Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
“I’m always really excited when Glossier launches a new product and it’s something I haven’t seen before,” says Emma Loughridge, 23. “I think they have a really great creative department and their marketing is really cool. It’s like nothing else.”
As one of Glossier’s 500 new reps, Loughridge is actually a part of that marketing.
Glossier, which launched two and a half years ago and which founder Emily Weiss says has tripled its growth in the last 12 months, now has 22 products, over 100 employees, 625,000 Instagram followers, and one bona fide brick-and-mortar store in New York City that gets 800 visitors each day on the weekends, with lines down the block. Weiss says that within the year, Glossier will launch products in two more categories. This growth has been helped along by $24 million in Series B funding that the company raised in November last year, bringing its total funding to over $35 million.
Today, Glossier hit a milestone by announcing that it will start shipping internationally, first to Canada, then to the UK. Glossier is setting up a London office, which will function as its European hub and headquarters. Weiss says that the brand is in talks to have an activation at Parisian retailer Colette in the fall (although news broke today that Colette will be closing as of December), followed by a French launch. Global sales have always been a goal, especially since more than 50 percent of Glossier’s social media followers and Into the Gloss readers (the editorial site that ultimately spawned the beauty brand) are from outside the US.
It’s still growing domestically, too. In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that Glossier would be expanding its operations and hiring almost 300 new employees, for which the company would be provided $3 million in tax credits. The hires will be made over the next 10 years and the jobs will be in areas like data technology, customer experience, and marketing. The 25,000-square-foot office will be located at Sixth Avenue and Spring Street in New York City, and the brand will move there in November.
The current showroom will remain where it is, “and we’ll open ground-floor retail in New York,” Weiss says. She is coy on when and where more brick-and-mortar stores are coming, though surely more are. This year, Glossier hosted well-attended pop-up experiences in LA and Portland, Oregon. “I think offline is really important. There’s definitely something to be said for wanting to touch and feel product,” Weiss says. “And I think what we’ve seen happen is people are just as interested in touching and feeling brand.”
Glossier’s strong branding and customer loyalty are its most valuable assets. The company sells a $60 sweatshirt that it began producing when customers asked for it after seeing employees and Karlie Kloss wearing it on social media; now, people wear and Instagram it proudly. The brand also uploads phone wallpaper every Friday, often featuring Glossier’s logo or products, that Weiss says 50,000 people download every week. Then there are the scores of Instagram and Twitter posts raving about the brand on any given day.
This connection that customers have with Glossier and their willingness to advertise it for free (or at a cost of $60) means that Glossier has run with a sort of no-marketing marketing plan to go along with its no-makeup makeup mentality. As Buzzfeed pointed out in its 2016 story about Glossier’s no-commerce commerce approach, the marketing is there, but it doesn’t feel like it.
Weiss says that her company had no formal marketing at all during its first year. Last year, 79 percent of sales were from “organic and peer-to-peer and earned sources.” At the WWD Beauty Summit in New York City a few weeks ago where she was a featured speaker, she said, “Our customers are our number-one mouthpieces and evangelists. They are doing exactly what we hoped they would. They are interpreting Glossier.”
Weiss believes, and has so far proven with Glossier’s word-of-mouth success, that nothing is more impactful than a recommendation from a friend. So Glossier has folded those “evangelists” she referred to even further into what she calls the Glossier “ecosystem.” The company has instituted a representative program, which launched with 11 reps, as first reported by Quartz in December of last year. It now has about 500.
The program is a digital continuation of behavior that Weiss sees happening every day in the physical showroom: Young women talking to each other about products and making recommendations to each other. “It emerged as a response to all the girls who want to be more involved with the brand and who were already making really incredible content around Glossier,” says Weiss.
Glossier doesn’t care how many followers the reps have on social media. “Right now, because it’s in beta, we’re trying to cast a wide net,” Weiss says. “The common thread is people who share our values, people whose content we really like, [who have] something interesting to say about the products and also who come from really diverse backgrounds and different parts of the country.” Glossier has been reaching out to customers to become reps, but it also has an email it’s been giving out to those who inquire over social media. A Glossier PR rep suggested this process will get more streamlined as the program grows.
Each Glossier rep gets her or his own page through which people can buy products. When people purchase through their pages, the reps get a combination of a monetary commission and product credit, though the amounts have changed since the first group of reps came on board. Weiss declined to comment about the payment structure for reps or how many she ultimately wants to have. “We’re trying to make it right before we scale it,” she says. “I don’t want to comment too much on where that’s going, but suffice to say that it’s really outperforming our wildest expectations.”
Alyssa Neilson, 24, who lives in NYC, was in the inaugural group of Glossier reps and still is one. She was also a showroom worker before the space opened permanently, and she even modeled for the brand. (That’s her in the Glossier sweatshirt above.) When she first started, she recalls being paid a 30 percent commission on all sales.
“It was a substantial amount of money, especially on launch days,” Neilson says. “The serums were a big thing for me. I don’t remember how much I sold, but I made like $300 that week because they were being sold as a bundle and they were at a higher price point for Glossier.” She also receives a $50 product credit each month. She says when the new reps were added, the commission structure changed.
Now, according to current reps, they get paid on a tier system. The commission starts at 5 percent up to the first 10 orders. Once you break 10 orders you move up another 5 percent to the next commission bracket, topping out at 20 percent. (One rep says she thinks it takes 60 orders to get to the 15 percent rate.) Reps coming into the program now get only a $30 product credit every month, though they can earn more free products depending upon their sales.
