What Went Wrong At Glossier?

Photographed by Anna Jay.
Not too long ago it was impossible to scroll through Instagram without coming across an aesthetically-pleasing post by beauty startup Glossier. The millennial-pink packaging, which housed beloved buys like Balm Dot Com and Solution took pride of place in #shelfies belonging to both viral influencers and well-respected skin experts. Endearing product names like Cloud Paint and Skywash earned the brand a cult following and Glossier's catchy mantra — "skin first, makeup second" — was refreshing. Sticking a middle finger up to the outdated, unattainable glamour that the beauty industry seemed to push on us as consumers, it was makeup minimalism's time to shine and beauty lovers welcomed Glossier with open arms.
But after raising $80 million in funding last July, it was announced on 26th January 2022 that the brand had laid off 80 corporate staff members (a third of the company), with the technology team most affected. In an email to employees, CEO Emily Weiss wrote that Glossier had "made some mistakes."
As of July 2021, the company was valued at $1.8 billion. Shiny product launches like Generation G lipstick, the longed-for Solar Paint bronzer, and even pretty-pink merchandise appeared on every beauty blogger's IG feed — but there's no denying the excitement was somewhat marred. In spite of the brand's seemingly-bulletproof popularity, an anti-Glossier movement has been bubbling away on social media. If you're a beauty lover with a TikTok account, you might have come across a handful of Glossier takedown videos recently. "Let's talk about Glossier's fall from grace," said TikToker @skylar.alyshia in a post. "At one point, they were everything. They were the start of the minimalist look." Skylar continues: "Then they really started slipping off of everyone's radar and they quickly became so [irrelevant]. They weren't really releasing any new products and their shade range was honestly ridiculous."
Skylar goes on to talk about Glossier's biggest scandal to date. In 2020, anonymous Glossier retail employees came forward with allegations of racism and toxic work culture, launching the Instagram account Outta The Gloss to voice their grievances. "The concerns of POC were never taken seriously," one employee told Outta The Gloss. "Multiple times, I, and other employees, expressed concern over the racism we faced and were told to 'feel empowered to walk away.' When we asked what management would do, we were met with essentially nothing." Others say they voiced concerns about limited shade ranges only to earn "negative reviews" and "low raises." The account encouraged a boycott and amassed 11.5k followers and lots of support, even catching the attention of CEO Weiss. It wasn't long before TikTokers made viral videos spreading the word and the brand started to fall out of favor among longtime fans. "Thank you for educating us! Definitely won't spend $ here!" wrote one, while another commented: "No more Glossier for me then." Despite the furore, Glossier didn't meet Outta The Gloss' demands. The account has not posted since 19th December 2020.
That's not the last you might've heard of disgruntled Glossier employees. Former Glossier store worker Ava* lost her job at the height of the pandemic. "I worked at Glossier for over a year," she told R29. "When I first started, you could tell Glossier took a lot of pride in the company, and even called themselves the 'Harvard of jobs.' They would brag and remind us that they only took 2% of applicants. They tried so hard to make us feel like this wasn't like other retail jobs by calling us editors instead of sales associates and [giving us] multiple other 'perks.' However, this job paid the same as (if not lower than) most retail jobs in the city," she said.
Ava said she was very surprised to hear about the recent layoffs, especially as she had seen a number of brick-and-mortar stores opening up. In June 2021 Glossier revealed plans for flagship spaces in Seattle, LA and London, choosing one of the oldest buildings in Covent Garden as its new home. Those in beauty circles questioned such a big decision in an uncertain time. "The few people that were still there were the select editors that worked for them during lockdown for a 'trail' of their online customer service," said Ava. "Now, I see they're the ones getting laid off. They lost the few people that still had hope in the company."
Ava said that wearing Glossier's famous pink jumpsuit was like "wearing a Mickey Mouse costume at Disney World." She said: "Customers constantly took photos and tried to touch you without your consent. There was a performative aspect to working there but you could see it was chipping away at editors — myself included. I would see some of my coworkers tirelessly try to work their way up to manager or to make it into corporate." Ava said that many were sent an email informing them that they would lose their jobs. "A few days later, we received a Glossier mug in the mail, as if to say: 'Sorry we fired you.' It makes me laugh when I look at it now, a year later." Ava said that when she heard about Outta The Gloss, she wasn't surprised to see her coworkers demanding change in the company. "I remember a manager that would mix up the names of POC editors. When they would correct her, she would laugh it off and say they looked 'so similar.'"
It isn't just employees who are losing faith in Glossier. Aesthetician and influencer Alicia Lartey says she feels excluded by the brand's advertising. Having experienced acne in the past, Alicia told R29: "As much as Glossier says it wants to show everybody, it's a very particular type of person. The whole 'model off duty' thing is not most people's lives. We don't all look a particular way." Alicia said that the Glossier community has changed and become "toxic." She added: "Before the pandemic, a lot of people were into chasing a perfect, polished and effortless lifestyle but we all realized just how much work we were putting in. Life isn't effortless and if it is, it's only for 1% of people. In the pandemic, many ended up with acne flare-ups and Glossier isn't really known for treating anything like that."
