Beautycoun­ter to De­but An­ti­ag­ing Skin- care Line, Coun­ter­time

WWD Digital Daily - - The Reviews - BY BOOTH MOORE

Santa Mon­ica-based clean beauty pi­o­neer Beautycoun­ter is com­ing for La Mer.

The most searched beauty brand on Google in 2018, Beautycoun­ter is gearing up for its big­gest launch to date with Coun­ter­time on July 9. The six-prod­uct, an­ti­ag­ing skin-care range is for­mu­lated with a com­bi­na­tion of plant-de­rived in­gre­di­ents the brand is call­ing “Reti­nat­u­ral Com­plex” (a mix of buzzy baku­chiol and Swiss alpine rose). In the works nearly three years, Coun­ter­time is part of a new push into per­for­mance prod­ucts for the brand sold on­line, in stores in New York and Den­ver, and through 45,000 in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tants, which sources say did $325 mil­lion in sales in 2018, and is on track for 35 per­cent year-over-year growth.

Founder Gregg Ren­frew and chief mer­chan­dis­ing, mar­ket­ing and prod­uct of­fi­cer Michael McGeever talked ex­clu­sively to WWD about the launch they hope will be a game-changer for the brand look­ing to go from niche to main­stream, and of­fered a first look at their new lab, where chemists con­ducted more than 100 de­vel­op­ment tri­als for Coun­ter­time, in­clud­ing test­ing for trace con­tam­i­nants in raw ma­te­ri­als rang­ing from rose petals to $1,000/kilo hyaluronic acid.

“For a long time, if we won a beauty award, it's been the ‘best of nat­u­ral' or ‘best of in­die' cat­e­gory. We want to be the best of the best,” said Ren­frew of the di­rect-to­con­sumer brand she founded in 2013, and has built grass­roots-style, not on celebrity faces, but on the pil­lars of Cal­i­for­nia cool, well­ness and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, which has ex­tended to lob­by­ing the U.S. Congress for more reg­u­la­tion of the cos­met­ics in­dus­try. “With this launch, we've de­liv­ered as good or bet­ter than all the an­ti­ag­ing lines, mi­nus the 1,600 in­gre­di­ents they con­tinue to use. It's not that we are part of the clean move­ment, we are the fu­ture of beauty.”

Bring­ing R&D in-house and hir­ing five full-time chemists last year marked a key mile­stone for the brand whose min­i­mal­ist­look­ing, back-to-na­ture best­sellers in­clude Dew Skin Tinted Mois­tur­izer ($45), CounterSun Min­eral Sun­screen ($39),

Sheer Lip­stick ($32) and Cleans­ing Balm ($69). “The com­pany was founded on me want­ing to get safer prod­ucts into peo­ple's hands...But at the end of the day, a woman is go­ing to pull out her credit card be­cause of per­for­mance,” said Ren­frew, a for­mer fash­ion chief ex­ec­u­tive, wear­ing min­i­mal makeup, a shoul­der-robed Gucci blazer, ripped jeans and heels. “Un­der Michael's lead­er­ship, we've taken per­for­mance to a dif­fer­ent level with­out us­ing in­gre­di­ents we find to be ques­tion­able.”

“When we sat down and said ‘OK, what's the game-changer that will say clean can do any­thing?' We felt it was skin care that had a clin­i­cal level of per­for­mance but not nec­es­sar­ily us­ing clin­i­cal in­gre­di­ents,” said McGeever, who joined the brand in

2016 af­ter work­ing at Sephora and Kendo. “Retinol is the clear per­for­mance in­gre­di­ent driv­ing most of the clin­i­cal and tra­di­tional brands, but there is a rea­son it's on our Never List,” he said of the brand's list of no-go in­gre­di­ents, point­ing to con­cerns about photo-tox­i­c­ity, skin ir­ri­ta­tion and flak­i­ness and po­ten­tial car­cino­genic prop­er­ties.

“Baku­chiol has long been used in Ayurvedic and Chi­nese medicine for treat­ing skin is­sues. Swiss rose grows way up in the Alps, in a harsh en­vi­ron­ment with low oxy­gen and mois­ture. Baku­chiol to re­pair and alpine rose to pro­tect — to­gether they are a fan­tas­tic combo,” McGeever said of the for­mu­la­tion that is the com­mon thread across the prod­uct of­fer­ing, sell­ing for $267, which he said will even­tu­ally re­place the an­ti­ag­ing Rejuvenati­ng line launched in 2014.

Coun­ter­time's four-step reg­i­men in­cludes a Lipid De­fense Cleans­ing Oil in­spired by Asian beauty rit­u­als, with a Ja­panese es­ter which gives it a weight­less tex­ture that turns to milk when mixed with wa­ter. “It's in­fused with vi­ta­min E and es­sen­tial fatty acids so it's amaz­ing at re­mov­ing makeup but won't strip skin and leave it de­hy­drated,” said McGeever. The Min­eral Boost Hy­drat­ing Essence “uses deep-sea min­eral wa­ter and bio-fer­mented sug­ars…that will give you restora­tive as­pects,” he said. The Tripep­tide

Founder Gregg Ren­frew on how the clean beauty brand is look­ing to go from niche to main­stream.

