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5 FOUNDERS REFLECT ON THE MEN’S MAKEUP PHENOMENON

June 02, 2021 Carla Seipp
June 02, 2021
Caroline O'Brien via Unsplash

Men’s makeup, a booming category, has been receiving substantial investor and industry attention as of late, although the practice dates back to historical times. BeautyMatter spoke to 5 brand founders, from industry veterans to rising stars, to get an inside scoop on the category’s development, future narratives, and success strategies.

MATTIAS: Launched in April of this year after two years of development, DTC brand MATTIAS debuted with a vitamin E-infused spot concealer (COVER) and B5-enriched tinted face cream (LEVEL), both fragrance free and formulated in the US. The former product is available in six shades, the latter in three. Dee Draper was inspired to start the brand after receiving makeup requests from friends before (and post) nights out.

Dee Draper, CEO & co-founder: “MATTIAS is entirely bootstrapped. Being independent means that we’re able to retain control of important decisions like the pace of product development and shade expansion, without cutting corners. The first hurdle was understanding what kind of products men actually want and would seek out. Because it’s a newer market, we spent a lot of time conducting focus groups and surveying men about their preferences not only around actual products desired but also about what features matter to them as consumers. What we discovered is that men want basics that are easy to use and non-cake / highly blendable, that can also help improve skin over the long term, hence our vitamin ingredient focus. They also care about formulas made in the USA and that are fragrance and cruelty free, which is feedback we’ve taken into account in our formulations.

“Branding and brand storytelling is huge. Because we’re connecting with consumers who quite possibly are new to the world of makeup (men), it’s important that our audience feel seen and represented in our brand and that our brand is approachable enough where consumers feel comfortable asking questions along the way. We’re not about hiding makeup usage among men; we’re about celebrating it and inviting our consumers to celebrate with us. Historically, makeup brands haven’t ever really catered to men or male-identifying consumers. Across the board, branding is shifting towards inclusivity, including gender inclusion, and we think there’s also a role for a brand built for men / male-identifying consumers as well. At the end of the day, our products are phenomenal and usable by anyone, but we wanted to build a brand where men feel seen and represented first and foremost, because that’s been lacking.

“When it comes to the factors that have stood in the way of mainstream adoption of men’s makeup, it’s a question of traditional societal norms, but we’re in a really exciting time right now where those are shifting. We’re seeing an uptick in makeup usage among men, especially among the Gen Z audience who are setting new norms around self-expression. I think we’re going to continue to see that trend, even among older demographics, as people start going back to the office and having real face-to-face time with people again. Everyone wants to get out there and look their best.On a product level, men’s makeup deserves the same trajectory as women’s makeup: wider shade ranges, cleaner formulas, and better sustainability practices. But beyond the product, we believe men’s makeup brands have a role to play in supporting not just men but all people in their self-expression. We believe we have a responsibility in breaking down outdated societal norms and supporting people to be who they want to be.”

“What’s driving this is a convergence of a lot of things: a more gender-fluid generation, a large erasure of stigma around men wearing makeup, nothing marketed specifically for men."
By Matthew Rodrigues & Pergrin Pervez, Co-Founders, Tribe Cosmetics

Tribe Cosmetics: A completely bootstrapped effort, Tribe Cosmetics emerged on the men’s makeup scene in January 2021 with a streamlined three-product offering of Moisturizer, Skin Fix, and Beard Fix. With the motto “No bullsh*t approach to handsome,” the brand prides itself on easy-to-apply products that don’t require elaborate tools or routines, as well as fragrance-free, certified cruelty-free, vegan, and organic formulations. The company also recently signed on with the Humane Cosmetics Act and is advocating for other brands to follow suit. As part of Mental Health Awareness month, the company is also fighting to combat Zoom dysmorphia by encouraging makeup as a means of self-enhancement and confidence boosting, rather than a means of chasing unrealistic standards of beauty.

Matthew Rodrigues & Pergrin Pervez, co-founders: “What’s driving this is a convergence of a lot of things: a more gender-fluid generation, a large erasure of stigma around men wearing makeup, nothing marketed specifically for men. Also what happened with the pandemic is people are looking for something that could help them have a better presentation during Zoom calls without the use of drastic things like surgery, and because you’re in the safe space of your own home, you eliminate the risk of being judged by other people. So men are more open to trying new product. If they like how it makes them feel, they may be more open to wear it in public.

