When Katherine Power posted a short Instagram video of her five-minute beauty routine, she never would have imagined the reaction it would have with her following — and ultimately the impact it would have on the beauty industry.
Power, the founder of accessible, natural skincare line Versed, clean wine startup Avaline (cofounded with Cameron Diaz), and of the Who What Wear fashion and lifestyle site and clothing brand (which Power cofounded with Hillary Kerr 15 years ago), launched the clean beauty brand MERIT in January 2021, and she is proving to have the golden touch when it comes to brand building.
MERIT, the minimalist beauty brand led by founder and CEO Power, is announcing a $20 million Series A funding round led by the Growth Fund of L Catterton, the largest global consumer-focused private equity firm. (Marcy Venture Partners and Sonoma Brands also participated in the round.) The transaction underscores strong investor confidence in MERIT’s success and consumer interest in the simplification of beauty routines, and the investment will accelerate MERIT’s rapid expansion into an omni-channel, cross-category beauty brand.
“A few years ago, I posted a photo of myself on Instagram doing my makeup in five minutes, and it went viral,” Power shares. “At that point, I realized there were many people just like me — busy individuals who want to look polished and pulled together in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee. I am not a makeup artist. I haven’t spent hours consuming beauty how-tos on YouTube, but I like makeup, and I want to enjoy it through a ‘less is more’ approach. This philosophy has become widespread in the last couple of years. Living through a pandemic and a stay-at-home order, we learned we don’t need much and are spread very thin between working, homeschooling and more.”
Power identified a void in the market for a brand like MERIT: “I felt there was this white space for a luxury beauty brand that was clean and well-edited, and that really brought out someone’s natural beauty, giving them enough coverage when they need it. And that also provided a beautiful brand experience.”
That beautiful brand experience and minimalist beauty line resonated with Power’s trusted community and consumers.
MERIT has experienced exponential growth since its launch in January 2021, with impressive statistics like these, from launch day:
- Sold one product every 17 seconds through its direct-to-consumer website.
- Garnered more than 350 product reviews with an average rating of 4.87 / 5.00.
- Was tagged in 2,000 Instagram photos.
- Sold more than 100 of the Five Minute Morning sets in an hour. (This “full routine” transaction is unusual for the industry; typical transactions are 1-2 products.)
“We launched our direct-to-consumer website on January 11th, a month before our partnership with Sephora went live,” Power shares. “Prior to that, we put up a visual mood board on Instagram under the handle @____mood and shared the story behind Merit’s raison d’être — creating a brand that was the antidote to the oversaturated world of beauty. Before launch, we had more than 10,000 Instagram followers who were anticipating our debut.”
MERIT launched as a minimalist beauty line in January 2021 with a “five-minute morning” color cosmetics assortment. Since then, the brand has experienced exponential growth, driving an innovative direct-to-consumer strategy alongside aggressive retail expansion, including into Sephora U.S., Sephora Canada, and Sephora at Kohl’s. The brand has challenged conventional beauty marketing and product formulation since its inception, pioneering a curated routine focused on ease of use and a holistic approach to clean and responsible luxury, at an accessible price point that encourages brand loyalty through repeat purchase. With this funding round, MERIT will continue to grow its color cosmetics collection and expand into new categories. Additionally, L Catterton Vice President Courtney Nelson is joining MERIT’s Board of Directors.
“I have enjoyed working with these investors throughout the years on different businesses, and we have built wonderful relationships across the board,” Power shares. “All of our partners are skilled in supporting global, enduring consumer brands, and each one shares our excitement around this new category of Minimalist Beauty. We are thrilled to have their support as we enter our ninth month in the market.”
From a beauty industry standpoint, Power’s MERIT is shaking up the standard buying behavior. MERIT’s Five Minute Morning routine signals a new way of shopping for beauty: the “simplification of consumer beauty routines” and purchasing beauty kits rather than having a go-to brand for each item or product category, to create a wide array or mix of different brands in one’s makeup bag or on one’s vanity.
“I hope MERIT represents a trend toward more thoughtful consumption and the idea of a brand bringing real value to your life, not just more products,” Power shares. “While the consumer was changing, the brands and their marketing were not. With such massive shifts towards simplification and staying home, palettes with 50 shades of eyeshadow and ten-step skincare routines felt overwhelming. We’d hit an inflection point of excess, and it wasn’t resonating with how we were living our lives. MERIT was created to be the antidote to the oversaturated world of beauty — well-edited essentials for a ‘no-makeup-makeup’ look. We entered the market at the perfect time. Our sets address the consumer’s need for a curated tool kit of sorts, but with the details just right. We’ve created best-in-class luxury products that are both clean and accessibly priced — $24 to $38. The Five Minute Morning set is the embodiment of that — everything you need and nothing you don’t to get ready in the morning.”
As someone who has already built three consumer brands in addition to MERIT, Power is clear about the common thread that exists among all her brands: the key themes include clean ingredients, sustainability, inclusivity, and diversity.
“I always love to make something that is slightly more aspirational, attainable, whether that’s through price or distribution channel, or the way that we position a brand and talk about it, and make it easier to understand. The mission of Who What Wear, for example, is to make fashion more accessible.”
Power shares that when it comes to aspiration and creating elevated products that are still accessible, she leans into Aesthetic Intelligence, a concept defined in the book by Pauline Brown of the same name. (Aesthetic Intelligence is about creating delight, lifting the human spirit, and rousing the imagination through sensorial experiences.)
“What MERIT is doing is reimagining luxury beauty to make it clean, well-edited and accessible. All the formulations are considered luxury, but are actually priced about 30% below traditional luxury brands.”
Another key element for MERIT is its stance on clean ingredients: “We prioritized multi-tasking, easy-to-use products and took a holistic approach to clean, creating safe products for the body, skin and planet. Clean can be a nebulous concept, so we broke it down into specific terms for our consumer to make their own choices. Our formulas are all EU-Compliant — removing 1300+ potentially harmful ingredients — and part of the Clean at Sephora program. We’ve also partnered with world-renowned esthetician Biba de Sousa to identify and remove an additional 73 ingredients that are clean but potentially acne-triggering, like coconut oil, often used in clean formulas). We also prioritized long-term efficacy, creating makeup products with skincare benefits that leave your skin looking better after wearing them. We added plant-based squalane, vitamin b5 and antioxidants, and more across the collection to create formulas that benefit the skin but are also comfortable to wear. Finally, we continue to innovate when it comes to sustainability — 50% of our assortment uses 30% or more PCR or recycled materials in componentry, our boxes are all SFI or FSC-certified, and we ship using green cell foam to protect your products — made of corn starch, it dissolves in your sink.”
What excites Power most about this new chapter for MERIT?
“We need to leverage our momentum to create a global beauty brand that will cross generations. We’re working on expanding what responsible luxury looks like across many categories, focusing on essential multitaskers that have been missing from our own routines. We are very data-driven as a company and stay closely connected to our community. I am excited to see where we go together.”
MERIT is adding cross-category product offerings including accessories, hair, fragrance, and skincare.
“We’ll continue to focus on the individual’s beauty and personal care routines through our minimalist, ‘less is more’ lens,” Power shares. “We’re developing new products with the same strenuous product development and sustainability process, innovating when it comes to responsible luxury, and creating safe products for the body, skin and planet. As technology rapidly changes for both packaging and formulas, we’re always thinking about how we can continue to push the envelope and minimize our global impact.”