This year, Fashionista turned 10, and we celebrated by looking back at how we started. Now, we're chatting with the people in the industry who were right alongside us forging the path for fashion on the internet in our series, "A Decade in Digital." Today, Emily Weiss tells us how she went from being a fashion assistant to becoming one of the global leaders in the beauty industry.
This may be hard to believe now, but at age 25, Emily Weiss was a fashion assistant with no experience in digital or beauty. She was working at Vogue under then-style director Elissa Santisi, but had begun to re-think not just her own approach to beauty, but that of the industry.
"I had a transition from thinking of beauty as this solitary, isolated endeavor or exploration, to something that I got very excited about as being something that was actually a lightning rod for people to connect over," she says. "That's been the evolution of my interest in beauty."
In September of 2010, Into The Gloss was officially launched; just a few years later, with a global audience of dedicated readers, Weiss would debut a beauty line, Glossier. These days, she's a leader in the beauty space and the CEO of a million-dollar business. It's quite the trajectory to complete in just seven years, but Weiss isn't resting on her laurels.
"One of the things that I'm most proud of — the trajectory of the now Glossier Inc, including Into the Gloss — is how disciplined we've been and how focused we've always been," she says. "I can't think of a silver bullet, nor has it been what I consider a runaway train. I think we have so much more to do and so many women who have never heard of either of these brands."
And it all started with a blog. We hopped on the phone with Weiss to hear about how Into the Gloss has changed her life and why she hopes Glossier becomes more than just products.
What made you interested in beauty?
I'm just a very excitable beauty customer. I love product, and I always have. I grew up as a teenager doing all my friends' make up before dances and constantly stealing make up from my grandmother. While I didn't necessarily wear a lot of make up day-to-day, I found it inspiring to be able to use beauty to help craft your identity, become different people, or try at different characters or become more of yourself.
As I got a little bit older, working in the world and meeting different women, what started to really interest me in beauty is the way that it can really bring very different people together. It's interesting, because with fashion, there's not so many people in the world who might have the same t-shirt, or something that happens to be in the market for a spring/summer season, whereas with a beauty product — take Maybelline Great Lash for example; there's barely a woman I know who hasn't at some point tried Maybelline Great Lash, from all different countries, ages or socioeconomic backgrounds. Beauty is an interesting connective tissue that allows women to share and to come together.
When did you decide to start Into The Gloss?
I decided to start Into The Gloss in August 2010; I had the idea on a beach with my family in early August to start a beauty blog. I wanted to start this new conversation around product that was more through the lens of personal style, rather than beauty be coming from a product- or launch-driven perspective; really talking about the best of beauty as it relates to women's routines, women's opinions, as women's individual, unique beauty thumb prints.
That was really the impetus for Into The Gloss and it launched about a month later in September of 2010.
How did you go about launching the site?
First I created what, in retrospect, was sort of a content calendar; coming up with the different franchises of content that I was interested in creating, everything from naming the top shelf "The Top Shelf" and deciding that it would be long, first-person accounts of women's beauty routines, down to things like "The Review" and "The Professional," the different franchises that people have come to know and love. Then it was coming up with the name.
In terms of actually starting the site: Finding a camera and having a photographer friend teach me how to use it, my friends letting me shoot them and get better at that. Then, hiring someone to build the site and design the site, and that was that. What's so interesting about the evolution of technology and different platforms is that if I were starting all over again today, maybe you wouldn't necessarily start with a website. It's interesting, all the different formats and mediums content can take and is taking, like Instagram.
Into the Gloss is more than a blog even at this point. Even then, if you think about it, what is a blog if not a social platform? There are comments, there's a two way conversation. We consider Into the Gloss our single largest social media platform; you have X number of millions visitors every month.
What was it like working in digital at that time?
I had never worked in digital; I was 25 and hadn't even ever worked in beauty. At the time, it didn't even feel like work, so it's funny you're saying "working in digital," because I was just in my apartment with my cat transcribing interviews and putting them on the internet. A lot of people in the industry — and when I say industry, I mean media industry, fashion industry, beauty industry — I think they underestimated that power of these social platforms. I think they underestimated the ability for the customer or the reader to really elect the mediums that she consumes.
