Had any new brand planning to launch in 2020 been able to look into a crystal ball at what lied ahead, it's hard to say if any of them would have launched at all. It would be an understatement to say this year hasn’t turned out to be what anyone could have anticipated or expected as the entire world has been forced to adapt to the devastating and complicated realities of life during the coronavirus pandemic.
The widespread response has left no industry untouched, but as brands begin to adapt to a new normal of conducting business in 2020, certain industries have been able to find steadier footing than others. Such is certainly the case for the beauty industry, as quarantine and extreme social distancing have meant more time at home, and more significantly, more time spent refining routines and self-care habits. This reality has painted a more optimistic picture for new beauty brands than what had been predicted back in March, but it surely hasn’t made anyone immune to hardships and difficulties.
Ahead, NYLON checked in with six of 2020’s newest beauty brands about how they’ve been navigating its first year of business in less than ideal circumstances, how they’re using social media to build an audience during a time where consumer spending on non-essentials isn’t guaranteed, and how they’ve chosen to redefine success.
Crown Affair launched at the end of January 2020 to the internet’s open arms, making a major splash on both social media and with cosigns from almost every major beauty and lifestyle publication today, from NYLON to Vogue. The brand's seemingly instant boom can be attributed to a few things, starting with its founder, Dianna Cohen. Cohen had been an early employee at successful, young companies — like digital beauty platform Into The Gloss and travel brand Away — later going on to consult with some of today’s most influential direct-to-consumer brands, building the right network along the way. Crown Affair also has a unique mission and offering, focusing on the sacred routine of hair care, and taking things slow. The brand launched with a tight edit of four post-wash hair products, including a brush, comb, towel, and all-purpose oil, and in recent months, have introduced silk-satin scrunchies for less damage to the hair.
“Crown Affair is rooted in ritual and taking your time — now more than whenever we need the rituals that make us feel whole at home, for those of us who can be at home right now,” Cohen tells NYLON over email. “We're so grateful we were able to launch and connect in the world pre-Covid, but now that we're in this moment together, it's empowered the digital connection we have with our community and deepened the conversations in creative new ways with customers and other like-minded partners.”
Cohen notes that being in the personal care category has been beneficial to maintaining momentum in this moment where consumer spending habits are out of flux, as folks are taking more time to discover new self-care routines at home — and it's a strength that hasn’t been lost on its investors.
“Investors have been supportive and understand the long term vision for what we're building,” says Cohen. “Together we're continuing to plan for the now, as well as what post-Covid might look like. Having an open and honest relationship with our investors is really important, as is remembering that we're all on the same team navigating new territory together.” As the pandemic began to unfold in China, the brand was able to plan into additional inventory with its supply partners all around the world, from Italy to Switzerland to Japan, luckily allowing for no delays on the supply chain side of the operation.
“While we've only been live for a few months, we've been cultivating community offline for years around this conversation,” says Cohen. “It's exciting to have Crown Affair live in the world with our curation of care essentials and see our early customers come back to us with positive feedback on the product, their new rituals, and celebrate our larger mission. “The best brands take decades to grow and develop— our customers know we're in this together and have an exciting road ahead. While having a year or two under our belt would have some benefits, we're on a mission to shift behavior around care and ritual in a category that's been so focused on 'professional' and styling tutorials, and we're now just seeing this behavior change. Customers are now ready for this more mindful approach, and that's meant to happen exactly as it is.”
Designed to address all things sweat, Hiki is the first brand from Arfa, a new consumer goods company focused on personal care products that prioritize consumers in product development. After working with the select consumers (known as the arfa Collective members) on everything from product testing to packaging development, the brand was set to launch in late March until the global situation with COVID-19 became impossible to avoid in the US.
“With so many unknowns that we are facing together, our team decided it wasn’t right to launch HIKI as a brand for sale as if the world hadn’t changed,” arfa co-founder and chief content officer, Ariel Wengroff, shared over email. “We therefore decided we could still help people by giving our products away.”
Hiki went on to launch in March as planned, but not as a brand with products for sale. Instead, Hiki sent 20k products — from deodorant and anti-chafe sticks to body wipes and powder — to hospitals, medical facilities, and homes across the country, giving away over 90 percent of its original inventory to medical workers and first responders in all 50 states and US territories.
