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The American Beauty Industry Is Thriving — Thanks to These 6 Visionary Brands

These up-and-coming makeup, hair and skin-care companies are generating a lot of buzz right now.
Photo: Courtesy of Flesh

Photo: Courtesy of Flesh

There's no occasion quite like the Fourth of July to celebrate all things American. Here at Fashionista, we'll be spending the week examining the fashion industry in our own backyard, from the state of U.S. apparel manufacturing to American-born models on the rise. You can follow all of our coverage here.

It's no secret that, historically speaking, the epicenter of the beauty industry has not been the good ol' U.S. of A. For decades, most of the cosmetics brands comprising the bulk of Americans' beauty routines were based in Europe. Then, after decades of Eurocentricity, the Asian market has become a more pervasive resource for Western beauty consumers over the last five years or so, thanks to the increasing popularity of K-beauty and J-beauty

But we're finally entering an era in which the American beauty industry is staking its claim and thriving. A slew of lean, young up-and-comers are making themselves known as major contenders in the beauty space, and the legacy corporations that have monopolized the industry for so long are taking notice. By driving innovation, establishing devoted communities and fan bases, delivering groundbreaking formulas and disrupting the old-school way of doing business, the new guard of American beauty brands are poised to spur real, lasting change around the globe. 

Ahead, a closer look at six buzzy, visionary American brands shaking up the beauty industry and shaping its future. 

KKW Beauty

Photo: @kkwbeauty/Instagram

Photo: @kkwbeauty/Instagram

Kim Kardashian is unanimously regarded as the ultimate influencer, so in a field dominated by them, it's not shocking that her namesake cosmetics brand would become an instant, industry-disrupting hit. The first drop of products — 300,000 Contour & Highlight Kits — sold out in around three hours, bringing in an estimated $14.4 million. That same level of selling power held true for Kardashian's first fragrance launch, which brought in $10 million in a single day

What's more, KKW Beauty managed to pull this off by eschewing the marketing techniques upon which the industry has long been reliant — gifts with purchase, print campaigns, billboards, commercials and the like — in favor of a straightforward social media effort. Kardashian, along with her powerful crew of influential family and friends, teased the drops on both Twitter and Instagram, driving conversion rates more significant than any legacy cosmetics brand could hope to buy. 

In fact, KKW Beauty has sent such shockwaves through the beauty sphere that, Kardashian noted in an interview with Fashionista, they're turning to the reality-TV star-turned-mogul for advice. "Other brands have been like, 'Who did you use for your marketing teams? How'd you come up with the crystal?'" Kardashian said, referencing the launch of her first KWW Fragrance scent. "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."

Beauty Bakerie

Photo: @beautybakeriemakeup/Instagram

Photo: @beautybakeriemakeup/Instagram

Established by a young, single mom who wanted to channel her breast cancer diagnosis into something positive, cruelty-free makeup brand Beauty Bakerie got its start running out of founder Cashmere Nicole's South Bend, Ind. home. With zero industry connections and no professional beauty experience, the then-nurse relied on information she gathered from internet research and library books to get her business off the ground. 

With a direct-to-consumer business model and a keen understanding of how to leverage Instagram for marketing purposes, Nicole turned Beauty Bakerie profitable in just a few years, subsequently securing $3 million in funding from Unilever Ventures, 645 Ventures and Blue Consumer Capital. With a brick-and-mortar location in San Diego, Calif., a retail partnership with Forever 21's Riley Rose, international distribution deals with QVC, HSN and Sephora as well as a devoted millennial fan base, the business is on a clear path to success. 


Photo: @pinrosescents/Instagram

Photo: @pinrosescents/Instagram

A San Francisco-based startup founded by Stanford grads Erika Shumate and Christine Luby, Pinrose aims to reimagine the way we shop for personal fragrance. Using a personalized algorithm — informed by consumer data and science on the psychology of smell — the company matches consumers with one of its proprietary perfumes, which are priced more accessibly than typical designer perfumes at $65 a pop. (Travel-size flacons are just $24.)

From a business standpoint, Pinrose's concept has garnered plenty of buzz: At launch, Bonobos founder and Trunk Club CEO Brian Spaly was a lead investor; the brand had raised $5 million in its first round of funding,  and secured $3 million more in Series Seed II round.

