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How to Find Beauty Blogger-Beloved Brands Before They Hit the Mainstream

Boxycharm, a subscription box service that's breaking the mold, can help.
The ever popular matte liquid lipstick. Photo: Boxycharm Instagram

The ever popular matte liquid lipstick. Photo: Boxycharm Instagram

Celebrities, editors, and makeup artists obviously aren't the only beauty influencers anymore. Bloggers, vloggers, and Instagrammers  can really help boost brands into the stratosphere, and they also often operate in a beauty economy that runs parallel to the mainstream. Many brands, like these four for example, have millions of followers collectively. They don't need traditional advertising, thanks to the rabid hordes of beauty fans who follow the social media tastemakers who love and post about them. Wondering how to get in on this insider info of buzzy products that you won't find in the usual channels? A two-year-old subscription box service called Boxycharm could be a good starting point.

If your eyes glaze over at the thought of another subscription box service, I don't blame you — mine did, too. But I got sucked in by two factors: First of all, I didn't recognize a lot of brands in the box. As a person who gets multiple bags of beauty products per week from the same companies month after month, this excites me. Second, the products are all full-size, not the so-called "deluxe samples" you find in a lot of other boxes. Joe Martin, a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Boxycharm, knows these things differentiate his service from the rest. 

Martin used to run a business that involved buying overstock from stores like Macy's and CVS. One day, a beauty subscription box service came to him looking to buy nail polish because they were low on samples that month. "That's when I was introduced to the space. They explained that usually they were given a product for free, but this time no one wanted to give them a product for free," he says. "That's when I saw a gap — I figured if they need to rely on products for free, what if a new competitor comes in and streamlines the operation and pays for the cost of goods at least?" Many sample subscription services rely on products given to them by beauty companies, which then expect to get subscriber data, reviews, traffic to their websites or other information in return.

August 2015 box, featuring a Coastal Scents eye shadow palette. Photo: Boxycharm

August 2015 box, featuring a Coastal Scents eye shadow palette. Photo: Boxycharm

Martin launched Boxycharm in 2014, buying full size beauty products from companies and "was losing money on every box in the beginning," due to economy of scale. (Basically, the more, say, individual mascaras you buy at one time, the less they cost. So once subscriber levels hit a certain level, like 25,000 vs. 2,500, you start making profit, because the cost of products goes down, but your subscribers are all paying the same price every month.) Boxycharm currently has about 60,000 subscribers, which is triple the amount it had at the end of 2014.

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Boxycharm is more expensive than many of its competitors, which is something to consider. It's $21 if you purchase month-to-month and a bit over $19 if you buy three, six or 12 months at once. To compare, Birchbox and Ipsy both cost $10/month, Allure's box is $15, Glossybox is $21 and NewBeauty's Test Tube is a whopping $29.95. Full-size products do occasionally show up in all of these, but usually you can expect large samples. The full-size products you get every month at Boxycharm could be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether you love or hate the product you receive, but it's a good value if you think about the price of the box vs. what you would pay if you bought the products separately at retail. Martin says the value of the products in the boxes exceeds $100 every month. 

Then there's the new brand discovery factor. Boxycharm does work with established prestige and indie companies like Tarte and Tatcha, but does a big chunk of its business with emerging labels. To get a pulse for what's new and Insta-buzzy, the company has hired tons of beauty vloggers, like the up-and-coming Kathleen Lights, who has about 875,000 Instagram followers, to offer curation advice. Obviously it's not a totally new model, because Ipsy, owned by OG-beauty vlogger Michelle Phan, also uses  vloggers as "stylists," which is a slightly different role than curation. The rotating roster of beauty influencers on staff at Boxycharm helps to keep the picks fresh. "They know what brands to go after," Martin says. "They're [the ones] people are loving but that aren't in Sephora or Macy's." All of the products are chosen to be universal, so you'll never receive anything like concealer, foundation, blonde- or curly-specific hair products, etc.

There are a lot of brands to be excited about: Boxycharm works with Ofra, a company that originally provided product to cosmetology schools. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Kathleen Lights, above, did a lipstick collection with Ofra.) The brand beefed up its rather utilitarian packaging and tools, and is now pretty popular, particularly for its matte liquid lipsticks. At Phan's Generation Beauty conference last summer, it was one of the most popular booths there, with young women lined up around the corner waiting to get their hands on it. There's also German brand Doucce, makers of a huge, fluffy, magnificent mascara. Martin says a large department store picked up the brand after it made its Boxycharm debut. Subscribers are particularly excited about Coastal Scents, a mid-priced indie brand that makes 20-pan eye shadow palettes — think all of the Urban Decay Nakeds rolled into one. The January Boxycharm box contains a smoky eye palette from the company, which it has been teasing on its Instagram. Finally, I was thoroughly delighted — by both the name and the product — by Jelly Pong Pong's luminizer gel, which did not contain a single hint of glitter but is deliciously shimmery nonetheless.

The October 2015 box, featuring Doucce mascara. Photo: Boxycharm

The October 2015 box, featuring Doucce mascara. Photo: Boxycharm

Boxycharm doesn't technically sell any products, but it does offer "charms" which you earn and can then use to trade in for products that are occasionally available. It also encourages social media engagement by offering you charms in exchange for reviewing products and also for posting your looks using box products on Instagram. 

This year the brand is also going to start a program called the "Boxycharm Lab." Brands will put products they're developing but aren't commercially available yet into boxes, in hopes of getting feedback and critiques from the community. Martin is hoping to include one Lab product a quarter. 

It doesn't get newer than that, does it?