Hailey Bieber Is Building a Beauty Brand That’s Meant to Last

Hailey Bieber has arrived.

Literally, to the Beauty Inc awards ceremony last Wednesday in New York and, figuratively, to the beauty industry.

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The Gen Z style icon has translated her beauty prowess into a successful line of products — a rare feat in the crowded world of celebrity beauty brands.

Bieber is buzzy, and so is her beauty brand, Rhode.

In a sea of celebrity beauty launches — from Ashley Benson and Ashley Tisdale to Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt — Rhode stands out. The brand has a definitive point of view, launching with a curated assortment of vegan, cruelty-free essentials, and finding financial success. That’s not always the case when it comes to the beauty lines of the famous, which are sometimes stock formulations in chic packaging, and often criticized online as money grabs.

But Bieber’s Rhode has a veteran beauty team behind it and major growth plans ahead.

Rhode debuted in June with a serum, a moisturizer and a lip balm in three flavors on Rhodeskin.com with prices ranging from $16 to $29. Bieber’s intention was to start small, and the groundwork for long-term, sustained growth.

But the market had other plans. Bieber’s pared-back routine resonated with her following, which is just shy of 50 million on Instagram alone, and sold out nearly instantly. Rhode’s Instagram and TikTok accounts boast 645,000 and 139,000 followers, respectively.

Denizens of the online world obsess over Bieber’s every beauty move. TikToks show teens in bathrooms mimicking Bieber’s minimal concealer routine, and manicure tutorials showing her glazed donut nails took over the internet this summer.

“I am blown away by the response,” Bieber said of Rhode. “It so far exceeded what I could have hoped for. My whole idea with this brand, going into it, was to be a slow grow: lay the foundations and build it slowly and not be in a rush to expand.”

Bieber said across products, the brand’s waiting lists have topped 800,000. With products priced at a minimum of $16, that group could generate nearly $13 million in sales alone.

Melanie Bender
Melanie Bender

“Having seen the response, there’s a part of me that’s like, ‘I wish we could do more, faster and sooner for everybody,’” Bieber said. “But we are a brand that’s focused on the long game. It’s the reason we haven’t launched into other territories yet, we’re really focused on getting grounded.”

The model-turned-entrepreneur does have her mandates cut out for her, especially when factoring in a complex supply chain and figuring out when and how to expand her offering. “We’re really still learning. We’re a first-time brand; I’m a first-time founder. We’re up against restocks and supply chain issues and it’s been such a learning season for me,” she said.

Her strategy thus far has been to tap leading industry experts to help her develop the brand. Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder and chief executive officer of skin care brand BeautyStat, is Rhode’s chemist-in-residence; Dr. Dhaval Banusali is Rhode’s dermatologist-in-residence.

Rhode has reached a head count of 10 employees, including the latest hire: industry veteran Melanie Bender, who worked as president of mass skin care brand Versed for years, is now Rhode’s chief executive officer.

“I am the one who’s involved in the interviewing process and the vetting process. I felt like I hadn’t found that person that really understood me and understood my vision of the brand,” Bieber said. “It took a long time to find [Bender], but I’m so glad I didn’t rush to find that role in the company. She is like the magic fairy dust that we needed on top of our team.”

Bieber is the brand’s majority owner, chairwoman, founder and creative director. Her goal for Bender is for her to build out the brand’s operations while staying true to Rhode’s philosophy of uncomplicated essentials. It’s a departure from the go-to market strategies of some of Bieber’s celebrity-beauty-entrepreneur peers: Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs and even Kim Kardashian’s Skkn by Kim launched with more products that have more elaborate beauty-routine potential.

But Bieber said simplicity is one of her keys to success.

“What I hope is speaking to people is the edited, curated essentials — my approach of less-is-more when it comes to my beauty routines, my hair, my makeup and my skin care,” she said.

A recent TikTok showing her pre-makeup routine including an unspecified Rhode sample, the brand’s Peptide Glazing Fluid, Barrier Restore Cream and Weleda’s Skin Food, nabbed just shy of 700,000 likes on the platform.

