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Published January 20, 2021
Published January 20, 2021

The personal care landscape is undergoing a complete overhaul, from staid categories owned by incumbents for decades to completely new categories appearing on retail shelves that are breaking taboos and filling whitespace. The global beauty and personal care market is expected to grow from USD 493.34 billion in 2018 to USD 756.63 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 5.81% during the forecast period 2019-2026, according to a report published by Fior Markets.

The deodorant category was one of the first traditional personal care categories to be upended, notably by Schmidt’s, founded in 2010 by Jaime Schmidt selling product at local farmers markets, and Native, launched in 2015 with a DTC model by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Moiz Ali. These start-ups challenged category incumbents with a simple proposition—clean, natural formulas at a time when consumers began to express ingredient safety concerns.

These brands created a tipping point mainstreaming “natural” deodorants, and strategics took notice, balancing their traditional antiperspirant/deodorant portfolios with acquisitions of natural alternatives. The end of 2017 saw the acquisition of Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant by Unilever, owner of Dove, Degree, Suave, and Axe, and deodorant brand Native was acquired by P&G, owner of Secret, Gillette, and Old Spice, in a $100 million cash deal.

The deodorant category has become flooded with start-ups in a land grab, each trying to seize a piece of the category. Clean beauty indies like Kosas are even using deodorant as a gateway to personal care, while incumbents innovate to maintain market share. Fortune Business Insights predicts the global deodorant market size will reach $30.76 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 4.0% during the forecast period.

In a second wave of innovation, a new group of disruptors is tackling the plastic problem in the category with paper tubes becoming more widely adopted, while others are tackling sustainability through refill concepts. Venture-backed DTC start-ups Myro (launched in 2017) and by Humankind (launched in 2018) are leading the charge.

DTC start-ups have led the deodorant refill revolution with cool packaging and clean formulas appealing to millennials’ and Gen Z’s commitment to the environment. While the cool kids of personal care have already adopted refillable deodorant concepts, this time around big beauty is playing its part. Dove kicked off 2021 with the launch of their chic refill concept that makes the venture-backed indie disruptors look slightly dated, while also indicating refillable deodorant may finally be reaching a tipping point.

The refillable deodorant brands all leverage pretty much the same formula. Custom industrial design embodies the aesthetic of the brands in either recycled plastic, aluminum, or other metal, offered in 3-5 colors. The refillable cartridges or pods use as little plastic as possible and, in some cases, make compostable claims. In all these propositions, clean formulations are table stakes and offered in 3-5 fragrances. And finally, they are based on a subscription business model.

In the end, consumers looking to make a commitment to refills will make their decision based on package design, brand values, and price.

Dove: Dove launched its refillable deodorant in a bid to tackle plastic waste, part of Unilever’s mission to help care for the planet by creating a closed-loop economy. The company worked with A Plastic Planet on material selection, and Dutch design consultancy VanBerlo developed the sleek design focused on minimizing material usage.

The beautiful palm-sized, refillable, buy-just-once stainless steel case comes housed in a white secondary package made of 100 percent Forest Stewardship Council-grade paper. While the refill concept doesn’t entirely eliminate plastic because the inserts are made from plastic, the design uses 54% less plastic, 98% of which is recycled, than the traditional deodorant.

Dove’s refillable design will be available in Target and Walmart stores in the US, helping the efforts to mainstream refillable deodorant concepts.

Pricing: $15 for the Dove Refillable Deodorant Starter Kit (case and deodorant) and Refill Kit (two deodorant refills) for $10.

Beautycounter: Takes on refills with the launch of The Clean Deo. Beyond the product’s ingredient list, the brand tackled sustainable design. By making the product refillable, they cut water, fossil fuel, and greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 47% to help minimize waste in landfills. This is just one example of how they’re moving beyond single-use and designing for circularity.

Pricing: Initial purchase is $28 with refills priced at $18.

Wild Cosmetics: UK-based Wild was co-founded by Freddy Ward and Charlie Bowes-Lyon in August 2019 with the hopes of reducing the amount of waste produced by bathroom products. Award-winning industrial design and innovation studio Morrama delivered on the brief for the product to have minimal impact on the environment.

Made from anodized aluminum and post-consumer recycled plastic, the custom Wild package is minimal and intuitive with every detail carefully considered to achieve a compact unisex design. The case slides apart to easily remove and insert the refill, which is made of 100% recyclable bamboo pulp. The DTC subscription-based business also ensured the refills were slim enough to fit through a letterbox. Wild also allows consumers the ability to customize the package for an upcharge of £3.00.

Give Back: For every deodorant sold, the brand contributes a percentage of sales to climate charity On A Mission.

Pricing: A one-off purchase of the deodorant case and three refills costs £25, 5 refills and the case is £32, and the flexible subscription service costs £12.

Funding: In October 2020 Wild raised £2 million from JamJar with participation from Creative Investment Club and Dutch Slingshot Ventures.