“We’ve been doing research in different age groups and found that dating apps have been adding to this factor as well. You’re presenting a photo that someone will look at and swipe left or right, so that idea that said image of you has to be better is absolutely something that they’re thinking about. Tribe isn’t about changing the way you look, it’s looking the best you can.

“Culture and society have a lot to do with driving this. Think about the movements that happened in 2020—inclusion is a big driver of it all. For the longest time, the perfect solution was not exactly accessible to men, because the adoption wasn’t there. What’s helping here is showing more men using this product, talking about the benefits, not necessarily focusing on the fact that this is makeup, even though there is a long history of men using makeup. But a lot of what we do with marketing is showcasing that regular man, showing that makeup can be simple, easy, and quick.

“We’ve identified the major problem areas as skin redness, blemishes, covering up the dark circles or undereye bags, wrinkles, any skin discoloration, and something to make a beard look fuller. We’re not asking people to use the products every day, all day, but on an as-needed basis. The ethos of our brand is simplicity, to provide a solution for a problem.

“A lot of our customers are businessmen on Zoom calls or high executives running from meeting to meeting. That stress takes a toll on your face, so they need something to enhance their look. When we first started, we had a lot more people in the 45+ demographic when we were expecting our customers to be from Gen Z, but the product is so universal that it does bridge that commonality among the ages. One of our customers is a 68-year-old man in a wheelchair who emailed us about how he had been looking for a product forever but always felt uncomfortable wearing makeup, thanking us for catering to him as well. It’s really heartwarming to hear those stories.

“We have self-funded this from the start and are continuing to do so. We don’t want any outside influence. If we bring in investors, they’re going to think about the dollar amount as the end goal. That’s not what we’re doing—we are about making it socially acceptable for all men to use makeup, and no one’s going to feel as passionate about this as us.

“We are staying DTC. We have some exciting plans for pop-ups here and there during the summer in the Hamptons, a class on what our brand is about in Miami. We are not even looking at those things as sales, but more branding generators, doing something that will resonate with our customers. A rising tide lifts all boats, so we don’t really see our competitors as competitors, because we’re hopefully all aiming towards the same end goal, which is to open up the conversation. We’re adamant in trying to get the industry together. In every segment of the beauty industry, you have trade organizations—there isn’t really one for men’s cosmetics. We certainly would like to start it. This movement has to be organic and not manufactured by Madison Avenue and the advertising agencies.”

Menaji: Founded in 2000 by professional makeup artist Michele Probst, Menaji is a range of professional-grade products accessible for both makeup artists and everyday consumers. Since becoming vice president at the company in 2010, Pamela Viglielmo expanded the company’s color range, reformulated products to be all natural, and streamlined the selection of products. Today, the brand is sold in over 20 countries, with products including high-definition anti-shine and bronzing powders, camo concealer, and liquid shine eliminator.

Pamela S. Viglielmo, CEO & President: “This wasn’t an overnight matter. Back in 2009, Karen Grant was talking about how the men’s category in general skincare was about 20 years behind women’s, and fast-forward 10 years, it’s gonna be the same. We were first to market concealer and a tinted moisturizer for men, but back when I acquired Menaji, you didn’t use the word makeup or cosmetics. God forbid men were going to use it. So undetectable skincare was one of our taglines. Six years back, when we actually then introduced a kabuki brush, men were not using them. Everything we do covers the gamut from guys who just want to cover something to professional dancers who want to use it for contouring. Men’s skin is thicker, oilier, has larger pores and facial hair—all these things play into how a formula is made.

“At a macro level we’re seeing steady growth—the number of men who feel comfortable using product will continue to grow. There’s no question that more and more men are using cosmetics, but they may not talk about it. What’s interesting is that so many of the marketing tactics used in women’s products, like referring a friend, are not helpful here. There is no question that the number of adapters continues to grow. Someone who perhaps starts using a product for special events, but if it gives you empowerment and makes you feel better about the way you look, it very often moves on from that. For guys in their late 30s, early 40s, sometimes a prestige brand is more aspirational. Our demographic is broad—we meet the needs of men at different points based on their own grooming likes and dislikes. We know that the consumer is male; very often the customer can be female. We emphasize kits because they are a way for a woman to be able to give product to her husband, boyfriend, son. What does work is being in the market as long as we have, and being the first on that curve of identifying what the man’s challenges are and being able to meet them. Really early adapters are often through urban centers, although if you look at our DTC sales, we sell into rural places as well. Which products and when they use it varies, but why they use it is what’s universal. Everyone wants to put their best face forward, and we’re about making sure that you look great, whether you’re on camera or off.

