The Ex Factor: Kate Foster
The longtime beauty exec had seen startup success before, and then Scarlett Johansson gave her a new role.
In 2020, Kate Foster had just sold her startup, the product review site SwearBy, when a friend suggested she talk to Scarlett Johansson, who was looking for a partner to help launch a skin care company.
Foster, 46, was reluctant to jump right back into the fray. “Startup life is allconsuming,” she says, and she wasn’t interested in being the workhorse behind a celebrity’s vanity project.
Curiosity, however, eventually won out. The longtime fashion and beauty executive took the meeting and quickly learned that the Oscar-nominated actress wanted to build a company on more than just her own image. Together, they agreed to share starring roles as co-founders of the Outset, which made its debut in 2022.
A year later, the New York City-based maker of “consciously clean” beauty products reports that it is on track to double its undisclosed annual sales, with nine products in more than 300 outlets across the U.S., including 268 Sephora stores as well as Goop, Heyday, Nordstrom, and numerous luxury spas and boutiques.
By the time Foster first met Johansson in 2020, the Avengers star had already done a lot of legwork in search of solutions for her own “problem skin.” Over the years, she’d suffered from breakouts due, in part, to harsh chemicals in the products she used. Determined to develop a moisture-packed skin improvement regimen, Johansson spent three years meeting with beauty executives and other
potential corporate partners. In time, she realized this venture wasn’t a solo act.
“I needed to find my better half, my right hand,” says Johansson, 39. “Someone who could share the vision with me and had the experience in this industry, knowing that I was coming from another industry.”
Foster’s extensive résumé filled the bill. Before starting SwearBy, which was acquired by publisher Meredith Corporation, she’d worked as CMO for NYDJ Apparel and held VP positions at Juicy Couture, Ann Taylor, and Victoria’s Secret. But Johansson was even more impressed by Foster’s positive attitude and her aptitude as a problem-solver. “I just really liked her vibe,” says Johansson. “She’s not defeated by difficult challenges. She figures it out—and is actually ignited by that.”
Investors were also impressed by Foster. Besides investing their own money into the startup, the duo received additional undisclosed funding from a small group of investors including Martin Dolfi, founder and managing partner of seed investment firm Beliade. Johansson’s utility may be obvious, but Foster also shines, says Dolfi. “She stands out as a shrewd negotiator and businesswoman,” he says.
Thanks to Foster’s savvy, for instance, prior to launching, the Outset—amid pandemic-related production delays and supply-chain bottlenecks—established East Coast production facilities, inked distribution deals, hired five people, and planned a big launch with press, creator partnerships, outdoor media, sampling, and appearances at Sephora.
One challenge facing the founders, of course, is juggling the beauty business with Johansson’s busy Hollywood schedule—which includes running her own production company, These Pictures. The duo anticipated that hurdle, but another obstacle caught Foster off guard: Johansson’s lack of a social media presence. Other celebrities tout their brands to millions of followers on Facebook, X, and TikTok—Lady Gaga, for instance, has around 56 million Instagram followers— but Johansson has no such accounts. For that reason, Foster has been integral as the Outset builds its brand on social media. By early November, it had already racked up 290,000 Instagram followers.
An unexpected development of personally promoting the new company is that Foster herself is getting stopped in the street because fans recognize her from TikTok. “That’s been wild,” she says. “My children look at me and they’re like, ‘You’re not famous.’ ”