The Challenges And Changes That Convinced Founder Laura Kraber To Close Gender-Expansive Brand Fluide
Due to personal and professional shifts, founder Laura Kraber is shuttering Fluide after almost five years in business.
The inclusive makeup brand announced the news on Instagram and via newsletter on Nov. 1. Its Instagram message read, “We are so proud of how far Fluide has come and deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed to the company over the years. Unfortunately, given the intense competition in the beauty space and the rising costs of acquiring customers in the direct-to-consumer space, we have made the difficult decision to close our doors.”
Beyond the challenges facing the beauty industry, Kraber attributes her decision to close Fluide to diminished enthusiasm, updated priorities and the changing political environment. Launched in 2018, Fluide was ideated in the early days of former president Donald Trump’s administration, when she felt its mission to promote queer joy felt like a worthy one. Now, as women, the transgender community and people of color encounter persistent violence along with setbacks in courts and legislatures, she’s concluded her efforts should be focused elsewhere.
“Representation, of course, still matters, but, in today’s context, it also feels slightly naive. All of the energy that I’ve put into building a brand and product company could perhaps be spent more productively,” says Kraber. “Over time, Fluide’s brand values of queer self-expression became more important to me, and the product and marketing and sales aspects of the company felt a bit besides the point. Lack of sales motivation is not a good place for a small business.”
Burnout isn’t a good place for a small business either, and Kraber experienced it while running Fluide. She warns other brand founders to be careful to avoid it. Kraber says, “Entrepreneurial life is all-consuming, and it is important to replenish the creative well and stay connected with your original inspiration and ideals as well as make time for family, friends, rest and relaxation.”
Fluide made a name for itself by featuring queer and gender non-confirming models and selling makeup that didn’t adhere to gender norms. Kraber says, “Our goal has been to liberate makeup from patriarchal society’s standards of beauty and to create a space for makeup to be empowering and a means of self-expression for everyone.”
The brand began with three products and grew its assortment to 12 products spanning merchandise cosmetics categories, from nail polish to liquid lipstick. It’s currently holding a closeout sale and promptly received over 700 orders after it revealed it will close. The sale will finish on Nov. 30.
Kraber had a small team supporting her at Fluide, including two full-time freelancers: chief creative officer Dev Doee and marketing director Alex Maclean. Paid interns helped with design, content and social media. “Fluide has always been a small, scrappy business,” says Kraber. “Thanks to the devotion that Fluide’s values and brand content generated, we were able to attract brilliant creatives to work with us despite our tiny budgets, which allowed us to keep going despite being undercapitalized.”
“Our goal has been to liberate makeup from patriarchal society’s standards of beauty and to create a space for makeup to be empowering and a means of self-expression for everyone.”
Fluide raised a small, undisclosed amount of funding in 2021, but Kraber mentions the funding was too little, too late. “In retrospect, it is clear that we should have sought significant financing shortly after launching in 2018 or in early 2019,” says Kraber. “By being undercapitalized, we allowed the market and culture to catch up to our first-mover advantage. Our brand identity and imagery has been widely lauded and copied in the industry while much bigger brands spend 100x our spend on reaching consumers.”
Looking back, Kraber, formerly head of strategy for Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman and VP of business development for Ruder Finn Interactive, wishes she pursued a stronger wholesale strategy. Fluide has been largely sold in direct-to-consumer distribution, although it did secure key retail relationships. The brand’s been carried in Dolls Kill since 2018 and had partnerships with Urban Outfitters, Walmart’s website and Faire.
Kraber reflects, “Given my past experience marketing CPG brands via social media in the early days of Facebook and Instagram, I was not prepared for how quickly the social media advertising costs could escalate and how difficult it would be to reach our followers directly through these channels.”
It’s a difficult period for indie beauty brands, and Fluide isn’t alone in shutting its doors. Priya Apotheca, Vesca, La Bella Figura, Lilah B. and Sigil are others that have closed or announced they will close. The impending end of Fluide doesn’t erase Kraber’s pride in what it generated, notably LGBTQIA+ community-focused campaigns led by queer photographers, models and makeup artists. She says, “Whether we’re celebrating Trans Day of Visibility, paying homage to our chosen families or honoring Black trans women for our Radical Rest holiday campaign, we have consistently showed up for and showcased the queer community.”
Kraber’s also proud of the influence Fluide has had on the beauty industry. “Although the beauty industry still has a long way to go, it is gratifying to see that many mainstream, traditional beauty brands have revised outdated messaging to be more inclusive and have recognized that makeup today is about self-expression,” she says. “From Maybelline to Cover Girl to Lancôme, taglines, models and shade ranges have changed dramatically in the last few years. Although our impact is small, I believe that we have made a difference in the industry. Representing queer beauty and authentic self-expression has the power to inspire and encourage young people in their journey towards honest self-expression.”