“I’m hoping that what is resonating with people is that when they get their hands on the product, they understand that you can get a really effective, great formula product for a really affordable price. It can be a great staple in your routine and something that you want to have in your bag all the time, that you want to travel with — that is doing what it says it’s going to do,” she continued.

Reactions to the brand have been “overwhelmingly positive,” Bieber said.

“We’re a brand that is going to thrive off of feedback. I want feedback, I want to know what’s working and what’s not working with the brand, because I want to be able to take that feedback, feed it into the brand and improve it. However I can continue to improve this brand, I’m going to, forever. That’s the standard for me.”

She acknowledged that given her limited assortment, not every product has worked for every shopper.

“There has been a couple parts of feedback that maybe a certain product didn’t work for a certain person or their skin type. For me, I take it like a dagger to the heart, because I want every single person on the planet to love it. But the reality is, when you have a brand, not everything is going to work well for everybody,” she said.

Bieber added, “We can just hope that in the future, that with more products that we put out, that they can find something else that works for them. Everybody’s skin is so different, people are sensitive to different things, and other people have allergies that you have to consider.”

The brand’s assortment is vegan, cruelty-free and gluten-free.

“Right now, we’re in the process of sampling new stuff and trying to figure out what is going to be the next launch. We are focused on eventually giving people a great cleanser and more great products for the skin without doing the most and giving people too many things to choose from,” she said. “At a certain point, I think it reaches a level of being unnecessary.”

That’s where Bieber’s own experience as a beauty consumer has played into her vision.

“I’m really not interested in overwhelming my consumer and my audience at all. As a person who has always really loved and enjoyed consuming beauty products, I get very overwhelmed, to this day,” she said.

Bieber confirmed that the brand’s next category — makeup — would still be simple and skin-first. “I’ve always loved a really edited selection of clothes as well. I want to make the experience very user-friendly, very curated, very edited, very straight-to-the-point. That is what our launch cadence is going to follow.”

Simultaneously, the ambition is to make Rhode products available more consistently, with fewer sellouts.

“We’re starting to level out in terms of our restock plan, we never could have planned for such an unbelievably positive response before it was even launched,” Bieber said. “Personally, one of the challenges is that there’s so much demand for it in other territories, and we really want to get it to everybody, it just takes planning.”

That’s where Bender comes in.

“Rhode launched with only three products. As a whole, there’s such intensity around newness and [creating] more in beauty,” Bender said. “In reality, we all recognize that the world doesn’t need more products, it needs products that work better for it. Taking that mentality forward means continuing to push meaningful innovation, but never to launch new units for newness’ sake.”

Bender said the learnings from building Versed, a pioneer of “clean” beauty in the mass channel, do apply, but acknowledged that the growth strategy — Versed entered 1,400 Target doors in 2019 — wouldn’t align with Rhode’s brand ethos.

“This is a brand that you basically have to throw away every preconceived notion out there. That’s huge, because we don’t need to follow the playbook that other brands often feel forced into,” she said. “We control a lot of our own news cycle, and we control all of our own demand.”

Finding stability in a new paradigm of brand-building, though, has had a learning curve. “We’ve already crossed the eight-figure sales mark in just 11 days of selling, so the demand has just blown out of the water what was forecasted based on other businesses,” Bender said. “Our replenishment lead time started at about six months. If you do the math, we launched in June, you place an order in June, you’re getting that in December.”

“We have been sorely out of stock,” Bender said. “That’s in part because we didn’t want to overcommit to inventory and then have excess we’d need to move through in other ways.”

And while inflation and a looming recession have impacted consumer spending broadly, people are still willing to shell out for beauty. According to holiday data from the NPD Group, beauty was the only category that posted sales and unit gains during Black Friday week.

Accessibility is top-of-mind for both Bieber and Bender, and it’s also informing the evolution of Rhode’s distribution strategy. “My goal for the brand was always that the first year would be d-to-c because I wanted to see how it was going to do,” Bieber said, counting data and sales insights from the site as important assets to the brand’s development.

