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Kylie Jenner: How the reality teen founded a cosmetics empire

By BBC | Published Fri, July 13th 2018 at 11:49, Updated July 13th 2018 at 11:55 GMT +3
Kylie Jenner takes selfie at event in 2016. [Courtesy]

Kylie Jenner was just 10 years old when she made her debut on her family's reality television series Keeping up with the Kardashians. A decade on, the show is still going strong and its youngest star is now the famous family's highest earner.

It emerged this week just how vast a chunk of the family's wealth belongs to the 20-year-old. Despite Kim's initial eclipsing fame, Forbes magazine says Kylie is now worth almost three times as much as her sister at an estimated $900m (£680m).

The magazine lauded her for heading towards becoming one of the youngest "self-made" billionaires ever. Given her background, many online scoffed at the title, but the impressiveness of the speed of her business success is harder to mock.

Kylie Cosmetics is by far her biggest earner. It's not sold in stores and does not advertise traditionally, because unlike other competitors it doesn't seem to need it.

After all, Kylie is a social media powerhouse. When she tweeted that she was "sooo over" Snapchat earlier this year, its shares tumbled.

The vast majority of her 110 million-strong Instagram following are young and female, fitting firmly within the brand's target market.

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Her success can be viewed squarely within larger trends in the global beauty industry, which has undergone a huge shift as social media influencers and vloggers become more important to a brand's success.

Side-by-side collage showing Kylie Jenner in 2013, and in 2015. [Courtesy]

Kylie launched her first set of own-brand lip kits in November 2015. The product choice was not incidental, as the internet had spent much of the previous two years speculating on the teen's noticeably larger lips.

At first the reality star alleged the change was achieved using clever make-up tricks (over-lining the lips and filling in with a natural-looking matte base).

Some mocked and sparked a viral, and painful, challenge to plump their own lips, but beauty bloggers avidly recreated her look. The products she was rumoured to use sold out at MAC outlets across the world.

So she and "momager" Kris saw an opportunity to go it alone. She spent months trailing an initial three-shade launch of lip kits - a combination of nude lip liner and matte lip cream combos - on social media.

The initial stock launch sold out in less than a minute, crashing the website.

Bloggers offered suggestions of "dupe" options for those not lucky enough to grab their own, and the $29 (£22) dollar sets were bootlegged online for hundreds of dollars.

After launching the debut kits, she relabelled her business Kylie Cosmetics and sales continue to soar, making a reported $19m in one day.

In just a couple of years she has amassed a reported $630m (£470m) in sales, diversifying from lip kit duos to other products such as glosses, highlighters and eye-shadows.

The brand has kept people hooked by maintaining the initial FOMO (fear of missing out) exclusivity - using countdowns to reveal products and selling products on limited release, often in collaboration with her famous siblings.

Kylie Cosmetics is not alone; a host of grassroots brands such as Huda beauty and Anastasia Beverley Hills have soared in popularity in recent years. YouTube endorsements in particular have the power to make a product a "must have".

Stephanie Saltzman, beauty editor at Fashionista.com, says it cannot be overstated how significant influencers and online marketing have been.

She describes the recent change as a "democratisation" within an industry that she believed had gone stale in its approach.

"Maybe historically consumers would use what their Mom used, or would go explore a beauty counter in a department store. Now it's in the palm of their hands through social media," she says.

"It feels more authentic coming from a person and Kylie Jenner is a person as opposed to a blanket, faceless corporation."

Kylie Jenner flanked by fans and security at a pop-up launch event in 2017. [Courtesy]

Kylie's self-driven success and huge profits haven't been lost on sister Kim, who has followed suit by launching a new beauty line of her own and a range of new fragrances.

After a social-media-heavy marketing campaign that involved sending elaborately packaged perfumes to celebrities and influencers, Kim's initial fragrance offering sold out rapidly, raking in $10m (£7.5m) before a single paying customer had even smelt the products.

"I think that was definitely a wake-up call for a lot of others in the industry, and the same can be said with Kylie and everything she has accomplished," says Fashionista editor Saltzman.

"I think they feel threatened and also feel inspired. I interviewed Kim right after that fragrance launch and she was saying some big corporations had come to her for advice."

In the beauty industry in particular then, it seems that the Kardashians might actually be the ones to keep up with.


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