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As Consumers Shift Away from Pro-Applied Lashes, DIY Extensions Gain Traction

Published May 5, 2024
Published May 5, 2024
Lilac St.

Will the recent TikTok backlash against the expense and hassle of professionally applied lash extensions have a lasting impact on the once red-hot category?

DIY extension brands like Lilac St., Method Lash, and Lashify certainly have a lot to gain from the number of views “lash industry dying” videos are starting to rack up.

Sitting squarely between heavy, often easily detected drugstore “falsies” and more realistic-looking professionally applied lashes, DIY extensions promise a lightweight feel and staying power—minus the trip to the salon and hefty hit to the bank account.

And at least in the case of Lilac St., another key selling point is glues that won’t subtract your real lashes from the equation when the false ones are removed.

Armed with the sobering knowledge that professional glues are notorious for wreaking havoc on natural lashes—a key point of disgruntlement in many lash-backlash TikToks—Lilac St. founder Alicia Zeng tested “hundreds” of adhesives over the course of several years before launching her brand in 2020.

Within the product lineup, which includes a full range of accessories alongside lashes, Lilac St. offers two types of adhesive: the beginner-friendly Lilac Lash Glue, which has a brush head format and delivers up to 45 seconds of setting time, and the quick-drying Pro Lash Glue, delivered in a mascara wand format. While the latter requires more application confidence because it sets so quickly, it also lasts significantly longer.

“We’ve really obsessed over glue formulas in a way that other brands haven’t,” says Zeng. “From the start, I’ve always been about, yes, the lashes need to be good. They need to be super-light. They need to be comfy. But really, the make-or-break of someone’s lash experience is the glue.”

Apparently Zeng’s glue fixation has had an impact. According to industry consultant Lydia Lovig, a growth advisor to the brand, not only does Lilac St. regularly outperform some of the buzziest beauty brands, including Dieux and Vacation, in key D2C and social media metrics, it’s also giving chief competitor Lashify a run for its money.

And to top it off, Lilac St. became a $15 million brand in its first year.

In Lovig’s opinion, the relative newness of the DIY lash extension category has definitely helped Lilac St. on the quick-traction front.

“Imagine a brand in skincare or color cosmetics doing that volume in the first year—there’s just no way,” says Lovig. “Given the forensic level of detail you have to have in beauty to create, or even identify, white space, it’s shocking to me that there’s a category as loose and unexamined as this, and then also this commercially viable.”

To say Lovig is bullish on the DIY extensions category in particular, and the false lash sector as a whole, is an understatement; with little prompting, she’s quick on the draw with reams of rosy numbers. Per Lovig’s research, the false lash category is expected to increase by $386.9 million by 2025, with a CAGR uptick of 5.88 percent. The global market is predicted to rise from $1.36 billion in 2020 to $2.31 billion in 2028.

All of which doesn’t mean that the professional lash business is on its deathbed. Robot tech lash start-up Luum Precision Lash, founded in 2017, has not only secured $2.9 million from a portfolio of investors that includes Ulta Beauty, it unveiled its first commercial pilot at the Ulta San Jose store at Village Oaks this past December.

Despite the success she’s had with Lilac St., and her belief in DIY extensions in general, Zeng laments the fact that there’s virtually no venture capital activity around the category.

“Definitely no VC money,” she says. “Private equity money, yes. I know that there’s private equity activity among the small brands, that there’s interest in consolidating or growing these brands. But venture money? Not any significant amount.”

Zeng, who is Asian and female, hazards a guess that individuals guarding the VC purse strings simply don’t understand the consumer need for DIY extensions.

“We actually went out to venture when Lilac was a baby brand, and we got told by multiple rooms of white men that ‘this is not a scalable enterprise,’” Zeng recalls. “And I get that. They’re looking for the next AI, the next big thing, and we’re not going to be that. But I also feel like there’s a lack of empathy for the problem-space in VC.”

Investors may not also realize the extent to which consumers have become attached to the “you but better” impact of lashes—so much so, in fact, that vending machines dedicated solely to falsies are cropping up everywhere from airports to strip malls and laundromats.

Zeng says she isn’t surprised eyelash vending machines are having a moment. After all, you never know when you might have, as she puts it, a “lash emergency.”

“It’s the one thing people say you need to feel like you’re awake, like you’re ready to go outside,” Zeng notes. “I’m hearing more and more people say things like, ‘Without my lashes I look sick.’ Or, ‘Without my lashes I look like a mole.’ Lashes are the new lipstick.”


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