Established Beauty Companies Are Now Turning to Kim Kardashian for Business Advice

"It's amazing when you can really go head-to-head with some major brands, just doing it our own way."
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"It's amazing when you can really go head-to-head with some major brands, just doing it our own way."
Kim Kardashian. Photo: Courtesy

Kim Kardashian. Photo: Courtesy

In its mere six-month existence, KKW Beauty has proven itself a force to be reckoned with. Since launching with contour kits in June, Kim Kardashian's fledgling direct-to-consumer makeup company has launched additional face and lip products (as well as three fragrances), racking up tens of millions in sales, all while bucking traditional beauty industry norms and business practices. Using a strategy similar to the one employed by sister Kylie Jenner (whose own eponymous makeup brand, Kylie Cosmetics, is well on its way to becoming a billion-dollar company), Kardashian is rolling out new products — inspired by her own aesthetic preferences, as well as feedback from her millions of social media fans — at a rapid pace. And she's doing it with autonomy, under her own brand (rather than via a licensing deal), without having to pour massive amounts of money into traditional advertisements or marketing. The industry hasn't simply taken notice; it's seeking out Kardashian (and Jenner) for business advice. 

For the holiday season, KKW Beauty is launching two new product formulas: Ultra Light Beams Powder and Ultra Light Beams Gloss — essentially neutral-tone glitter bomb explosions intended to be used everywhere (eyes, lips, body). Each product is available in five metallic shades, retailing for $32 a set of the gloss and powder beginning on Friday, Dec. 1 at 12 p.m. PST; super-fans can also purchase the full, 10-piece collection in a box set for $150. Kardashian took some time to jump on the phone with Fashionista ahead of this sparkle-covered launch to talk business, what it's like having major companies asking for advice and why the beauty gene seems to run in the Kardashian-Jenner family.

Tell me about the new launches and why right now was the right time for you to be coming out with these?

I wanted to have a product out for the holiday — that was really important. And I had always wanted to do really intense highlighters that can be used as eye shadows or mixed with gloss. It's kind of a sheer gloss, and we're putting them together as a little kit, like my version of what a stocking stuffer would look like, which is so cute. The packaging is so cute. I was really just so excited to have a product, other than skin, because I've done the contours, powder and creams, and we're working on concealers and other things. I'm just super-excited for these, because you'll see how pigmented it is, and I think people will really love them, and you can mix them with the glosses — you can add the gloss on top of the eye if you want to use it as a shadow. There's so many things you can do with it.

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Can you tell me about why you started with the face product when you were first launching? Why were the contour products first, and what was the strategy behind that?

It's so funny because everyone told me how hard contour is and that most people don't really understand contour, and you have to be such a makeup enthusiast or a makeup artist to really understand [it]. I was like, "It's what I've used forever." I've always done some form of contour, whether it's just warming up my face [or] using it as bronzer. I felt like me and my makeup artist Mario [Dedivanovic], we had been contouring for so long, and I wanted to show people that it wasn't really scary — it wasn't just this makeup insider thing — that you can use it and it can be really easy and fun and make you look so much better. 

So, even though everyone warned me that it would be a challenge, I really wanted to start with contour because that's what I feel is the basis of how I do my makeup. With all the looks I've done, contour was always really constant for me, and I did that no matter what look I was doing.

I want to touch on the marketing side of what you've been doing because I think it's so impressive, especially with the launch of your fragrance. You haven't really gone the traditional marketing route, and considering what other brands are paying for their fragrance ads, it's really amazing what you've been able to accomplish using social media. Can you share more about that strategy?

Other brands have been like, "Who did you use for your marketing teams? How'd you come up with the crystal?" Major brands were asking me what team I used, but it was just an idea that I had, and it came to me so organically. I think when you're coming out with a product, it definitely has to be so organic and so, you just have to take your time until that idea really comes to you. 

But with social media, it's such an amazing tool because you connect with so many people, and they can really feel your journey and what you're doing. It was definitely a different model; it was definitely a risk when partnering with a team and then going from being a licensee to being the owner of my company and calling all the shots. Every decision lays on your shoulders, and that really is a risk and it can be scary, but you have to take that risk if you want to change the business model that you're in or you want to have a different kind of return, and that's what I wanted. I love doing fragrance, and I love doing beauty. I think it's fascinating that social media exists to help brands — like mine, I am doing it all on my own.

You and Kylie both seem to have set this new standard for the industry — doing your own marketing and taking it all into your own hands. Do you two discuss business at all, or advise each other in that area?

We definitely discuss business, and we talk about how we approach different things and how we love to do things. When I was doing my first fragrance in 2008 or 2009, I used Twitter, and I realized then that you can use it as an amazing free marketing tool. I was asking my viewers if they liked a certain color pink better than the other, and I saw that the feedback was so overwhelming for one specific color. I went with that, and that was a really good choice. The viewer really felt connected to the product, and so over time, that's what so many independent brands do these days.

I love that Kylie started that with makeup, and I'm the first to do that in fragrance. It's a whole new model and there's so many possibilities, but it's amazing when you can really go head-to-head with some major brands, just doing it our own way.

I know you've spoken before about how North seems to love makeup, too, so it seems like it's really a family thing; Kendall has her beauty campaigns and then Kylie has her whole business. Do you think it's some sort of beauty industry gene?

Most girls really love makeup. I remember my mom always had her Chanel red lipstick, and I would always try on her foundation and make lines all over my face — which I didn't know was contouring then — but that was just what we loved to do. My daughter always sees me getting ready, and she loves the highlighters. She's obsessed with gloss — she uses the gloss and the highlighters, and it's really cute to see her get to so into it.

What else can you talk about in terms of what's up next? Do you have anything in the works that you can tell me about?

I'm really excited, I'm going to work on something with Mario that I can't really talk about, but I'm really excited about it. Him and I are just meant to do something together. I'm working on concealers; we were actually supposed to put the concealers out first, but I really wanted to perfect them.

Are there any other product categories that you're thinking of exploring, outside of fragrance and makeup? 

I want to try to explore everything. I'm going to eventually get into everything. Having full control, you can launch anything at any time, whenever you want. If something's not working, you can work on it again; it's not like you're pressured to put it out because you have a whole team waiting.

You have so many friends in the industry. [Hairstylist] Jen Atkin has obviously built an amazing company, then there's Mario and Kylie. Do you plan to collaborate more with your friends in the space?

I would love that. That would make it so much fun. When Mario and I are working together, we just have so much fun. I think when you're at a place in your life when you're so busy and you want to put out the best products and you want to have a really good time with it, then it makes sense to put things out with your friends. Right now, only me and Mario have something in the works, but you never know. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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