Get it while it's hot
A new wave of beauty brands is winning customers through an ever-changing assortment of limited-run products. Janna Zittrer reports on how cosmetics companies are taking a cue from fast fashion to find success
When Kylie Jenner opened her second pop-up cosmetics shop in New York City this February, fans flocked from across the country and waited as long as three days to be among the first inside her pink-hued boutique.
The hoopla was hardly surprising. The reality-TV and social-media star's products tend to sell out online in a matter of minutes. And as companies endeavour to compete in an increasingly crowded market, Jenner's success indicates a seismic shift in the beauty industry: Once driven by the belief that customers would commit to a shade for life, cosmetic brands are now relying on fleeting products to entice shoppers and cultivate demand. In beauty, as in fashion, novelty is the new loyalty.
Limited-edition products are certainly nothing unusual. Luxury brands such as Shu Uemura, Nars and M.A.C Cosmetics have been collaborating on one-off collections with celebrities and fashion houses for decades. Today, however, the beauty industry is awash with cutting-edge players taking a cue from fast fashion and shortening the production cycle to bring their goods to market more quickly and jump on trends as they emerge.
One such company is Netherlands-based Teeez Cosmetics, which landed at select Hudson's Bay stores across Canada last year. Focusing on a continual rotation of short-run, fashion-inspired makeup, Teeez Cosmetics keeps four colour collections on counter, the eldest of which it replaces roughly every four months. While banking on a line that's 90 per cent impermanent might have seemed implausible in pre-millennial times, it's the only modus operandi Teeez Cosmetics has known. "We originally started in 2004 with just a limited-edition collection of lip glosses and nail polishes," says Amanda Kruzich, acting Canadian marketing director at Teeez Cosmetics. "Customer loyalty is changing and I think millennials are a big part of that," she adds. "They're willing to be loyal to different brands, to be more experimental, and I think we're really on the pulse of that."
Catherine Masson, vice president of beauty at Shoppers Drug Mart, seconds the notion that customer needs can no longer be met by staple brands and products. "When we started Beauty Boutique in 2003, we were the first retailer in Canada to remove the counter and create an unbiased, open concept," she says. "If you looked inside a customer's makeup bag, even back in 2003, she had all different brands."
To meet the growing demand for newness, Shoppers Drug Mart is looking more to trend-led products such as iN.gredients, a line of food-inspired face masks launching later this year from Toronto brand Look Beauty. "The inspiration came from my frequent visits to South Korea," says Allan Lever, CEO of Look Beauty. "It seemed that every visit, there was something new on the shelves. We have H&M and Zara bringing new [clothing] styles to market every week, and our aim is to do the same by delivering new [beauty] releases based on trending ingredients and seasonal offerings." Thanks, in part, to its streamlined business model and established network of South Korean factories, Look Beauty can launch a product in as little as four months – more than three times faster than the industry average. "The big beauty companies just can't move as quickly to jump on the hottest trends," says Lever.
"We all know that being first to market can put brands in a winning position," says Sarah Jindal, a senior beauty analyst at Mintel. "Larger, more traditional brands need to learn from the smaller guys and bring more of their flexibility and innovative spirit to the game."
Big companies are capitalizing on the "fast beauty" phenomenon by acquiring nimbler brands. Last November, Estée Lauder purchased Too Faced for $1.45-billion. L'Oréal spent a reported $500-million buying NYX Cosmetics in 2014. With an agile development model and cult following of beauty addicts and professional makeup artists, NYX leveraged its broadened international reach to boost sales by 400 per cent in 2016.
Meanwhile, Korean cosmetics giant the Face Shop has engineered its own fast-paced production cycle while expanding its global presence to more than 2,600 stores in 29 countries. "Stores like Sephora have the advantage of catering to customers' ever-changing needs by offering a variety of brands, but the Face Shop does not," says Sean Lee, a member of the company's global marketing team. "Launching new products is no longer a choice; it is a must for us," he adds. "We have to achieve continuous product development and innovation in order to satisfy consumers and keep up with market trends."
To stay at the forefront of a hyper-competitive market, the Face Shop constantly assesses the performance of each item. "Once we identify that products are not performing to our expectations, we stop production and discontinue the product," says Lee. As for timelines, "When everything is working out smoothly and correctly, we can launch a new product as fast as in one month."
Consumer demand shows no sign of slowing down, but while beauty brands are eager to keep up, they should remain wary of comparisons to fast fashion. "This idea of trend-driven products that are accessible to a broad base of consumers is appealing to brands," says Jindal of Mintel. "There can be pitfalls, however, especially in a time of rising eco-consciousness and concern over the safety of products and ingredients."
Visit tgam.ca/newsletters to sign up for the Globe Style e-newsletter, your weekly digital guide to the players and trends influencing fashion, design and entertaining, plus shopping tips and inspiration for living well. And follow Globe Style on Instagram @globestyle.