Ra­di­ance Serum prom­ises to plump and firm, the Ul­tra Re­newal Eye Cream uses Persian silk tree ex­tract to de-puff and re­duce dark cir­cles and the An­tiox­i­dant Soft Cream is a light­weight day­time mois­tur­izer us­ing nas­tur­tium flower ex­tract.

But the star prod­uct is the Supreme Cream ($89) he's hop­ing to po­si­tion along­side La Mer and La Prairie's lux­ury of­fer­ings. “When you look at those lux­u­ri­ant creams from other an­ti­ag­ing brands, they are made us­ing min­eral oils and petro­la­tum which gives you that gor­geous slip, but you are putting things on your skin that aren't healthy. We did it us­ing shea but­ter, co­coa but­ter and co­conut­derived emol­lients to repli­cate the tex­ture,” said McGeever, tout­ing the line's Mil­len­nial pink glass jars and bot­tles as re­cy­clable, and sourced from North Amer­ica, as op­posed to Asia “so the im­pact of the 5,000 miles less trav­eled is a good one.”

“There are a lot of brands that come out with a fun lit­tle scoop, but at the end of the day, when you're driv­ing vol­ume and putting hun­dreds of thou­sands or mil­lions of prod­ucts into mar­ket, that fun lit­tle scoop goes to landfill. We're try­ing to lead here,” added Ren­frew.

Coun­ter­time will launch with the tagline “Bet­ter With Age.” “It's about ag­ing grace­fully,” said Ren­frew, adding that for her, “Turn­ing 50 was hard to swallow... We're say­ing you can look amaz­ing at any age. Be­cause the re­al­ity is you can't stop the clock, but you can feel more con­fi­dent. Tra­di­tional brands define beauty as what a su­per­model looks like. But you can look like your ver­sion of a su­per­model.”

As it comes of age, Beautycoun­ter, which raised $65 mil­lion in 2018 from pri­vate eq­uity firm Mousse Part­ners, is ex­plor­ing more brick-and-mor­tar, with an L.A. store likely to be next. On what's driv­ing sales, Ren­frew said, “Our con­sul­tants who are most suc­cess­ful are us­ing their so­cial net­works and blogs and dig­i­tal in­flu­ence to drive traf­fic, and then of­ten will be meet­ing up in real life or send­ing peo­ple into our stores,” she said. “That's been a game-changer for us hav­ing phys­i­cal spa­ces. It al­lows the brand to come to life.”

Al­though Beautycoun­ter is now mul­ti­chan­nel, hav­ing also done col­lab­o­ra­tions with Tar­get and Goop, Ren­frew is still com­mit­ted to the di­rect-to­con­sumer, peer-to-peer con­sul­tant busi­ness model. “I wanted to build a move­ment through peo­ple…When I started work­ing on this in late 2010, I knew depart­ment store dis­tri­bu­tion of beauty was wan­ing, go­ing, go­ing, gone. Peo­ple were look­ing to in­flu­encers to make pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions. I thought there was an op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate and al­low the touchy-feely ex­pe­ri­ence of prod­uct with friends. If I have any re­grets, it's that I didn't em­brace or rec­og­nize the emer­gence of the dig­i­tal am­bas­sador and ad­vo­cate and give her the tools. I'm frus­trated with my­self with the way we've ap­proached tech,” she said, adding that the brand is in­vest­ing in a new dig­i­tal plat­form to al­low con­sul­tants and cus­tomers to in­ter­act in dif­fer­ent ways.

She said she's also com­mit­ted to tack­ling sup­ply chain trans­parency, turn­ing the con­ver­sa­tion back to the brand's new R&D lab. “Our job is cum­ber­some try­ing to bring clean in­gre­di­ents to mar­ket. When you talk about the mil­lions in­vested in hun­dreds of tests, and then to fo­cus on trace con­tam­i­nants ram­pant in the sup­ply chain, it's an ar­du­ous job,” said Ren­frew, ex­plain­ing that when her chemists started see­ing high lev­els of ph­tha­lates in or­ganic roses, they had to track them to a sup­plier in Bul­garia that was pick­ing roses, putting them in plas­tic bags, and leav­ing them in the sun for the ph­tha­lates to leach into the petals. Beautycoun­ter now re­quires burlap bags to be used in­stead of plas­tic to pick and trans­port the roses. “We had to do a lot of work to find out where that was com­ing from,” she said, re­new­ing her com­mit­ment to get­ting Se­na­tors Dianne Fe­in­stein and Su­san Collins' bi­par­ti­san Per­sonal Care Prod­ucts Safety Act bill through Congress, which would re­quire the FDA to eval­u­ate a min­i­mum of five in­gre­di­ents found in per­sonal-care prod­ucts per year. Ren­frew is also in fa­vor of in­creas­ing reg­u­la­tion of in­gre­di­ents im­ported into the U.S. and hold­ing com­pa­nies ac­count­able, even as her own has faced crit­i­cism for ev­ery­thing from high prod­uct prices, to lim­ited com­pen­sa­tion for its MLM con­sul­tants.

“We don't have all the an­swers, I never said we do. Per­fec­tion is not where we are to­day. We do the best job we can,” said the founder, whose mis­sion has been in­spired by Al Gore's “An In­con­ve­nient Truth” and the work of fel­low Cal­i­for­nia com­pany Patag­o­nia. “We try to cre­ate the safest, highest-per­form­ing prod­ucts we can and bring con­sumers along with us.”

Coun­ter­time launches on July 9.

Gregg Ren­frew

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