Today is Kylie Jenner’s 21st birthday. Today August 10, 2018, like every other day, she will earn an estimated $49.3k (£37.4k) in 24 hours, in no small part thanks to her imaginatively-named beauty brand, Kylie Cosmetics.
‘There’s no business like show business’, they used to say. Now, apparently, everything has changed and show business has spawned a million and one more ways for the filthy rich to get a lot richer.
It’s certainly true of the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner Klan, Kylie, who was first introduced to the money-earning world by her ‘Momager’ when she made her Keeping Up With The Kardashians debut back in October 2007.
She was 10 years old when the family began to share their personal pain and pecuniary privilege with the world in the name of reality TV entertainment, every Sunday night for 15 seasons on E! Entertainment.
The first ever episode synopsis reads:
Bruce and Kris Jenner celebrate their anniversary. Kim And Tommy Davis buy them a stripper pole as a gift, and the youngest Jenner plays on it. Kim appears on The Tyra Banks Show. Kourtney deals with relationship drama.
For the most part, Kylie Jenner dutifully fulfilled the role of kid sister, with regular appearances revolving around her half brother Rob Kardashian calling her step brother Brody Jenner to demand he babysit Kylie and her sister Kendal.
A decade down the line and Kylie is worth more than all her famous siblings combined; a ‘conservative’ estimate of $900 million.
Kylie Cosmetics has sold more than $630 million worth of makeup since its founding in February 2016, which includes an estimated $330 million in 2017 alone, Forbes reports.
Kim Kardashian, for comparison, is worth $350,000,000.
The self-titled baby boss who gave Kylie Cosmetics its name and sits pretty at the helm of this perfectly preened ocean-going liner of lip kits owns 100 per cent of the company.
Controversially, Jenner’s huge fortune also earned her a spot as the youngest person on the fourth annual ranking of America’s richest ‘self-made’ women, despite universally being regarded as a product of nepotism in its purest form.
After the actual dictionary threw some shade at Forbes for the sweeping generalisation, the magazine was forced to clarify their use of ‘self-made’ to mean someone who didn’t inherit a business.
Self-made means having succeeded in life unaided.
— Dictionary.com (@Dictionarycom) July 11, 2018
There’s a scoring system too, to address the obvious advantage enjoyed by someone like Kylie Jenner, who scores a seven out of 10, wherein someone who inherited everything is scored just one, and 10 is awarded to ‘someone who not only grew up poor but also experienced substantial hardships – like Oprah Winfrey’.
Other ‘sevens’, like Rupert Murdoch, are described as having ‘got a head start from wealthy parents and moneyed background’.
Semantics aside, another year of growth of Kylie Cosmetics will make Jenner the youngest self-made billionaire ever, male or female, trumping Mark Zuckerberg, who became a billionaire at age 23.
In other words, Jenner’s company is on track to be worth more than $1 billion by 2022, according to WWD.
That’s a lot of money to spend on WKDs – which she can now legally buy in all American liquor stores – to celebrate her 21st birthday.
In fact, her billion dollar fortune could – and should, in my humble opinion – buy her 128,865,980 Colin the Caterpillar cakes.
But enough talking shop, Colin. On to Kylie Cosmetics.
Ever since 19-year-old Kylie Jenner launched her now-signature Kylie Lip Kits on November 30, 2015 – when the three shades retailing at $29 sold out in seconds – the company has proven the power of personality when it comes to trends.
It’s all about the hype:
For those of us who think Supreme sounds more like a sandwich than a streetwear brand, let me explain.
Kylie Cosmetics stages limited edition product ‘drops’ and pop-up shops which create giant flash sales, as in November 2016 when the holiday collection snagged nearly $19 million in 24 hours.
Many lines are centred around Kylie herself – like the upcoming birthday #21COLLECTION collection – and Jenner has cleverly expanded into eyeshadow, highlighter, eyeliner and more to compete with other beauty brands.
Since, products like the imaginatively-named NICE palette, and the SUMMER collection have sold out across the board.
Side note: Presumably she’ll have to start numbering the seasonal stock after she realises most business want to see out more than one summer.
