebrity that drove purchases, these days it’s more likely to be a YouTube tutorial embedded with a 'click to buy' link

The consumer mindset is shifting on so many levels. The functional beauty category has long been plagued with marketing fluff and mistrust, consumers now are longing for transparency, efficiency and relatability – and brands are reacting. “The audience today seeks clear communication, prioritises science and doesn't see golden lids as necessary or actually even attractive any more,” says Brandon Truaxe, founder of digital skincare brand Deciem, the parent company of cult skincare brand The Ordinary, which has garnered 50,000 waiting lists for its £5 foundations. Glossier uses language that you’d use when talking to a friend – “a sunscreen that doesn’t suck" – while Atkin cuts through the nonsensical descriptions of hair products regularly used, simplifying product names to "wave spray" and "curl jelly". 

But it isn’t just how brands approach us that is changing – how we physically shop for beauty has changed. Our phones are playing an increasingly pivotal role; Mintel data shows that 45 per cent of beauty consumers prefer to search for product information on their mobile device, rather than ask a sales person for assistance. As beauty tends to be a repeat purchase, once you know what you like there’s little need to physically try it again. Culturally, it’s also changing; 51 per cent of millennials are likely to purchase beauty on social media. And, whereas a decade ago it was celebrity that drove purchases, these days it’s more likely to be a YouTube tutorial embedded with a "click to buy" link.

Glossier, The Ouai, Huda Beauty and The Ordinary were all teased on Instagram first, launched online second and are only now, years later, beginning to be sold in bricks-and-mortar stores. A deliberate move? As Kattan tells me, “These days, if you see something you like, you want it instantly, which is why it made sense to launch online.” And of course, for a beauty entrepreneur, selling through your own channels cuts out the middleman, therefore saving costs. And, while the decadent beauty hall may be a veritable wonderland, it can also be confusing and perhaps, as Weiss points out, not even that relevant any more: “Its just fact that the number-one way women purchase today is through friend-to-friend or family recommendations – it’s no longer from brand advertisements or product description pages or sales people. I find that incredibly powerful and liberating for women.” 

I ask Weiss whether Glossier could have launched in a time without Instagram. “Good question; let me think about that for a moment,” she muses. “I think it would have been different. We launched @glossier six weeks before we launched the products, so by the time we launched the website, we had 15,000 followers, waiting to hit ‘buy’.” I asked Kattan the same question: could Huda have launched without social media? "Absolutely not.” The world of beauty is becoming democratised, simplified and fun – just the way it should be. I, for one, am excited.

THE PRODUCTS TO BUY WITHOUT NEEDING TO TRY – THEY’RE THAT GOOD (Like Ronseal, they do exactly what it says on the tin):

A SUPER SERUM: Glossier super pure serum

When life hands you hungover, hormonal freak-outs, Glossier’s Super Pure Serum (£24) packed with niacinamide and zinc will blast them away overnight (available October 9). 


An answer to eye bags: Glossier stretch concealer

Glossier’s Stretch Concealer doesn't cake or sit obviously in those fine lines thanks to a the ingenious elastic micro-wax formulation. The shade range is somewhat limited to five for now, but they do cover a wide spectrum of skin shades. (£15, available October 9). 


Beachy waves without crunch: Ouai Wave Spray

The Ouai Wave Spray (£22) is a constant sell-out. Little wonder, as it gives real beachy-looking waves without the crisp and crunch, due to its high oil content.


A trendsetting lipstick: Huda Beauty Liquid Mattes

Huda was doing liquid lipsticks before it was even a thing. Within make-up-artist circles, hers is widely considered to be the best. Liquid Matte in Heartbreaker (£18) is a suits-all winter red.


Healthy-looking skin, bottled: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid

Deciem’s formulas compromise on price, not quality. The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum (£5.90) draws moisture deep into the skin, creating a plump, supermodel-esque complexion.



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