With the launch of its first in-house set of fragrances, Free People wants a coveted place on the vanity.
The three fragrances, called 1809: S; 1809: Z; and 1809: C, are inspired by the sea, zen meditation and camping, respectively, and are the first in-house beauty products ever launched since Free People debuted its beauty and wellness category in July 2016. The fragrances, each $28, will be available at all 143 Free People retail locations and on FreePeople.com. The retailer intends to use the fragrances as a test bed to understand customer preferences to further fuel its own beauty and wellness brands and products down the line.
“We could have done a plethora of things, but we wanted to do something that was [low stakes] that we could launch and test,” said Jessica Richards, curator and senior merchant at Free People. “There’s more work in color cosmetics and skin care; you have to launch with so much more [consideration],” she said. For example, with makeup and skin care products, touch and feel become increasingly important.
The fragrances are free from synthetic ingredients, parabens, colorants and more, making it a clean perfume option. Currently, there is a dearth of fragrance options available at Free People, Richards said, adding that Free People’s own line helps fill a white space. Free People’s in-house scents join a burgeoning category of clean fragrance, alongside brands like Skylar Body and Phlur. Free People’s beauty and wellness offerings include crystals, sexual wellness, makeup, oral care and aromatherapy, and has grown from 395 SKUs at launch in 2016 to 1152 SKUs today.
Rather than partnering with a third-party manufacturer, Free People opted to develop its fragrance in-house by hiring a dedicated fragrance product developer to create brand equity, said Richards. “I didn’t want people to think we just found some juice and stuck on our name on the label,” she said.
Even though Free People might not have the clout of fragrance giants like Coty, the brand still has equity among millennial women devoted to clean but minimalist beauty, according to Richards. That the company not only created the fragrance in-house but also owns the distribution rights helps with positioning it in the space, according to Erin Smith, a senior consultant at Boston Retail Partners.
“If Free People releases this fragrance and is the sole distributor, I can’t go to Amazon to get it. I have to go online or in-store,” she said. “It’s an additional asset that they have; instead of sourcing goods and selling them, they now also have this other model where they produce products themselves, and that increases the value of the company.”
Richards declined to detail growth for the beauty and wellness category on Free People, but she did share that since the retailer made pre-ordering of the fragrances available last week through the mobile app, numbers have “exceeded expectations.” And that’s despite there being no influencer pre-seeding or any type of marketing other than products distributed to press. The reason Free People opted out of doing so was to keep the experiment as unbiased as possible. The brand wants consumers to want the product because they want it, instead of someone telling them they should want it, Richards said.
“There is something cooking,” Richards said, talking about future beauty launches. “We are trying to drill down on what they [will be,] and the responses [to the fragrance] will help dictate that.”