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Deck of Scarlet, a full-face makeup palette subscription service that launched in March, is answering subscription fatigue with the launch of a new à la carte offering. Originally forced to subscribe in order to receive the latest palette every two months, customers can now choose to shop the palettes at any time, without a subscription.
“I think subscription will always be the core of our business,” said Rachel ten Brink, the company’s co-founder and CMO. “But we’re very consumer-centric, and [realize] there are people who don’t like the subscription model and want to interact with our product in a different way.”
That reality has affected business for other beauty subscription services like Birchbox, which recently laid off staff, and caused a reported 90 percent drop in venture capital funding for the entire category in 2016.
Deck of Scarlet’s palettes can now be purchased sans subscription
But ten Brink — who also co-founded the subscription perfume service Scentbird in 2014 — believes Deck of Scarlet is filling a real white space, despite the saturated market. “The universe doesn’t need another beauty box just for the sake of having another beauty box,” she said, noting that Deck of Scarlet’s palettes are the first full-face palettes to be sold via subscription. “It was important to us that this product be really useful.”
The idea struck her and co-founder Mariya Nurislamova while watching a beauty tutorial on YouTube one day, when they noticed that the featured look required 66 different products to be complete. “If you’re a beauty junkie like myself, who spends hours on YouTube watching these tutorials, you’d basically be spending half a month’s rent and three days shopping just to recreate one look,” she said.
Their solution is a heavily curated palette of makeup for eyes, cheeks and lips, that caters to millennial values by being cruelty- and paraben-free, and made in the U.S. The brand has intentionally avoided including skin tone–restrictive products, like concealer or foundation, in their palettes, instead focusing on colors that can work on everyone.
Given their initial inspiration, they decided to bring on a different YouTube beauty vlogger to help create each palette, dubbing them “artists-in-chief.” So far, that has included Evon Wahab (who boasts over 1 million YouTube subscribers) and BabsBeauty (over 200,000). The next influencer will be announced on Saturday, at the launch of the company’s third palette. Along with helping plan out the product, the women feature it in special makeup tutorials that are posted to both their own YouTube channels and Deck of Scarlet’s.
All influencers are paid for their role, said the company, though rates are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. A few YouTubers a month, who don’t work directly on product creation, are leveraged to create one-off tutorials for the brand.
YouTube star BeautybyGabbie in a makeup tutorial for Deck of Scarlet
More than metrics, they look toward the “softer skills” of various influencers when vetting who to work with next, like their personality and the connection they have with their followers, said ten Brink.
Although ten Brink emphasizes that the subscription model still offers consumers the best value — with subscriber palettes retailing for $29.95 instead of the $44.95 à la carte option — the company has previously hit some snags with shipping the product on time.
Customers have shown their displeasure on Instagram, with one, @misbarberette, writing, “I still haven’t received my first or second palette since I signed up in April, debating on canceling my membership.” On a post promoting the upcoming palette launch, user @aarenstebner wrote: “It’s f***ing ridiculous that [they] want to charge my credit card for another palette when I still haven’t received the last one I paid for 2 months ago. Get it together.”
ten Brink chalks this up to startup growing pains, noting that operational delays caused the last palette to arrive at the company’s warehouse later than expected. “It sucks,” she said. “But our customers let us know how they feel, and we don’t hide from it. We write them very honest emails and answer all of their Instagram comments.”
The à la carte launch is unrelated, she said, adding that the third palette is on track to ship on time. “We were getting so much demand and had underestimated how quickly this was going to grow,” she said.