The six big beauty trends we’re keeping a smokey eye on

‘Is the beauty industry Amazon-proof?’ mused the Financial Times in May 2018. With more beauty stores opening than any other type of retailer, and annual sales topping £72bn in Western Europe alone, the answer seems to be a confident ‘maybe’.

This va-va-voom has been driven, not just by a seismic change in consumer habits, but also by an explosion of new brands re-shaping the market. At Start Design, we’ve been keeping a smoky eye on the industry for years. So, wearing a vibrant red lip, we sashayed into this month’s Beauty Trends and Innovation conference in London. Here are the six big beauty retail trends to watch:

1. Community conquers all

“Kylie Jenner achieved in twenty-four months what took Lancôme thirty years.” Sebastian Kraft, Global Digital Transformation Director from Molton Brown, made a statement that might have been uncomfortable listening for the grande dames of beauty brands, but you couldn’t knock it. Ms Jenner’s secret weapon is not exactly a secret – “The peer-to-peer exchange-based community is really driving the beauty industry,” said Isabella Rogers, Head of Corporate Communication & Media for Shiseido.

Unsurprisingly, great swathes of the conference were dedicated to influencer brands and content strategy. Kylie Cosmetics and Glossier (established by Emily Weiss, blogger and ‘beauty guru for millennials’ – according to the New York Times) established themselves as brands before they’d even created a single eye pencil. Industry titans like Vogue and Estee Lauder are now trying to reverse engineer their own communities, with a whopping 51% of their media spend going against earned and influencer promotion.

Rogers cited a report by NOD Group, showing a ‘positive correlation between a brand’s EMV (Earned Media Value) and its revenue’. Brands that generate disproportionately more EMV than their competitors are more likely to see their sales revenues increase. With an even more complex buying funnel and no single point of purchase influence for the consumer, she pointed out, businesses must evolve their brand and influencer strategy constantly if they have a hope of remaining ‘on fleek.’

We’re also seeing the role of community and influence shaping the physical space to fit in with shoppers multi-faceted lives. Cult US-based ‘fast-beauty’ brand Winky Lux launched an ‘Experience Shop’ in NYC in August 2018 that aims to “spark imaginations, create shareable content and foster opportunities to connect with fellow beauty lovers and friends”. Seven seriously instagrammable rooms including a fully-stocked kitchen, a disco room, a chandelier of lipsticks and the obligatory wall of flowers.

2. Show me, show me

“YouTube makeup tutorials have driven the beauty market in new ways,” said Julianne Clamens, Head of Brand Content & Social Media at Birchbox – whose successful subscription service is driven by customer preference. ‘Liquid eyeliner for beginners’, ‘How to use dry shampoo’, ‘Music festival faux fishtail braids’ – Birchbox’s tailored how-tos have become key to unlocking sales, Clamens explained, with customers six times more likely to buy a powder, serum or pencil that has an accompanying video.

3. Hero products, not brands

Julianne Clamens warned that “customers are increasingly product, not brand, loyal” and that brands need to create star items to drive growth. This is nothing new – older readers might remember the crazes for YSL’s Touche Eclat concealer or Chanel’s Rouge Noir nail polish – but the newer brands seem to be more ‘on it’.  Benefit has invested heavily (and wittily) in ‘owning brows’, Mac is still almost synonymous with lips. Shiseido’s Isabella Rogers agreed that the best way to truly engage is to identify these passion points, then create compelling campaigns and narratives around them.

Kevin Cureton, Chief Commercial Officer from Solésence concurred that, in a crowded market, “you can’t be everything to everyone”. His advice? With values-driven millennials accounting for much of the market, whatever your chosen specialism, “you have to stand for something”.

4. Non-binary is the new normal

“If 2017/18 became the year of inclusivity amongst women, 2018/19  has become the year of inclusivity without gender,” declared Isabelle Rogers.

Beauty retail trends - Jecca makeup ad
An example of Jecca’s gender inclusive advertising.

Make no mistake – this is big news. Historically, the beauty industry had operated with strict gender divides. But it seems a non-binary approach is the new normal. Celebrity make-up vlogger James Charles was named CoverGirl’s first male ambassador as far back as 2016 and, more recently, brought total gridlock to Birmingham city centre for several hours when thousands of fans turned out to see him open a store for Morphe, with whom he has collaborated. Universal product offerings like Non-Gender Specific and Jecca are hitting the shelves. Jessica Blackler founded Jecca “to break down stigma, inspire confidence and encourage conversation”.  We’re enjoying the larger-than-life spectacle of drag queens like Kim Chi and RuPaul partnering with Disney and Google, respectively, to produce daring, fun content and looks. Even L’Oréal is using men in makeup ads. Seems the lads are here to stay.

5. Anti-ageing is old news

The shift towards inclusivity has brought about a re-evaluation of ageing and the words and visual language around it. Kevin Cureton called time on the term ‘anti-aging’ outright. Instead, he said, brands will focus on feeling your best at any age.

“70% of over 45s feel like they are not represented in media, which is why we started The Age Well Revolution, a campaign to change the way the way society views ageing,” said Jane Killingsworth, Head of Brand Communication at Neal’s Yard Remedies. They chose six inspirational women, aged from 45 to 80, and have put them front and centre of their website, magazines and advertising.

6. Squeaky-clean beauty

“Sustainability simply isn’t enough anymore,” was the rallying cry from Jodi Francis, Ethical Buyer for Lush, a company that’s boldly run ahead of the pack on environmentalism since they arrived on the scene in 1995.

One ongoing problem Francis raised was that, as more and more brands not previously considered ethical claim ‘green’ and ‘clean’ credentials, the lack of global standardisation can confuse the issue. With the credibility of their sustainability ethos not in doubt, Francis explained, Lush now wants to look towards regeneration and afforestation to prevent species extinction. In addition, she shared that they’re developing business practices to promote the survival of cultural heritage in the communities local to every part of the Lush supply chain.


As experience design consultants, Start Design know what’s driving change and how to make it work for you. We help retail brands like Adidas and Couture Club meet the ever-changing needs of a new generation of customers. Intelligently, creatively and always at the pace of change.

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Charlotte Anderson Business Development Director