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Beyond its own direct-to-consumer retail business, Pinrose has also partnered with Nordstrom and Sephora for distribution. In May of this year, the company expanded into the color cosmetics category via a collaboration with Sephora's in-house cosmetics label, Sephora Collection. The two companies partnered to release a curated collection of limited-edition, scented glitter lip glosses. "Our partnership with Pinrose felt very natural given the foundation the brand is built on," said Beth Hayes, vice president of Sephora Collection, in a WWD interview about the collaboration at the time of its debut. "Our shared goals of creating high-quality, approachable products that are not only premium, but fun, playful and unique allow for a seamless collaboration and we’re excited to share the results with Sephora Collection and Pinrose beauties alike."


Photo: @glossier/Instagram

Photo: @glossier/Instagram

At this point, "Glossier" is basically synonymous with the millennial beauty shopper. Since launching in 2014 as the powder-pink product spinoff of Emily Weiss's beauty site Into The Gloss, the brand is beloved by seemingly an entire generation for its minimalist, accessible approach to makeup, Insta-bait packaging and fun-yet-aspirational ethos.

By embracing transparency and fostering a sense of community — as well as creating products people really seem to enjoy — Glossier has become an industry force. On the financial side of things, it launched with an initial investment of $2 million in VC funding, then raised an additional $8.4 million from investor just a month after its debut. In a Series B round in 2016, it brought in another $24 million, and (yes, there's more) then raised $52 million in Series C funding in February 2018. Not too shabby.

In April 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded it $3 million in tax credits, allowing the company to relocate its headquarters and bring on 282 additional employees. With various temporary pop-up shops as well as permanent retail locations in New York and Los Angeles, the company's physical presence is in rapid expansion mode (it will soon set up shop in Chicago). It also ships internationally to the U.K., Canada, Ireland and Sweden, with plans to expand into France this year. 

"I hope that we transcend being a product company," said Weiss in an interview with Fashionista last September. "I hope that we become a symbol for being your own best expert and [having] 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."


Photo: Courtesy of Flesh

Photo: Courtesy of Flesh

No, Flesh isn't an indie brand, but it is a buzzy new startup. Created by Allure founding editor Linda Wells under the Revlon, Inc. umbrella, the makeup range is the newest one included in this roundup, having burst on the scene in late June. Sold exclusively at Ulta stores and online, the luxury 89-SKU lineup of foundations, highlighters, blushes, lipsticks and eye shadows was dreamed up to deliver quality color cosmetics that cater to an inclusive array of skin tones. It, along with brands like Fenty Beauty, CoverGirl and ColourPop, has helped established a new industry standard of minimum 40-shade foundation ranges. Flesh has also encouraged conversation around the subject of shade inclusivity. 

As Wells put it in a press statement she penned to announce the brand's launch: "The idea behind Flesh is makeup that honors the integrity of your skin to highlight your best individual self...Flesh is not a timid, predictable line of nudes. It includes punctuations of intense color on eyes and lips for richness." In other words, foundation is far from the only category we need to think about when we discuss formulating makeup shades for every skin tone, and it's with that understanding that Flesh aims to enter (and alter) the color cosmetics conversation.

Drunk Elephant

Photo: @_hannachoi/Instagram

Photo: @_hannachoi/Instagram

One thing many of the brands featured here have in common is that they carved out a niche for themselves in an already crowded beauty industry by doing something new and different — and they also found success via social media. Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson conceived of her "clean" skin-care range when she, as a consumer, was disappointed and disillusioned by the products that existed lining the beauty shelves. She did something about it by starting her own business.

Since debuting in 2013, Drunk Elephant has found resonance with an ever-growing fan base, making its products routine Sephora best-sellers. Initially capturing consumers' attention (as well as real estate on Instagram feeds far and wide) with its signature brightly colored packaging and quirky name, the brand's cutting-edge, effective formulas are what keep shoppers coming back. Still run out of Masterson's hometown of Houston, the company is one the entire industry seems to have its eye on right now. Considering that Drunk Elephant hasn't done any traditional marketing or paid influencer partnerships, its popularity is somewhat staggering. 

What's next for the company? Things are only ramping up. "Global expansion and exciting new products," said Masterson in a recent Fashionista interview. "I don't look at trends and I don't wait, so I've already developed my products through the end of 2019. I have three launches per year scheduled; I even have one product for 2020." 

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