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The Race for Millennial Dollars Has Sparked a Beauty Gold Rush

The Millennial makeup gold rush is on, as brands jump on the #selfcare and #selfie bandwagon, creating beauty lines to target young consumers…

It’s good to be an indie beauty brand in the age of social media. Last year, cult favorites like Glossier and Colourpop saw their category’s sales surge 43%, according to the NPD Group, propelled by unboxing videos, influencer collaborations, and Instagrammable products. Upstart like Kylie Cosmetics raked in $420 million in 18 months, mostly via organic marketing courtesy of founder Kylie Jenner and her 99 million followers. The makeup industry as a whole has seen a surge in recent years as chasing the latest makeup trends and shopping for products supported by fan-favorite influencers have gained traction with young consumers. As we’ve pointed out before, Millennials are actually buying more makeup than Boomers. The Financial Post reports that Ulta Beauty has seen sales surge from $3.9 billion in 2016 to $5.9 billion in 2017, while Sephora revenues “have doubled since 2011.” Thanks to the clear opportunity for profit, it seems every day brings a new startup beauty brand to know and learn from.

Of course, major brands are contending with more competition than ever, and fighting to stay at the top of Gen Z & Millennials’ favorite beauty brands. Following in Fenty Beauty’s groundbreaking footsteps, Estee Lauder and many other big brands have launched more inclusive shades. Meanwhile, Fashionista reports that from St. Ives to Covergirl, drugstore staples have taken a new tack to reach young shoppers by switching up slogans, introducing “[M]illennial-friendly packaging,” and hosting experiential pop-ups. They’re “future-proofing” themselves by leveraging The Influencer Effect (and moving towards micro-influencers) and cutting corporate red tape to expedite their response to trends.

And now it’s not just new indie brands that they have to compete with. With #selfcare and #selfies boosting profits in the beauty sector, brands in other categories want a piece of the action, creating a real Millennial beauty gold rush. Here are some of the recent brands launching new beauty lines and stores to target young consumers:


Last year, Forever 21 branched into beauty, with a whole new store for Millennial & Gen Z shoppers that blows their beauty aisle to the next level. Internet sensations with cult followings like Lime Crime and Winky Lux can be found at the flagship Glendale Galleria store. From neon signs with kitsch sayings (think: “Makeup fades, memories last”) to a wall of upside down single-stem roses, the décor is clearly designed to be photographed for a social media moment. We spoke to the brand’s co-founder about the highly Instagrammable, trend-forward venture, and learned that the entire store experience is built around how Millennial and Gen Zs shop, with in-store marketing that features “authentic, real-girl product reviews, with the intent to teach the customer how she can use our products or why they’re trending, rather than to tell her what to buy.”


Urban Outfitters is debuting a makeup line that borrows from some of Millennials’ indie favorites. Ohii (pronounced “Oh hiiiii”) products cater to the natural trend, so you’ll find highlight kits and lip glosses rather than full-face foundations. Urban Outfitters carries many of the trendiest ones, so getting their own brand on the shelves is a smart move—especially when they decide which brand is front and center. The Cut reports that “Ohii has all the hallmarks of cult millennial beauty products: Minimalist yet aesthetically pleasing packaging, multi-use products you can throw in your bag for a five-minute face on the go, and even a silver metallic face mask for performative masking selfies.”


Fashion Nova is the fast fashion brand that’s reportedly Googled more often than Chanel – and now they’re branching into beauty. Their new line, Nova Beauty is the next step in their goal to become “a one-stop shop lifestyle destination,” according to their CEO. Fashion Nova’s forte of leveraging the Influencer Effect will come in handy for their foray. (Ypulse has found that many young consumers are buying beauty products based on online celebrities’ recommendations.) According to Elle, the brand also hopes to compete directly with giants like Sephora and Ulta.


Brandless has a new $3-and-up line of clean beauty products. The site has earned headlines for their minimalist aesthetic, low price point, and contradictory name (it is, after all, a brand). Ok, so they could be considered an indie still themselves, but it’s telling that the next categorythat this un-branded brand has decided to tackle next is makeup and skincare. Clean beauty could also be seen as a natural segue for Brandless, which already touts transparency as a main selling point. The new line will include everything from eyelash curlers to skincare, and all of the products will appease natural-obsessed young consumers by nixing sulfates, parabens, formaldehyde, and other notorious ingredients.


Even publishers are joining in on the beauty rush. Earlier this year, PopSugar announced they’ll be launching their own line of makeup products. Traditionally, the lifestyle site has promoted other brands’ products. But according to DigiDay, the company thinks there is “so much space” for their brands’ ads to live alongside other products, and that the move will be “completely non-cannibalistic.” The line will be available at Ulta Beauty stores and is another example of how editorial companies are getting creative to bring in revenue.

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