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Why Merch Madness Is Taking Over Beauty

In September 2014, a half-face Instagram selfie by Karlie Kloss stood tall amongst a sea of others flooding the internet at the time.

In part, sure, because it was Kloss — the model-entrepreneur’s rise through the ranks of fashion and soon enough, tech, was well underway — but also for the gray crewneck the photo namely served to showcase, embossed “Glossier” across the front in bold, black type.

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“We had made the sweatshirt for internal [use] and friends of the brand, but when people like Karlie began taking selfies with it, the demand came rolling in,” said Glossier chief creative officer Marie Suter.

Having debuted just a few months prior to the posting of said selfie, Glossier was already showing early promise of the phenomenon it would eventually become. In 2019, the brand unveiled its “GlossiWear” collection, home to permanent offerings such as the signature pink Glossier hoodie and beauty bag, as well as a steady cadence of limited-edition socks, tote bags, key chains, a recent pepper grinder (because You Eau de Parfum contains peppercorn notes — obviously) and other brand-building launches.

“Merch isn’t this cherry-on-top marketing tool for us anymore; it has become an important part of our business. People expect it from us,” said Suter, adding that a fledgling arm of the brand’s design team is solely dedicated to ideating new ideas within the category.

With Glossier now sporadically reopening its merch archives for public access — which it most recently did last week — even previous, limited launches like the G Cookie Cutter and GPal hair scarf are still serving as effective hype-builders years after their initial debut. “It’s not just about putting a logo on something anymore for us — that’s the old way of thinking about merch,” Suter said.

Indeed, merch is gaining new significance for brands looking to bridge the gap between beauty and lifestyle. Just last month, Hailey Bieber’s Rhode became the latest to dabble in the space, releasing its lip treatment-holding phone case for $35 on Feb. 27, which reportedly sold out in 25 minutes.

Data from Trendalytics indicates that during the week Rhode first teased the phone case, engagement across the brand’s owned and operated social media channels grew 1,068 percent from the brand’s six-month average, also well outpacing the average 150 percent to 250 percent engagement increases driven by Rhode’s other launch campaigns. Spate data, too, shows the brand’s TikTok views grew 112.2 percent month-over-month, thanks namely to the rollout.

“There’s a utility to the case, there’s a unique design; it allows you to show off product — which, Rhode makes beautiful products — and it also fits in perfectly with selfie culture as a whole,” said Lauren Bitar, chief innovation and strategy officer at Trendalytics.

Latter case in point: the first thing beauty creator Kensington Tillo did upon receiving the case was film a “Get Ready With Me” for “literally no other reason than…I want to take a mirror selfie,” she half-joked to her 1.6 million followers in a TikTok video.

The lip case was designed by Sam Sonntag, formerly Glossier’s senior design lead and also the creative force behind a number of recent beauty and personal care creative efforts, including Tower 28’s latest LipSoftie Balm campaign.

“It’s literally a billboard for the lip treatment that everyone carries in their hand,” said Michael Appler, chief operating officer and creative director at Cancel Communications, the firm which represents Trendalytics.

Because beauty is such a saturated space, Bitar added, merch can serve as a way for brands to “expand their piece of the pie and reach an entirely different set of consumers.”

In the case of Merit Beauty, which offers its Signature Bag for free with any first purchase, merch has been a key differentiator since Day One.

“The [Signature Bag] was about creating something you could use for makeup products, yes, but also it’s a clutch — something that extended the brand from beauty into fashion, and was designed through that lens of long-term wearability,” said Aila Morin, chief marketing officer at Merit, adding that more than 500,000 of the bags have been distributed since the brand launched in 2021.

Merit has since rolled out several limited-edition merch items including a gold mirror compact; a lighter case celebrating the brand’s third anniversary, and a Merit x Proenza Schouler iteration of the Signature Bag last fall, which has hit resell platforms like Poshmark and is selling for upward of $175 in some cases — rarified air for a free gift with purchase.

