Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Brittney Griner writes to President Biden, women athletes will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and female CEOs are behind the rise of celebrity beauty and personal care brands. Have a great Tuesday.
– Behind the scenes. The past half-decade has seen the rise of celebrity beauty brands, from the wild success of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty to the more recent emergence of Jennifer Lopez’s JLo Beauty and Hailey Bieber’s skincare line Rhode.
The incessant launch of celeb brands has, in turn, created a new class of female CEOs who are tapping into existing fan bases and creating businesses that, hopefully, can outlive their initial celebrity association.
In April, the Broadsheet spoke with Scarlett Johansson and cofounder and CEO Kate Foster Lengyel about their new skincare brand the Outset. The two candidly spoke about their efforts to carve out a niche in the saturated celebrity beauty space. Recently, I spoke with three more CEOs who are in the early stages of building their own brands with famous partners.
Pamela Cholankeril is the CEO of Proudly, a baby care line cofounded by Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade. Mia Meachem is the CEO running Kinlò, Naomi Osaka’s sun care line. And Kia Lowe will take the reins of a forthcoming skincare brand backed by John Legend set to launch later this year, Fortune is the first to report.
All three are part of A-Frame Brands, a company that builds “talent-led” brands that so far aim to serve people of color. The company identifies a desired market or niche and then brings on a celebrity partner interested in that space. The three brands share operational resources across their companies, and each CEO leads a small team focused largely on brand, marketing, and retail. (Johansson’s brand the Outset, by contrast, is its own company independent of any larger corporate structure.) A-Frame plans to launch one or two new brands annually over the next few years.
The three executives have long resumes in the beauty and personal care space. Cholankeril spent a decade at Estée Lauder, where she led corporate, digital, and omnichannel strategy. Meachem is also an Estée Lauder alum, and was a marketing executive for Burt’s Bees and VP of marketing for the beauty brand Drunk Elephant. Lowe worked in marketing at L’Oréal and Lancôme before leading sales at Kiehl’s.
Those experiences have helped each CEO execute the vision they were tasked with bringing to life. At Burt’s Bees, for example, Meachem joined as a director of global marketing during a high-growth period when the brand was expanding from its well-known lip balm to a suite of personal care products. And working on the Bobbi Brown brand at Estée Lauder gave Meachem some insight into what it takes to be an executive supporting the face of a brand. “I have found it very similar to having Bobbi as part of the brand,” she says of working with Osaka at Kinlò.
Before partnering with a celebrity, A-Frame has usually settled on a category and done some product development. On the executive front, A-Frame looks for CEOs with marketing and branding expertise. With talent, it typically talks to about three potential celebrity partners before deciding which well-known figure will come on board. The conversations are a “self-selecting process” that eliminate partners who are looking for a check rather than long-term engagement, says A-Frame CEO Ari Bloom. “We don’t start with a celebrity and build a brand around that,” he says. “We start with a problem and build a brand around a problem. And then we bring in talent to amplify the message.”
Proudly was one of A-Frame’s first brand launches. “We had an idea based on what we saw in the market as a need. Looking at the basics kids are going to need: diapers, wipes, body wash, diaper cream, moisturizing oil,” says Bloom. “We said to Gabrielle and Dwyane, ‘These are the categories we’d like to pursue. What do you use today? What are the products you love? And why do you use them on [your daughter] Kaavia?'”
Working with celebrity partners in personal care categories creates opportunities for a unique kind of brand-building, says Cholankeril. As a baby care brand, Proudly aims to reach parents. Union and Wade have both been open about their parenting experiences, including Union’s miscarriages and IVF that preceded the birth of their daughter and their experience supporting Wade’s 15-year-old daughter, Zaya, who is trans. “Having Gab and Dwyane at the helm allows us to do a lot of storytelling about mom and dad, and about Black fathers—a story that needs to be told more,” says Cholankeril. “It allows us to expand our storytelling because we know they’re comfortable with those stories.”
At Kinlò, which is sold in Walmart, Meachem updates Osaka on the brand about once a month. (Bloom believes that “DTC is over,” and retail is a major piece of each brand’s strategy.) Legend’s brand hasn’t yet announced its name, but Lowe has spent time visiting skincare retailers with Legend. The brand will be unisex, which Lowe hopes is a differentiator.
The next A-Frame brands to join this portfolio will likely be in new categories like women’s sexual health or adolescent and teen products, says Bloom. And those brands, of course, will bring new executives on board, joining the CEO circle of sorts that Cholankeril, Meachem, and Lowe have built together. “There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the three of us,” Lowe says.
“I think a lot of brands don’t feel authentic with these celebrities because it comes across as very transactional,” says Bloom. “We’re bringing in the right partner who can talk about what the issues are—and who people listen to.”
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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
- Call to action, again. A mass shooting at a Fourth of July Parade in Highland Park, Illinois yesterday left six people dead and 30 injured. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said in the aftermath that the U.S. needs to "have a very strong conversation" about gun legislation. Today
- Heartfelt plea. Brittney Griner, who's been held in Russian detention since February, sent a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden. "I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees," the WNBA star wrote. "Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you." CNN
- Highest honor. President Joe Biden is set to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., to 17 Americans on Wednesday. Recipients will include Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Washington Post
- Rocky road. Kohl's has ended talks to sell itself to Franchise Group, which owns The Vitamin Shoppe. The retailer, led by CEO Michelle Gass, blamed "rocky conditions" in the industry for the deal's failure. Its stock dropped 20% after the deal fell apart. CNBC
MOVERS AND SHAKERS: ZoomInfo added SaaS veteran Alison Gleeson to its board of directors. New York Public Radio named WUNC's Lindsay Foster Thomas VP, WNYC Studios.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
- State of the news. States continue to respond to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. A Houston judge temporarily blocked the state's abortion ban from going into effect, before the case landed in front of the Texas Supreme Court, which allowed the law to take effect. New York state lawmakers took steps last week to enshrine the right to abortion in the state's constitution; the state assembly passed an equal rights amendment, which is the latest step in a long process to amend the constitution and bring the proposal before voters.
- Front and center. Front, the email and customer support software platform, is a new female-founded unicorn. The company, led by cofounder and CEO Mathilde Collin, is now valued at $1.7 billion after a $65 million funding round led by Salesforce Ventures and Battery Ventures. Bloomberg
- Job opening. There are no female hosts on late-night network TV (the only one was Lilly Singh, in an uber-late night slot; her show has been canceled). Chelsea Handler is putting herself up for the job as James Corden leaves CBS. "White men’s opinions are pretty irrelevant," she says of the need for a woman on late night TV amid nationwide attacks on reproductive rights. Variety
- Travel tips. Most airlines still require passengers to select "male" or "female" when booking a ticket. Nonbinary travelers are asking why? Airlines are behind the federal government, they say, when it comes to recognizing the identities of nonbinary people. New York Times
ON MY RADAR
The women who built grunge Longreads
Cassidy Hutchinson and the all-knowing presence of Washington’s aides Washington Post
A League of Their Own hits 30: Stars, writer on studio battles, mystery ending and why the sequel script died The Hollywood Reporter
Friends creator donates $4 million due to 'guilt' and embarrassment over show's zero diversity Variety
"You gonna write a good article or a halfway decent one?"
-Venus Williams, responding to a journalist who asked her whether she was playing doubles at Wimbledon "for the experience" or to win the tournament
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