I had no idea who would like it; I thought, "Surely there are like-minded people out there who are curious to engage with beauty in this alternative way," but I was blown away by just how many women there were. At the time, too, I think a lot of brands and media companies also were quite surprised. People who have blogs were to be taken quite seriously and they should be because ultimately a reader is a reader; quality content is quality content, no matter the medium or how long something has been in business, or anything like that.
I found it incredibly liberating from a creator perspective to be able to create content and publish it that quickly. The lead time is getting shorter and shorter. Of course, now we're in the age of the live stream; you can't get more immediate in terms of content than the present moment. But at the time, being able to shorten the lead time from a monthly cycle, like a magazine, to a daily cycle for a blog, that was really liberating and exciting.
As a woman, it was really exciting to be able to engage through media with other women. To be able to post something at 8 a.m., and by 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. have dozens of comments coming in from women sharing their perspective or their story — that was also an incredible, huge shift, a seismic shift going from a print magazine where the closest thing you have to engagement is physical letters written in, to something that you can get a response within two minutes and be able to feel more connected. That was really exciting, really alive.
Were you surprised at all by the reaction to the site?
I don't know if I was surprised. I hoped, and I had a hunch, that there would be people who would be excited about the content, and I had incredible access — and we continue to have incredible access. Now we have incredible access because we've existed and we have so many amazing features on different women and men. But at the time there was really nothing to show for it, so the fact that Karlie Kloss or Tory Burch, some of the really early top shelves were even letting this content happen was an incredible leap of faith by them. There weren't really any features at the time that were going into women's bathrooms in such a voyeuristic way — such a respectful way, an earnest way — as we were.
I wasn't entirely surprised that people would be so excited, that it would spread so quickly.
How has social media changed how you approach business?
Oh, it's entirely changed how I approach business. Here's the thing: My entire career has been pretty much one thing. It's been Into The Gloss since I was 25, to Glossier now, and I'm 32. I hadn't gone into this with a different approach to business. You ask how has it changed my approach; it hasn't. It's formed my approach, for sure. It formed our approach at Glossier; the entire premise of what we're doing is all about democratizing beauty. How do you redefine luxury in today's day and age, and throw off the chains and the tropes of traditional product marketing that equates quality with price — a common trick in the beauty tool kit? We're creating this beauty brand that is truly inclusive and truly curious to not just talk at customers and at women and tell them what to think and tell them what to do, but to really engage with them and ask them what they want and how we can make things that positively impact her day, her life and her mood.
Where I think brands were perhaps more presumptuous in the past, or dictatorial in the past, what we're doing is using the different channels that are at our disposal and adapting new channels of communication, so we can involve the customer in every step of the way. From the product development and ideation process through to post-purchase, this is all baked into why we've chosen to be direct-to-consumer, because we wanted many modes of direct communication with her as possible, so we can offer her the best experience.
What have you learned pivoting from editorial to doing more in the business and brand side?
I mean, an incredible amount. First and foremost, my biggest teachers have been our team at Glossier, which is now over 110 people in three different countries. New York, Canada and soon the UK, with backgrounds as diverse as venture capital, to Google, to Apple. Having such a medley of brains in the room and passion around the table with all different skill sets has been incredibly eye opening for me, having come from a single industry, the fashion industry.
Having a more holistic view of how a company can really develop and operate and all the different components that go into making an amazing consumer product, that's been incredibly eye opening to me. The product development process in and of itself is incredibly complicated; the lead times for physical products are long, sometimes anywhere from six months at the shortest to two years if you're working on something like a sunscreen or an OTC product [with an active ingredient that might otherwise be prescription]. Understanding and respecting the craftsmanship, the chemistry and the alchemy that goes into creating a beauty product that hopefully will stand the test of time and last decades, like Clinique Dramatically Different moisturizer or as I mentioned Maybelline Great Lash, these are formulas and products that have been global products for decades. I think we have an incredible responsibility to the customer and to women to only put out the most amazing, thoughtful, innovative products that are going to grow with her over her life.
Do you ever miss being more involved with the day-to-day in editorial?
For sure. As a creative, it's been a real journey for me going from a sole contributor role in an organization that was comprised of maybe myself — or myself plus one, or myself plus three or four or five — taking all the pictures and writing everything, and trying all the products. Going from that to being the CEO of a global business with 100 plus employees, there's not as many things that have my name on it, but I actually think that I'm so much happier today being a collaborator and being a thought partner with our customers, with our creative team, with the incredible people who are building the content on editorial.
