Just a decade ago, buying your beauty products off a computer was unheard of. Magazines dictated trends. Shopping for makeup and skincare was a passive experience. For many, it meant fumbling around the endless beauty counters of a departmental store and having your choices picked out for you by a beauty advisor.
Fast forward to present day — Instagram innovators, Youtube vloggers and beauty bloggers hold sway over trends. E-commerce is sounding the death knell of the traditional department store, with few retail stores like Sephora thriving amidst the retail crisis, thanks to its digitally savvy experiential features, which often tie in real-time augmented reality.
The industry is in the throes of a revolution, and it has major beauty disruptors to thank for that. A buzzword that gets equal parts flak and fandom, the word “disrupt” first surfaced from startup lingo. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen first coined the theory in his 1995 paper Disruptive Technologies: Catching the wave, defining it as a product that starts at the bottom, and relentlessly moves upwards to displace its established competitors. In the beauty sphere, where heritage brands and conglomerates once ruled the roost, emerging names are now setting the pace.
A digital DNA
The industry has seen a seismic shift with the advent of social media and the millennial generation’s voracious appetite for it. Young, independent beauty brands claim this space with their explosive digital presence. These don’t just mean stunning, curated Instagram feeds — these accounts are where the founders own their relationships with their customers. They engage with them, actively share about their daily routines, and candidly talk about their products over livestream videos and Instagram stories. The result? They drive up hype for a product long before it even launches — a feat rarely achieved by longstanding brands.
The democratisation of beauty
Gone were the days when perfectly coiffed, flawless models were the look de rigueur. The new beauty buyer is now craving authenticity. Glossier founder Emily Weiss puts it best when she describes how “the individual is celebrated” as her brand ethos. Brands like hers, and Sunday Riley, honour real women flaunting their real skin — pores, freckles and all.
We’re also now approaching an era of inclusivity. These disruptors go where many traditional brands have failed — they celebrate diversity. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line made waves last year when it launched with a 40-shade foundation line. It spawned a movement: More and more beauty brands are now striving to make products for everyone. Today, Fenty Beauty continues to disrupt the status quo with campaigns that regularly feature models of all sizes, genders and ethnicities.
A demand for transparency
In our interview with founder Sunday Riley of her eponymous skincare brand, she said “people are getting more educated about ingredients. Ten to 15 years ago… they don’t tell you where the ingredient is from or how much is in it.”
Weiss echoes her sentiment on the official Glossier website:
“It has historically been an industry based on experts telling you, the customer, what you should or shouldn’t be using on your face.”
Emerging independent brands are now all about “transparency and trust”. Sunday Riley tells you in detail about what goes into each product, and the results to expect. Canadian beauty company Deciem is yet another example: Its portfolio of brands include The Ordinary. The brand describes itself as “tak[ing] pride in honesty”. Instead of flashy names, its products are simply named after their key ingredients and percentage strength.
Making the experience personal
The Ordinary changed the way people bought beauty. Its products skip the basic product mould of your typical skincare line. In place of moisturisers, serums and lotions are single, potent ingredients such as retinoids and acids. You’re free to layer these to personalise your routine according to your skin concerns and needs. More brands are also going high-tech. In Singapore, local skincare brand Alcheme combines facial recognition technology and personalised consultation services to tailor your product selection.
With legacy and independent brands now going head to head, we are officially treading new ground — never before has so much conversation been spurred about representation and transparency. The beauty business is quickly changing but one thing is for sure: Your voice is now louder than ever.