DIP 023: Playing for fun, not to win

PLUS: Alice Waters x Heath Ceramics, Everlane-style furniture, skincare for sweating, and more

👋 Hi. Today marks one year of Chips + Dips. I started this newsletter because I wanted an outlet and 365 days later it has more than 3,000 active subscribers. Thank you to every person who has opened, clicked, read, shared, and written in. I’m equally terrified by and immeasurably grateful for it all. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 🗺

The Dip 🔮

DIP 001 unpacked Glossier Play’s pre-launch strategy. One year later, following a Business of Fashion story on the line’s middling performance, I’m thinking about why Glossier Play should not be labeled a failure and how it might inform the brand’s future.

Playing for fun

When Play launched, I wrote in DIP 003 that I didn’t understand why Glossier launched it as a separate brand. From the start, it seemed more like a means of deepening existing relationships rather than a way to acquire new customers.

The Business of Fashion story shows that Glossier came to that exact conclusion:

In the end, both brands were chasing the same consumer; two-thirds of people who bought Play already shopped with Glossier. But though Play didn’t exactly put Glossier in front of a new audience, it did little to dent the company’s momentum. The makeup business within the core collection grew by 60 percent in 2019, defying a decline in the US prestige makeup category as a whole. Last year, Glossier’s sales soared by 60 percent, to over $160 million, according to people familiar with the company.

With one exception, Play is being folded into Glossier’s core assortment. Glitter Gelée will be discontinued. Customers criticized the product at launch for not using eco-friendly glitter. A post titled “Our Commitment to Sustainability” on the company’s new internal blog acknowledged the feedback and outlined the decision to phase out the product, explaining that the team couldn’t create a product they loved with current bio-glitter offerings.

The big leagues

Glossier Play may not have been the growth engine the team thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean it was a total failure. It was a test to see what other categories Glossier could apply its magic to. It proved that Glossier is still effective at building hype, it reinforced brand affinity within its existing audience, and it proved that there’s still untapped potential within its core make-up offerings.

In the same way that people own clothing that they save for the weekend (whether sweatpants or going-out tops), Glossier Play’s applications are inherently limited. It would make sense that the brand’s core make-up — pared-down products like Cloud Paint and Lidstar — would be in higher demand and see stronger reorder rates.

Yet in all of this, what feels most notable is how transparent the company is being. Yes, choosing to address it head-on allows Glossier to own the narrative and quash speculative gossip. But publicly acknowledging that a big initiative didn’t work out as expected is both rare and admirable.

What all of this signals is that Glossier is growing up. It’s made strong hires — people with decades of experience and knowledge that can take a thriving business to the next level — and is thinking critically about long-term goals and sustained growth.

Practice makes perfect

Glossier treated Play as a distinct brand, when in reality it was a new interpretation and expression of Glossier’s brand values. It was Glossier, just more colorful. And for that reason, may have been better suited as a special capsule collection under the Glossier umbrella.

Digitally native companies are more likely to test into new products or categories by introducing limited-run capsule collections, both to reduce financial risk and alleviate the possibility of overstock.

Outdoor Voices has experimented with new audiences through tennis, running, dance, and swim apparel, and tested price resistance with its APC collaboration. Everlane has used Denim Drops to test price resistance and new silhouettes, and once upon a time launched a holiday party capsule called E2. As noted in DIP 015, collaborations can also be effective tools for testing new products and audiences. A partnership with Flour Shop proved to Away that bright luggage was in high demand.

It’s easy to pontificate about missteps among digitally native brands. But what’s most important here is that Glossier has already moved on and is learning from Play. And in the long run, that’s what will yield success: viewing missteps as learning opportunities and using past experiences to inform future decisions.

Still Hungry?
  • This Wired UK article on Glossier’s growing empire is worth reading.

  • I’m curious to see how Glossier’s product line evolves as its core audience gets older. There are still cohorts and categories for it to grow into, too, like women over 40 and people seeking clean beauty, as well as bodycare and overnight skincare.

Real Dip 🖍

Harissa hummus.

Add one drained can of chickpeas, a three-second pour of tahini, a heaping spoonful (or two) of harissa, juice from two lemons, and a three-finger pinch of salt to a food processor. Blitz and drizzle in olive oil until everything looks smooth. Add more salt, if needed.

Plays well with grain bowls, roasted carrots, and sautéed greens.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 💎

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