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Glossier founder Emily Weiss on building a brand that speaks to millennials

beauty

She's got the look

Glossier founder Emily Weiss has created a brand that appeals to millennials like no other. Caitlin Agnew met with the entrepreneur in Toronto and learned the seemingly simple secret to Weiss's success – listening to her customers

Glossier founder Emily Weiss.

A group of people lining up to buy something is a rare sight in 2017, but that's exactly what happens when Glossier comes to town. In July, the American beauty brand announced that Canada would become its first international shipping destination, an expansion it celebrated in September with a pop-up shop on Toronto's Queen Street West. For one week, Glossier transformed a former truck rental building into a pale pink temple of skincare and makeup, complete with upbeat staffers wearing pink jumpsuits. The response was tremendous – queues of beauty junkies waiting to get in stretched hundreds of people long.

If scrolling through Instagram is not a part of your beauty regimen, you may not have heard of Glossier, which takes a digital-first approach to pretty much everything. Headquartered in New York's SoHo neighbourhood with a team of more than 100 mostly female staff, Glossier was founded in 2014 by Emily Weiss, a 32-year-old former fashion editor who spent time at Teen Vogue, W magazine and Vogue. In 2010, Weiss left print editorial to launch the website Into the Gloss where she interviewed women about their beauty routines in a series called The Top Shelf. Over the years, her subjects came from a wide variety of backgrounds and tastes, ranging from stars like Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian and Catherine Deneuve to industry insiders like beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June, makeup artist Val Garland and wellness influencer Hannah Bronfman – basically anyone who's ever been attached to the hashtag #girlcrush.

"What that really taught me was that the best beauty tips and recommendations come from other women. They don't come from experts; they don't come from brands. They come from the women you admire, and that could be anyone," says Weiss, who is in Toronto on a sunny Monday morning before the pop-up opens. "That really led me to think, well, there should be a beauty company that really celebrates that and facilitates these conversations."

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And so Glossier was born, launching with four baseline products: Soothing Face Mist, Perfecting Skin Tint, Balm Dotcom and Priming Moisturizer. But rather than following the traditional model of approaching vendors with a new product line, Weiss took her $2-million (U.S.) in seed funding and launched the direct-to-consumer brand to her existing audience on Instagram.

Amy Chung, a beauty industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group, says Glossier has Weiss’s organic business approach to thank for its rapid growth.

"Glossier is the first beauty lifestyle brand that really exists to involve our community every step of the way and that means things like writing back to people [via direct message] or involving them in product development, asking them what they want, giving them the most personalized best customer experience," Weiss says.

Now at the three-year mark, Glossier has established itself as the millennial-focused brand not just in beauty, but in all industries. With 600 per cent year-over-year growth, Glossier has raised more than $34.4-million (U.S.) in venture capital to date and has 773,000 followers on social media. Amy Chung, a beauty industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group, says the brand has Weiss's organic business approach to thank for its rapid growth.

"In recent years, there's been lots of talk about whether brands are authentic and whether they're genuine. Glossier is one of the few that really spawns from that authenticity," she says. "Essentially [Weiss] created something that she wanted to use and thought that some other people out there might be interested in and launched it. Some of the other more traditional companies, if they even try to reach the millennial consumers these days, might be doing some research but essentially it's the company creating what they think consumers want but not quite going out there and to find out. It's kind of cool and the opposite of what we're used to."

Cool and unique comes naturally to Weiss, who takes a bespoke approach to launching each Glossier product. For the Priming Moisturizer Rich, a dense, nourishing cream that launched in January 2017, a post on Into the Gloss asked readers about their top requests for a rich moisturizer, and the resulting formula was based on the more than 1,000 comments they received. "We don't set out to be a disruptor in the same way that I think it's futile to set out to be cool. Those are not goals," says Weiss. "We set out to be inclusive, have fun, be really clever, be thoughtful and really listen to her at every step of the way."

One such voice they're listening to is that of Estelle Phillips, a 21-year-old makeup artist at Toronto's LAC+Beauty spa, who uses Glossier personally and in her professional work. Explaining why she's attracted to the brand, Phillips points to the ease of use and efficacy of Glossier's products and the approachability of its signature aesthetic – a fresh, dewy complexion, full brows and rosy lips. It's the opposite of the fully done look she and her clients are used to seeing on popular YouTube makeup tutorials.

"As much as their artistry skills are incredible, it's almost promoting soft drag as a wearable makeup look," Phillips says. "Seeing these girls that have beautiful skin and small pores then go in and put on five pounds of foundation, highlight, contour, powder, setting, everything. Glossier's approach is seeing your skin, seeing your pores, seeing your freckles and not feeling like you have to cover all of that." Chung adds that this application style is part of the no-makeup-makeup look and an increasing demand for multitasking products that are easy to use. "It's expressing your individuality again, and that's what makeup is supposed to be about," Chung says.

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While not every product has been universally lauded – with its petrolatum base, the cult-favourite Balm Dotcom is sometimes compared to Vaseline, while at launch time the Perfecting Skin Tint was criticized for its limited shade range (which has since been expanded) – the buzz around the Glossier brand is untouchable, its signature pink tubes finding fans in celebrities like Karlie Kloss, Emily Ratajkowski and Emma Roberts, and on Instagram, where more than 100,000 posts have been tagged #glossier. Weiss herself has become a poster child for business innovation in the digital era, earning accolades from and landing on covers of the likes of Fortune, Entrepreneur and Forbes magazines.

With 26 skincare, makeup and body products under her belt, in October Weiss launched Glossier You, her first fragrance. It was developed with perfumers Frank Voelkl and Dora Baghriche, the noses behind Le Labo's Santal 33 and Yves Saint Laurent's Mon Paris, among other scents, and Weiss describes the eau de parfum as the ultimate personal fragrance. "It adapts to your skin in such a way that it becomes your own. It's this sort of ambrox, light florally musk that is seasonless and ageless."

Fragrance is the most intimate product in the beauty category and it's fitting that Weiss, whose mission is to develop every woman's unique beauty thumbprint, has dreamt up a scent where the wearer is the key ingredient. It's all part of her overarching goal of spreading a message of positivity, she says: "There's a lot of unrealistic standards and ideals that deny reality, that deny the beauty of the moment and the beauty of imperfection. I want people to realize there's no right or wrong in beauty."

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