Kylie was also widely criticised for monetising the birth of her daughter, Stormi Webster, in the WEATHER collection, all through the power of her captive 112-million-strong audience on Instagram after she ushered in a new Jenner-ation with her secret pregnancy.
All the same, it’s mighty impressive to see how Jenner has amassed her entire empire from her Hidden Hills Hollywood home through a model of ‘extreme fame leverage’, from a socio-economic business perspective.
But some experts think the proverbial Kylie-centric beauty bubble is destined to burst.
In a damning 19-part Twitter thread, Li Jin, Consumer Investment Partner at Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz, explained why Kylie’s business will likely fail if, and when, Kylie herself goes out of style.
And like it or lump it, she will, just like a lipstick reapplied one too many times after a night on the tiles to celebrate your 21st birthday.
A series of troubling, heartbreaking, and difficult obstacles have befallen the family famous for their own brand of LA nepotism over the past few years – through no fault of their own – and even some who have been Keeping Up With The Kardashians since day dot have distanced themselves.
Why? Well, let’s be honest, reality TV viewers don’t really like our reality TV too real.
Instead, we want to be entertained with pithy low-stakes sibling rivalries which are debated on yachts, over large avocado salads and resolved in one episode after a monologue about the importance of family.
The price of fame is high in their world:
Your heart breaks for their sorrow, but right or wrong, we’d rather bury our heads and switch off our TV sets, filing the falling viewing figures away into a Fendi bag marked ‘There are already enough problems in the world’.
Also – public criticism for perpetrating damaging beauty standards aside – the two-way street of trust and truth has been closed for business since Kylie’s fanbase unjustifiably demanded a public pregnancy from the then 20-year-old mum-to-be and she declined to play the game.
After all, her ‘true persona’ isn’t what you see in public, apparently:
The (totally valid) idea that Kylie isn’t as obsessed with her fans as they are obsessed with her has caused the scales to slip from the eyes of die-hard devotees. But how would that hypothetically impact an already burgeoning business?
According to Jin, her products help consumers ‘feel like they’re accessing a piece of Kylie’:
There’s nothing wrong with that, and the consumer affinity she’s built is incredible, but what happens when individual popularity inevitably wanes?
Jin cites the reams of ‘forgotten’ celebrity brands like Preserve by Blake Lively and StyleMint from the inimitable Hollywood twins, Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen.
Moreover, Jin points to Martha Stewart and the 2004 collapse of her Living Omnimedia company as ‘a glimpse into the future for Kylie Cosmetics and other influencer brands’.
Take a look at some of the most powerful:
After Stewart was found guilty of felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators, she was sentenced in July 2004 to serve a five-month term in a federal correctional facility.
Her social stock plummeted immediately.
You can read the full thread below:
1/ Kylie Cosmetics did $600m sales in its first 18 mos, driven by social media. But that’s just the beginning. To become an enduring, standalone business, it's necessary for all influencer brands to go beyond being tied to a single person, and create a "purpose brand.”
— Li Jin (@ljin18) July 23, 2018
TL;DR: If Kylie keeps relying on an egocentric business model, Kylie Cosmetics will ‘fade even faster’ than her own cult of personality.
Jin explained the effects of her public downfall:
In the 90s, Stewart leveraged her prominence from books and TV to create a business with publishing, broadcasting, and merchandising segments, all centered around her persona as a homemaking goddess.
Its valuation hit $1.8B after IPO, but 16 years later, MSLO was de-listed and worth a small fraction of that.
In comparison with ‘purpose’ brands, like IKEA and Google, which have proven themselves so part of the fabric of everyday life they’ve spawned their own verbs in the modern universal language, brands tied to one person can fade fast, she said.
Jin showed how the online climate has made it all possible:
Social media has made it easier than ever to attract an audience and build widespread influence, and the barriers to entry to starting a new brand are lower than ever.
In today’s digital world, with compressed hype cycles and without the benefit of multi-year retail or broadcasting contracts, celeb-underpinned brands can fade even faster.
The result is an unprecedented number of new influencer-driven media/product companies – but with potentially shorter lifecycles and lower defensibility.
The problem with Kylie Cosmetics, she says, is ‘outsourced R&D and manufacturing’ and ‘heavy acquisition reliance on her own media channels today’.