It’s hard to make a ton of money as a rep. Neilson says she used to make about 15 sales per month before the new reps came on board; now it’s more like three or four, though she admits she doesn’t post frequently about Glossier anymore. Fiona Brown, 19, lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a newer rep. She says the most orders she ever had in a month was 20, and the most amount of money earned about $50.
Loughridge, who’s based in San Francisco, has had higher sales, possibly because at 47,000, she has more Instagram followers than the other two by many thousands. She says she averages 150 to 170 sales per month. As a top producer, Glossier flew her and a small group to NYC for a rep trip (see #glossiergetaway) in May, to spend time with the team and do some NYC-centric things, like get manicures at Paintbox. (The reps said they have received no guidance from Glossier about how or whether to disclose their monetary connection to the company. In April, the FTC started calling out Instagram influencers and celebrities for fuzzy disclosures. Two of the reps I spoke to felt their posts didn’t require an #ad designation since Glossier wasn’t paying them directly for a post. Per a statement from Glossier, “Our reps are required to include clear and prominent disclosures in their posts that are compliant with FTC guidelines. Our rep agreement says this verbatim.” )
Glossier reps can chat on a special Slack channel and share tips and stories. One senior in high school used her pink Glossier bubble wrap pouch as a clutch at her prom. Many reps get business cards made and hand them out to people. The reps here, who all have full-time jobs, said they were more casual in their approach, usually just posting about products via Instagram stories and around new launch times. Some don’t even keep their Glossier links in their Instagram profile all the time.
So what’s the appeal, if not cold, hard cash? Weiss says, “I don’t think this is going to be a single sort of incentive structure. It’s going to be multi-tiered and cater to a wide variety of potential interests, from experiential to monetary.” As she told Quartz, “I would argue that there are things more important than money.” The reps enthusiastically backed her up on this; they truly do it for the intangibles.
“In a small way I am a part of the company and I get to hear about exclusive things that people outside don’t get to hear about, so that’s a pretty good goal,” says Brown.
Loughridge agrees. “I get to feel like I’m a part of it but still feel like a consumer.” She really enjoyed visiting Glossier’s HQ and sitting in on a creative meeting.
“I like Emily a lot, so I enjoy helping in any way that I can," Neilson says. "I think it’s a really special brand with a really great message.”
The program is not without at least one dissenter, though. One rep, who requested anonymity, is afraid the rep program might be causing the brand to lose some of its cool girl cache. “A lot of the girls are really off-brand,” she says. “They wear a shit-ton of makeup and I don’t even know how they use Glossier.” She also says that she’s been noticing some backlash to the reps online. “The amount of reps are kind of freaking people out externally. I’ve seen a lot of banter about that on the internet like, ‘OMG, the Glossier reps are so annoying, like how many of them are there?’”
Weiss did address the whole cool girl issue, indirectly. She's gracious, but seems a bit tired of the stereotype. “We really believe that Glossier can be enjoyed by everyone, and so we’re trying not to double down too much [on reps] in New York and LA, and really making sure we’re spread out across the country and soon the world, because we’ll have international reps as well.” After all, anyone who’s been to high school knows there’s a limited number of cool girls in the universe.
That same rep also had a bit of a crisis of conscience when it came time to sell the brand’s new sunscreen. The sunscreen, which costs $34 for one ounce, was the subject of some scathing reviews on Reddit, because of both the price and the formula. “How do I tell people to buy this sunscreen when it’s $34 and it’s literally the size of a Birchbox sample?" she says. "It gets hard to advocate for stuff like that.” But despite her criticisms, she still says she loves the brand and wants to continue being a rep.
Glossier has run into trouble before when tapping into its customer base to sell stuff. Tracy E. Robey, a blogger and Racked contributor who was approached last year to post about Glossier products, wrote that the brand seemed to be targeting random bloggers willy-nilly for its “BFF” referral program, which offers a discount to first-time shoppers and credits to the blogger, even spawning a network of spammy Instagram accounts. That program is not as prominent now that Glossier has established a group of young women who truly feel passionate about the brand and even empowered to be a part of it.
Glossier has taken different approaches to its marketing besides the rep program in 2017, including more traditional ones. It launched its Cloud Paint blushes via “sponsored” looks — meaning it paid the makeup artists, a common tactic of beauty brands — at the Oscars, where the product was used on Chrissy Teigen, Taraji P. Henson, Allison Williams, and Rashida Jones. Amy Schumer’s makeup artist called out the brand at the Golden Globes. Then there was non-cool-girl Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, wearing and using a Generation G lipstick in Fifty Shades Darker. The brand says this was not a paid product placement, but happened “organically” because the makeup artist used it. And lately, Glossier has been experimenting with large outdoor ads Weiss likens to mood boards, which showed up on bus takeovers in Chicago and San Francisco, and on billboards in New York and Los Angeles. You might even find a card-stock catalog in your real-life mailbox.
While the brand seems ubiquitous in certain circles, there’s definitely plenty of room for Glossier to grow. When asked about a 22-year-old in the Chicago suburbs who hadn’t heard of Glossier as of a few months ago, Weiss is sanguine, if slightly exasperated by the question. “We’re two and a half years old and Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’d much rather have her hear about it from her friend than in a Google remnant ad or something like that,” Weiss says. “If it takes her a little bit longer, I think that’s fine because she’s ultimately going to hear about Milky Jelly cleanser from her friend, buy it, and be using it for years.”
Updated July 13, at 12:20 to reflect a statement by Glossier about reps’ FTC disclosure requirements.
Racked occasionally accepts products for research and reviewing purposes. For more information, see our ethics policy here.