Fussy: A UK-based refillable deodorant concept founded by Matt Kennedy and Eddie Fisher, who both come from advertising and branding backgrounds, set out to please both “pits and the planet” by reducing the need for single-use plastic. The brand partnered with design agency Blond to design a refillable deodorant with a screw-base actuator that can house compostable refills slim enough to fit through UK letterboxes. The outer container is made from plant-based plastic, refills are made from waste sugarcane pulp, and all packaging is made from recycled, FSC-approved cardboard. The brand said they conducted an in-depth material analysis and found this combination to have the lowest impact.

Give Back: The business has partnered with Empower to fund the collection of 1kg of ocean-bound plastic with each purchase. The system prevents plastic from entering our oceans while also providing a source of income.

Pricing: The container is £10 with refills at £5. The brand also launched with a fully-branded merch program, from a deo-dish to washbags and T-shirts. The business is taking pre-orders and is set to launch early 2021.

Funding: Last November the brand was one of the finalists in The Beauty Accelerator run by The Red Tree and SFC Capital, and will receive £150,000 in equity investment and 12 months of mentorship. The business is also running a Kickstarter campaign that has raised £114,723 to date.

Helmm: Taylor Lane and Zach Groffsky left careers in finance in 2017 and set out to reinvent deodorant. They founded Helmm out of frustration with the products at their local pharmacy. The duo tapped the industrial design talent at Prime Studio to develop a high-end patented permanent vessel and refill pod system that addressed functionality through the lens of a classic modern aesthetic.

The brand has two interpretations of the male aesthetic. The luxury offering is called Heritage, which uses durable materials such as nickel-plated zinc and Horween leather inspired by a scotch tumbler or a luxury automobile. Compass is a simple sleek black container at a more approachable price point. Refill cartridges are made from highly recyclable polypropylene and HDPE plastics, while the design reduces plastic by more than 60% per unit.

Pricing: Starter kits for Heritage $35 and Compass $18 include container, cartridge, and enrollment in the subscription program. Refills are $16. The brand is available direct to consumer and in-store at Saks Fifth Avenue.

by Humankind: Founded in 2018 by Brian Bushell and Joshua Goodman, the direct-to-consumer brand, consisting of high-performing personal care products that are kinder to the body and the planet, was launched with a mission to cut down the dependence on single-use plastic.

For the brand, there’s a direct correlation between product design and mission. Products and packaging are designed to reduce the dependence on single-use plastic by 90% or more than current offerings. The brand’s refill model consists of refillable deodorants, shampoo bars, and mouthwash tablets with clean ingredients. The plastic patent-pending refillable deodorant shell allows for compostable paper pod-based “Kindfills.”

Give Back: The brand has partnered with Plastic Bank, offering consumers a subscription designed to offset the plastic footprint of the user’s routine for $8 a month through its zero-waste program called Offsets. Through Offsets, users will have 22 pounds of ocean-bound plastic waste removed from the environment monthly. The business is also carbon neutral.

Pricing: The initial purchase of one cartridge and refill is $15, and refills are $12 each.

Funding: In February 2019 the company raised $4 million in seed funding led by Lerer Hippeau with participation from Red Sea Ventures, BoxGroup, SV Angel, Great Oaks, SoulCycle co-founder Elizabeth Cutler, and CPO of Adobe Scott Belsky, among others.

Myro: Founded by Greg Laptevsky in 2017, Myro—which means “essence” in Greek—launched with a waiting list of 16,000 people, selling over 500,000 units through its website in its first year. The covetable design was created by Visibility, a New York design studio. The refillable deodorant system uses 50% less plastic than a regular disposable deodorant and consists of a permanent injection-molded deodorant case that is dishwasher safe with recyclable refill pods that plug into it.

Pricing: $15 for the starter kit (1 deodorant pod and refillable case) and $5 shipping, or $10 for a starter kit (1 deodorant pod and refillable case) and free shipping. Refills are priced at $40 for the first box (4 deodorant pods of each scent); after the one-month trial, the cost is $30 per refill box.

Funding: The business raised an initial $2MM seed funding round from Lakehouse Ventures, Obvious Ventures, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, and co-founder of Olly and Method Eric Ryan, which was followed by a $7MM seed extension funding round from celebrity investors Serena Williams and Carmelo Anthony.

Launched as a DTC subscription proposition, the brand expanded to brick-and-mortar and online with Target in September of 2019, is now available at more retailers like Anthropologie, and is also available on Amazon.

Noniko: The brand launched in 2015 with a mission to change the standard in how body care is defined, starting with deodorant. The product is handcrafted in small batches in the brand’s San Diego studio and packaged in a refillable, plastic-free, 100% stainless steel container developed with start-up packaging supplier Verity. The cases are intended to use for life while the refills are returned to the brand, sanitized, and reused. The company has made a commitment to be completely plastic free by May 2021.

Give Back: The business has partnered with 1% for the Planet.

Pricing: The starter kit includes the container and one refill for $45. Refills are available through subscription at $22 every three months. The products are available on the website and through the Package Free Shop.


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