South by Southwest, commonly referred to as SXSW, is a festival and conference that can't be pinned down to a particular theme, genre, or industry. Located in the heart of Austin, Texas, SXSW brings together thought leaders in education, film, music, and technology to experience an array of TED-style talks and panels, showcases, and endless opportunities for connection. For brands, it’s a way to introduce and engage consumers with innovative and immersive pop-ups that get your brand noticed by the tastemakers and trend watchers in your industry. This year, beauty and wellness brands flocked to the festival with experiential activations that reflect the rapidly changing landscape. Panels on authenticity in the age of social media and pop-ups centering “digital divestment” in the face of privacy concerns indicate that the digital economy is currently experiencing a significant transformation, and brands have to stay ahead of the curve if they want to grow with it.
In case you missed it, here are the best beauty and wellness pop-ups and events at SXSW 2023, selected by BeautyMatter:
Following a successful debut at SXSW in 2019 with their Lush Labs on Tour concept, Lush returned to Austin with the “Lush House,” an activation showcasing how Lush is divesting from big tech, citing ethical concerns. Lush left TikTok and Meta-owned platforms in 2021 and has since become deeply involved in the work of digital ethics—and is one of the only beauty brands to do so. The brand commissioned a research report in partnership with strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory to better understand the rapidly shifting digital landscape and its impact on consumers.
Lush’s SXSW activation hosted conversations on the future of tech between members of the Lush team and prominent digital activists.
Lush CDO Jack Constantine opened Lush House with a talk about Lush’s roadmap for digital divestment. The closing panel featured Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in conversation with Lush Global Brand Marketing Director Annabelle Baker on what needs to happen to create a better social landscape. The talks were live-streamed on the Lush YouTube channel to make the valuable content accessible for those who couldn’t visit SXSW in person.
Despite the brand’s decision to pull back from some social platforms, the brand does embrace other forms of tech. Lush debuted a new floating bath robot, which features a Bluetooth speaker and works with a mobile app to monitor biometric information like your heart rate.
Lush is at the forefront of eco-conscious innovation in cosmetics, and this activation at SXSW showcases their commitment to operating under the highest ethical standards, from ingredient sourcing to the technology that powers their industry.
At the same time, Lush entered into the metaverse by creating a replica of the SXSW activation in Decentraland, a Web3 metaverse platform that’s user owned and governed by its users through the Decentraland DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization.
“We’ve long wondered, how and when we should enter the metaverse—an exciting concept that we see great potential to express our creativity and demonstrate our ethics in a new space,” says Adam Goswell, Lush Head of Technology R&D. “We’ve begun with a R&D approach, firstly with a land acquisition in Decentraland (a Web3 metaverse platform) where we’ve built a pop-up digital twin of our real life SXSW ‘Lush House’ where visitors can hang out, dance, complete a quest and leave with an exclusive Lush ‘All Are Welcome Always’ wearable.”
Explore the Lush House within the Decentraland metaverse by creating an account or logging in with a crypto wallet.
KORA Organics kicked off SXSW with a star-studded party celebrating founder Miranda Kerr’s 40th birthday and the brand’s newest launch, its Plant Stem Cell Retinol Alternative Serum, which is the first certified organic retinol alternative. The brand took over Austin’s Commodore Perry Estate, an Auberge Resorts members-only club and hotel, where guests were treated to aura photos, palm readings, and custom totes embroidered on-site.
Before the event, Kerr hosted a talk in conversation with Jenny B. Fine, Executive Editor, Beauty, at WWD and Beauty Inc, where she discussed her founding journey, how her mother's cancer diagnosis led to founding KORA Organics in 2009, as well as the challenges and rewards of self-funding and building a global brand. KORA Organics was one of the first celebrity skincare brands in this most recent celebrity skincare brand boom, and today, Kerr still owns 95% of her brand.
“I personally still haven’t taken a cent out of the company,” Kerr tells Fine in her SXSW session. “I want to continue to innovate really cutting-edge products… [Plant Stem Cell Retinol Alternative Serum] is quite groundbreaking. It’s the first certified organic stem cell retinol alternative product in the world and it gives you the results you need in a really healthy way.”
KORA Organics Plant Stem Cell Retinol Alternative Serum launches March 30. You can listen to Kerr’s SXSW session in its entirety here.
Selfmade is a skincare line that merges mental health with beauty, and the brand’s presence at SXSW centered around the mental health support that Selfmade believes is the key to healthy skin. CEO and founder Stephanie Lee spoke on a panel presented by Fast Company on the cost of high ambition for women in the workplace. Research presented by TheLi.st, Berlin Cameron, and Benenson Strategy showed that loneliness is harming women’s health, relationships, and opportunities for success—and it only gets worse as their careers grow.
"I have felt alone and lonely—which are two different things—across my whole life as a first-generation person of color,” says Lee. “Creating Selfmade is a culmination of the time of embracing both sides of the coin, particularly as I've been told I'm ‘too ambitious,’ and that route has proven to be a lonely one. I'm a background builder who has decided to become a lot louder and messier publicly in the name of emotional well-being, because it is THAT important we change how we care for ourselves. Our mental and physical health depend on it."
Selfmade was founded by Lee in 2020 as a response to her own struggles with mental health after climbing the corporate ladder at MAC Cosmetics and Estée Lauder. Lee works alongside two mental health experts to validate Selfmade’s processes and messaging with the goal of aligning those [mental] benefits with the benefits of the actual product.
Fresh off a $25 million infusion of fresh capital from VMG Partners, bond-repairing haircare brand K18 teamed up with Allen’s Boots, an Austin institution, to host a private happy hour where attendees walked away with their very own pair of cowboy boots or a cowboy hat. This was the brand’s first SXSW activation since launching in 2020. The brand has skyrocketed in value ever since, going viral on TikTok and selling out in stores.
Wellness brand HigherDOSE brought the at-home biohacking tools that the brand is famous for to Austin to help SXSW attendees rest and recharge amidst a jam-packed festival schedule. Festivalgoers were invited to experience red-light, infrared, and PEMF recovery sessions throughout SXSW opening weekend, powered by HigherDOSE infrared PEMF Mats and Red Light Face Masks. Co-founders Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps also spoke on the Women’s Wear Daily #Wearhouse panel on “The Intersection of Self Care and Technology” to talk about the company’s mission to bring biohacking to the masses.
Attendees also sampled magnesium-based supplements and entered to win HigherDOSE’s on-site raffle with a prize value of $5K. They also received a code to shop 15% off HigherDOSE sitewide.
Allē, a loyalty program from Allergan Aesthetics, hosted a panel discussion on “Authenticity in the Age of Social Media” in partnership with Variety and SHE Media. The thought-provoking panel examined consumers’ increasing desire for authenticity and how social media has evolved to become a hub for community and connection across every interest and style.
The panel was moderated by Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Leah Faye Cooper and featured Dr. Muneeb Shah (global educator and content creator), Olivia Culpo (model and influencer), Bobby Berk (TV host and entrepreneur), and Felicia Walker (skincare and beauty expert). Panelists discussed how being transparent about filters, products, and procedures can help create an open dialogue between patients and their practitioners, which results in better outcomes and helps destigmatize plastic surgery as a whole.
Attendees were given a $100 Allē card offer for their next Allergan Aesthetics treatment. SXSW attendees also had the opportunity to stop by the Allē, Variety, and SHE Media Co-Lab Outdoor Lounge to learn more about Allē, take photos for social against a branded photo wall, and receive free SkinMedica products.
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