If you haven’t heard, Glossier opened a SoHo flagship last week. And on Thursday, the brand will further expand its reach when it enters about 600 Sephora stores in the U.S. and Canada, the most aggressive retail push in the company’s nearly decade of existence.
And despite some well-documented (often by me) growing pains, Glossier has proven staying power—and not just as a viable player in an industry traditionally shut out by upstarts and subject to the vagaries of trend cycles and viral moments. Founder Emily Weiss’ 2014 disruption has transformed beauty norms with aesthetics and experience in a way that multibillion-dollar legacy brands (and startups) still can’t replicate.
Weiss is, in my opinion, the most prolific beauty founder in decades.
In light of Glossier’s return to New York and its Sephora launch, I posed two questions to a dozen people in the beauty industry, as well as friends and acquaintances outside the industry with varying degrees of knowledge of the landscape: “Who is the most important beauty brand?’ and “Who is the most important beauty founder?” of the last 15 years. Other than Glossier or Weiss, no one could name another brand or founder.
In return, I was asked, “What makes Glossier so special?”
From the beginning, Glossier has been clear about what it is and what it stands for – a curated offering of grooming and makeup essentials designed to enhance customers’ natural attributes, not alter or perfect them. He does not deviate and the young people feel this. Customers know when something is reactionary (every celebrity comes out with a beauty brand, for example) or created for the sake of trends. When Glossier deviated with Glossier Play, the glossy makeup line introduced in 2019, the company pulled it and shut down the sub-brand within a year. And despite the ‘Euphoria’ makeup craze dominating beauty today, she has no plans to bring it back.
Weiss’ desire to control the communication with customers – through branding, visuals, “experiential” retail and where and how purchases are made – is what makes Glossier so successful. This is also why the company faced challenges.
If the brand left its direct-to-consumer roots, it would have scaled more effectively and been available to more customers in more places. But if Glossier hadn’t stuck with this business model, the brand likely wouldn’t be able to cultivate the relationship it has with its customer base today. When Glossier launches at Sephora this week, the retailer won’t have much to do to boost brand awareness. Most Sephora shoppers are well aware of the line and its products. However, it will have to compete on the shelf in a busy and noisy environment filled with both well-known brands and startups trying out Glossier Glossier.
“Six or seven years later, [customers said] “Okay, we got it. We understand your brand. You laid the foundation… but can you start selling it closer to me?” I don’t think we made a mistake in the beginning, we had to evolve,” Weiss told me in an interview earlier this month at The Crosby Hotel. He called the decision to finally sell Glossier somewhere other than its own stores and website a “no-brainer.”
“In our desire to hold ourselves to this incredibly high standard and give people the best possible customer experience, we’re denying people the experience they want, which is to touch and feel more polished,” Weiss said.
For those who claim that Glossier is selling out with its move to Sephora, here’s a sports metaphor: Glossier entering Sephora is analogous to LeBron James entering the Miami Heat in 2010.
James, at 18, was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the worst record in the Central Division the previous season. For seven years, LeBron tried to make it work in an environment that wasn’t naturally set up for him to succeed. Despite his talents, he didn’t believe he could win a title if he stayed in Cleveland. Once James was undrafted in Miami in 2010, he won his first championships in 2012 and 2013.
Eventually, James took the traditional path to success and left his hometown team for the Miami Heat, who built one of the greatest basketball teams of the 2010s. Weiss, who built her brand in an unusual way – without help from a leading beauty retailer – she’s now taking the traditional route to success: Sephora.