The Kylie Conglomerate

Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, made heads turn when she featured on the cover of Forbes Business Magazine. The 21-year old reality TV star, with her $800 million makeup brand Kylie Cosmetics, has bottled the magic of her infamous lips into lip kits that have found a place in the handbags of young women everywhere.

Celebrity brands aren’t a new concept; mono-branding is where a brand is created by a celebrity and the manufacturer isn’t directly associated with. Mono-branding was popularised when 2000’s pop star Britney Spears created a fragrance line with Elizabeth Arden. Following the success of her fragrance line, many stars began product lines of their own.

The Kardashians themselves have frequently dabbled in creating such products – with Kim’s fragrances, their clothing store Dash and other beauty lines like Kardashian Beauty (named Khroma Beauty, prior to a civil lawsuit for copyright infringement).

Such brands usually tend to make profits and stay in the market only until the hype remains, however, Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics seems to be reaching higher profits and sales numbers every quarter.

Started in November 2015 as the Kylie Lip Kit, an 18-year old Jenner launched her brand on Instagram to break Google analytics and sell out 15,000 units in under a minute. In February 2016, she re-launched her brand as Kylie Cosmetics with new shades and sold around 500,000 lip kits in ten minutes. What is considered her market testing, earned her around $15 million in sales.

Jenner, who owns 100% equity in the company runs her beauty empire with a mere 12 employees. Her mother, momager Kris Jenner, handles the business and PR operations and is paid a 10% cut for her trouble. Outsourcing seems to be the name of the game. Manufacturing & Packaging is outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private manufacturer and Sales & Fulfillment is done by Canada based online platform Shopify, leaving Kylie with a huge portion of the profits to stash in her designer bag.

In an overcrowded industry with well established players in all the price ranges, Kylie cosmetics has been able to achieve a loyal consumer base and undying attention to her brand thanks to social media. The beauty industry is one that is heavily influenced and plays by trends started and followed by young people. For instance, the matte black lipstick that was laughed at in the early 2000s is considered to be an edgy fashion choice today. Kylie, therefore markets almost exclusively on social media – selling to her age demographic, the people who are the most influenced by her and in turn, influence the beauty trends at large – teenagers and young adults.

To say that Kylie Jenner has a massive social media following, would be an understatement though. Jenner markets and promotes her range of lip, eye and skin products exclusively on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, where posts of her swatching and testing out products are almost obsessively watched by her 118 million followers.

With the beauty industry being targeted to young women, social media influencers and celebrities have now become instrumental in marketing and selling beauty products to impressionable teenagers online in return for a commission. Besides the product itself, celebrities inadvertently sell an idea of perfection and unrealistic beauty standards.

Kylie, who began to severely overline her lips and then got lip fillers because of her own insecurity with her lips, cashed in on the “Kylie Jenner Lips” trend that went viral – which had people putting their lips into a shot glass and sucking the air out of it to make their lips seem bigger – to initially launch her brand. Kylie, along with a troupe of other beauty influencers have been criticised for setting unrealistic body standards which are made true by plastic surgery to sell an unachievable image of self to young children, with their product.

It was like, one of my first kisses and a guy was like, ‘I didn’t think you would be a good kisser because you have such small lips,’” she said. “But I took that really hard. Just when a guy you like says that, I don’t know, it just really affected me.”
After the incident, Kylie started using lip-liner an effort to make her lips look plumper, but was never fully satisfied with the results—which is why she went under the needle and got fillers. “Finally, I was like, this lip liner isn’t doing it. [I] ended up getting my lips done,” she explained.

Kylie on her insecurity with her lips and why she got lip fillers on her show, Life of Kylie

Jenner has been frequently criticised for her products as well. Her $360 brush set, launched in late 2017, had the online community fuming over the quality and subsequent price.

Packaged in silver faux leather bag, the brushes were made of plastic and real animal hair – something that didn’t sit so well with all her fans, considering there isn’t much of a difference between synthetic hair and real hair in terms of quality. Moreover, many complained of the brushes not being effective at all and that the bristles began to shed all over their face after a use or two. Following the flak she received, Jenner tweeted that she recognised the problem and so many hoped a reduced price but no change was made.

Beauty in 2018 has been about celebrating diversity and inclusion. With the launch of a stunning 40 shades of foundation from Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, cosmetic companies have been forced to rethink their product lines and expand it to include women of colour. Jenner’s range of concealers however, only include red based undertones for darker shades, making it unusable for many women of colour. Furthermore, the launch of her “all-inclusive” skin products was soon after Fenty beauty’s landmark launch doing the same, thereby receiving criticism from many about the authenticity of the brand’s drive towards racial inclusivity.

Kylie though, seems quite unfazed by the noise around her and her competitors’ brand. What she truly is building, is the quintessential celebrity brand like her sisters’ KKW Beauty and Dash Clothing, where sustainability isn’t really the long-term plan. As trends change, she can be expected to expand her empire to any market because what she is truly selling to her fans, is her name— her biggest asset.

As of now, Kylie Jenner is seemingly unstoppable when it comes to pursuing her business endeavours. The new season of her reality show Life of Kylie (though with declining viewership) is currently on air, she’s a new mother with a beauty empire under her red-soled heel and is on the path to become a billionaire (with a GoFundMe campaign started by fans)– self-made or not.

Article by Siri Rajanahally

Graphics by Anushka Chhikara

Featured Image from Forbes

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