One of the most beautiful things about Into the Gloss and about Glossier is that it all has always been collaboration. It's never been about me. It's been myself as a filter, perhaps, for information or a conduit for story telling, but I think what is the special sauce of our entire company is that it is a sounding board and a collective.
How has the digital landscape changed since you started Into the Gloss?
Content has evolved. What the digital landscape has done is it's really expanded the boundaries of what content is and what content is defined as. In many ways, I see our physical products as pieces of content. Even though you could describe Glossier as a products company or a tech company even, I actually think that maybe the most accurate definition, if you had to have one for the company, is that we're a content company and we always have been. The mediums changed, and one of the biggest things that has shifted digital is that now everyone can be their own author. That's perhaps the number one principle that we're really pushing as part of our agenda at Glossier, is really helping support women in forming their own opinions and sharing their own opinions and in creating their own content.
I don't think that's an idea that Glossier invented whatsoever. Clearly, with beauty being the second biggest category on YouTube, an enormous part of social media is beauty. It's not that we're reinventing the wheel by saying that we want everyone to be their own expert, I just think we're the first beauty brand to actually embrace that as a thing to rally behind, like as a really good thing. There's not one voice of reason, or one expert, or a brand as an expert, or a brand-appointed spokesperson or make up artist as an expert. In today's day and age with the digital landscape, what it's done if nothing else, has given the power to the people to create their own content and elect their own brands and elect their own heroes.
What do you wish you'd known before starting Into The Gloss?
I wish I had known to be a little bit more patient. I wish I had started meditating sooner. [laughs] I think there's an urgency in youth; I was 25 when I started Into The Gloss. Not every fire is the end of the world, to put things in perspective — but then again, hindsight's 20/20. I certainly developed more tolerance to risk and more tolerance around uncertainty — more resilience, I would say, more grit through the trials and tribulations that we've had over the years.
What do you look for in people that you hire?
My favorite part of doing what we do is the people who we work with, people who we meet, and that includes our customers, that includes our employees and our team. I really dislike the word staff; I feel like that means that people are working for you and doing exactly what you say with very little room for innovation, and I always think of us as a team. I didn't play sports, actually, so it's ironic that I love this team framework, but the best teams bring together the best people and really nurture a respectful and highly collaborative and highly mission-driven mindset. The team at Glossier, they are still very much a founding team. It's 110 people, but we will be thousands one day, I hope, all around the world and in many countries.
What I look for are people who share our core values of inclusivity, of having fun, of being clever, being thoughtful. The key thing is starting with people who really have differences of opinion and come from different backgrounds and all of that, but ultimately I think that our team needs to share the same values, because that's what allows us all to value our customer in the same way, and value women in the same way — kind of like a code of conduct, if you will.
How has Into the Gloss changed your life?
In every single way, I think. Into the Gloss has really taught me the importance of relationships and of human connection and vulnerability. When I grew up at least, beauty was something that I did alone; it was between me and the person at the makeup counter, it was between me and plastic walls of product at CVS, and on a good day, it was between me and my best friend who would come over for a slumber party. Otherwise, it's this incredibly intimate and personal experience, and what Into the Gloss really taught me was all about the joy of connecting: The joy of connecting with others and meeting people that you might not normally think you'd collaborate with or be friends with, and dropping prejudice and dropping judgment.
What is your ultimate goal?
What makes me really happy is watching people on our team and women really surprise themselves with what they're capable of. The goal for me professionally is to continue to create incredible entrepreneurs and push people's boundaries on themselves. I think that goes for our customers as well, and our readers: Encouraging them to think differently about what they know, or what their capabilities are, or what is within their rights to share, or voice an opinion on. Getting people to think a bit differently about beauty is very important to me.
What I want to have happen with Glossier, I hope that we transcend being a product company; I think product is maybe 50 percent of what we do. There's a whole other 50 percent that we offer people who are in the world of Glossier, and that's seeing the world through Glossier-colored glasses. It's an outlook. It's a certain perspective, not just product — there's far too many "just products" in the world. I hope that we become a symbol for being your own best expert and have your own opinion and narrative, and sharing that with others, sharing it with the world. Hopefully that's what that G ultimately stands for to a 14-year-old in Saudi Arabia to a 56-year-old in Silicon Valley; they interpret that G and wear that G in completely different ways. That's the whole point.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.