Gomez’s purpose-led brand is proving you can make it in beauty while busting the beauty myth.
It’s rare alright.
In just three years, Selena Gomez‘s Rare Beauty has proven that a makeup brand built on self-love and driving awareness of mental health issues, can be a commercial juggernaut.
Expected to reach $300 million in revenues in 2023, the brand has transcended the celebrity of its founder, singer, songwriter, producer, actress and philanthropist Gomez, who is the most followed woman on Instagram with 430 million followers, helping Rare Beauty become social media’s top ranked beauty brand in the U.S.
Rare Beauty has raised $12 million of the $100 million it has committed to mental health causes over the next decade through its Rare Impact Fund, which has partnered with 25 global organizations, and provided support and resources to the brand’s Millennial and Gen Z customers. One percent of annual sales go to the fund.
“Knowing that we’re doing an important thing while selling these products is super rewarding,” said Gomez, who has been transparent about own mental health journey, including coming to terms with Lupus, depression and bipolar disorder.
“Every time I meet someone in passing, and I am completely being honest with you, it’s always about Rare Beauty,” she told Beauty Inc of her El Segundo, Calif.-based “accessible prestige” brand, which has 100 employees. “It’s actually become more about that. And it’s really nice. I’m always delighted and honored, but that’s usually what I get stopped most about. And it’s really been such a crazy experience, because we’re so new.”
What do they say besides asking for a selfie? “I definitely get a lot of love for my blushes. So people will be very vocal about that. Or they’ll say they love the line or they love the messaging. A lot of people talk about how awesome it is that we’ve tried to make an inclusive brand. Truly for everyone.”
“It’s really the opposite of a fad brand,” said chief executive officer Scott Friedman. “What we’ve talked about from the very beginning is trying to develop products that people are going to want to use forever.”
Sales are direct-to-consumer and through Sephora. Products — nothing costs more than $30 — are designed to be breathable and layerable, including Soft Pinch Liquid Blush and Soft Pinch Lip Oil in empowering-sounding shades like Bliss, Worth and Virtue. Rather than promising transformation, they promote “a healthy flush,” “staying comfortable” and “looking on the bright side.”
“This venture was about Selena’s perspective on beauty that was different than everything else out there, especially at a time where celebrity-founded brands were really being scrutinized and questioned for authenticity,” said chief product officer Joyce Kim. “Getting to know Selena as a person, everything she does is with her heart and with good intention and wanting to portray herself in the way that she truly is. And that came out in the product, too.”
Born in Grand Prairie, Texas, Gomez started her career on “Barney & Friends,” became a Disney star and had her first gold record by the time she was 17. She’s been performing all her life, most recently alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.”
Fame took a toll on her self-esteem, however, and she suffered from anxiety and depression, checking herself into a treatment facility at one point, and taking frequent breaks from social media for her own mental health.
In 2018, a torrent of paparazzi photos of the singer in a bikini ignited social media chatter about the visible scar from her 2017 kidney transplant surgery. Gomez posted to her Instagram in response, “The beauty myth — an obsession with physical perfection that traps modern woman in an endless cycle of hopelessness, self consciousness and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of flawless beauty. I chose to take care of myself because I want to, not to prove anything to anyone.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d addressed society’s obsession with physical perfection. In 2016, during a speech at the American Music Awards, she told fans, “I don’t want to see your bodies on Instagram, I want to see what’s in here,” gesturing to her heart. “I’m not trying to get validation, nor do I need it anymore. But if you are broken, you do not need to stay broken.”
So when it came to beauty, more than just a brand, Gomez wanted to create a conduit to resources, and a platform to start positive conversations around self-acceptance and mental health.
The brand launched in 2020 during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez was filming her HBO Max “Selena + Chef” cooking show at home, and had to do her own makeup because of restrictions.
