This past May, Target debuted Versed, a 19-piece skincare line free of 1,300 toxic ingredients, priced at less than $20 per item, and packaged in sleek mint-green, teal-blue, and pink tubes and bottles. It’s the latest brainchild of Katherine Power, the cofounder and CEO of Clique Brands, which includes 16 million-person online fashion community Who What Wear and a number of retail lines. Power began her career as an editor at Elle magazine but found a new media-business model in turning reader insights into e-commerce and products. In 2016, she cocreated the Who What Wear clothing line, sold exclusively at Target. In 2017, she partnered with Target on its in-house activewear brand, JoyLab. Now she’s applying her trove of consumer insights to Versed, the first spin-off company of Who What Wear. Here’s her playbook for launching affordable, breakthrough brands.
Talk to your (future) customers
Power has a six-person team exclusively focused on studying data from the Who What Wear audience (including three million Instagram followers and a handful of closed Facebook groups) to spot market opportunities. Many of Versed’s core characteristics were gathered from user activity on the site. “Women were searching for things like ‘acne and antiaging,'” Power says. “No [brand] was addressing how you combine solutions to solve skincare issues.” In response, Versed launched with products that can be used individually or together, such as a firming serum and a complexion solution. Four months before launching, Versed created a 2,159-member Facebook group dedicated to skin care, which yielded specific product suggestions that Versed is currently working on—such as a nonirritating retinol.
Embrace the middleman
With minimalist packaging, Versed’s products look at home on Instagram next to direct-to-consumer brands such as Away, Glossier, and Warby Parker—but Power turned the typical DTC model on its head. Versed debuted in 1,400 Target stores and on its website. It has since rolled out to e-commerce site Revolve and will begin selling directly to customers via its own website in October. Power believes that the majority of Americans still get to know brands offline (a Who What Wear survey found that 94% of respondents discover skincare in-store), and going through a big-box retailer makes her products widely accessible. “Women in the middle of the country have the same appetite for style and quality as women on the coasts,” she says. “Largely, they have only had access to these trends through online retail, and a lot of their discovery is still happening in real life.” Versed’s packaging, product names, and even the models in its ad campaigns were focus-grouped with the Who What Wear community to ensure the line would stand out in Target. The brand’s e-commerce site will use more traditional DTC marketing tactics (sleek visuals, education on ingredients, social media engagement) while providing an easy way for Target converts to replenish each month.
Don’t skimp on the good stuff
DTC brands often highlight how they can bring luxury products to consumers for less by cutting out retailers. But Power has found that her Target partnerships help her elevate her products. Even though Versed avoids 1,300 typical cosmetic ingredients (those that are banned in Europe), it was able to deliver safe, high-quality formulations at under $20 per item—while premium brands such as Beautycounter and Drunk Elephant charge two or three times more—because the products are made at scale. “There are certain cost efficiencies that occur by buying in such large quantities,” Power says. And while beauty brands are notorious for using just enough of an expensive ingredient to list it on the label, Versed instead uses high doses of more common ingredients that are safe and effective, including eucalyptus oil, aloe, vitamin C, and glycolic acid.
Leverage your loyal fans
Power credits the Who What Wear site’s democratic, affordable approach to style with helping her reach women outside major city markets. A recent survey Clique conducted of 1,000 women across the U.S. found that a quarter of those between the ages of 18 and 49 are familiar with Who What Wear, and 65% have been aware of the site for two or more years. Much of her company’s growth, Power says, has come from readers who have big followings in their own right—of Who What Wear‘s three million Instagram followers, more than 80,000 have 2,000 or more followers of their own. They often serve as advocates for Clique’s brands. “It’s the dental hygienist who always has the best lip-gloss color or the paralegal with the best handbag,” she says. “By focusing on her, we reach the rest of the masses. There’s a finite amount of women who are going to seek out fashion and beauty content, and for the women who aren’t going to do that, they’re getting recommendations from that friend.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.