Woman Made: Emily Weiss
The Glossier founder & CEO is on a mission to democratize beauty.
In a new series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to the brilliant founder of Glossier and Into The Gloss, who so successfully harnessed young women’s desire for a new type of beauty.
“It was all designed to democratize beauty,” explains Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of Glossier, while discussing her grand mission to deliver beauty to young women. For the legions of women who can’t (or don’t want to) spend $100 on skin cream or who aren’t impressed by mass offerings or who feel that the beauty industry doesn’t speak to them, Glossier, the affordable skincare and makeup brand — that’s actually, you know, cool — has rocked their world. The (coveted) line, with its simple but chic logo — an ornate black G set against a pale pink backdrop — is not only emerging as a millennial favorite, but also impacting the industry’s landscape.
Glossier is the child of Into The Gloss, the website Weiss started in 2010 to chronicle what women had in their beauty cabinets. It may sound simple, but there was a time when nobody curated their collections. For most, a bunch of (mostly expired) products took up all the shelf space. But Weiss changed all this, inviting the world into women’s bathrooms to have a look around. As an intern at Teen Vogue, she was obsessed with all types of women and girls, not just the ones who use $80 cream. Into The Gloss was the natural evolution of this, with French beauty enthusiasts given the same treatment as Grace Coddington; Danish hairstylists alongside Downtown It girls. Essentially, it was heaven.
The obvious next step was to launch a quasi-unobtainable cream with a vaguely French-sounding name. “People said, ‘If you started Into The Gloss, why wouldn’t you want to create a true luxury brand?’” But even though most of the products touted on Into The Gloss are super high-end, Weiss wasn’t interested in that part of the market. She had something else in mind.
“Here I was, learning about beauty, and observing the way women were shopping for it,” she says of the formative years of running the website. “What brands meet their needs, what products meet their needs.” What made Into The Gloss remarkable, and still does, is its community: the thousands of women and girls who took the time to comment, compare products, and share tips with each other. “Basically, years of market research,” as Weiss now sees it. “And I ended up seeing this huge opportunity, like why hasn’t there been a more modern brand? Period. Why don’t we just start from scratch? If there hadn’t ever been a beauty brand, and you were just starting one in 2017, what would it look like?”
What it looks like today is 424,000 Instagram followers, an $18 milky jelly cleanser, and 17 different products. Oh, and a legion of young women (and some men) who want the Glossier lifestyle. “Everyone can be their own expert, their own curator,” says Weiss. “Through Glossier, we’re encouraging everyone to build their own top shelf, making active a whole range of women who were otherwise passive beauty consumers.” This is what gets in the way of young women engaging with beauty brands — skewed perceptions that everyone needs a full coverage foundation. That you need a signature fragrance. That you shouldn’t wear an eye and a lip. The Glossier lifestyle is for the women who, according to Weiss, “Grew up hearing that they needed to go to a counter and have a stranger tell them about their own face. That’s no longer the case for anyone. Not just Glossier customers, but anyone. If you want to learn how to do a cat eye, you’re going to go on YouTube and find 50,000 tutorials.”
In addition to Weiss, the Glossier staff of 70 run the organization, which is headquartered on Lafayette and Canal Streets in New York City. As their customers have grown, so has Weiss’ reach. She’s gone from running a small website to launching a brand and defining a new genre. “I think one of the things that has constantly amazed me as I’ve gone through life, and I build this business, is just how human everything ultimately is,” she remarks on the process of building a team. “I think probably the greatest joy that I’ve had from the past couple of years at Glossier has been relinquishing control and really becoming a team player. I thought I would hate it, but nothing makes me happier.”
As one might imagine, her staff leans toward the millennial age bracket, and Weiss nurtures a company culture where employees are encouraged to punch above their weight. “At Glossier, we’ve created a culture I’m really proud of. We take really big bets on people who haven’t yet proven that they can do certain things, and we say, ‘You can do it.’” A prime example is Weiss’ former assistant, who introduced herself on the subway as a fan of the brand. Weiss promptly hired her, and after a year-and-a-half, “We put her in product development, and she ended up developing three or four of our top-selling products. Some people would say you should have someone with fifteen years of lab experience in that position; we say, I’m sure you can figure it out.”
It sounds like Weiss has Glossier pretty figured out, both in terms of upcoming product and what her company could eventually be. “Coming up, we have a full deck of products expanding into two new categories. I really see Glossier as the first beauty lifestyle brand.” What a beauty lifestyle brand actually is, she doesn’t say, but it does mean a new product every two to three months. “We’re also building a ton of digital tools to facilitate friend-to-friend recommendations. Essentially, ways to reward our customers for, you know, evangelizing our brand.” Not that they need much help — the majority of Glossier’s growth last year came from peer-to-peer recommendation. Glossier has also opened its first showroom, atop the lower Manhattan offices, which has the same fervor as a sample sale once might have sparked. “It’s a community — a gathering space to touch and feel brands. We’re all so used to staring at our phones all day, and it’s so nice to go into a multisensory environment and see things like a really large photograph,” she says, laughing. “When I go to art shows and I see a four-foot-by-six-foot piece hanging on the wall, I’m like omg I can’t believe these things still get made. We’re so used to seeing little square pictures on our phones.”
Thus speaks the woman who birthed millennial makeup. Weiss won’t be satisfied until she dominates both the physical and the digital realms. Wherever she goes, her legion of Glossier devotees are sure to go with her. “To me, it’s fluid, we’re adaptive. We launched on Instagram before the brand even went up — that was part of the strategy. We just debuted everything on Instagram, built everything in real time, and then by the time we launched we had about 15,000 followers. And they were excited to purchase.” She makes it all seem so easy, and more than that, honest — the most important thing now for consumers of all ages. “The need for brands as bearers of truth, as arbiters of taste, is kind of a thing of the past,” she says. “I think beauty has become liberated, democratized, and Glossier is just a brand built on those principles.” A beauty manifesto we can all get behind.
Written By JACK SUNNUCKS
Photography By NAJ JAMAÏ
Makeup By TAMAH KRINSKY
Hair By JUSTINE MARJAN
Styled By JAMIE MIZRAHI