Makeup Queen Bobbi Brown on Selling a Business, Starting Another
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- The woman behind the eponymous beauty brand—which she sold to Estée Lauder in 1995 and then left for good in December 2016—has a new business and new mission: to help women feel good in their bodies. Her line of ingestible beauty products hit the shelves of Walmart stores throughout the U.S. and the retailer’s e-commerce site on April 1.
How did the Walmart deal happen?
I started a wellness line with QVC first, a three-month exclusive deal for anything I wanted to create and sell. Then Walmart approached me after seeing that. They were really interested in bringing this into their stores. The existing products weren’t right, so I had to create something much simpler, a better-priced line, with top-quality ingredients, and Instagram-worthy.
Any qualms about linking your name with theirs?
I was a Walmart customer in Colorado, where I had a home, and there Walmart was the best thing in town—it had all sorts of things. That was my experience. Then I started buying on Walmart.com. Also, a very good friend of mine, one of the founders of Harry’s shave company, sold in Walmart before me and has had a great experience. There is such potential to have a cool brand and keep it true to what it is and have it be in Walmart. How lucky to be able to launch a brand I believe in that could reach so many people, many more than I could ever reach at Goop or Whole Foods.
There’s so much interest now in “wellness.” Is this a fad, or is there more to it?
Some of this is a fad, but authenticity and well-being should not be a trend. Being transparent should not be a trend. This brand is not just about supplements. It’s a way for me to reach consumers and people and, instead of talking about confidence and self-esteem, to talk about living a good life, and feeling good in your body, and happiness and health.
What triggered this interest for you?
As someone that grew up in the ’70s in the suburbs of Chicago, it was all about how to look like Cheryl Tiegs, like a Barbie doll—if you weren’t blond, blue-eyed, with long legs, you weren’t attractive. I bought Cheryl Tiegs’s beauty book, I did everything she told me, and I still didn’t look like her. Then I saw the movie Love Story, and there was Ali MacGraw, with her dark hair and her big eyebrows, and I thought, I could look like that. But by the early 1980s, when I came to New York City to work as a makeup artist on fashion shoots, I went from not being able to be Barbie to not being able to be a supermodel. I had to say to myself, “Stop, focus on yourself, be the best you can be,” instead of being on or off a diet. That’s how I was able to create something that could last.
What’s the hardest part of leaving behind a brand that you built, one that has lasted?
One of my mentors is Mickey Drexler, and we’re always talking about how excited we are when these new fun things happen. For a long time we were in the same situation, where we were in these big companies with a lot of intensity and angst. All of a sudden we get to be entrepreneurs again. It’s not scary—I’m not afraid of failure. The negative is, I’m used to lots of people doing many things, and now I have a few people doing a lot of things. The impatient Bobbi needs to tell herself, “Hey, you’re in a cool place, with all these young people, doing what you want to be doing.” It’s been really good for me mentally.
Where do you see the experience of shopping for beauty and wellness products heading?
When I sold the company, retail was going down, media was going down, how we advertised was changing, everything was changing. I’m in this game of reinvention and figuring things out. When I started the brand, our customer was not the actual customer, it was the department stores. Now it’s the people that buy the products—they hear about us, they talk about us on social media. I have a podcast now, and I have social channels. I happen to find it so invigorating. Brands can be nimble, and they can move quickly, where a giant brand, you can’t just pick up and shift and move, it’s almost impossible.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.