Forbes – From the outset, Scarlett Johansson didn’t want her new skin care company, The Outset, to be just another celebrity beauty brand. And while she is obviously the name behind it, the two-time Oscar nominee approached the venture like an entrepreneur.

For Johansson, who had already been the face of L’Oréal, that meant having the right business partner. “After spending three years meeting large beauty corporations and smaller production facilities and exploring product development,” the 37-year-old actress says of The Outset’s CEO, Kate Foster, “I realized that if I was going to launch something from the ground up, I needed to find my person.” With more than 20 years in fashion and beauty, Foster had previously held executive roles at the beauty division of Victoria’s Secret, Juicy Couture and NYDJ. She then founded SwearBy, a site featuring word-of-mouth recommendations with an emphasis on beauty and self-care products. When SwearBy was acquired by Meredith in January 2020, her friends in the beauty industry insisted she meet Johansson.

“Kate was not necessarily looking to get into something, but she was curious,” Johansson recalls. “I liked that about her. Curiosity, to me, is a highly desirable quality in any successful creative.”

Foster says she was immediately drawn to Johansson’s vision. “She wanted to build the effortless white tee of skin care. I was intrigued by this concept,” she says. The two were very clear on what the skincare startup would not be. Johansson rejected the idea of building a celebrity namesake brand and eliminated any hints of Millennial pink so that it could appeal to all generations and genders. “She had done her homework, and it was clear this was not a vanity project,” says Foster. “It’s about the consumer—that’s why it’s not called Scarlett Johansson Skin Care.”

Long before Foster came aboard, Johansson spent five years market-testing with prestige beauty consumers to understand their needs and their pain points. The two learned that 96% of prospective consumers were more interested in preserving skin health than in transforming its appearance, which reassured their clean, simplified take on skin care. The Outset then eliminated more than 2,700 ingredients, resulting in a vegan and allergen-free product line. Grounded in that market research, Foster helped architect an affordable product line—$55 or less.

To further differentiate herself as a celebrity founder, Johansson chose not to just partner with a large beauty development house, such as Coty (parent company of Kylie Skin) or Kendo (the brand behind Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line). “She didn’t want to go that route,” says Foster. ”She wanted to build something for herself, like a true startup, similar to how she built her own production company. It’s a scrappy startup approach.”

While still a lean team of ten based in New York, The Outset was able to secure between $5 million and $10 million in funding from the Najafi Cos., a private investment firm founded by Jahm Najafi. The Najafi Cos. is also a significant investor in Beach House Group, a brand studio for a range of emerging celebrity-founded lifestyle brands, including Tracee Ellis Rossz’ Pattern Beauty and Shay Mitchell’s travel brand, Beis. Foster says they chose the Najafi team because “they were not about a cash-in/cash-out deal but about building a brand with longevity.” She declined to comment on whether she or Johansson invested personal capital.

Najafi, meanwhile, says he liked that The Outset was driven by passion, but not a passion project. “We were attracted to Scarlett and Kate’s approach that The Outset brand and products should stand on their own,” he says, “distinct from a celebrity persona, and remain customer-centric where the customers are, in many ways, the protagonists in this story.”

Sarah Jindal, a beauty analyst at Mintel, says celebrity founders like Johansson must be prepared to address the crowded nature of beauty. In response to The Outset’s branding, Jindal says many companies, from Glossier to Sunday Riley, have already moved away from the complex, multi-step regimens. “This is in line with the direction we see the category moving; streamlining, simplification, etc.”

Foster is undeterred by the A-list competition. “It’s undeniable that it’s a crowded market for celebrity skin care and celebrity beauty,” she says, “but we felt that chaos and noise was actually where the opportunity lies, this idea of trying to reset and take the guesswork out of skin care.”

For her part, Johansson does not see distinguishing herself in the beauty-verse as her biggest obstacle: “Launching during a pandemic and now dealing with supply chain issues, especially since we are trying to maintain very high clean and sustainability standards, has been an exciting challenge to navigate.” She also emphasizes that her company is inherently mission-driven, and announced The Outset has partnered with Dress for Success to support women returning to the labor force, One Tree Planted to support California wildfire reforestation projects, and is a member of 1% for the Planet.

“We plan to show up and build a community around what we stand for,” says Johansson.

The Outset officially launched its direct-to-consumer site on March 1 with five items, then hits shelves exclusively at Sephora, beginning on April 26. It will roll out new products, bundled sets and refills in the coming months. Foster says they plan to invest in social media ads and influencer partnerships. But she notes another important differentiator. “This isn’t your average celebrity brand because Scarlett is not on social media, so it’s not that Scarlett has this existing audience that she’s looking to monetize,” says Foster. “There’s a mystery around her.”

Comments are closed.