“We knew almost immediately that we needed to shift our approach — the world was changing,” says Wengroff. “We felt it was the right thing to do, and really the only choice. Our first company value is Kindness, and during a time where there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, we wanted to do what we could to help with the HIKI products we had ready to go. Launching during COVID-19 comes with a lot of unknowns, but we share the fundamental belief that the power of empathy has the opportunity to help people feel better, so that’s what we were trying to do.”
The shifting strategy will certainly have positive impacts on the brand in the log run. With products officially slated to launch for sale in July, Hiki has investment in its community (both established and potential) has been reciprocated. “We have been blown away by the amount of positive messages we’re seeing people share on social media,” adds Wengroff. “arfa was born from a fundamental belief in the power of human connection, and that has shined through in more ways than we ever imagined.”
As the most recently-launched brand of the bunch, luxury cannabis beauty Muri Lelu had pushed back its original March launch date (fittingly around 4/20) to June 2020, as a direct response to the growing coronavirus pandemic. As a brand with global sourcing partners, Muri Lelu was privy to the international effects of the virus before it even hit the US — soon thereafter, Muri Lelu’s production facilities began to make hand sanitizer.
“Muri Lelu is based in both Los Angeles and New York, two cities that very quickly found themselves as the epicenters of this devastating pandemic,” says one of the brand’s three co-founders, who goes by the pseudonym Muri Lelu. “We were heartbroken and terrified to see the spread of the virus so rapidly impacting our communities, and couldn’t realistically see ourselves launching our brand until we were confident that, at a minimum, the safety and health of our teams and our partners in New York were protected and prioritized. This extends to our consumer community as well. That said, Muri Lelu is skincare built on ritual. Helping our consumers access daily moments of grounding, inspiration and self-care is a huge part of our mission.”
At first sight, Muri Lelu sets itself apart from what has become expected of other cannabis beauty brands — its sleek packaging and modern, fresh, and floral-infused branding are enough to pique interest before even getting to the products (and ingredients) that are just as impressive. Differentiating itself in the market, the brand integrates cannabis as a whole plant, from the seed up, to its products. “When we were looking at the space, we noticed that a majority of cannabis beauty brands were zero-ed in on CBD, which is just one of the plant’s many potent components,” says Lelu. “Muri Lelu differs in that our sourcing, processing and formulations all prioritize whole flower cannabis, maximizing its powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits.”
The brand also stresses the importance of education and politics into its storytelling, addressing cannabis politics head and dedicating its attention to restorative justice by donating a portion of sales to legal organizations that fight unjust drug conviction and the consequences that follow — issues that disproportionately affect Black and brown communities.
Having been live less than a full month, it's hard to say how the ongoing pandemic will impact the brand’s growth, but the team is prepared to be flexible in how they view success.
“Success is not one-dimensional,” says Lelu. “2020 is shaping up to be a year of dramatic shifts across all aspects of culture and society. We’re all immensely inspired and motivated by the change that’s happening — if we can introduce and open up new pathways for our consumers to care for themselves and others in meaningful ways, we’ll feel like we’ve made an impact.”
Founded with the belief that herbal remedies can and should be used more frequently to provide harmony and balance from environmental and physiological stresses, the new British Columbia-based brand offers a range of adaptogens designed to be easily integrated into your wellness routine — for both mind and body.
“The plan for MORNINGS was to launch at the beginning of March but due to the uncertainty of what was unfolding around the world, we made the decision to hold off on our launch plans until April,” says Bailey Jelinski, MORNINGS founder. “It didn’t feel appropriate to launch given the circumstances, so we took the time to really build our brand voice on the website and social media.”
In doing so successfully, the brand’s social presence peaked interest sooner than expected, allowing the team to reevaluate how MORNINGS, much like other personal-care brands, could find a space in the conversation in a meaningful way. "As we were rolling out our social content, we received a lot of messages from people asking when they could buy the Adaptogenic Drops,” Jelinski says. “As things were changing, we started to notice that people were cultivating their own at-home rituals to cope during isolation. That was when we started to envision MORNINGS as part of their daily routines and made the decision to launch the brand."
The brand’s offerings are currently limited, but they speak to the core of what MORNINGS has set out to do. Currently on offer is organic ashwagandha, a powerful herb known for its restorative and rejuvenating benefits, used to ease the impact of stress and anxiety; organic echinacea, known for its immune-boosting powers; and the brand’s custom Zzz Remedy, an herbal blend infused with valerian, lemon balm, and hops to relieve unrest or nervousness impacting your sleep, as well as to bring calm to relieve nervous tension.
