Earlier this year, Sephora announced it was launching #SephoraSquad–a partnership with a select group of beauty influencers who will help create content for the powerhouse beauty retailer. In February, Sephora put out a casting call for influencers. The application process involved gathering testimonials from their own audience members. Sephora received more than 15,000 applicants and 240,000 testimonials.
“We were trying to get a sense from the community what was meaningful to them in beauty, and see what kinds of conversations they were having around issues of beauty,” says Deborah Yeh, Sephora’s CMO. “Not just our perspective as a company.”
Today, Sephora announces the first 24 influencers to join the program–the company plans on bringing in more over the next months and year. The group is incredibly diverse, representing a wide range of ethnicities, nationalities, gender and sexual orientations, skin tones, and hair textures. “This was our opportunity to find influencers that our customers would be able to identify with,” says Yeh.
For a brand as large as Sephora, a program like this allows the company a valuable opportunity to be part of the many conversations about beauty happening on social media. The Sephora team deliberately sought out influencers that told authentic stories about their lives in an original way. Mama Cax, for instance, is Haitian-American, and uses a prosthetic leg which she helped to design. Kali has created a conversation around acne positivity–exploring skincare to manage both the skin condition and its scarring–without stigmatizing it. Kevin Ninh is known for his gender fluid approach to makeup.
Sephora has already made a name for itself by being a diverse organization, particularly to the LGBTQ+ community. The company just earned a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates workplaces on how inclusive they are toward people of different gender and sexual orientations.
In the past, Sephora has worked with influencers for smaller projects–like advertising campaigns, brand launches, and events. But #SephoraSquad will be a longer-term collaboration, one that allows the influencers to have much more autonomy in the content they create. Yeh says that they will be tasked with talking about particular products or advertising campaigns. All of this will allow Sephora to embed itself in these smaller communities and be part of the conversations already happening online.
Los Angeles-based Shalom Blac says she’s been happy about how much access she has had to Sephora’s leadership team, who, for example, are often copied on email chains. “Sephora has been speaking to me openly and directly, to feel out what will resonate with me, and both my core audience, and all the people I’m excited to reach globally,” she says.
For the influencers, this presents a valuable opportunity to grow their audiences. Chicago-based Erick Glam, for instance, has a relatively small base of just under 6,000 followers. But that is likely about to change. “Partnering with a retailer like Sephora means so much more than free product or press,” he says. “It means this could potentially be the opportunity we need to take our careers to the next level and leave a mark on the industry.”
The #SephoraSquad bears some similarities to the influencer approach used by Ipsy, a monthly subscription bag for makeup. Ipsy was cofounded by Michelle Phan, an influencer herself (although she has since left the company). These influencers, or “creators” to use Ipsy’s nomenclature, work with Ipsy to talk about the products in the bags with their audiences, and have access to Ipsy’s studio where they can create some of their content. #SephoraSquad members will also have access to a studio of their own in Los Angeles, which is where Sephora has been creating content for its own channels since December 2016.
In many ways, beauty is about addressing very specific needs–whether that has to do with a customer’s particular skin tone or their very complex relationship with their own body. Yeh says that Sephora now has an opportunity to better address these issues by engaging with influencers who are at the forefront of these conversations. “We want to hear from people in far-flung places,” says Yeh. “The more inclusive we are, the more we can represent the excitement and diversity that we see in beauty.”