In 2014, Weiss launched Glossier with four products: a cleanser, priming moisturiser, lip balm, and a misting spray. Known for its light pink packaging, free stickers, and pink bubble zip pouch, the brand instantly became a hit among Millennials. Glossier then expanded to include merchandise such as towels and sweaters.
More than 30 products later and with a valuation of US$1.8 billion, Glossier was considered a titan in the beauty industry, a worthy challenger to the big established conglomerates like Estée Lauder and L’Oréal.
However, since the pandemic began, the brand has hit a few bumps in its journey.
Allegations of racism and toxic work culture
Troubles began to brew at Glossier after a number of former employees banded together and outed the company for inhumane working conditions. Through an Instagram account called ‘Outta The Gloss’, the group detailed their grievances and urged a boycott. From below average wages to allegations of racism, Glossier’s pro-feminism facade began to crumble away.
One of the posts stated that management ignored non-white employees’ concerns about racism and told them to “feel empowered to walk away”. Another former staff member at the Glossier store complained, “They tried so hard to make us feel like this wasn’t like other retail jobs by calling us editors instead of sales associates and [giving us] multiple other perqs. However, this job paid the same as (if not lower than) most retail jobs in the city.”
The company eventually acknowledged the accusations, with Weiss issuing an apology. However, company insiders say nothing much has changed. The demands of ‘Outta The Gloss’ were also never met. But Weiss made sure to hire a new head of people for Glossier’s retail sectors and implemented a revised employee experience, which included diversity and inclusion training, dedicated HR support, and experienced store leadership, among other things.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to our former retail colleagues who shared with us, through many hours of conversations last year, how we can improve the overall experience for our retail team – and most importantly, how we can ensure that we’re consistently creating a safe and inclusive environment for all Glossier retail team members,” Weiss said.
The brand’s lack of representation and limited shade range for skin products were also highlighted at the height of the movement. Glossier’s main coverage products, Perfecting Skin Tint and Stretch Concealer, were launched with only five shades. In 2019, the brand added seven more skin shades; however, in comparison to many other beauty brands, which can offer up to 60 shades, this was considered far too little.
Fresh off the brand’s latest funding round, which raised $80 million last July, Glossier suddenly laid off 80 corporate staff members – nearly one-third of the company. The move was announced in an email Weiss sent to all employees personally, citing over-hiring and overspending as the reason.
“Over the past two years, we prioritised certain strategic projects that distracted us from the laser-focus we needed to have on our core business: scaling our beauty brand,” the email mentioned. “We also got ahead of ourselves on hiring. These missteps are on me.”
Despite the latest round of funding’s aim to secure Glossier’s online presence and e-commerce channels, the majority of the affected staff members were in the tech departments.
This marked the brand’s second mass layoff in the past three years. The company had laid off 200 retail staff after permanently shuttering all of Glossier’s bricks-and-mortar stores in 2020 due to the pandemic. The following year, the brand U-turned on its decision and jumped back into physical retail, with new stores in Seattle, Los Angeles, and London.
Needless to say, the online response to the brand’s inconsistencies was less than positive. After news of the mass layoffs hit the media, eagle-eyed netizens noticed a number of new positions up for hire at the company were being advertised on job-seeking websites, which seemed insensitive.
As a brand that was constantly marketed as a people-first company, none of Glossier’s recent moves seemed to align with the values that it held so closely when the company first began.
Social media darling no more
As a result, Glossier’s brand value has taken quite the hit.
On Instagram, which is the brand’s main social platform and was immensely instrumental to its initial success, Glossier’s account has been losing followers constantly since the ‘Outta The Gloss’ debacle in July of 2020. As of January 2022, the brand has lost nearly 200,000 followers and it has been unable to maintain its follower count for two years.
While the brand has never been particularly favoured on Twitter, new launches typically gather mass interest on the information sharing platform. Indeed, Glossier enjoyed rapid growth on the platform from 2017 to 2020, gaining more than 60,000 followers in three years. However, since the negative press began, interest in the brand has started to wane. Analysis from data company Thinknum Alternative Data showed the account’s growth had plateaued shortly after the brand had been outed. Unlike on Instagram, its Twitter follower count has been up and down since 2021.
Heading towards overhaul
After an eventful two years, including the effects of the pandemic, Glossier is again shifting its focus. In an allegedly leaked company presentation shared on Reddit, the brand has a new strategy for its retail channels, including an entry into wholesale.
Since day one, the brand had always aligned itself with the tech-startup boom of the past decade. As a digital-first brand, Glossier considered itself a hybrid tech-beauty company but according to the presentation, it now wants to be known as a technology-enabled beauty brand instead.
The once direct-to-consumer brand had always maintained an air of exclusivity by being available only on its website and in a limited number of physical stores. The presentation deck stated Glossier now would be “bringing the brand to more places, believing in retail and entering wholesale” as demanded by its consumers. The presentation also stated that the brand had “earned it”.
The brand’s stated strategy also included replatforming its website to “unlock future growth, including internationally”, which indicates the possibility of site localisation capabilities or support for international shipping.
Glossier’s less-than-graceful stumble is a cautionary tale for many retailers. As a company that was once so loved, it failed to stay true to its ethos as it hurled towards rapid growth.
The original girl-power, good vibes messaging that resonated so heavily with fans was not being reflected in its internal operations and this eventually shattered Glossier’s facade. This just shows how important brand values truly are, especially in determining a brand’s trajectory.