When Glossier arrived on the beauty scene in 2012, it took the industry by storm. The brand's sleek packaging and promotion of the "no-makeup makeup" look captivated Millenials, making it one of the leading companies in the industry for years. So when the company announced it was laying off one-third of its corporate staff and closing all brick-and-mortar retail stores, it was a shock. However, Glossier is not the first beauty company to suffer due to its loosening grip on younger generations. In September 2021, Becca Cosmetics, one of the leading beauty brands, shut its doors. Despite its $80+ million in sales, the challenges posed by the pandemic led to its downfall.
With beauty trends constantly changing and Gen Z always evolving, it makes us wonder, What does Gen Z want from today's beauty brands? According to Cosmetic Executive Women's 2021 report, Gen Z is the most fluid and diverse group. This group of consumers constantly challenges traditional beauty standards and is hyper-aware of brands' sustainability and morality. "Gen Z is changing the way brands act behind closed doors," says Anchor Worldwide data analyst Casie Popkin. "Buying power always lands on the youngest consumers."
With this in mind, we asked analysts, influencers, and founders to break down five of the key factors that influence Gen Z's purchasing decisions.
According to a case study by Glossy, the "clean beauty" category is expected to be worth $11.6B by 2027, a 114% increase from 2020. The desire for cleaner makeup and skincare products has continued to surge among the Gen Z demographic.
"Gen Z doesn't just care about the product," Popkin says. "They ultimately want to purchase things that make them feel good. I see a trend towards "clean" brands happening now, with brands like Sephora tagging products on their app and in-stores if they're made with "clean" ingredients. I see more and more brands continuing to capitalize on making people feel beautiful without adding harsh chemicals to products."
In 2020, Fiona Chan launched Youthforia. The brand's ethos is focused on looking good, feeling good, and doing good (for the environment). Chan's understanding of Gen Z's affinity for creativity and innovation has allowed Youthforia to thrive during these unprecedented times. The brand quickly gained traction for its clever development of beauty products that double as skincare.
"I love this idea of 'dopamine beauty' where your beauty routine is an expression of fun," Chan explains. "We always try to make products that have never existed before—like color-changing blush oil. We also don't like to use fossil fuels (the main ingredient of most makeup), so our development process is difficult. My passion for seeing these products come to life fuels me."
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet. Because of this, Gen Z expects to see this level of diversity reflected in the beauty industry. "Diversity should be the baseline," 25-year-old beauty influencer Yuri London says. "We shouldn't have to ask for brands to include more shades in their foundation. We shouldn't have to ask for fuller bodies with fuller face shapes to be represented in their campaigns. It should just happen because not everyone looks the same."
Brands like Youthforia that genuinely prioritize inclusivity strike a chord with younger audiences. "Diversity is at the core of how we think about product development," Chan says. "I'm always thinking of different skin tones, skin types, skin concerns, genders, and ages when we develop products."
Kinship, founded by Christin Powell and Alison Haljun, is another beauty brand that champions diversity in all areas. Their latest product, the Self Reflect Sport SPF 60, is designed to be white cast-free and give a second-skin feel to those with deeper skin tones.
Haljun says: "Christin and I are white, so inclusivity and diversity were always something we had to have at the heart of our brand. Visually, we show our customers a range of people. We strive to make sure they see someone that looks like them."
Not only are diverse products and imagery important to Gen Z, but a brand's internal DEI efforts also matter. Through campaigns like Uoma Beauty's Pull Up for Change, brands have actively worked to become more transparent about diversity within their company.
"The things you can't see are equally important to us," Haljun says. "We intentionally and actively make sure that when we work with our "kin circle" (our internal circle) and partners, we're working with people with diverse skin tones and backgrounds. I don't think it's possible today for a beauty brand to be successful without having diversity at its core."
Transparency and Connection
Failing to cultivate a connection with the Gen Z audience is one of the easiest ways for beauty brands to lose their interest. "What is working for Gen Z beauty brands is reaching out to their consumers and asking them what they want, rather than assuming," London says.
London also appreciates brands that pull back the curtain on the beauty industry and freely share information with its community. She says: "I look for transparency in their marketing. I love to see the behind-the-scenes of creating a product. I also look for their ability to learn from their mistakes and admit when they've messed up."
Authenticity and Impact
"Gen Z values authenticity," Chan notes. "They love connecting with brands that align with their values." It's no longer enough for brands to simply produce viral products or amass a hefty social presence. Their impact outside the beauty industry is of paramount concern to younger generations.
"Anyone can have a beautiful Instagram and a funny TikTok, but what are you doing that actually matters?" Popkin expresses. "What makes a company stand out is what they bring to the table with their product, how they're treating the people working for them, and what they're doing for the world around them."