“They drive an incredible level of sales volume,” said Morin of the gifts. Though the brand had planned for about two months of inventory for the Proenza collaboration, the bag ended up selling out within weeks; ditto January’s lighter case.

Contrary to the ever-prevalent chase for “cult-product” status in beauty, Morin reports that no product within Merit’s assortment accounts for more than 20 percent of its total sales — and that’s how the brand likes it.

“We never created a brand that was about heroes, we created a brand that is about lifestyle and I think that’s why merch feels so natural for us; it’s not an add-on, it’s been the plan since the beginning,” she said.

Similarly, a pre-established brand “vibe” set the tone for Ami Colé’s recent first merch foray, a chestnut-brown leather bucket hat which reads “melanin-rich.”

“In Harlem during the ’90s, the bucket hat was a true cool-girl staple,” said founder and chief executive officer Diarrha N’Diaye-Mbaye, pointing to Missy Elliot’s iconic fuzzy Kangol and Aaliyah’s signature look.

N’Diaye-Mbaye bills the hat as “merch for people who hate merch,” saying the goal was to create an offering that “stands on its own” and also has function, thanks to a satin-lined interior meant to preserve one’s hairstyle and prevent breakage.

Meanwhile, Milk Makeup recently launched its second limited-edition sneaker and apparel collaboration with Reebok, a company with whom Milk in fact has history.

“We’ve been working with Reebok in shooting campaigns and being part of the creative process for years through Milk Studios,” said Milk cofounder Mazdack Rassi, who first introduced Milk Studios in 1996, and has since grown its ecosystem to include seven divisions, adding Milk Makeup in 2016.

“I think of Milk as sort of a creative watering hole,” said Rassi, for whom the through line uniting Milk Makeup’s Reebok partnerships, its Awake NY body care collection and its Wu Tang Clan lip color collaboration is not necessarily product itself, but rather a collaborative spirit “that keeps you relevant; it keeps you part of culture.”

The positive reception to Milk’s first Reebok collaboration last year inspired the brands to go bigger this time around, offering up a bomber jacket, a crop top and sneakers in four of Reebok’s classic styles. Importantly, though — the branding is in the details, not necessarily overt logos.

“When we were creating the shoes, I was adamant with the design teams — both on our side and on Reebok’s side — that no one was allowed to put any logos on the shoe until the very end,” said Rassi, adding that the approach helped prop up the collection’s utilitarian, versatile feel as a calling card, rather than either of the brands’ logos filling that role.

Guided by a similar ethos, Merit’s Signature Bag forgoes any external branding. Ami Colé’s bucket hat reads “melanin-rich” versus the brand’s own name because the Black and brown communities are those that N’Diaye-Mbaye has made it her mission to meet the needs of where other makeup brands have fallen short — and while the Rhode lip case indeed says Rhode, its color and structural design arguably give away the brand before the logo does.

Simply put — the next generation of beauty merch has arrived, and it is widening long-held parameters defining what merch is and can be. As Suter put it, “It’s not just the Glossier superfans who are buying our merch — its expanded past that, which is what makes it so exciting.”

Added N’Diaye-Mbaye: “It’s less about the product, and more about the person wearing it.”

Here, the latest in beauty merch.

Ami Colé The Bucket Hat

$40 at amicole.com

Ami Colé The Bucket Hat
Ami Colé The Bucket Hat

Merit limited-edition Lighter Case

Free with every $75 order for a limited time

Merit Lighter Case
Merit Lighter Case

Milk Makeup x Reebok Milk Club C 85 Vegan Shoes

$110 at reebok.com

Milk Makeup x Reebok Milk Club C 85 Vegan Shoes
Milk Makeup x Reebok Milk Club C 85 Vegan Shoes

Rhode Lip Case

$35 at rhodeskin.com

Rhode Lip Case
Rhode Lip Case

Glossier G Cookie Cutter

$48 at glossier.com

Glossier G Cookie Cutter
Glossier G Cookie Cutter

Launch Gallery: Every Beauty Merch Launch From Glossier's Phone Keychain to Rhode's Phone Case

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