Selena Gomez spent much of the last decade holding the title of “most followed person on Instagram.” So it wasn’t exactly surprising when, in 2020, she followed in the footsteps of so many celebrities before her and decided to create her own beauty brand.
Though no one could fault her for the move—with such massive influence, anything she touched was pretty much guaranteed to turn in to gold—at the time, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Considering the launch came when many of us were isolated from our loved ones, our collective mental health was in the toilet, and any “glam” we were applying was strictly for the sake of our coworkers on Zoom, another celebrity makeup line felt like the absolute last thing we needed.
But in the year and a half since Rare Beauty hit shelves, Gomez has taught us all something important about the rise of the celebrity beauty brand: When it’s done right, it can make a real difference.
What makes Rare so unique in the celebrity beauty space
When deciding to develop a brand of her own, Gomez knew that she wanted to use her influence to make positive changes in two spaces that have always been important to her: beauty and mental health.“Growing up in a makeup chair she struggled with the unrealistic expectations and standards of perfection placed on her, and always felt like she was ‘less than,’ and felt that pressure every day,” says Elyse Cohen, Rare Beauty’s director of impact.
Considering the beauty industry’s complicated history of negatively impacting people’s mental health—or, to put it bluntly, making us feel like crap for the sake of selling products—Gomez isn’t alone in these feelings. Between pushing unattainable standards, highlighting eurocentric ideals, and offering limited product ranges that leave out huge chunks of the population, it hasn’t exactly been the most welcoming space for all…which is exactly what Rare Beauty has set out to change.
“At our first product meeting, Selena said, ‘I want to create a lane in the industry where people feel welcome,’” says Katie Welch, the brand’s chief marketing officer. “We think of inclusivity as broadly as we possibly can, and that folds into the definition of welcoming. So when we set out the vision of the brand, it was to create this safe, welcoming space in beauty and beyond. We’re supporting mental well-being across age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, cultural background, physical or mental ability, and perspective.”
This principle of "welcoming" carries through to everything the brand does—from the products it's developed to the community it's created to the impact it's made on the mental health industry.
Changing the face of beauty
Makeup has historically been used to cover up imperfections, but Rare takes an entirely different approach. “Rare Beauty is really about flipping that narrative and accepting what makes you unique and accepting your imperfections," says Cohen. “We believe that makeup is something to enjoy, not something that you need."
The brand's “for all” ethos goes beyond just offering a 48-shade foundation range (though that's certainly worth being applauded). Its formulators make a point to thoughtfully design makeup that everyone can enjoy. “Our products are so versatile across different levels of expertise,” says Joyce Kim, the brand’s chief product officer. “They’re so easy to use for the makeup novice who’s just discovering what kind of foundation to use or what lip color works for them, but also it’s efficacious enough for professional makeup artists and beauty lovers who have tried everything out in the market.”
The products are formulated for use in a variety of different ways in order to give consumers an individualized experience that meets their particular needs. Nearly all of them are liquid, so that they can be applied with your hands, a brush, or a sponge; and most are meant to be multi-use so that people have the opportunity to do more with less.
At their core, the products are all about “enhancing and celebrating,” says Kim, adding that one of the non-negotiables for Rare’s complexion formulas is buildable coverage. This, she explains, empowers users to choose how much of their skin they want to cover up instead of making them feel like they need to cake on foundation and concealer to change their appearance. “We all lived through that moment of full coverage, cakey makeup with contouring and all of that, [which you can do with these products], but Selena really wanted to have the line celebrate all of our uniqueness as individuals, which meant makeup that really enhances what you have, versus something that will cover you up and change your features,” she explains. “But if someone who has blemishes feels good covering them up, they have something that has the coverage to do that.”
With that in mind, there’s no “right” way to use the products, which could explain why Rare’s makeup is constantly going viral on TikTok. Shortly after its inception, the brand created #rareroutine, which encourages users to show off the unique ways that they use the products. “It wasn’t about getting one specific look—it was about sharing however you want to wear Rare makeup from subtle to stand-out to everything in between,” says Welch. “Selena wanted to make sure that everything was easy and approachable, and I think she really was able to do that with the products she created.”
All of this supports Rare’s core ethos that there’s no singular standard of beauty. “What we really push is, ‘How can we help everyone celebrate their individuality by redefining what beautiful means?’” says Cohen. “There’s not just one definition of beautiful, so we really tap into our community and empower them to challenge those beauty norms by encouraging and shaping positive conversations around self-acceptance and mental health.”
Going past the products
While great products are undoubtedly important, the Rare team is most proud of the community that the brand has created around its mission. “Obviously the makeup has to perform, but the most serious thing to Selena in her heart is what she can do to bring awareness to mental health,” says Kim. “And as a brand, all together, it’s really about our community.”
During the pandemic, the brand hosted regular Zoom chats where community members could come together and talk about everything from what they were watching on Netflix to the mental health struggles they were experiencing during lockdown. And on social media, Rare uses its influence to share mental health resources. It's created the Rare Beauty Mental Health Council, comprised of people in the mental-health field across academia, medicine, and non-profits. It works with these teams to create the type of mental-health content that can best serve the community. According to the brand, this type of content is saved even more frequently than makeup tutorials.
Beyond just shaping conversations around mental health, though, the brand is creating real, actionable change. Through the Rare Impact Fund, it donates one percent of its beauty sales to mental health organizations, and has committed to raising $100 million for mental health organizations over the next 10 years. Since its launch, the brand has supported 11 organizations, and most recently distributed $1.2 million to an additional eight organizations working to expand mental health and education.
In October 2020, the brand partnered with the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) to become a stigma-free brand, and is working to get other beauty brands on board through an initiative called Beauty Cares. Cohen notes that Rare is working to “bring the beauty industry together and talk about what each brand can do to really positively impact mental health and increase access to mental health services,” because as Welch puts it: “As a brand, we’re not here to compete—we’re here to elevate and improve the entire community.”
Raising the bar on the celebrity beauty brand
Though it's cliché, it's true: With great power comes great responsibility. When launching Rare Beauty, Gomez had the potential to influence more than 300 million followers, and in the last two years, she's used that influence for good. While the world may not need another celebrity nail polish brand or a line of influencer-branded lipsticks, it does need people who know just how much weight their voice can carry.
"Selena never set out to create a celebrity beauty brand," says Welch. "She set out to make a difference, and she started with beauty."
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