In 2019, Revolution Beauty was named within the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 as the fastest growing beauty brand in the UK. What’s behind the brand’s success and what does it mean for marketing in the industry?

Founded in 2015, Revolution Beauty sells ‘mass-tige cosmetics’, which is essentially mass-produced products that are marketed as prestige and sold at affordable prices.

According to the Sunday Times, Revolution Beauty saw a sales growth of 76.66% during the three years to 2019. RetailX’s Beauty & Cosmetics analyst report also highlights the brand’s stark rise, stating that its revenue for 2018 increased to £114m from £71m in 2017.

The brand’s success has been noted within the wider beauty market. According to the report, “disruptive startups, like Revolution Beauty, are challenging the status quo by adopting fast fashion techniques.” 

Replicating the ‘fast fashion’ business model

The concept of fast fashion is commonplace, with brands like Zara and Boohoo popularising trend-driven, affordable clothing.. In the past five years, this business model has transferred into the beauty world, with brands replicating the time-frame for development – and the success that can arise from selling this way.

As its aforementioned growth confirms, Revolution Beauty is one of the most successful examples to date. This is partly down to its speed to market. According to RetailX, the brand “develops new products in 12 weeks rather than spending months or years developing new seasons.” This model differs to the standard manufacturing strategy of the biggest beauty brands, such as L’Oréal, which typically focus on smaller and more sporadic product launches.

However, the growth of fast beauty brands like Revolution Beauty – as well as competitors like Colour Pop and NYX – has had a knock-on effect, leading bigger names in the cosmetics industry to also accelerate speed to market. WWD states that “Divisions of both [Estée Lauder and Coty Inc.], for example, have developed in-house fast-beauty teams that aim to get around traditional long-lead product cycles and get on-trend products to market in months, not years.” Another example is Mac, which recently launched Mac Underground – an umbrella brand that rapidly develops and launches products in a limited capacity, often based on trends or consumer preferences, such as its current rainbow highlighter for Pride.

It is this fast business model that enables Revolution Beauty to generate immediate customer feedback, which it then uses to determine whether or not to further produce and stock a particular product. Again, this is something that fashion brands do, like Boohoo and its ‘test and repeat’ model. Similarly, Revolution Beauty determines which products sold through its ecommerce platform are the most popular, before pushing them out to retail partners like Superdrug and Boots.

Bringing brand values to the forefront

Of course, Revolution Beauty’s success is not only down to the adoption of a new business model, but the recognition of what consumers want from beauty – particularly younger consumers. As well as greater choice and affordability, a growing number of consumers want cruelty-free beauty products. This is something that Revolution Beauty promotes as a USP, reassuring consumers that none of its products are tested on animals, while 76% of its products (and growing) are now vegan.

Indeed, the demand for vegan beauty is also on the rise; CSG reports that Superdrug has seen a 300% increase in the sales of vegan products since 2015, while Boots.com saw a 56% increase in vegan related searches in 2019. Interestingly, despite Superdrug seeing dwindling sales in its retail stores, sales of Revolution Beauty are reported to have increased 200% since 2017.

As well as striving to be cruelty-free and vegan, Revolution Beauty heavily promotes its brand values of diversity and inclusion, which feeds into the growing consumer demand for more realistic portrayals of beauty within the industry. According to the brand, “#OpenMinds is Revolution’s call for everyone to celebrate diversity, embrace imperfection, respect self-expression and support beauty in its many shapes and forms.”

revolution beauty usp
Revolution Beauty website promoting ‘unisex’, ‘affordable’ and ‘cruelty free’ beauty products. Image via Revolutionbeauty.com


Influencers driving hype

Alongside its business model and focus on brand values, digital director for Revolution Beauty, Sally Minto, sums up Revolution Beauty’s threefold approach. She told RetailX: “The time from factory to shelf is key for us. We are 100% cruelty free. We use influencers in our marketing and as a quick feedback loop for new product development”.

Of course, using influencers is now a tried and tested approach for beauty brands, with many incorporating influencers into their wider marketing strategy. For Revolution Beauty, however, influencer marketing has been an intrinsic focus from the start – and something that has generated tangible success. According to Tribe Dynamics, over 40% of the brand’s 2019 EMV (earned media value) came from influencers on a streak of six months or more. A “streak” refers to influencers posting month-on-month.

As well as general awareness of the brand, Revolution Beauty’s influencer strategy mostly generates hype around new product releases, helping them to take on a cult-like status. For the launch of the brand’s ‘Conceal & Define Concealer’ in 2018, the brand partnered with a number of high profile influencers including Sophdoesnails and Debra-Now. The product was well-received by influencers, resulting in an authentic campaign that was fuelled by word-of-mouth. Out of the campaign’s 1.2k influencers, 759 reportedly used the concealer more than once, and 190 included it in 10 or more pieces of content.

Building on this influencer interest, the brand has also gone on to collaborate with a number of big names on social media, releasing products emblazoned with the names of influencers including Tammi X and Patricia Bright to further drive sales.

Is ‘fast beauty’ damaging the cosmetics industry?

One of the main reasons Revolution Beauty’s ‘Conceal & Define’ concealer generated such hype is its similarity to a much more expensive product from a much higher end brand, namely Tarte’s ‘Shape Tape’. This is a controversial issue, with critics suggesting that fast beauty brands like Revolution Beauty are damaging to the wider industry, and essentially diluting the innovation of more established and prestige brands.

It’s an argument that has weight – Charlotte Tilbury successfully won a lawsuit against the supermarket Aldi for selling a dupe of the brand’s ‘Bronze and Glow’ palette in 2019. It was won due to the fact that Aldi appeared to be capitalising on the reputation of Charlotte Tilbury, by deliberately mimicking the brand’s packaging (rather than just the product formula).

Interestingly, however, the selling of dupes is also something that feeds into Revolution Beauty’s appeal. Much of the hype generated, particularly from social media, stems from the fact that many products are much cheaper versions (and similar quality) of much more expensive brands. For Revolution Beauty’s target market, i.e young consumers who want affordable products to allow them to experiment with make-up – it’s ideal. The concept is also appealing to a wider audience of consumers who simply don’t want to or can’t afford to buy high end cosmetics.

And whilst fast fashion has been plagued by ethical issues, founder and CEO of Winky Lux, Natalie Mackey, suggests that these issues do not apply to fast beauty brands, because “where fast fashion’s raison d’etre was to disrupt the cycle of seasons and deliver runway trends to consumers more immediately, fast beauty came about because the manufacturing for both mass and prestige products should never have been as slow as it is to begin with.” 

Other industry figures also argue that faster speed to market actually allows these beauty brands to better manage inventory (and avoid waste), which is also why some tend to look to third party ecommerce sites, such as Asos, rather than retail department stores. At the same time, it’s suggested that sustainability is an industry-wide issue for beauty – not just fast beauty brands. 

In the case of Revolution Beauty, it certainly helps that the brand markets itself as a socially conscious brand, one that, in its own words, is “still evolving, growing, questioning and improving, on a journey to define the new normal.” In order to maintain longevity, there’s no doubt it will need to address any growing ethical concerns about the impact of the fast beauty model. In the meantime, demand for the brand – from its highly invested audience, at least – is sure to continue.

Read more on the beauty industry on Econsultancy’s FMCG hub page.