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Stowaway Cosmetics Launches, Pitching 'Right-Size' Products

Meet the latest direct-to-consumer startup, which is aiming straight for your makeup bag.
Photo: Stowaway Cosmetics

Photo: Stowaway Cosmetics

Is your makeup bag in need of disruption? A new startup called Stowaway Cosmetics thinks so.

Launching Tuesday, Stowaway is aiming to get women on board with its line of beauty products on the basis of size, portability and price. Packaged in smaller tubes and pots than most cosmetics, the range is designed for busy women who want to carry their makeup around.

Going directly to consumers — a sales model made popular in startup world by Warby Parker, which cuts out third-party retailers and keeps markups down — helps Stowaway keep its prices low, says CEO Julie Fredrickson. The most expensive item is its $22 BB cream, and the full set of mascara, lipstick, eyeliner, concealer, BB cream and cheek rouge goes for $75. That's significantly higher than drugstore prices, especially for the size of the products, but might be appealing for women who normally buy designer brands at Sephora. 

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Fredrickson also makes the fair point that many women don't wind up using an entire full-size product, especially when it's prone to expiring first, like mascara. In that light, a smaller size does make sense.

Although Stowaway now has to prove itself to consumers, it has convinced some venture capital firms of its potential. The startup raised $1.5 million from a range of investors including Vayner RSE, Metamorphic Ventures, Launch Fund, Kima Ventures and Aslanoba Capital and angels including serial entrepreneurs Jason Calacanis and Fabrice Grinda, designer Marc Ecko and CollegeHumor founder Ricky Van Veen. 

The biggest challenge Stowaway will likely face is convincing women that the bother of carrying around their favorite products is worth switching to an entirely new brand — and to do so, the formulation is going to have to be damn good. Fredrickson's co-founder Chelsa Crowley (who, yes, is married to Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley) applied her knowledge from working as a makeup artist and at Clinique to heading up product development. Creating the cosmetics took about eight months, she says, a process that involved a lot of back and forth with a manufacturer testing and tweaking production samples. The team has already begun talking about future products to get a jump start on that production cycle.

I haven't tried the products yet, so it's hard to say whether Stowaway will or won't turn into a cult hit. But in a saturated beauty industry, it's up against some stiff competition. There are so many brands out there with functionally terrific, innovative formulations and rabid fan followings — just think of Armani Maestro foundation, Nars's Orgasm blush, Urban Decay's Naked eyeshadow palettes or Maybelline's Great Lash mascara — and beauty shoppers are sophisticated. Size alone won't convince them to swap out their products.