“On Instagram, there’s such a large community of people who are interested in health and wellness, and they’ve been so supportive of MORNINGS by organically posting our products and sharing our message,” adds Jelinski, noting that due to the overwhelming amount of content online right now, the brand has taken a ‘less is more’ approach to posting content. “Social media has allowed us to connect with people from all over the world, specifically with other female entrepreneurs who have provided wonderful advice and connected us to their communities. We’re so happy to be part of the conversation.”
In February 2020, Loops popped onto the market with a line of compostable hydrogel masks for the face, eyes, and lips — and quickly became a favorite amongst influencers and celebrities, including Vanessa Hudgens, Sofia Richie, and more. With its sustainably-conscious packaging, and high quality, clean ingredients, the brand has only picked up momentum in quarantine.
“Fortunately for us, after the initial shock that everyone in the US felt impacted us for a week or ten days, we have seen strong consumer response to our products and the opportunity of #selfcare inherent in the brand’s offering,” a representative from Loops, tells NYLON over email. “While we have had to pivot the messaging of some of our SKUs to adapt to the current environment, we are seeing strong sales through this period in our e-commerce distribution channel.” Prior to the pandemic, the brand was aiming to take up physical retail space come fall, but as reality has set in, delays for placement has become seemingly inevitable.
Thankfully enough, delays haven’t completed impacted inventory, even with their manufacturing based in Korea. “Our opening inventory was planned for 6 months of sales so we are covered there, and luckily for us despite the virus impacting Korea, they have managed to keep the manufacturing industry open and operational,” Loops says. Despite higher costs in air shipping, she says the brand hasn’t seen any direct impact.
The nature of the product has ensured an easier pathway to keeping consumers engaged (and spending) during a tumultuous time, especially on social media.
“We have always had a deliberate strategy around being relevant across social media channels and using it as a major channel of growing brand awareness; it seems to us that with people at home, they are engaging even more than normal, and that continues to help us expand awareness particularly on Instagram which has been the brand’s initial platform focus."
Faace launched after two years of development, aiming to give consumers a new way to shop — and care — for their skin. “We found a white space in how women actually talk about their skin and provided them with a more straightforward way to shop that speaks in the language they are using. We call it ‘skin disrupted by life,’ the brand’s founder Jasmine Wicks-Stephens tells NYLON.
Faace takes a concern-centered approach to its products, with its three initial offerings all targeted to a specific issue and how your skin might be reacting to it, like being on your period, exhaustion and fatigue, and being sweaty post-gym. “Ironically, the time your skin needs the most care, is the life moment when you have the least energy, inclination and motivation to provide it,” says Wicks-Stephens. “We’ve simplified skincare to be used by real people, IRL. When you’re tired, you might say to someone, ‘I’m looking a bit rubbish, I’m tired,’ or if you’re on your period then you might talk about ‘feeling it in your skin.’ If you’ve been running a lot, you might then think, ‘I’ve been working out a lot and my skin has broken out.’”
While coronavirus didn’t impact the Faace’s initial European launch at the end of February 2020, it certainly altered the brand’s trajectory — in ways both serendipitous and non-ideal. The shift in retail opened up new e-commerce opportunities with Wicks-Stephens’s dream shops, and the heightened interest in self-care and at-home routines made significant impacts to early sales.
“Self-care and masking went through the roof, and with ours being a sustainable Zoom friendly option, interest continued to grow and sales kept going up,” says Wicks-Stephens. “It’s hard to say whether or not we would have had more success or not [pre-quarantine] because as it stands, we have been blown away by the launch.”
On the flip side, delays in production and delivery have been inevitable. The brand has experienced difficulty in getting products to retailers on time, and increasingly frustrating obstacles as more and more retailers in countries across the globe are inquiring about Faace’s masks. “This has undoubtedly been the most challenging part of working in a COVID-19 climate,” Wicks-Stephens says. But with that, her and the team have learned to prioritize flexibility and empathy to the social climate — things that have trickled down into every aspect of the business.
“There is nobody doing a [social] content calendar for the month ahead, It’s a more authentic approach than that. We try to stay tuned in, and listen to and speak with our customers on these channels on a day by day basis. Creating our content to be sensitive and relevant to the mood and feeling we’re seeing, and that we are feeling ourselves,” Wicks-Stephens says. “Having confidence to flex between long and short-term strategies to ensure we can be sensitive to consumer behaviors day by day, week by week, and make positive changes in the long term too.”