Report Looks at Impact of COVID-19 on Industry – WWD

LONDON — Should beauty brands ditch the influencers, and collaborate among themselves? Should brands “go silent” online every once in a while, and is a post-pandemic punk movement brewing in the beauty universe?

A new report called Beyond Beauty addresses those questions, and more, and looks at the trends for 2021, and the coming decade.

Far from the dry drilldowns published by management consultancies, the colorful and comprehensive report has been researched and written with head — and lots of heart.

Compiled by the business-to-business and business-to-consumer platform and digital bookings site, Beautystack, and The Digital Fairy, a creative agency and consultancy, it draws on hundreds of surveys of industry players, chiefly in the U.K.

Indeed, Beyond Beauty is a state of the union address to the industry, taking in micro and macro movements, new formats, attitudes and habits, and examining the impact of COVID-19 on brands, stylists, technicians, consumers, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

The report’s authors are voices from the inside, women who are thinking laterally about the overall industry, both in the U.K., and internationally.

The report was commissioned by Sharmadean Reid, the British-Jamaican entrepreneur behind Beautystack, founder of the former WAH Nails salon in London and a female empowerment advocate. The Digital Fairy is an all-female business that works with brands ranging from Chanel and Estée Lauder to Bleach and Topicals.

Reid, who talked through the report in a webinar alongside The Digital Fairy’s Olivia Yallop, sees beauty as a force for change. The report’s findings, she said, gave her hope for the future “primarily because the power is back in the consumer’s hands. The playing field has leveled and things have become more democratic.”

The two pointed to a mega-shift in the industry due to the impact of lockdowns, with consumers’ and beauty professionals’ attitudes adapting and changing as the long months wore on.

Consumers’ routines swung in all directions — some binged on at-home or stealth treatments in car parking lots; others went makeup-free, and others still took an “anti-aesthetic” route by shaving their heads or embracing extreme looks or makeup.

Some tried them all.

The report said, “How do I shave my head at home?” was one of the most frequently asked questions online throughout the first lockdown in the spring.

Some “anti-aesthetics” advocates refused to shave their legs or groom their brows. Others swapped glamorous looks for Gothic ones. Reid noted that subcultures always grow out of crisis and trauma, and said she’s curious to see what aesthetics emerge from the COVID-19 era.

The report also talked about the rise in unconventional products, including Topicals, the skin care brand that specializes in conditions such as psoriasis. The brand encourages women to embrace their flaws, and openly acknowledges that no one can be happy with their skin all the time.

Sharmadean Reid, founder of the Beautystack bookings platform. 
Image Courtesy of Beautystack

New sustainability movements, including “blue beauty,” which focuses on water conservation in products and manufacturing, also made their way into the report.

The authors pointed to the “anti-establishment, anti-capitalist mood” that permeated industry circles during lockdown. The beauty industry in the U.K. was hit hard by lockdown as most workers are self-employed, and didn’t necessarily qualify for the government’s furlough scheme.

Industry organizations including CEW U.K., the British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology and the British Beauty Council all lobbied government for help throughout last year.

But it was just last month that a sector-specific team within government, dedicated to supporting personal care, was set up.

“The government had no understanding of what was going on,” said Reid adding that, during lockdown, beauty industry figures became activists and prioritized social justice. “They signed petitions, drilled down and looked closely at MPs’ voting records,” to see who was on which side of the debate.

“This industry is female-employed and female-owned, and it was time to speak up,” said Reid, adding that the beauty industry contributed 28.4 billion pounds in 2018 to the U.K. economy.

“People had to show actionable change against their (stated) values,” said Reid, adding that beauty consumers were also looking at the difference between what brands say, and what they actually do.

Dark salons and strict social distancing measures also forced beauty professionals to become “hackers and hustlers,” creating new businesses on the fly. Reid and Yallop said many became influencers and content creators, or “upskilled” and learned how to give vitamin C injections or stealth lash lifts in open places like car parks.

Yallop also pointed to a surge in DIY beauty during the period, with “microbrands making home batches of candles or hair oils or making small runs of product,” just to keep themselves afloat.

The authors insisted that these microbrands were born out of “anxiety, rather than hope or vision, and are a way for beauty professionals to survive.” They said that survival instinct could well signal a shift in attention towards indie beauty and challenger brands in the future.

The report argues that the next decade will belong to “the rule breakers and rebels,” and pointed to the overlap between beauty and gaming, and to all the beauty action on TikTok.

Yallop believes the next years should bring “brand-to-brand collaboration, or multibrand alliances — an untapped area in beauty. Brands could unite around a product or a cause,” she said.

She also argued that “we’ve hit capacity with brand-influencer collaborations. Many influencers have now launched their own brands, and people are tired of the model.”

Yallop also wondered whether big, online beauty communities will in the future give way to smaller, more private, micro gatherings.

She believes people are tired of corporations using algorithms to create communities, and that they will naturally migrate to “niche, gate-kept, invite-only, safe groups,” which are untraceable by the corporate marketing machines.

These new micro-groups might even be pay-for-play, “because consumers today are prepared to pay for quality content,” said Reid, whether that is advice, a tutorial or a therapy session.

Looking ahead, brands will also have to rethink their content strategies, perhaps adding audio and “digital rest stops and moments of silence” with no ads or content so viewers can take a break and avoid “screen fatigue.”

Beauty’s overlap with wellness, and the necessity of striking a balance between internal and external beauty was another big theme.

The authors said that with meditation and other mind-body practices becoming part of people’s daily routines, “self-mastery” — getting to the root of personal problems via meditation or other practices — will overtake one-off “self-soothing” beauty remedies.

The trend certainly plays to Reid’s overriding philosophy that “beauty is a way we can all find a little hope in the world.”

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