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DTC Darling Italic Expands to Skincare

May 31, 2022
May 31, 2022
Italic

You know Italic. Even if you think you don’t, it’s your favorite co-worker’s best-kept secret or the label behind the luggage you find yourself coveting at the airport. Similar to Beauty Pie, but with categories as far reaching as pet care and kitchen essentials, Italic counts on a network of independent manufacturers, the same ones behind your favorite brands, to leverage low costs without brand-name markups. The brand, whose mission is “to source, develop, and curate the highest quality products at the lowest prices,” has won over the hearts of editors, consumers, and investors, with $50MM raised to date, since its inception in 2018 by founder Jeremy Cai. Deciding to expand to beauty four years later, Cai explains, was an easy decision. “The category is large and continuing to grow quickly, while also having one of the highest margins in any retail sector,” he explains, “allowing our value proposition of ‘Luxury without labels,’ to really shine.”

Cai and the team at Italic were under no illusions that breaking into the notoriously crowded beauty space would be simple. In the heyday of new brands, celebrity-endorsed collections, and collaborations, Italic’s offering is humble in comparison. The brand focused on taking its time to source from the best labs in Japan, Korea, and the US, developing formulations from scratch. This slow and steady process allowed for “truly prestige-level quality products and ingredients, but at masstige prices,” according to Cai.

According to Italic’s Head of Beauty Kristin Liang, formulating with the end goal of a cohesive line was the first step toward building in the category. “Skin feel” was a priority in the formulation process, too, with an emphasis on avoiding pilling or heaviness. “Compromising on the quality of the formula to hit a deadline or target cost was something we actively avoided,” she explains. Liang notes that there’s “always a solution if you put in additional time and quality of ingredients.” It’s industry knowledge that some labs will suggest lower active concentrations or lower-quality ingredients to hit target costs, but it simply wasn’t in the Italic playbook for development.

Instead, working backwards from a fixed price—nothing in the brand’s beauty expansion is over $25—served as a guardrail against losing the competitive edge of Italic’s trademark pricing. Cai notes that $25 is both rare in the luxury skincare sector and “reasonable while still being very competitive for the quality of the formula.” Take Italic’s Bright Time Vitamin C Serum ($25), for example. Finding the ultra-stable 15% Vitamin C elsewhere on the market, from competitors like Boissance or Sunday Riley, would set a consumer back $62 and $85, respectively. This might explain why the product is Laing’s prediction for the line’s bestseller. “In general a Vitamin C serum is harder to formulate and get right. We’re confident we’ve created an effective, gentle, and non-sticky formula,” she shares. On average, customers who purchase beauty from Italic opt for at least two items. 20% of beauty shoppers are men, reinforcing the line’s unisex appeal. At the end of the day, customers shopping for skincare on Italic are shopping beyond the category. 75% check out with a skincare item in their cart, plus something from another category.

Exploring packaging, alongside formula iterations, helped refine the Italic aesthetic on the bathroom counter. “If it was something that could contribute to a better experience for the customer, we iterated on it until it felt right,” Liang explains. Aiming for clean, high quality, and “never overly showy,” Italic landed on bare packaging that allows the formulas to speak for themselves. Encased in PET (recycle 1) bottles, the bottles are thick enough to be mistaken for glass. Italic’s sleek packaging feels at home among brands like La Mer or Clé de Peau’s. Even the simple Glow Theory Gel Moisturizer ($22) embodies the sleek chameleon effect Italic has bottled in every one of its expansions. The products feel luxurious, because they are, not because the packaging declares them as such.

If Italic’s track record proves anything, expansion is inevitable, and also, part of the brand’s magic. Liang says that, coming this fall, Italic will be offering makeup—“Think smooth, luxurious textures that are easy to use,” she shares—and as early as this summer, haircare—“Everything will be vegan, cruelty free, and follow our existing ingredient blacklist.” The sky, if it can be refined, perfected, and repackaged for savvy DTC shoppers, is the limit for Italic.

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