Back to Basics with Emily Weiss, the Internet Beauty Guru

The founder and CEO of the cult-favorite beauty website Into the Gloss and brand Glossier on everything from her worst haircut of all time to how she makes products that millennials can’t get enough of.

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I first met Emily Weiss when she was a fashion assistant at W in the 2000s. Since then, her hair has been many colors (from deep brown to bleach blonde) and she’s launched a beauty empire, that includes the cult-favorite beauty website Into the Gloss and the beloved brand Glossier. Along the way, she’s tried many, many products; crowd-sourced the perfect facial cleanser; and discovered the simple pleasures of a super hot bath.

Let’s start at the beginning–how did you decide to launch Into the Gloss? Well, it was 2010, back when I had discovered this world of personal style bloggers. I was really impressed with people like Tommy Ton and Garance [Dore] and the Sartorialist. And I was really excited that there were other channels that were being created for fashion by people who saw the need to create a different side of things. And personally, I’d always loved beauty. I’m a lover and consumer of beauty. This is my first job in the beauty industry.

I know. I remember when you worked in fashion at W. I just grew up loving beauty products. Going to the mall, and the Stila counter in the ’90s. I was obsessed with hair dye. Natural Instincts hair dye–decades later, I bleached my entire head. While there were a lot of very product-specific beauty blogs out there and message boards about products in 2010, there wasn’t an elevated platform where beauty was being looked at through the lens of personal style. And I felt it was important to do that. Selfishly, I was really excited to carry on my tradition of being nosy . At the time, I was a fashion assistant at Vogue and I was really fortunate to have all these models and fashion stylists and makeup artists around me who I could ask, “Who colors your hair?” or “What’s that lipstick you’re wearing?” To be able to take that information from those interviews, and to be able to share it with anyone around the world who could come to this website and get the same information I was privy to, that was pretty cool.

Did anyone decline one of those early interviews? Absolutely! People still say no. I’ve said no to people who want to do features on my bathroom. It’s very personal and private. Beauty is very intimate. One of the big things I’ve learned over the years and I’m excited that Glossier perpetuates is that wherever you’re at, in terms of your scope of knowledge around beauty, is totally okay. And not just okay, but actually really valuable. The things you’ve learned over the decades or course of your personal life about products that work or don’t work for you, or what you’re interested or not interested in are just as valid as experts’ opinion. Because, ultimately, an expert is just there to help you and what works for you. And I think there haven’t been so many platforms that have celebrated that notion of YOU as the expert and YOU sharing what YOU’VE learned. And I think that’s been something that’s been really fun to watch–this behavioral shift that I think sites like Into the Gloss and brands like Glossier really encourage with women.

Do you have focus groups or do you talk with the staff about products? We do a lot of things. What’s great about Glossier is that we’re in downtown Manhattan, we’ve got a largely millennial, female workforce and our background and our origin is in beauty editorial. We’re seeing and touching and feeling everything from every brand. I’ve tried a lot of products, as have you, so we like to combine that kind of institutional knowledge about the products that we’ve all tried. That being said, it’s no good unless we also talk to our community, too. And there, we’re really fortunate because we’re also digitally native and everything we do is online. We’ve created all different ways from which we’ve gathered information from our customers and from women to tell us what they want and what they think.

How we create products is really a mix of art and science. Sometimes it’s really, really user-heavy and sometimes we just are really convicted about a product. Like someone really wants a brow product that isn’t crunchy, like a brow gel but gives definition but also sort of fills in and fluffs up and gives a feathery brow. And somehow, it’s Boy Brow. And we just unleash that onto the world without any kind of user notification. Our audience had no idea we were coming out with that. Other times, like [when we launched] our cleanser last January, we posted on Into the Gloss “What’s your dream face wash?” We got thousands of comments, themes, texture themes, or even just one-off suggestions that we incorporated into a brief for our chemist with, and that resulted in Milky Jelly Cleanser.

So we approach every single product very, very uniquely and we’ve created a launch calendar that’s unlike any other beauty brand, because we can. We aren’t wholesale, so we can launch something whenever we want through our channels, and that results in launching something about every two to three months. With every product we ask: Who’s the best person to collaborate with? Who’s the best chemist or best manufacturer? Where can we get the best ingredients? Where is the ideal customer? Who are the people we want to talk to: is it the 1.25 million on Into the Gloss around the world or is it 125 top customers who are in a private Slack group? Which parts of our community should we tap into to get the answers we’re looking for?

Is there a segment that’s not on social media who you’ve yet to tap into? Generally, I think Glossier appeals to a psychographic more than a demographic. It’s not for any one specific age or group. Statistically, there are certain generations of people who shop more online, so our audience is large millennial. But one woman wrote in to our PR email on our website and said, “Hi, I’m an 80-something woman in the Midwest and I just learned about Haloscope in People magazine, but I’m not online. Can I call in and place a phone order?” There’s something very cool happening about luxury right now in that it’s becoming redefined because of technology. The luxury experience, if you think about it today, is about being able to have the experience you want. If you want to order Fresh Direct from the comfort of your bed as opposed to going to Dean & DeLuca, that’s luxury for you. Or if you want to be able to buy a beauty product or learn about beauty from your home on a website with videos, versus driving to your local drugstore and standing alone in an aisle of mascara with no context, maybe that’s your idea of luxury.