“She would literally duct tape her iPhone to her mirror and send us hours of footage of her putting on makeup,” said chief marketing officer Katie Welch, admitting that at first she was skeptical of launching with Soft Pinch. “From a product side, liquid blushes are a hard sell. But watching her apply makeup and how it was transformative…to see her face brighten up, here we are, three years later and it’s our number-one franchise and continuing to grow and we’ve become this blush brand on TikTok and every other platform.”
“We needed content to launch the brand, and what she did on her own resonated so much with our community,” said chief operating officer Mehdi Mehdi. “Everyone was isolated and to see this person who they’ve idolized so much growing up doing her makeup in her bedroom in the same way, no one’s ever done content like this to launch a brand. It was really compelling and a big part of showing that we were going to speak to our consumer differently and do things differently.”
They’ve continued with that messaging in content creation.
“It’s not high production; our social team will go over to Selena’s house and film on [an] iPhone and…the relatability and how authentic it looks, people aren’t used to seeing that,” Mehdi said.
“Joyce and Selena developed these formulas that are so innovative, they lent themselves to the sort of demonstrable storytelling that is TikTok and [Instagram] Reels. Then people come to our social channels, to an event online or offline and they are able to meet one another, become friends and learn about something that they have interest in within mental health. All of that has created many layers within this brand that resonates,” Welch said.
In May, the brand held its inaugural in-person Rare Beauty Mental Health Summit bringing together 150 thought leaders, creators, health experts and community members in Los Angeles with nearly 50,000 people joining virtually via a TikTok livestream.
A community devoted to the brand but also to each other has been rewarding for Gomez.
“We center everything on wanting people to take care of themselves and love who they are, and have a safe place to share their stories,” she said. “I’ve heard really beautiful moments, like having someone walk through a divorce and actually being able to feel like she had a community to turn to. And then I will hear a young girl who has had self-esteem issues for so long and she dealt with a lot of mental health. And it’s just incredible to see how Rare has created that space.…I always cry when we read the comments.”
Gomez meets with the nine-person product team regularly, and they in turn have 1,000 “super fans” they turn to for feedback on the chat app Geneva. For marketing, the brand works with about 3,000 beauty influencers.
“We’re constantly wanting to know how we can do more, and what our community needs. Everything we create has them in mind. So, for example, I love a really strong brow, and we launched a dual-ended product that was multifunctional with a tinted brown mascara on one end and a pencil on the other. But we noticed that the community was actually preferring one side over the other and not using both. So we decided to reformulate and come out with two great products that have been really well received,” Gomez said of listening to the customer.
“It’s all about how do we make it buildable, layerable and consumer-friendly for the beauty novice that’s just discovering the product, and the people who want results,” Kim said of creating product. “A lot of our formats are really from Selena’s design. We lead by sensorial reality and texture when it comes to formula.”
The biggest acquisition driver has been word of mouth, Mehdi said. “It’s been a very slow build. The blush took probably a good six months to a year before it really exploded in the space. And it came as a result of the community that was looking for more pigmented product, figuring out how to use it and then telling their friends and going on TikTok, Instagram or wherever and telling everyone this isn’t what you’d expect from any other celebrity brand, these products are really, really good.”
“What has driven the brand explosion is user-generated content, when you look at what people are posting because they love the products and the brand,” Friedman reiterated.
The products also hold up in a professional setting, Gomez can attest.
“Professional makeup artists are very threatening to me because they’re the ones that have probably tried every product under the sun,” she said. “And both of my makeup artists use it on me. I wore it to the MTV VMAs, I wear it on most of my films and on ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ We all definitely enjoy using my products.”
“Steve and Marty” as she calls them, use the foundations on the show and support the brand in other ways, too. In October, Short emceed the first Rare Impact Fund Benefit in L.A. The event, which will be held annually, lent even more stardust to the brand via Gomez’s Hollywood connections, featuring a performance by H.E.R. and DJ set by Marshmello, and featured auction items from Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello.
