The supermodel has lent her image to brands like Jimmy Choo, Levi’s and Saint Laurent. Now she’s taking control of her name and her future with Rhode, a skincare company with a waitlist that’s drawn a total of 700,000 people.
By Maggie McGrath
Hailey Bieber, supermodel and self-proclaimed “skincare junkie,” has access to the most exclusive cosmetics in the world. But for the last two years, the products she’s most likely to have squirreled away in her handbag are unglamorous, unmarked samples that, for much of that time, have been unavailable to the public.
“When I run out of my Peptide Glazing Fluid, my skin, like, misses it,” Bieber told Forbes. “That was how I realized that it was a solid product, because when I run out of my samples, my skin doesn’t feel the same without it.”
In June, after much anticipation from her 60 million-plus social media followers and from beauty blogs around the web, Bieber unveiled what those unmarked samples were: hydrating skin and lip products from Rhode, the skincare company Bieber founded in 2020.
Demand for Rhode quickly surpassed Bieber’s expectations—and supply chain capabilities. Since launch, it’s attracted a waitlist of 700,000 people for all three of its products (in addition to the glazing fluid and lip treatment, Rhode sells a cream that helps moisturize the skin’s outermost layer). Its most recent restock saw goods flying off the figurative shelves at a rate of 36 units per second. Rhode’s 2022 revenue is “on track” to hit eight figures, Bieber said, but declined to provide specifics.
For Bieber, 26, the jump from model to mogul has been both a natural evolution and an unexpectedly exciting new chapter. As a child, she trained as a ballet dancer, grew up watching her mom and grandmother carefully administer their own skincare regimens and began modeling at the age of 17. By the time she was 18, Ralph Lauren had recruited her for a summer ad campaign, and over the past eight years she’s scored endorsement deals with Jimmy Choo, Tommy Hilfiger, Saint Laurent and dozens of other high-fashion favorites. After years of lending her image to other people’s brands, and after the pandemic shuttered catwalks and gave Bieber enough free time to think about longer-term goals, she realized she wanted to go beyond a normal licensing deal.
“I’ve lent money, my name and my face to other people’s creative process,” Bieber told the audience at October’s Forbes Under 30 Summit in Detroit. “I think that actually has helped me develop mine in a lot of ways. It feels very empowering to be the one that’s in charge.”
That’s not to say Bieber had no qualms about jumping into the world of entrepreneurship. Despite her success as a model and reputation for having to-die-for skin, Bieber admits that she struggles with self-doubt. One of the things she most worried about before launching Rhode was whether anyone would care.
“The thing that was on my mind was the fear of not being taken very seriously,” she said. “Does anybody even take me seriously, as a founder, as an entrepreneur?”
It’s an insecurity that will sound familiar to any person who’s ever switched industries or started a business after a career spent doing something else. But Bieber exists under a particularly merciless magnifying glass: by birth a Baldwin (yes, that Baldwin family) and by marriage a Bieber (to singer Justin), she’s been the target of a stupid amount of online hate, and until she started her YouTube channel during the pandemic, was reluctant to engage with press. She’s not just a celebrity starting a skincare brand. She’s a super-watched supermodel who would’ve been justified in choosing to hunker down in her $25 million California mansion to avoid more online bullying.
“It’s a really big gamble,” says Michael D. Ratner, a Forbes Under 30 alum who’s the creator of OBB Media and a founding partner of Rhode. “When you’re Hailey, you could be the face of a brand. You could continue with no risk and get that cash in your pocket.” But, Ratner said, Rhode is no celebrity dalliance for Bieber. It’s a true calling. “She went into skincare,” he said, “because that’s her first real love.”
Ratner is one of several experts Bieber recruited to help build out Rhode. She asked Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist with three decades of experience working with Clinique, La Mer, Revlon and his own brand, Beautystat, to help mix Rhode’s formulas. She also hired Lauren Ratner, another Forbes Under 30 alum and former Reformation branding director, to run marketing. (Ratner and Ratner are married.)
Colleagues describe Bieber as endlessly curious and not the least bit precious about what she doesn’t know. “She’s constantly asking questions,” Lauren Ratner told Forbes. “In the product development process, there were a lot of late-night questions about new ingredients: ‘Let’s look at snail mucin. Have we considered vegan snail mucin?’ was a fun question.” (For the uninitiated, snail mucin is mucus from snails that hydrates skin and, in some cases, eliminates fine lines.)
“She wants to do it the right way and really build up the team,” said Michael D. Ratner. He said Bieber was “steadfast” in her vision to have a female-owned, female-funded skincare company. “I think she wanted real ownership,” he said. “She put in a real portion of money to back this thing, and to show people that she was serious and all-in on it.” (Rhode declined to comment on exactly how much money Bieber has invested.)
For Bieber, doing it “the right way” has meant taking an uncompromising stance on product development. She, the Ratners and Robinson describe the approval process for Rhode’s peptide skin glaze as a 17-round journey of iterating and reformulating until the product finally met her standards.
“I think it would be very easy for me to just approve something that’s 95% perfect and just be okay with the 95 instead of waiting for it to be 100%,” Bieber said. “What I’m learning is that the quality of this brand is really, really important to me.”
Just as important: the price. The three Rhode products each cost less than $30 because Bieber believes people don’t need to pay more to have great skin.
When coming up with what to call the company, it might’ve been easier for Bieber to capitalize on her two famous names. Instead, Bieber used her lesser-known middle name: Rhode, which was passed down to her from her mother’s side of the family.
“It just sounded so strong, and beautiful on its own,” Bieber said.
Her dream, she said, is to build a brand that’s still around in 20, 30, or even 40 years and for consumers of the future to buy Rhode because of what it does for their skin, not because of who the founder is.
“I think it would be really awesome,” Bieber said, “if people just love the brand because they love the product.”
Photo Assistant: Mark Peery; DigiTech: JC Szostak; Additional Photo Assistant: Rachel Fernandez; Produced by: Peter Schnaitmann; Additional Production: Janet Baus
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