Tiffany Masterson is no ordinary beauty entrepreneur. Back in 2012 when she launched the clean skincare line Drunk Elephant, the beauty world can be divided into either those giant brands who championed fantasy ingredients and imaginatively inspiring story, or more result and ingredients-driven brands with clinical and minimal (boring) look that lacks aesthetic appeal. Drunk Elephant, with its ingredient-elimination philosophy, combines real, thought-provoking backstory with results-driven formulation and aesthetically-pleasing package design.
Like many other products this US-based brand has continued to offer in the past years, their debut in the market was also something the beauty consumers back then had never known they wanted, not until Tiffany Masterson gave it to them. Within 8 years, Drunk Elephant has become one of the biggest “clean” beauty brands in the industry, let alone one of the very first to pioneer both the term and the trend. Last year, the brand was acquired by Japanese beauty conglomerate Shiseido in a US$845 million deal that is the second biggest beauty acquisition in 2019 after L’Occitane’s acquisition of Elemis — a move that Masterson considered necessary in order to “take [the brand] to the next level.”
But before we get to know what would become of Drunk Elephant under Shiseido’s wings, Prestige talks to Tiffany Masterson about her 8 years in this industry and how she thinks of her role in pushing the boundary of the clean beauty movement.
1. When you first founded Drunk Elephant, was there anything in the beauty industry that you wanted to change, both on the manufacturers’ and consumers’ sides?
I wanted to help the consumer look at skincare more holistically, gaining a better understanding of how the skin actually functions and how to support that. I have a different approach to skin in general in that I don’t believe in skin “types”. The “types” I don’t necessarily believe in are ingredient-induced: acne-prone, sensitised (most people call this sensitive), oily (the kind when skin is overcompensating from being stripped over and over again), combination, etc. These are the “types” that we are taught to believe we just have, or are born with, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Most people just own it and live with it. They blame those “types” on their own skin when they should be blaming them on the unnecessary, disruptive ingredients they are using every day. I am convinced that more often than not, these behaviours or conditions, as I like to call them, are ingredient-induced. The ingredients responsible can be found in some combination in almost every skincare product on the market.
I believe skin is skin and it all functions the same way, with the acid mantle playing a critical role. My goal with Drunk Elephant is to respect the basic function of the skin without disrupting and confusing it by using only biocompatible ingredients while avoiding the incompatible. I became suspicious of the 6 ingredients and came to believe that they are at the root of almost every skin issue we hear about – those ingredients are essential oils, fragrance/dyes, silicones, sodium lauryl sulfate, drying alcohols and chemical screens. Once I removed them, my skin was totally transformed and I’m hearing a lot of the same from my customers. Obviously, I’m not including diagnosed skin-conditions, but eliminating potentially problematic ingredients is always worth a shot and isn’t going to hurt anyone no matter what’s going on.
2. From the previous question, do you think you have succeeded in what you set out to do? What positive changes do you see in the industry now, and how do you think Drunk Elephant has contributed to such change?
I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but I think more brands have joined the “clean” movement and will continue to do so. I think there is more transparency in response to the consumer who is getting more savvy and more demanding every day (in a good way)!
3. How do you see the evolution of the brand? Has your mission changed, or differed in any way?
We’ve expanded into new markets and new categories, but our mission hasn’t changed since day one. My main goal is then and now is to help people find renewed confidence in their skin and to learn about taking care of their skin in a way they never have before. I want to spread my philosophy so that people can benefit from it.
4. Can you share with us how you progress with product development? Have you planned for this well-thought launches from one product to another?
It takes anywhere from a year to two years for us to launch a new product. I’m incredibly picky about what I launch and if I’m not reaching for it daily while in the testing phase, it’s not likely a product I’ll end up launching. I can get an idea, prepare an ingredient deck, submit to my chemist and have a sample in hand within two weeks, but that’s only if I hit it on the first go around. It’s taken me a year and more to settle on a formulation before, so it just depends. Sunscreen takes the longest. Once you approve a formulation, you have to choose packaging and do stability and compatibility testing. You also are required to do other testing before you can manufacture a product. Timing can be delayed for different reasons, like a hard-to-get ingredient or a glitch in the testing, meaning you then have to go back and reformulate. Next you have to name the product and write a sell-sheet with all of the key ingredients, directions, claims, what it is, what it does, etc. You must also do the clinical testing to back up the claims. You also must make sure the product is globally compliant. Then the art is due and you have to write the copy for the inner and outer packaging. You get a prototype to check color and after that it can take 3-6 months. Then you have to fill and get it to the distribution warehouse, where it goes before it’s sent to the retailer. 6 weeks after it’s sent to the retailer, it’s finally on the shelves. It’s a long process.
5. When we see a new launch from Drunk Elephant, there’s an element of a tech launch sensibility to it – it’s like we don’t know we need this product in our life until we see it – like it’s answering to the problems we haven’t even realised we had. Can you tell us the thinking process behind your recent launches? How did you come up with products we don’t even know we need until you give them to us?
Thank you! I develop products based on what I feel is missing in my own routine and also based on feedback from our online community.
6. With consumers being more savvy than ever before, how does Drunk Elephant respond to the growing demands for beauty brands to be transparent and ethical? Do you think beauty brands need to offer more values than just something to enhance beauty?
It’s incredibly important to be open and accessible, as well as transparent with, your consumer. To put the consumer first. To deliver the highest quality of ingredients, service, packaging, innovation and performance at all times. To be inclusive and to always continue to educate so that the customer gets the most out of the product. My approach to developing Drunk Elephant is to think about how I want the products I am putting on my own skin to be made. By doing this I stay true to our values and am never tempted to cut corners – I want the best for myself and our consumers.
7. Can you describe your Drunk Elephant customers? How do they differ from general beauty consumers? What is in your brand that a fan is looking for?
I can’t speak for the general beauty consumer, but I’m so proud and inspired by the Drunk Elephant community …what an incredible group of positive, inspiring, collaborative people. I love seeing people support each other, share experiences, skincare smoothies, barefaced selfies, while finding common values in our social community. My community members are loving and they praise each other. It’s always happy and fun when you see people being kind and supportive of one another and learning from each other. I like to think your vibe attracts your tribe and it’s always a pleasure to see the love being spread around and the kindness shown to one another.
8. What is the best thing someone, fans or not, has ever said about Drunk Elephant?
That Drunk Elephant has improved their skin and their self-confidence.
9. With the brand growing and expanding into different parts of the world, do you feel the need to make skincare inclusive for people from different regions with different skin type?
From the very beginning I developed Drunk Elephant to be an inclusive brand – skin is skin and we want to help people solve their skin issues. Our strategy is very simple and it is the same in every country. We were over the moon excited to bring Drunk Elephant to Thailand and we feel so grateful for the enthusiasm and interest.
10. What is the next step for Drunk Elephant? Any mission you plan to accomplish as a short, and long-termed goal?
My business goal is to continue building brand awareness and continue educating on my philosophy that the skin must have biocompatible ingredients to function as it should…I think it could be a game-changer for so many people and that’s what truly excites me.
Drunk Elephant is available at Sephora stores and on www.sephora.co.th