Eventually Rhode will go into brick-and-mortar stores. Whether via a wholesale partnership or the brand’s own doors, though, remains to be decided. “I don’t know 100 percent when that’s going to be, but it will be a group decision,” Bieber said. “I would like it to be accessible in stores. Whether that means we stay d-to-c until we can do our own brick-and-mortar pop-ups, or whatever it is, or if we go into an already established retailer. Maybe, eventually, it’s both. But I want it to be at a point where you can walk in somewhere and be able to purchase Rhode.”

Rhode products.
Rhode products.

From the operational standpoint, Bender is equally bullish. “The community appetite is there, and we absolutely will be an omnichannel brand, in terms of being at the right points of distribution,” she said. “I also really believe that we will have our own points in the future, including real-world opportunities to see and feel the product, that we curate and build.”

Despite myriad celebrity entrants into beauty in recent years, ranging from Ariana Grande to Travis Barker, Bender sees Bieber’s star power as the secret sauce.

“She is part beauty influencer, part product enthusiast, part entrepreneur. She is the de facto beauty whisperer of this generation of women,” she said.

A recent analysis from SpaSeekers named Bieber 2022’s leading celebrity beauty icon, citing a 421 percent increase in searches for her makeup looks on Google and more than 167 million views on TikTok.

“[The landscape] is wildly crowded and what that means is as brand leaders, we have to look for unfair advantages. We have to look for the reasons that when everyone else fails, we will succeed, we will be at the top of not just a list of 10 brands or 100 brands, but of 1,000 brands,” Bender said.

“[Hailey] is really intimately involved in our product development and our creative, those are huge advantages that she brings our company because of how well she understands where our consumer and culture is headed. Of course, she also plays a role in shaping that,” Bender added.

Bieber has also created a litmus test for discerning when a product is ready to launch. “The biggest telltale sign for me is if I run out of a sample, and my skin is missing it and craving it. That was how we go to the Peptide Glazing Fluid.”

That product sold 36 units a second during the most recent restocks, according to the brand.

Bieber’s influence is able to drive Rhode’s share of wallet without traditional growth methods, like launching superfluous products, Bender said. “She has such access to the best experts in the world, access to all the most incredible brands,” she said. “There are so many ways to bring excitement and bring that novelty back to the conversation that don’t necessitate new product.”

The goal isn’t just to wield influence to drive sales. Bender cited values — both Bieber’s and Rhode’s — as a core reason she decided to join the company.

“June 24 was a really key date in my decision process. It’s when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and it would have been Rhode’s ninth day in business,” she said. “The first brand I saw make any public statement was Rhode. Any brand leader who goes through these times knows there is no playbook, and they were not just ready to speak, they were ready to speak before everyone else.”

In a similar vein, the brand also has the Rhode Futures Foundation, which, as of the brand’s June launch, pledged to support 1,000 women and their families by 2023, according to its website, via partnerships with the Accion Opportunity Fund, Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the LIFT Family Goal Fund.

“We have already met that goal before the end of the year,” Bieber said.

The opportunities ahead are myriad, and Bieber continues to promote products from other beauty brands across channels.

“The space of beauty is so large and vast, it’s big enough for everybody. I don’t feel that there’s any sense of competition if I share somebody else’s product,” she said. “I can’t expect that other people are going to embrace me if I don’t embrace them as well. The beauty community is so special and beautiful and different, and my hope is to be supported by other individuals, and therefore I want to be able to support them, too.

“I have had an amazing time lending my face and my name to other brands, and that has only facilitated me being to this point in my life and my career, and I feel very, very thankful for that. But I did reach a point where I was like, ‘I’m going to put all in to my own project.’”

Her sense of ownership — financially and creatively — is what drives her. As she told WWD prelaunch in May, “I’m the majority owner of this brand, I put the most money into this brand myself. There is no reason for me to cut corners and bulls–t with this brand. I will not, and I did not with these products.”

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