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How Sol de Janeiro Turned a Single Hero Product into a Fragrance Phenomenon

Published October 24, 2023
Published October 24, 2023
Sol de Janeiro

Brazilian-inspired beauty brand Sol de Janeiro has captured lightning in a bottle twice—both times by bottling the sweet scent of summer. After launching in the summer of 2015 with just three products, the brand hit it big the following year when its Brazilian Bum Bum Cream became the number-one-selling skincare product at Sephora within the first three months of landing at the retailer. Consumers couldn’t get enough of the gourmand-forward scent profile, which stood in stark contrast to the citrus and floral fragrances that were popular at the time.

In 2023, Sol de Janeiro doubled down on its focus on fragrance with the launch of the Summer Limited Edition Perfume Mists, which sold out instantly, and was so sought after that collecting the vacation-themed scents became something of a sport for fragrance-obsessed consumers on TikTok. It was a year of record growth for the brand, as indicated by the 430,000 average monthly Google searches for Sol de Janeiro in 2022—up 18% from the prior year, according to digital trend forecasting agency Spate.

So, how did the brand pivot from creating a cult-favorite skincare product to dominating the mass fragrance market? BeautyMatter caught up with Sol de Janeiro co-founder and CEO Heela Yang to uncover the strategic initiatives that led to the brand becoming a fragrance phenomenon.

The Brazilian Bum Bum Cream Craze

Sol de Janeiro was born from Yang’s exposure to Brazilian beauty standards, which differed from what she had experienced living and working in the US at major beauty brands like Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, and Clinique. Yang moved to Brazil in 2008 to be with her husband and start their family. It was there on the beaches in Brazil that Yang witnessed the easygoing way that women felt free to express themselves—years before the body-positive movement became popular in the states.

“At the time, I was pregnant, and the idea of going to the beach in a tiny Brazilian bikini was new to me and challenged my own body confidence,” says Yang. “I saw the way Brazilian women felt comfortable in their own skin—all shapes, sizes, and skin tones—and it inspired me. I was at my heaviest in my life pregnant, but in the tiniest bikini, yet never felt so liberated.”

Yang joined forces with Marc Capra and Camila Pierotti to launch Sol de Janeiro in 2015, with the mission to spread this sense of nonjudgment, joy, and confidence that she experienced on the beach. The brand’s first product, the Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, was an instant hit with consumers who loved the cheeky name, bright yellow packaging, and deliciously sugary scent. Today, it’s still the brand’s number-one best-selling product. According to a representative from the brand, it sells one Brazilian Bum Bum Cream every eight seconds.

“We didn't wait for the market to tell us what was missing; we went ahead and created something that people didn't even know they wanted [with] Brazilian Bum Bum Cream,” says Yang. “By daring to innovate and fill a total addressable opportunity, we delighted consumers and changed the game.”

It’s exceedingly rare for new beauty brands to see this type of success with the first product they bring to market. Yang attributes this success to the strength and clarity of Sol de Janeiro’s original brand mission.

“Sol de Janeiro was not born because we saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it,” explains Yang. “Instead, we had a mission to fill an emotional white space. We wanted to spread confidence and the encouragement to feel good in one's skin, and we created a product that fits that very emotion and feeling: Brazilian Bum Bum Cream.”

With its sustained viral success, it might come as a shock to learn that Sol de Janeiro’s founders were initially told by industry insiders to avoid gourmand notes, which is what gives the cream its overtly sweet scent.

“When Brazilian Bum Bum Cream launched in 2015, it was unusual for a luxe beauty brand to use a gourmand fragrance instead of something citrusy or floral, but it was the right fit for us,” says Yang.

In previous years, gourmand fragrances were often seen as immature or unsophisticated. With notes of vanilla, pistachio, and salted caramel, Brazilian Bum Bum Cream was undeniably sweet, which, as it turns out, is exactly what consumers were interested in buying—particularly Gen Z shoppers. Searches for the term “gourmand” alongside fragrance increased 12% year over year, according to Spate. Searches for vanilla fragrances (a key top note in Brazilian Bum Bum Cream) experienced a similar spike of 11% year over year.