It’s a feeling echoed by many in the beauty business, and speaks to the consistent complaints about the customer service and quality of the apparently ‘over-priced’ range of Kylie Cosmetics – from products arriving damaged or empty and rumours circulating Kylie Cosmetics had merely replicated formulas and hiked up the price of a company called ColourPop.
Just take a look at these ‘gurus’ giving the T on a $360 dollar set of brushes:
Yet Kylie Cosmetics continues to be a success because, as Jin puts it, her customers ‘purchase largely due to affinity with Kylie herself, not for the underlying products’.
Like this guy, who loved the Lip Kits so much he had them tattooed onto his skin:
The consumer might always be right but Josephine Fairly, co-founder of Beauty Bible, told UNILAD why her trusted publication hasn’t covered Kylie Cosmetics.
The beauty expert, analyst and entrepreneur said:
We haven’t covered Kylie. It’s fun but it’s gimmicky, and relies more on clever packaging than clever formulations.
Strip that away and there’s not much there that isn’t in another range – and one day (if there’s a God), the obsession with the Jenners and the Kardashians will recede, and this will be Just Another Makeup Range.
Fairly, who’s been in the business for decades, added Kylie Cosmetics would do better to offer the ‘true innovation’ of heritage brands such as Benefit, Charlotte Tilbury and Elizabeth Arden.
Those household names, she says, offer ‘real expertise and online instruction’ which ‘pushes a button with real women with real lives’ and their product looks great in three whole dimensions – not just on the ‘Gram.
But some celebrity-driven brands do work, Jin asserts, even after ‘significant initial traction’, such as GOOP (owned by Gwyneth Paltrow) and The Honest Company, founded by Jessica Alba, which both transitioned from ‘hyper-centered around an individual to purpose brands’.
They both have one thing in common: A greater purpose beyond the ego and interests of their founding public figure.
They successfully created a ‘deeper connection with consumers’ by creating a differentiated product or a superior user experience, or ‘attaching to a larger movement that has longer-term appeal after the underlying celebrity fades’.
Jin has some helpful advice for Jenner:
To ensure sustainability of her company, Kylie could aim to create cosmetics that deliver a real improvement from what else exists out there.
Or, as is often the case in the beauty industry, she can align her brand with a broader shift in women’s attitudes: today, that could be makeup as self-expression and a celebration of individuality and diversity.
Fairly agrees, praising the acclaimed Fenty Beauty range by Rihanna:
I think Fenty Beauty is here to stay, because Rihanna has identified a massive gap in the market for a more inclusive colour collection.
And it’s clever of her to dissociate it from her (better-known) first name because should her career ebb as well as flow, it’s almost a standalone brand in its own right.
Indeed, the Grammy award-winning artist’s beauty brand pulled in a ‘rih-diculous’ reported $100 million in sales in its first 40 days, with many praising her efforts to create the first truly inclusive range of cosmetics.
It came week before Kim Kardashian West released her own KKW range of highlighters which were slammed by the Internet Jury for not accommodating people of colour.
While some are throwing more shade at the Klan than Ri-Ri developed for her collection, Jin concluded Kylie has managed to build incredible consumer affinity and diversify her consumer touch points with her own reality show, and even an app.
But the underlying focus of her company is still the same – ‘It’s on her’ – and that’s why her business is ‘ultimately doomed’ in Fairley’s book.
Fairley gave UNILAD the real T saying ‘influencers’ are another trend, like celebrity perfumes, the likes of which Kylie’s big sister is currently marketing, through leveraging her assets, using a bust of her own body.
For more truly 21st century beauty trends, check below:
[Influencers] that have real value, quality and a point of difference will endure, but those that are capitalising on their moment in the social media sun are ultimately doomed.
But let’s not cry ourselves to sleep over the fate of the influencers concerned; by then, they’ll have cried all the way to the bank and be past caring.
Let’s hope there’s a waterproof mascara in the birthday collection this year. It’s Kylie’s party, and she’ll cry if she wants to, and it’s no one else’s business.
UNILAD contacted Kylie Jenner’s publicist and is waiting on a response at the time of writing.
If you have a sob story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.