This week, I take a look at the latest Sephora Accelerate cohort, which comprises seven BIPOC-owned brands. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
If Sephora’s latest accelerator is any indication of where the retailer suspects the beauty industry is headed, then we can expect future brands to tell unique and creative stories that bring together the idea of soulful nourishment and product functionality.
Sephora’s 2023 cohort will include seven brands: fragrance brand Moodeaux, CBD beauty brand Brown Girl Jane, makeup brand Range Beauty, lip-care brand Glosshood, skin-care brand Seaspire, body-care brand Oui the People and “cleanical” brand Of Other Worlds. The 6-month program features weekly virtual content and a curriculum dedicated to elevating the brands and positioning them for long-term success. Curriculum highlights include financial readiness, led by Briogeo founder and CEO Nancy Twine; brand and assortment strategies, led by Tatcha founder Vicky Tsai; marketing strategies, led by Tower 28 founder Amy Liu and Glow Recipe co-founders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee. Participating founders will also have access to investors and other brand founders in an advisory capacity.
A common throughline of the cohort is a holistic approach to beauty that combines emotional wellbeing and beauty. For instance, Moodeaux is designed around the connection between scent, memory and emotion. It focuses on clean fragrances and bills itself as an accessory for the mood that generates mindful self-care and elevates luxury into a lifestyle. For their part, Brown Girl Jane products are said to boost mood and reduce the appearance and feeling of stress. Meanwhile, Glosshood describes itself as a beauty brand with a “specialty in providing niche goods that honor your inner child,” according to its website.
“These [cohort] brands are very emotionally driven. There’s a real connection and a real individuality in who they are as founders, but also how their brand comes to life,” Kristin Odegaard, senior director of merchandising business development at Sephora.
Oui the People is another of these brands. It first launched in late 2017 under the name Oui Shave as a shaving brand focused on connecting the dots between shaving and body care.
“[We also] wanted to push back on the cultural narrative,” said Karen Young, founder of Oui the People. “A lot of brands in the shaving category at that time were only talking about hair removal. We found an opportunity to discuss bodily autonomy and cultural perspectives.”
The DTC brand has raised $4 million in venture funding, and Young has participated in other accelerator programs including the a16z (also known as Andreesen Horowitz) Talent x Opportunity initiative. Founders going through multiple accelerator programs is a common theme in the beauty industry. Young said the value in accelerator programs is learning more about the nuances of the beauty industry as she considers herself an outsider, even after spending four years working at Estée Lauder.
“While we have had incredible success from a product and brand perspective, I’m excited to be able to learn from other founders and understand what success has looked like for them,” said Young. “From the branding and growth perspective, [I’m looking] to understand more intimately what it looks like to build a brand and scale alongside a partner like Sephora.”
According to Sephora’s website, the criteria for submission is straightforward and include responding to questions about eligibility, telling Sephora about the brand, recording and submitting a short video about themselves and sharing product samples if asked. Odegaard said selection comes down to three topics: vision, innovation and product. She declined to specify how many applications were submitted but said it was in the hundreds and the accelerator’s largest application pool to date. Similar to past Accelerate programs, Sephora Accelerate 2023 will take place from January through June digitally, with two in-person events: orientation and graduation.
In addition to Sephora Accelerate, other retailers and brands have formalized mentorship programs, many of which emerged or were retooled in response to Black Lives Matter. They include Credo for Change, Ulta Beauty’s MUSE Accelerator, Tower28’s Clean Beauty Summer School, True Beauty Ventures x Bridge Mentorship and Glow Recipe Mentorship, to name a few. Since the Sephora relaunch, all participating Sephora Accelerate brands have found their way onto Sephora shelves, including Kulfi Beauty, Topicals and 54 Thrones.
“When I started, people didn’t take me very seriously and wrote me off. I did have a lot of great people in my corner, but it wasn’t [through] a formalized program,” said Wende Zomnir, founder of Urban Decay and Caliray, who will serve as a program advisor for founders to access and consult with. “[Beauty’s] become such a complex environment that it’s great to be able to allow new brands to have someone who’s been there and done that, to give them a guide.”
Zomnir explained that when she founded Urban Decay in 1996, the beauty industry was vastly different compared to today and when she launched her second brand Caliray in 2021. In 1996 the internet was in its nascency, and DTC e-commerce and social media did not exist. Sephora offered the brand an entire gondola for products, whereas brands now actively compete for a few inches of shelf space. Yet, companies can now more readily access information and suppliers, unlike decades ago.
Cohort founders will also have access to several investment community members who will serve in an advisory capacity. Trevor Nelson, founder and managing partner of consumer private equity firm Aria Growth Partners, said much of an investor’s time is spent meeting and building relationships with founders, so the opportunity to partner with Sephora Accelerate was in perfect harmony.
“Our focus is always on how we can help founders who are early in their [companies] avoid mistakes and make the most out of what they’re creating by maximizing the potential of what they’ve created,” he said. “We view it as a central part of our job, and to be able to do it with Sephora, where there’s more structure to it, is exciting.”
Sephora notably retooled its Sephora Accelerate program in 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to support diversity, equity and inclusion. The 2021 cohort was the first to focus exclusively on BIPOC-owned and -led brands. Sephora has also supported BIPOC beauty through marketing campaigns, better shade-matching technology and a commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge. Since 2020, Sephora has more than doubled its Black-owned brand offerings to 24 brands and reached 15% Black-owned brands within the hair category at the end of 2021.
“There is so much goodwill and good spirit in this thriving ecosystem of beauty and consumer products. I’m not sure if other industries have that, but that’s one of the exciting parts of our industry — and to have Sephora providing the backdrop and forum for that is fantastic,” said Nelson.
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