With experts reporting a rise in skin complaints since the pandemic started, it makes sense that many former Glossier stans now feel alienated by the brand, which highlights skin. "I didn't feel like a Glossier girl at all when dealing with my breakouts and I didn't feel accepted," said Alicia. "Consumers want real people and have realized how much polishing and editing went into that social media image, which isn't attainable." An anonymous beauty journalist agrees and told R29: "Glossier isn't the worst makeup brand by far but it is pretty meh. For me, it's a slight bitterness that much of its makeup and skincare feels like it's for people with clear and 'good' skin already, especially with how sheer its base and color products are. It doesn't feel particularly welcoming to someone like me, with acne, oiliness, and skin texture."
Alicia was previously a fan of Glossier's skincare, but she said that a handful of innovative skincare brands are stealing the limelight. She cites brands like Nécessaire, Skin Proud, The Inkey List, and Byoma (new at Target). "All of these brands give off that cute lifestyle," said Alicia – where they differ is the focus they place on education and buzzy ingredients. Glossier's latest skincare launch was the Universal Pro-Retinol. The star ingredient is retinyl sunflowerate (a gentle form of retinol) and while it was met with enthusiasm, it seems to have fallen short, amassing one-star reviews online. "People want things that will work for the money they spend," said Alicia. "In this space, the mentality of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' won't work," she added. "You can't keep your whole entire product range behind the curve."
Many beauty obsessives and TikTokers feel the same about Glossier's makeup range, hinting that other brands are taking the reins, especially when it comes to formulas and shades that work for all skin types, tones and textures. "Glossier is spoken about like it's a game-changing brand," said an anonymous beauty writer, "and of course when it launched, it did seem wildly different to all the heritage brands like Estée Lauder and MAC. But ultimately, I don't think it should be heralded as trailblazing product-wise. The toner left me with redness after each use and made no difference; while Lidstar is so sheer, it looks very watered down when you apply it."
TikTokers concur. "Glossier walked so that Rare Beauty could run," said @mualesandro in a post titled: "Beauty brands that FELL OFF." Alessandro is referring to Selena Gomez's beauty brand, set to launch in the UK next month. Rare Beauty's website has a helpful shade finder and its foundation is available in 48 shades, compared to Glossier's Perfecting Skin Tint, which features just 12. "They're the ones that put cream blush on the map and pioneered the no-makeup makeup trend," said Alessandro of Glossier, but Alicia emphasizes that the brand is being forgotten. "It's being replaced by companies like Rare, and, for people of color, the brand Saie," she said. "We're now seeing all these brands which are willing to update and give us something new."
Plenty of Redditors echo these thoughts. "I've been a longtime Glossier fan," wrote one on the r/BeautyGuruChatter subReddit, "but it doesn't excite me with the new launches." Another commented: "As an early Glossier skincare fan, after repurchasing once or twice, naturally I have moved onto other higher-performing skincare with better ingredients as I get older and willing to spend more." Ellie* is a former Glossier customer. For her, leaving the brand was a result of a mascara mishap. The website claimed that Lash Slick was vegan, when it actually contained beeswax — those who had bought it unaware were eligible for a refund. "It p*ssed me off the mascara was marketed as vegan when it wasn't," said Ellie. "I also don't like the [rest of] the formulas. I've found the cleansers leave a residue on the skin and I don't feel really clean. I've spent the same and had better. The products are overhyped." Similarly, Alicia said she doesn't want to encourage her thousands of followers to buy products which she calls "fluff." She told R29: "I work hard for my money and want to make sure it goes far. If Glossier kept its aesthetic but had better products and a better overall vibe, I would spend there."
Layoffs and labeling errors are just a handful of missteps that Glossier has taken in recent years. Glossier fans might remember its sister brand Glossier Play — a color cosmetics range of "dialed-up beauty extras." But the excitement generated by the brand's launch was soon dampened. Products like the eye Gelée were packed with non-biodegradable glitter, wrapped in foil packaging and housed in cardboard boxes. It was the beauty brand that no one — not least, the environment — needed, and fans were up in arms about Glossier's blatant disregard for sustainability. The Insta-famous pink bubblewrap pouches and sticker sheets came under fire for being wasteful, too, as Redditors took to the platform to share their frustration. "What were they thinking," wrote one, while backlash on Glossier Play's Instagram page (now private) encouraged the brand to tweak the packaging. Glossier Play responded by doing so, but the damage was already done. The brand was quietly discontinued in February 2020.
Redditors also complain about Glossier's exclusivity. Products are only available direct-to-consumer via the brand's website or IRL stores, of which there are only a handful worldwide. "Not being available anywhere but their site made me look for alternatives, not want to try them more," wrote one Redditor. Another said: "Now there are sooo many other similar products that are better or cheaper and you can buy them at a store! I almost always go for the product I can buy in store," they said. Many beauty startups, have all adapted to cater to growing fanbases. That includes DTC site as well as being stocked on e-retailers, like Ulta, Target, and Sephora. This no doubt makes it easier for a wide range of shoppers to buy products alongside their other beauty staples.
Sure, Glossier shook up the beauty landscape, but exactly seven years after its much-lauded launch, it's at risk of being left behind. There's no denying the power it still has. (Who can forget the infamous leaked 50% off code, which saw thousands stock up?) But it's obvious that skincare and makeup lovers want more. Better working conditions for employees, transparency, responsibility, and new product innovation are a must.
Glossier, it's your move.
*Name has been changed
Correction: This story originally said that Glossier launched 10 years ago when in fact it launched in 2014. This story also said that Glossier revealed plans for flagship spaces in Seattle, LA and London in December 2021. The plans were revealed in June 2021. We regret the errors.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

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