Aether Beauty Gathers Retail Steam With Launches At Sephora, Neiman Marcus, The Detox Market And More
When someone’s knocking at your door, it can pay to answer it.
Aether Beauty went live on the summer solstice with the intent of sticking to a direct-to-consumer model to drive sales, but retailers were clamoring to get its first product, Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone Palette, and founder Tiila Abbitt quickly decided to respond to the demand by opening up the brand to brick-and-mortar. Aether made its retail debut at Credo prior to breaking into Neiman Marcus and Urban Outfitters last year. This month, the brand landed at The Detox Market and, next month, it hits Sephora.
“I have not pursued any retailers. They have all pursued me and convinced me in one way or another to go into their stores,” says Abbitt. “I launched recently at the Trending Beauty area at Neiman Marcus. They found out about me and literally called me the day before I launched, before I was even considering Credo. I hadn’t been in a department store for years, and I didn’t want to go in there because of charges that cut into margins. They are doing better contracts to make it more feasible for small brands to go into their stores.”
Abbitt, who worked at Sephora for seven years, the final two as senior director for product development, is well aware of the costs small brands face at big retailers. In negotiations with stores, she holds out for the most favorable terms possible for her brand on everything from product testers to margins. Today, half of Aether’s sales come from retail distribution.
“I’ve been on the other side of the retail equation, so I know what people ask for, and what can bend and what can’t. I understand how that works, and I feel many small brands don’t have that insight and might just be happy going into Sephora. I won’t just sign on the dotted line right away,” says Abbitt. “You have to be savvy and have faith in your brand. It depends on how much these retailers want to launch you. You have to have something compelling enough that they are willing to negotiate.”
“You have to be savvy and have faith in your brand. It depends on how much these retailers want to launch you. You have to have something compelling enough that they are willing to negotiate.”
Abbitt realizes there are limits to Aether’s retail capabilities at the moment. Although it’s currently fundraising, Aether is a self-funded brand that’s a one-woman show. Given the constraints, it hasn’t stormed into chains with a thousand locations, and it’s established its presence carefully at the stores it has taken on. The brand is available online at Urban Outfitters and 24 Neiman Marcus locations. It’s rolling out to 50 Sephora stores in late February.
“A hard part about being a small brand is people look at my product, website and Instagram, and they think I’m a large brand, but they don’t understand there’s only one person behind it without funding,” says Abbitt. “People have compared me to Beautycounter and Honest Beauty, which have millions of dollars of funding.”
It’s helped that Aether focused on a single stockkeeping unit to kick off retail at Credo, where Abbitt emphasizes its clean beauty message is reinforced, rather than initially bombarding conventional beauty stores with several products. The brand combines natural and safe synthetic ingredients to maximize effectiveness, and minimize environmental and human health impacts. Its products are formulated to be European Union-compliant, meaning they eliminate over 1,300 chemicals that are permitted in the U.S. and not in the EU. In particular, Abbitt mentions Aether’s cruelty-free positioning has resonated with customers.
Inside stores, she stresses, “You have to have a killer product number-one, and it has to be able to sell itself. You have to make the packaging work twice as hard for you in the clean beauty space because not only are you small and indie, and people don’t know who you are, but you have to get across what is clean about it.”
“You have to have a killer product number-one, and it has to be able to sell itself. You have to make the packaging work twice as hard for you in the clean beauty space because not only are you small and indie, and people don’t know who you are, but you have to get across what is clean about it.”
On the winter solstice, Aether added a second product to its selection. That product, the 12-shade Crystal Grid Gemstone Palette, has pigments infused with diamond, amber, sapphire, topaz, amethyst and tourmaline. The shades are formulated with organic coconut oil and shea butter, and have shimmery finishes. Like its predecessor product, Crystal Grid Gemstone Palette is packaged in a paper encasement that’s recyclable upon the removal of eyeshadow pans and elastic.
“This is really for the conventional beauty girl that isn’t afraid of wearing metallics all day. She’s using Urban Decay, Kat Von D, those sort of colorful brands that have high payoff,” says Abbitt. “It really creates a bridge between clean and conventional beauty.”
Aether has a packed product pipeline. Next up are cheek palettes and single eyeshadows that will provide lower-priced options for customers seeking comparably affordable items from the brand. Abbitt estimates the $58 price of the brand’s palettes is roughly 20% above the prices of most conventional eyeshadow palettes from prestige beauty brands. Highlighters, liquid eyeshadows, foundation, mascara and liquid primer are in development at Aether, too.
“I’m really interested in innovative textures that are completely missing in the clean beauty space,” says Abbitt. “I don’t want to be a clean brand that’s giving an offering that’s clean and pretty. I really want to bring innovation to this space because there hasn’t been a brand doing that at all, and I’m so used to Natasha Denona and Pat McGrath bringing out really cool textures. Why can’t that be done in clean beauty?”