“20 years later, we’re still going strong. We continue to find younger people coming into our product world, and at the same time, the ones who’ve been with us 10-15 years are still with us. And now rather than using two to three products, they’ll use four to five. I am a firm believer—the more brands that are in the market, the better it is for all of us, because it brings more attention to the category. Some of the ones that have come and gone, that had some good legs to them, got sucked down the drain because they doubled or tripled down on certain things that didn’t pan out. The key to longevity, is to continue to develop products that work, and that are a little bit ahead of the curve, but not so far that you’re not going to have the adoption you need. And to have them deliver results. That’s what it’s all about, and not to double down on inventories. You’ve got to start with fewer than that, so you can see if it’s gonna work or not, and then build your way up. You might be paying more per unit in the beginning, as you develop your formula, but you’re also not going to sink 50 grand into something that doesn’t go anywhere.”

Stryx: Founded in 2018, Stryx raised over $135K in a pre-seed funding round the following year and is witnessing 30% month-over-month growth. Now offering a six-product-strong assortment (concealer, award-winning tinted moisturizer, gel cleanser, eye serum, lip balm, brow and beard gel), the brand recently teamed up with CVS to roll out its products at 2,000 stores across the US, utilizing TikTok as a powerful marketing tool.

Jon Shanahan, co-founder & CMO: “Our premise was bringing these products to men who had never purchased them before, and making these products accessible. From straight guys to trans people, we can really see across the spectrum as far as demographics go. They certainly skew slightly younger, but around 30% of our customers are over the age of 40. What we’re finding is that it’s just different use cases by the age group. The younger guys are dealing with more breakouts, redness, and acne, and for older guys, rosacea is probably the biggest thing. If you have a great product, it can be adapted to whatever the use cases.

“The CVS partnership was an important step for us, because our goal is to make this stuff normalized. The number-one way to do that is to put in a CVS next to razors—it can’t be over in the cosmetics aisle, guys are not going to shop there. Positioning is huge. One of the mistakes we made out of the gate was thinking that designing these products so sleek and Apple-like meant that guys would be buying them because they’re cool. They did, but that’s a much smaller sliver of the market. We just revamped our entire website because it was initially showing off the design, but guys don’t buy that way. They want to see results, other guys using it, that social validation.

“There’s pushback on the idea of men’s cosmetics and the fact that these products need to be gendered. There’s a very fine line in the positioning of the fact that we’re not saying that if you use this, you will be more manly, because then that’s promoting toxic masculinity. But then there’s also playing into the fragile masculinity, which all products do to some degree. There’s a fine line between those two positions.

“The reason that we have such good reviews of our concealers, is that everything is custom made. You can’t just take a women’s product, put it in black packaging, and say it’s for men. It has to be catered to the way that guys use it. A key part of what we’re doing, is around the educational component too. Men’s makeup is not going to be a wildfire spread because guys don’t want to talk about these products due to the stigma. The word-of-mouth spread is tougher, but on the flip side of that, because we’re opening this up to such a new customer, that they do become passionate about it, and will share it. But it’s going to go very slowly. We have to break down the barrier to get guys into this category.

“We’re constantly trying to figure out how much guys care about clean beauty and sustainable packaging. For everything we’ve surveyed, guys don’t really care. They want a product that works number one, then effects, third is it clean. We’re so early in men paying attention that it’s not a need to differentiate at this point. It’s a little bit frustrating, but we still focus on it because we know how important it is and that’s the way that we want to make products.

“This is our third year now, and we’re still refining our message, because we’re finding different use cases, different reasons that we are resonating with guys. We’re waiting for a big company to come in and say this is a real thing. The first step to that was getting into CVS. We’re working with another major retailer for 2022. It’s here to stay in a way that it wasn’t in the past, based on the younger generation being more open to it, and the fact that we’re now targeting the biggest sector of the market: the general guy.”

