Known for her celebrity-loved luxury jewelry label Vita Fede, Cynthia Sakai was one of many entrepreneurs who got into a totally unpredictable new business post-March 2020: masks.
After Sakai launched mask brand Evolvetogether in 2020 amid the N95 shortage, celebrities Angelina Jolie, Ariana Grande, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Stewart, Bella Hadid and Jennifer Garner were spotted in paparazzi photos wearing Evolvetogether’s chic KN95 and medical masks. Evolvetogether quickly became the “it” mask brand of the pandemic and launched additional relevant categories such as hand sanitizer and de-fogging cloths for glasses.
Now, Sakai’s business has once again evolved.
“We’re still doing a lot of masks, but we’re transitioning a lot into personal care,” said Sakai.
Nine months ago, Evolvetogether expanded for the first time beyond the hot pandemic categories. It now offers a range of eco-minded products including dissolvable hand soap sheets, lotion, deodorant, mosquito repellant, home goods and even hats. It’s one of several brands working to maintain momentum gained during the lockdown era through new product categories and an updated marketing strategy.
Colorful sanitizer brand Touchland is another brand making pivots. It saw a 1,500% sales spike when the pandemic hit in 2020, surpassing overall sanitizer sales growth of 600% during that year, according to Nielsen data. This year, it still saw sales growth of “triple digits” as it expanded into 4,000 retail doors, said its founder, Andrea Lisbona. But it is also making moves to expand beyond sanitizer. Lisbona said Touchland is planning three product category launches in the skin care space. It has already taken a step into skin care with its “glow mist” sanitizer featuring skin care benefits. It sold out at Sephora within two weeks.
Evolvetogether, meanwhile, has six new product category launches in the pipeline, including body wash and fragrance. It is now in 100 retailers and has 300 more planned for next year, including Sephora.
“I always knew that whatever we did, it would be long term,” said Sakai. “We’re spending a lot of capital in R&D.”
While demand for sanitizers and masks certainly hasn’t gone away, founders emphasized the need to make products on-trend and to update their brands’ messaging beyond public health. Lisbona said her goal has been to add a modern twist to “the most unsexy, commoditized, antiquated category.”
In 2021, Touchland embraced the “raunchy new normal” ad trend with a campaign all about partying that got an early start on the era of hedonism that has taken over culture this year. These days, Touchland is heavily focused on marketing the design and fragrance aspects of its sanitizers, emphasizing a stylish aesthetic over killing germs. Its founders have discovered that getting customers to keep buying its sanitizer necessitates making it hip via trendy bottles and sophisticated fragrances.
“We’re [working to] prove that we are not a hand sanitizer brand, but that we’re a beauty brand. That is our goal, to reinvent those moments of personal care we’re not excited about [by making them] into something that’s exciting,” said Lisbona. The brand frequently introduces new colors and scents, with the goal of making fragrances appealing enough that the sanitizer can double as a perfume.
The social media-friendly colors are also a big boost, Lisbona said, citing a viral TikTok trend where users matched their sanitizer to their outfit. The brand jumped on the trend.
“Our sanitizer becomes a conversation starter when you pull it out of the bag,” she said of Touchland’s unique design, which she compared to the sleekness of Apple products.
Evolvetogether emphasizes functionality and eco-conscious materials along with its minimalist style. “Everything we do, we think about it backward, from a user perspective; we say, ‘What are customers looking for? How do we [avoid selling it] in plastic? How do we [ensure] the cap doesn’t fall off when it’s in your purse and spill everywhere?’” said Sakai.
Celebrity and influencer marketing also plays into this branding shift. Touchland has partnered with Disney on special collaborative sanitizers in the past, and has more collabs and a celebrity campaign planned for the future.
Sakai hopes to open standalone Evolvetogether stores in 2023. She’s eyeing New York and LA as the first locations.
Upscale retail partners are key to the brand’s ongoing success, she said. Evolvetogether is sold in Sephora, in department stores and through elite hospitality partners, including the Ritz-Carlton and the ultra-luxe Aman hotels chain. It is currently expanding its retail footprint, with wholesale currently making up about a fourth of its sales.
Touchland, meanwhile, is available at Sephora, Ulta Beauty and Target.
Positioning matters. “In some retailers, we’re being sold in the hand sanitizer aisle and in the beauty aisle. We’re selling 6- to 7-times more units in the beauty space than in the hand sanitizer space,” said Lisbona.