W3ll People announced this week that it’s received a minority investment from the growth equity investor NextWorld Evergreen, which it plans to use primarily to help make its “clean beauty” cosmetics more omnipresent and accessible. The move is noteworthy in a category that’s been known for its cost inefficiency and luxury-level pricing.
Taking outside funding for the first time was key to overcoming that, according to Shirley Pinkson, one of the brand’s three co-founders and a founding alum of Nars.
“Our biggest challenge prior to this funding was that our complex production couldn’t keep up with our growth,” she said. “Partnering with NextWorld — which has this evergreen funding available to them — helps us feel safe and helps us bring forth the innovation we want to bring.”
But finding the right partner wasn’t so easy for a brand with such stringent guidelines. In 2016, W3ll People became the third brand to receive verification from the Environmental Working Group, a third-party vendor that requires companies to disclose everything about their formulations and manufacturing processes to ensure a product’s health, lack of toxicity and environmental impact. That’s resulted in a line of products — from concealer to makeup brushes — that are 100 percent natural, hypoallergenic, chemical-free, cruelty-free and non-comedogenic.
Because of that, venture firms hungry for only the speediest form of growth, within three- to five-year periods, weren’t ideal for a brand bent on, as Pinkson put it, “doing better” above all else.
“It was really important for us to find someone that truly understood our trajectory and who we are,” she said. “We’re not just a cosmetics brand, we’re endorsing a lifestyle.”
NextWorld, which has also invested in natural beauty retailer Credo Beauty and Alter Eco Foods, a sustainably produced snack brand, is an apt fit. “We consider only leading brands in the clean beauty space,” said Julia French, a senior associate at the firm, of its overall criteria, adding that consumer dynamics and retailer feedback play a key role.
Since the partnership between the two companies began quietly in October, W3ll People has lowered its prices across the board by 30 percent or more, the result of expanded production capabilities. Its highest-priced product, the Narcissist Foundation Stick, is now $28.99.
Pinkson was inspired to make the change after speaking on a panel where a college student spoke up to lament the label’s pricing.
“She was like, ‘You can talk to me about how good this is for me until you’re blue in the face, but I’ll never be able to buy it,’” said Pinkson, “and she was right. We’re here to educate and help you make a positive choice with your beauty, so we need to be accessible.”
The new funding has also allowed W3ll People to build on its retail partnerships and gear them strategically beyond the 1 percent.
After selling primarily in specialty chains like Credo Beauty and Pharmaca, the brand rolled into Target in February of last year, ending 2017 with its products in more than 200 locations. This month they’ll be rolling into 200 more locations, aiming to be in more than half of Target’s stores — roughly 700 — by the end of the year.
“They’ve worked very hard to create a roadmap for presenting conventional and ‘good-for-you’ beauty products in the same space, without making one seem better than the other,” explained Pinkson of the partnership. “There are a lot of retailers out there that are choosing brands like ours because they feel it’s trendy right now but not necessarily because it’s the right thing to do, and that’s not the case with Target — they truly understand the value of our product.”
W3ll People is also ramping up its presence in Whole Foods stores, where it helped spearhead the launch of the grocery chain’s more luxe beauty offering, Beauty 2.0, in early 2016. Now available in 81 markets across the country, it has also debuted a permanent shop-in-shop within the chain’s newest Chicago flagship.
Naturally, that puts Amazon opportunities on the table, which Pinkson said the brand is open to down the line. Currently, the W3ll People sells on Amazon only via Carbon Beauty, a curated marketplace of “clean beauty” products that has appeal thanks to its nicer overall look, according to Pinkson.
The brand has two of its own retail stores in Austin, as well, though it does not plan to expand on that this year. “2018 is our year to hold strong and get our machine finely-oiled,” said Pinkson, adding that next year will be geared toward international expansion. (The brand is currently sold only in the U.S.)
It will also be devoted to perfecting the brand’s product formulas, which Pinkson is determined to make comparable to its competitors in the conventional space.
“In order to compete with other brands, we need to have formulas that will be a layup,” she said. “Customers are going to put down their MAC foundation and buy ours instead, not just because it’s better for them, but because it works better, too.”