“At a macro level we’re seeing steady growth—the number of men who feel comfortable using product will continue to grow."
By Pamela S. Viglielmo, CEO & President, Menaji

Warpaint: Born out of founder Danny Gray’s experiences of being bullied for his acne as a teenager, Warpaint is a personal redemption story that resonated with audiences. Launched three years ago, the company received a £1 million investment from True in 2020, and now has a retail presence in 46 stores across four countries. It has an expansive product range with a skin-heavy focus, featuring concealers, primer, foundation, tinted moisturizer, anti-shine powder, and tools such as brushes and makeup sponges. It recently released Makeup for Men – The Manual with UK publisher Haynes, highlighting the history of makeup and in-depth tutorials. Warpaint recently partnered with Norwich City FC and the Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club to highlight and destigmatize men’s mental health struggles.

Danny Gray, founder: “Since we launched, I’ve seen a huge dramatic change in the amount of attention that the space is getting. It’s causing this whole debate on men’s makeup. In the beginning, it was quite negative in saying men should buy women’s makeup, that’s always been the thought process. Everyone has now realized that what we’re trying to do is give men a choice. Since more men’s-focused and gender-neutral brands have been available, the pickup in interest has had a snowball effect. We’ve been in nearly 600 press articles in two and a half years, it’s going a lot faster than I thought, and eventually the whole stigma will be gone. We’re trying to educate about simple products using a simple way to even out your skin tone and give you confidence. That’s being picked up by lots more guys who wouldn’t necessarily try it before, but are now seeing the benefit.

“I’m a big believer in there is no right or wrong, a lot of guys thought men’s makeup was very complicated and takes you half an hour, my routine is 5 minutes in the morning. That education point was really big, the manual we published is one of the first-ever men’s makeup books out there, where we launched in retail we had the first men’s makeup counter in the world in the men’s section—all these little things impact the thought process of people to acknowledge men’s makeup. Men’s skincare and grooming has exploded over the last 20 years. Men’s makeup is the next natural progression.

“Our customer base is split into thirds age wise: 18-30, 30-50, 50+. I’ve always said just because you get to a certain age doesn’t mean you don’t want to use products to make you feel better. Interesting as well, over 30% of our purchases this year have been by women purchasing for their other halves. That tells you, there’s a lot of guys who are confiding in their partners, who then find our brand, introduce it to them, and they’re getting into the lifecycle of makeup. One of our biggest revenue drivers for the brand is our Ultimate Set. Guys are buying a single product and then returning to purchase the whole set. Once they find a brand or a product they like, they generally will go and try a lot of other items from that same range.

“Reluctancy from retail, with men’s makeup being seen as too much of a niche market initially, stood in the way of its uptake. Now it’s here to stay, retail and the press picking it up has played a big part, but also guys being able to look after themselves and not being judged for it.

“Warpaint was self-funded right from the beginning. Our opening order was $100,000, I had to sell everything in my personal possessions to do that, but since then we’ve done two rounds of seed investment in the millions of dollars. Investors are looking at the new trends to get in at the beginning, because that’s when you get the most return. When we went in, we’d already had a good traction for the first nine months of trading, which showed that this is going to be a fastly growing sector, and they believed in it.

“We quadrupled sales during lockdown, which is incredible. I can’t believe it half the time, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m just very grateful. A lot of it was luck, being there at the right time, but a lot of it was purpose-driven as well. We got so many messages from a lot of first-time users who didn’t feel comfortable to try makeup and now feel confident as a result of using it. I started the brand around my mental health struggles; because of that I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and say they feel similar. I didn’t talk enough about my own personal struggles in the beginning, and now I realize that’s what people need and want to hear, it makes other guys relate to it and then they feel they can use men’s makeup. We shouldn’t try and pigeonhole people and what they should do. If someone wants to buy a masculine brand, women’s makeup, or gender-neutral brands, absolutely do that, if a guy feels a male-focused brand is more relatable, and the formulation is very different: light, little pigment, not very noticeable. There’s definitely a place for everyone. As a world, now men’s makeup becomes the norm, that opens the door to a lot of things. I just want more guys to use it so they can get the benefit from it that I did, which is empowering for me with the brand more than anything else.”

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