“Our brand is all about creating unique sensorial experiences that leave a lasting impression on our customers, and Bum Bum Cream does just that.”

Sol de Janeiro’s Transition into Fragrance

Considering that fragrance has always been an indelible part of Sol de Janeiro’s brand story, expanding into the fragrance category was a natural next move. In March 2020, Sol de Janeiro released its first eau de parfum, Cheirosa ‘62, which has the same scent as the iconic Brazilian Bum Bum Cream. The name comes from the Portuguese word “cheirosa,” which means to smell amazing.

“When creating Cheirosa ‘62 with fragrance house Robertet, we wanted to wholeheartedly capture and communicate the idea of the Brazilian concept of cheirosa, so for us, smelling incredibly delicious meant using edible, gourmand notes that instantly uplift and bring joy,” says Yang. “We created this scent using notes like salted caramel, pistachio, vanilla and rich florals—ingredients that we all agreed are just irresistible and absolutely delicious, and at the same time link back to the source of our inspiration: Brazil.”

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: perfume sales exploded during the pandemic, along with all categories in the prestige beauty industry, which grew by double digits from 2021 to 2022, according to a report from the NPD Group. Perfume was the fastest-growing category in 2021 and grew 11% in 2022. This epic growth was due in part to increased spending from higher-income consumers and an increase in socialization, as well as the popularity of the #perfumetok trend on TikTok, which currently stands at over 4.8 billion views. Sol de Janeiro’s fragrances became a standout hit among TikTok’s community of fragrance-obsessed consumers, racking up over 1.2 billion views. According to data from Tribe Dynamics, Sol de Janeiro generated an estimated $32.3 million of earned media value (EMV) in 2022, up 41% from the previous year. This estimate was driven by more than 4,000 creators sharing content about the brand, an increase of 16% from 2021.

“Our fragrances not only make our customers feel good but also elicit positive reactions from those around them, further strengthening the connection between our brand and its followers.”

Currently, Sol de Janeiro has garnered over 150 million views on the hashtag #braziliancrush, with 75% of the top viewed TikToks exclusively featuring perfume mists. Organic mentions from influencers like Alix Earle, Zara McDermott, and Jojo Siwa have helped the brand’s perfume mists become the latest must-have item with Gen Z consumers.

Following the launch of Cheirosa ‘62, the brand expanded its fragrance collection with a line of body sprays in 2022. Sol de Janeiro’s body sprays are priced lower (between $24 and $38) than the eau de parfum, which is far more accessible in price than traditional luxury perfumes at $78. The body mists cost less because they have a lower concentration of perfume oils and don’t last as long on the skin. Unlike glass perfume bottles, Sol de Janeiro’s body mists come in plastic packaging, making it easier for consumers to take on the go and reapply throughout the day.

The popularity of perfumes during the pandemic led to a domino effect that saw a spike in searches for body sprays, averaging 91,400 searches each month and a growth of 9.8% compared to 2022, according to Spate. Once dominated by retail chains like Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, today’s body spray category is now home to prestige brands like Sol de Janeiro, along with Ellis Brooklyn and Henry Rose.

“The complex notes of fine fragrances in a modern and more approachable mist format, coupled with the rich storytelling of electrifying Brazilian cultural moments, created an enormous appeal to today’s consumers who had begun to evolve their relationship with fragrance,” says Yang. “We have redefined the perfume mist category, which was once nonexistent in the prestige beauty world, and we are humbled and honored to lead and shape this category.”

Sol de Janeiro's Brazilian Crush Body Fragrance Mist has seen search growth of 29.5% year over year, and a representative from Sol de Janeiro tells BeautyMatter that the brand sells one perfume mist every seven seconds. Recently, Sol de Janeiro branched out into a new scent profile with the After Hours Perfume Mist, which smells distinctly like fall. It has an amber floral scent with warm hints of black currant, midnight jasmine, and amber woods.

“Much like the warmth of Cheirosa 71, we will continue to expand our scent stories to meet our consumers where they are seasonally,” says Yang.

