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Glossier: Beauty Startup That Sparked a Paradigm Shift


The cosmetic industry is experiencing a makeover with an e-commerce-centric philosophy. Digitally native companies are slowly replacing the beauty counter and sales representatives. Brands are harnessing the potential of social media to create online communities that foster customer trust through peer-to-peer connections.

Glossier is one of the trendsetting brands that ignited a revolution in 2014. It leveraged content and community to deliver an enhanced shopping experience. From its modest initial offer of four products, the beauty company has evolved into an international brand with 5 million global customers. They sell makeup, skincare, and fragrance products in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden.

Two in five millennials and Gen-Z women in the U.S. are familiar with or use Glossier products. Not surprisingly, the company gets valued at $1.8 billion. And it all started as a passion project for Emily Weiss, the founder of Glossier, a brand influencing a new way of creative expression.

The Blog that Gave Birth to a Brand

In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, Cinderella stories are no longer fairy tales but real-life examples of young women building empires from scratch. Blogging was a hobby for Emily Weiss, and she would share beauty tips in the morning before clocking into her day job as a fashion assistant at Vogue.

Fashion has played a role in Emily’s life from a young age. As a teen, she interned at Ralph Lauren. Weiss learned the trade at Teen Vogue during her studies at New York University.

She also had a brief modeling career, lasting two summers, and even gave acting a try, with an appearance on the TV show The Hills.

Following graduation in 2007, Emily returned to work for fashion magazines. She showcased her talent first at W magazine as a fashion assistant before moving to Vogue as a styling assistant.

The work experience in the fashion industry enabled Emily to get an insider's perspective, observing the scene from the first-line trenches. It also boosted her credibility among readers that fatefully followed her posts on the blog website Into the Gloss, which she launched in 2010.

The emerging reputation of a fashion guru stemmed from Emilie’s revelation that there is a disconnect between cosmetic companies and their clients. Weiss believed that women no longer wanted to bow down to the authority of beauty companies and do as dictated. Instead, they preferred to create their style by finding inspiration from their peers.

Weiss’s content appealed to an entire generation of young women. This became obvious in 2014 when the In the Gloss website registered 1.5 million active followers over several social media platforms.

Emily did not ignore her devoted readers and focused on analyzing their likes and dislikes, creating a reference base for the affinities of the new wave of customers. Confident as ever, in 2014, the then 29-year-old fashion influencer decided to become an entrepreneur.

Validation of a Unique Vision

Although In the Gloss started as a hobby blog, it quickly generated a steady revenue stream through ad sales. This motivated the young influencer to quit her day job and capitalize on the blog by expanding the brand’s reach.

In 2014, Weiss founded Glossier Inc. after she managed to raise $2 million in seed funding. Investors were not discouraged by the initial limited offer of only four products, including a lip balm, cleanser, misting spray, and priming moisturizer.

Providing only a selected line of products is the core philosophy of Weiss. The narrow product range aims to celebrate natural beauty, not create artificial looks.

This concept is still in practice, and seven years after the company’s founding, only 40 different products are available on the website. Wess has taken the minimalistic approach, and creating top-of-the-line products remains her driving principle.

Additionally, Glossier works hard on reinventing the idea that price always reflects the quality. Although Glossier cosmetic products tend to be pricey, they are not at the level of premium brands, making them accessible to a diverse panel of customers.

The direct-to-consumer beauty company was consistently moving in the right direction. At the end of 2014, a Series A funding brought in $8.4 million of capital. The funds helped shore up the company’s headquarters in New York, improving the online infrastructure and increasing the workforce. At the same time, Emily’s work got validated by Forbes after her inclusion in the 30 Under 30 List for 2014.

Glossier Inc.’s Rise to Unicorn Status

As one of the first makeup brands to emerge from the social media scene, the rise of Glossier at times seemed unstoppable. Between 2015 and 2016, the company grew by 600%, and investors took notice of the new player in a global industry worth $500 billion.

The Series B funding round in 2016 attracted $26 million, predominantly from venture investors with social media experience. Glossier continued to stick to the e-commerce format, but the surging demand for its products increased its payroll to 200 employees.

Engaging marketing content and prioritizing consumers' needs were the main drivers for growth, making a convincing argument for an infusion of $52 million during the third round of funding in 2018.

This was the year Glossier claimed to have sold one Boy Brow every half minute, inspiring investors in 2019 to pour more cash into the growing digital-first beauty company. Emily and her team got $100 million in Series D funding to expand the platform.

Glossier started sprouting roots through brick-and-mortar stores, positioning itself in New York, LA, Miami, London, and Seattle. The year ended with a valuation of $1.2 billion and an official validation of the unicorn status, signaling the sky's the limit.

A Turbulent Phase for Glossier Inc.

The darling of the beauty industry experienced its first crisis in 2020. At that time, rumors of a toxic work environment and allegations of racism started circulating on social media by anonymous former employers.

These posts garnered media attention, prompting Weiss to issue a public apology. The crisis deepened with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the company had to close a few stores and lay off some employees.

However, the bad press did not prevent the Series E funding from going as planned. In July 2021, Glossier received $80 million to continue nurturing the original vision.

Unfortunately, Weiss will no longer occupy the helm of Glossier. The founder relinquished her CEO position in May 2022 and passed the baton to Kyle Leahy, a former executive at Nike, and Cole Haan.

Following the change in management, Emily announced that the company was distracted by other strategic projects and lost its primary focus. According to Weiss, Leahy is the right person to lead the brand in a new direction, while she will stay engaged in the company's development as the board's executive chairwoman.

The Future's Still Bright for Glossier

Although the company's trajectory was cut short in the past two years, the foundations built by Weiss are still strong. After five rounds of funding and $266 million in total accumulated, many market experts believe Glossier is ripe for an IPO in the coming years. It is still one of the most recognizable beauty brands, with a significant online presence and an ever-increasing inventory of physical stores.

The brand garnered attention with a philosophy of allowing customers to explore the freedom of being themselves in an age where it's almost a crime to do so. Glossier is a revolutionary beauty brand, and seven years after its lauded launch, its power is undeniable.