Beauty retailer Sephora has pulled the plug on Item Beauty and Selfless by Hyram, two brands founded by TikTok stars Addison Rae and Hyram Yarbro, last week.
While on the surface, it might sound like a crazy idea to pull brands founded and promoted by two influencers who have a combined following of nearly 10 million users, Sephora made a wise decision — one that other brands and retailers can learn from.
The launch of Item Beauty and Selfless
When Addison launched Item Beauty back in 2020, she marketed it as a “clean, science-backed” direct-to-consumer (DTC) label, free of the chemicals that are typically found in traditional cosmetics lines. Addison was very opportunistic with this launch, as she chose to make her entrepreneurial debut right when she shot to fame, thanks to her TikTok videos. Fast forward to August 2021, Addison signed an exclusive partnership to sell Item Beauty products at Sephora.
Right around the same time, in June 2021, beauty vlogger Hyram Yarbro launched his own line, Selfless, directly with Sephora. Yarbro marketed his collection as gentler than other skincare lines, as the brand’s formulation relied on lower concentrations of chemicals like retinol and salicylic acid.
Why Sephora pulled both labels
It should perhaps come as no surprise that Addison’s lack of effort to promote her own product line resulted in a lack of consumer interest and a drop in the brand’s social media following.
On the other hand, Selfless was accused of diminishing black voices in the beauty space in September 2020. As a result, the skincare brand went inactive on Twitter.
But that’s not necessarily why both labels got pulled.
According to Business Insider, Sephora observed mixed results over the years as its customers struggled to connect with either of the brands.
In fact, since November 2021, Sephora has seen both of these brands decline in following. For one, Item Beauty saw its number of followers decline from 355k Instagram followers to 333k, while Selfless saw its following go from 196k Instagram followers during the same time down to 169k.
The mistake they made
A common mistake many of the Sephora-partnering brands, many of whom are owned and operated by influencers, tend to make is that they overestimate the power of securing shelf space and get loose-goosey with their brand-building efforts.
“Sephora is a retailer, not a manufacturer,” says Jeffrey Ten, president of Global Indie Brand Development. “They sell you space. They don’t build your brand. You are in charge of building your brand.”
That said, brands should thus think about Sephora as a growth channel. Just because they have secured a partnership with the retailer, it doesn’t mean they will sell products and turn a profit. They need to know how to use that channel to their advantage. So, how should they go about doing that? Storytelling.
Notes to take from successful celebrity brands
More often than not, celebrities and influencers think they can slap their name on anything and it will be a guaranteed sale. That may have been the case before, but not anymore.
Today, consumers want to feel a connection to celebrities/influencers and their brands on some level for the label to stick. This requires celebrities to come across as more authentic and build some level of synergy with their audience.
Take influencer Negin Mirsalehi and her honey-infused haircare line, Gisou, for example.
Mirsalehi’s family has been in the beekeeping business for six generations and the influencer herself is an active beekeeper.
Years before the launch of Gisou, Mirsalehi would often talk about the use and benefits of honey, so when she finally launched her honey-infused product line, fans were enamored by it, leading to a massive product expansion.
Today, Mirsalehi runs her entire business and promotes her products religiously. And her passion for Gisou clearly comes through.
Another celebrity is Shay Mitchell and her travel brand Beis.
“After countless trips and #Shaycations, I realized that I wanted to create amazing, affordable pieces for travelers like myself and—in turn—everyone inspired to seek new places, meet new people and share the world,” says Mitchell on her company site.
While luggage making may not have been a generational family business, her ability to weave the Beis narrative into her life so authentically and frequently makes the travel brand more appealing to the brand’s followers. Take TikTok star Alix Earle for example. Earle loved her Beis bag so much that she created a TikTok about her lost bag in hopes she would find it.
Slapping a well-known name on top of a product does not yield high sales volume at Sephora or any other major retailer. What matters is a celebrity or influencer’s ability to authentically share their experiences and tell their product’s brand story.
Feature photo credit: Item Beauty