“Staying true to ourselves has been key to our success. We've never tried to fit into anyone else's idea of what a beauty brand should be."
By Heela Yang, co-founder + CEO, Sol de Janeiro

Campaign Partnerships and Immersive Pop-Ups

In May, at the peak of consumer fervor for the brand’s quintessential summer scents, Sol de Janeiro launched the brand’s biggest global campaign to date. The brand partnered with Brazilian native Barbie Ferreira for their "Where Will They Take You" campaign to celebrate the brand’s limited edition summer fragrance mists.

“Barbie has been a fan of our brand for quite some time,” says Yang. “She truly reflects the essence of our brand, so our partnership was a natural progression.”

The "Where Will They Take You" campaign marked the brand’s most significant marketing investment to date, resulting in a sales lift of +33% and over $2 million in EMV from over 50 paid content creators. The investment clearly paid off: in the last quarter alone, the brand saw triple-digit growth in the category organically, and Sol de Janeiro’s fragrances have already generated over four times the sales when compared to all of 2022.

Sol de Janeiro also hosted a series of immersive pop-up events throughout the year to interact with their passionate followers and fans offline. In early 2023, the brand hosted its first-ever bi-coastal pop-ups in New York and LA to celebrate being named Sephora’s biggest-ever seller in body care, as well as the launch of the new Bum Bum Body Firmeza Oil. In the spring, Sol de Janeiro partnered with LookFantastic for its first-ever UK pop-up, hosted at Battersea Power Station in London. Both pop-ups offered coupons and free samples of products and featured encouraging messages of self-love as part of the installation. These uplifting messages resonate with Gen Z consumers, who prioritize purchasing from purpose-driven brands.

“Authenticity is our approach to everything related to our brand—from product to social, to campaigns, and marketing,” says Yang. “Following our ‘Time to Worship You’ pop-up surrounding our Bum Bum Body Firmeza Oil launch, we’ve spent the summer going across the country with our campaign Sol de Janeiro State of Mind tour bus and could not be more thrilled with the excitement from our consumers!”

Sol de Janeiro’s Impressive Evolution

Sol de Janeiro’s investors could smell the scent of success early on in the brand’s development, before the body spray boom. Back in 2021, Sol de Janeiro sold an 83% stake to L'Occitane in a transaction that valued the company at $450 million, with the remaining percentage owned by Yang, who committed to staying on as CEO as part of the deal. The acquisition bolstered the French beauty group’s beauty portfolio, which also includes L’Occitane en Provence, Elemis (acquired for $900 million in cash in 2019), and Grown Alchemist (acquired for an undisclosed amount in 2022). Prior to this deal, Prelude Growth Partners had made a minority investment in Sol de Janeiro in mid-2019 as the only institutional investor.

Post-acquisition, Sol de Janeiro is proving to be an excellent asset for L’Occitane Group. In FY2023 Q1, Sol de Janeiro boosted L’Occitane’s sales in the Americas by more than 50%. After L’Occitane en Provence, Sol de Janeiro is the group’s second-biggest brand by revenue with $282 million, overtaking Elemis in FY2023 (ending March 31). In Q4, Sol de Janeiro grew by a whopping 268%, contributing to the group’s $2.262 billion in revenue for the year.

“Staying true to ourselves has been key to our success, says Yang. “We've never tried to fit into anyone else's idea of what a beauty brand should be. Instead, we've stayed focused on celebrating connection and creating unique sensorial experiences for our customers.”

Currently, Sol de Janeiro has just over 30 products and 225 employees and is expecting to meet or exceed $650 million in retail sales this year. In the future, Sol de Janeiro plans to continue expanding its product categories and scent stories, while addressing the needs of its consumers.

By capitalizing on organic TikTok success, Sol de Janeiro has been able to transform one hero product (Brazilian Bum Bum Cream) into an entirely new hero category: fragrance. The transition into fragrance was a natural extension of the brand—one that consumers were literally begging for. With fragrance becoming the number one growth driver with Gen Z consumers, Sol de Janeiro is poised to be a leading force for innovation and growth within the mass fragrance category.


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