When Hailey Bieber launched Rhode skincare last June, the release was coupled with YouTube videos detailing each product. Bieber has since fully integrated the skincare line into her content, bringing on other beauty influencers to discuss it and highlighting it in get ready with me videos on her channel.
Bieber’s efforts paid off—Rhode has since become one of the most talked about skincare brands online, and the products often sell out. At The Upfront Summit last week, Bieber joined OBB Media CEO and founder Michael Ratner, who produces her YouTube series “What’s In My Bathroom” and “What’s In My Kitchen,” to discuss how she has merged her content creation with her business endeavors.
“YouTube is a great home because, most importantly, we’re able to reach Hailey’s audience,” Ratner said, adding that they can “cut out the middleman” of a traditional streaming service.
Bieber isn’t alone in utilizing her online platforms to start a beauty company. Kylie Jenner launched Kylie Cosmetics in 2014, and the line consistently receives high social media engagement thanks to intentional influencer marketing. But even influencers without the celebrity status of Jenner and Bieber have become entrepreneurs. Beauty YouTubers like Michelle Phan and NikkieTutorials have turned their expertise into makeup companies, while TikToker Hyram Yarbro did the same with skincare.
So how does the content creator to skincare mogul pipeline work?
Oftentimes, outside companies approach influencers about launching their own brands. Beauty and makeup brand incubator Madeby Collective, for example, was seeking a Gen Z star to be the face of a new line in 2020, and TikTok darling Addison Rae was the obvious choice. After approaching the influencer, they gave her the title of co-founder and Chief Innovation Office before launching Item Beauty later that year.
Bieber is trying to shove Rhode to the front of a field that even she admitted is incredibly crowded. Despite this, Bieber didn’t have a compelling answer when moderator Kobie Fuller asked how Rhode can stand out.
“To me, Rhode is a whole world. It’s a world of me, essentially” Bieber said. “In order for people to understand my vision for the brand, they would have to understand me.”
Bieber has become known for her various “glazed donut” looks, which range from nail designs to her skincare line. Multiple TikTok and YouTube tutorials re-created these looks as the trends swept through online beauty communities. And it doesn’t hurt when the person manufacturing these trends can use these platforms to show exactly how she gets these results—and promote her brand along the way.
Still, closely tying one’s company to one’s public perception is risky. On the extreme end is influencer Jeffree Star, who launched his cosmetics company in 2014 and often used elaborate YouTube videos to promote products. His items sold out quickly. But accusations of racism and sexual assault caused sales to decline. The fallout extended beyond him—beauty company Morphe, which rose to popularity through collaborations with Star, recently closed all of its U.S. locations due to low sales. Dragon Beauty, a company launched by YouTuber Nikita Dragon, was put on hiatus last month following the influencer’s arrest.
To that end, Bieber is currently embroiled in her own internet drama, having lost over one million Instagram followers after seemingly re-igniting her feud with Selena Gomez. Obviously, this is not comparable to the situations with Star and Dragon. But it does point to how even a slight misstep can have ripple effects on an influencer’s business and the fragility of someone’s online reputation.
The panel didn’t touch on this topic, and it’s unclear how the scandal has impacted Rhode’s sales—but the brand has become tangled with it. When Bieber re-posted someone’s Instagram story about Rhode that included a song featuring Gomez, fans noted that she changed the song to the version without Gomez. In turn, Gomez fans are urging people to stop buying Rhode products.
Even without pushback from vitriolic fan communities, influencer-led brands have struggled in recent months. In January, Sephora stopped carrying both Rae and Yarbro’s products after sales slowed down. Now, experts are wondering if this is the beginning of the end for influencer-backed brands. Some have managed to produce products that can stand on their own—ironically, Gomez’s makeup line Rare Beauty has become the gold standard in this area. But Bieber’s philosophy of creating “aesthetically pleasing products that work” isn’t all that different from her competitors.Still, it’s unlikely that influencer-led brands will die out considering 92% of Gen Z adults make their purchasing decisions based on influencer recommendations. But influencers are finding that getting people to spend money is a more difficult task than getting them to watch a video. And when influencer-entrepreneurs like Bieber are unable to quickly articulate what makes their brands stand out, it’s understandable why viewers aren’t buying what they’re selling.
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