So it doesn’t necessarily have a monetary value as much anymore. I think luxury today is about customization and personalization and how can you have the personal experience that you want. Glossier is very much about breaking down that perceived value set-up that a lot of industries have created–including beauty but not just beauty, where just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s better. Our products are between $12 and $28. Those aren’t the cheapest products in the world, but they’re certainly not the most expensive—

They’re accessible. Yeah, and they’re freaking high quality. Because we don’t wholesale, we don’t have to have that extra market or the whole thing, so we can really focus on quality, and I think quality is always synonymous with a luxury experience. But I think that’s kind of it at this point. I think whether you think back a hundred years ago or today, quality is important. Everything else can change, but quality is important.

What’s next, product wise? We’re going to launch phase three next year, and I can’t tell you what that’s going to be. Phase one was skin, phase two was makeup, and next year, phase 3 going into new categories. Girls are writing to us asking, “Can you make a Glossier deodorant?” or “ Can you make a Glossier sunscreen?“

Was there one request that rises above the others? There are definitely themes. Everybody wants a sunscreen, so we’re working really hard on that. I just think it speaks to the trustworthiness that people have for the brand. “Can you make a Glossier version of X because I know it’ll be better than Y,” or “I know you’ll know what I want” and since we’re a small company, we can be really nimble and address these needs with shorter lead time. But we want to be really careful. I look at brands like Estee Lauder or Clinique, and I have so much respect for these heritage brands whose customer use that same Dramatically Different Moisture Lotion for many, many years. We take a lot of care in developing our products so they really stand the test of time. So for us, it’s not about speed; it’s about getting it right. This isn’t a race. We have grown exceptionally fast and made mistakes to try to just hold on to our hats and keep up. But at the end of the day, it’s much better to be careful. There are some things you just want to take time with, and creating product is definitely one of them.

What was your first beauty memory? Probably piercing my friend’s ears in their houses with an apple. It was very bloody. I think I didn’t realize what I was getting into. Jesus, there was a lot of blood! I was like 12.

What beauty products always in your purse?, and various samples of other stuff.

That we’re not allowed to know yet. Nope.

Can’t blame a girl for trying. What beauty trend do you not get? You know what I didn’t get? Dermablading, but there’s a great article about it on Brennan Kilbane went and did it and wrote about his whole experience. He’s a hysterical writer, and I got it after I read it.

Who cuts your hair? Cim Mahoney just cut it. He’s from Denmark. He’s a big time on-set hairstylist in Europe, but he’s in town doing a shoot, so I just got it cut. He did it when I was in Copenhagen in March or April and it was the best haircut, and I’m so happy I just got it cut again this morning. He’s so good.

Who’s your dermatologist? Robert Anolik. I really like him.

What was your worst beauty blunder? I think it’s been my hair. I’ve had really strong moments, I’ve had highs, and lows. The blunder would be when I cut it off to this short mullet after it was platinum, then I dyed it brown. But I didn’t like the feeling of it so I just cut it off, and I shouldn’t have done that. I got extensions for six months to help ease that, then when I took them out it was just as bad.

What was your first fragrance? I think it was Gucci Rush, which was so, like, womanly. No, my first was probably Clinique Happy, then Michael Kors’s first fragrance, then Gucci Rush. I think I wore Gucci Rush in eighth grade. I was like this tiny eighth grader walking around wearing Gucci Rush.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I think I would probably be a food critic. But my version of a food critic, a non-expert. I wouldn’t be trained in food; I would just eat.

What women are doing it right right now? Michelle Obama. Can we just have her as president? Can we please make that happen? She needs some time off. She needs a break, and then she come back in four years, fully ready. I’m also always inspired by my friend [Nasty Gal founder] Sophia Amoruso. She trusts her gut and keeps moving. She does it right.

Who was your first beauty icon? Probably Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.

What your workout? I do Physique 57 once a week.

Favorite beauty hack? I don’t know if it’s a hack, but I drink hot water with lemon every morning.

What is your one go-to product that you can’t live without? Frankly, Priming Moisturizer by Glossier. I didn’t even know how good it was until I stopped using it, so I could use an $800 moisturizer from this other brand—because of course, I was going to try it to see what it was about. Two weeks later, I put the priming moist on again and within a day, it improved my skin so much. I had no idea how good the ingredients in Priming Moisturizer in this made my skin brighter. I thought I’m never going to use another moisturizer again.

What are you currently obsessed with? I’m currently obsessed with baths. I love a bath, I love a bath. I put epsom salt in it, and that’s all. I do once a week and I like to do it on weekend afternoons when sun is streaming through the window onto my soaking body. I follow the Japanese bathing school of thought which is not to get clean but to soak and release and all that. So, I’m usually clean when I take a bath. You have to get in when it’s super, super hot, then as the bath cools down, it draws out the toxins from your body. You don’t’ have to wait until it’s actually cold, but you have to wait 45 minutes until it breaks. I believe in this whole thing.

But do you believe in that whole Korean cold shower thing? No, I don’t f**k with that. No way. The cold baths? Forget it. No. But I sit. To me, it’s a whole project. And usually I read a book. You know what I just finished reading that was so glamorous? “Valley of the Dolls.” On my Kindle. I love reading in the bathtub.

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