It’s because of her Hollywood experience, that ease is always top of mind when developing products, Gomez said.
“A lot of times when you’re doing certain music videos, you are doing extravagant looks. I feel like I use that information to say, ‘How do I make it easy so I can achieve a really nice look but without having the 17 steps to do it?’” she said. “That’s been my biggest lesson is making the products accessible and easy to use.”
Soft Pinch Blush was the label’s runaway hit, but as the range of successful products has broadened (recent launches include Brow Harmony Flexible Lifting Gel, Perfect Strokes Longwear Gel Eyeliner and All of the Above Weightless Eyeshadow Sticks), it now represents just under 30 percent of sales.
“Bliss is the one that I use the most. It’s that soft pink that makes you feel like you have a little bit of a blush look. I love putting some on my nose and on my cheekbones,” Gomez said.
Soft Pinch Tinted Lip Oils were a natural evolution. “I have a 10-year-old sister [Gracie Teefey] who happens to love going to Sephora and having a whole day there and she’ll tell me what’s cool. So there was a lip oil trend going on and I thought it would be cool if I could do one that also stains…so that you wouldn’t have to constantly reapply it.”
Also on heavy rotation in Gomez’s everyday makeup bag — Rare Beauty Positive Light Undereye Brightener (“Sometimes, I just wear that on my skin,” she said); Positive Light Tinted Moisturizer (“It’s so light, it also has SPF in it, and it’s just really comfortable to wear,” she added) Warm Wishes Effortless Bronzer, and Perfect Strokes Universal Volumizing Mascara (“I’ve been in pools and it might run a little but it really stays like it’s waterproof, and then it kind of just glides off when you wash it off. So it’s not like you’re rubbing at your eyes all night,” Gomez said).
Executives wouldn’t comment on what’s next for the brand, but hinted it will be a new category that reflects Gomez’s attention to self care.
“There’s tons of things that I’ve learned through working on myself, by taking time away, learning DBT [dialectical behavior therapy] and CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy], which are skill sets I can use for whenever I feel overwhelmed, or I feel all of the emotions coming to a place that I slipped a little bit,” she said. “I can get down and I still have those days. But I am a big advocate for therapy and I believe in finding the right person, too, because you have to be careful who to trust. And I think being around people who may have walked through similar things has also been helpful, being around someone older, or even just a best friend, that’s like, ‘Yeah, I know how a panic attack feels, let’s talk about where it’s coming from,’” she continued.
“And sometimes I just like to be with my sister who’s 10. She just makes me feel good. I like to light candles and pamper myself a little bit. And then other days, I’m not gonna lie, it’s just really hard, and I have to pop on a funny movie just sit there and allow myself to feel what I need to feel.”
In her personal life, she turns to mom, Mandy Teefey, for support. In the makeup space, she has a lot of respect for Rihanna. “She is who she is and she’s proud to be that. And I love that she has done what she’s wanted to do with her life and takes control of it. It’s really admirable.”
She’s never gone to the Fenty Beauty founder for advice, though. “I’m too scared — and I feel like she’s a mom and busy,” Gomez laughed.
For the future, she said, “My dream is to continue to build the community and also build the brand to be a household name, where it’s not even necessarily associated with me, and hopefully people can enjoy it without even needing to understand me. I feel like we’re going in that direction.”
As for the beauty myth that the industry sells to women trapped in an endless loop of hope and self-hatred, Gomez is trying to take the high road.
“I think my version of beauty was a bit affected because I’ve been working since I was seven and I’ve always had makeup on,” she said. “I can’t think about how many hours I have spent in the chair because it kind of depresses me a little. But I genuinely feel like I am happy whenever I get to do my makeup now. And I get to feel really positive about the experience.”
Looking back, she would tell seven-year-old Selena, “Have fun and know that you count and matter without all of that makeup. And love yourself a bit more because I found it really hard to for a while.”