Does anyone want to buy a celebrity beauty brand?
Last week Amyris filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said it plans to sell off nine consumer lines, including JVN hair care from “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness and clean makeup label Rose Inc from model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, plus lines from actresses Naomi Watts and Tia Mowry, among others. Three others – Brazilian skincare and fragrance line Costa Brazil, the clean beauty retailer Onda Beauty and alternative sweetener Purecane — are being shut down.
It’s rare for celebrity brands to go on the auction block, let alone so many at once. But Amyris’ creditors shouldn’t get their hopes up about what the sale of these lines will bring in.
It’s no secret that Amyris’ former chief executive John Melo thought celebrity founders like Huntington-Whiteley and Van Ness would quickly connect with customers. But their brands came out alongside a slew of other celebrity lines, from Scarlett Johansson’s The Outset to Hailey Bieber’s Rhode.
New beauty brands tend to catch on quickly — see Fenty or Rare Beauty — or not at all. Most of Amyris’ lines fall in the latter category. That will make them harder to sell, particularly in a market where potential buyers are wary of getting entangled with small brands that may struggle to turn a profit.
This year, the beauty M&A market has favoured clear winners like Aesop and Creed. Amyris’ portfolio of lines might be too small or too niche for many potential buyers; they may also not have the “forever” brand quality strategics are looking for.
Market sources say traditional beauty conglomerates like the Estée Lauder Companies or L’Oréal won’t consider an acquisition target unless it is raking in at least $50 to $75 million in net sales. Only one of Amyris’ brands meets that criteria; in 2022, Biossance reportedly hit $110 million in net sales.
This leaves private equity firms, celebrity brand platforms and smaller companies as alternative buyers. The Business of Beauty spoke with industry executives, financial advisors, investors and market sources to identify who might be interested.
Credited with driving the lion’s share of the company’s consumer revenue, Biossance is Amyris’ most desirable asset by far. It also is the brand that best utilised the company’s clean and sustainable sourcing message and its hero bio-based ingredient, squalane.
Still, the prestige skin care line has banked heavily on its science-backed branding and visuals and is reportedly seeing depressed sales at Sephora, its largest partner outside of its direct e-commerce channel.
L’Occitane, which purchased Sol de Janeiro in 2021, came up in conversations as a prospective buyer, but the skin care company’s controlling shareholder is considering taking the organisation private, which would slow other M&A activity.
Clarins, the newish owner of Ilia Beauty, could be another possible home, given the French beauty company’s focus on clean and natural ingredients.
As for private equity-backed platforms, the most obvious choice would be Orveon, which carved out Laura Mercier, Buxom and BareMinerals from Shiseido in 2021 and is reportedly in the market for skin care assets. Gryphon Investors, home to Milani Cosmetics and Roc Skin Care (the latter of which it purchased from Johnson & Johnson in 2019), is another contender but is more penetrated in mass channels.
JVN and Rose Inc
At roughly $20 million to $30 million in annual net sales, JVN Hair is said to be Amyris’ second largest asset. Unless Van Ness buys back the brand outright or with a partner, like Millie Bobby Brown did with Florence by Mills, a celebrity brand platform could be an option. Maesa has its fill of hair stylists-turned-influencer founders with Kristin Ess and Andrew Fitzsimons and is reportedly more interested in selling its lines versus acquiring more. But new brand incubators are launching almost daily, including those from entertainment agencies like CAA. Van Ness signed with UTA in 2022.
Clean colour cosmetics line Rose Inc was an outgrowth of Huntington-Whiteley 2018 blog of the same name. In its early days, the Rose Inc site featured insider tips from the model’s circle of actresses, makeup artists and designers and had the potential to be a Goop- or Into the Gloss-like launchpad for the makeup line that followed.
Rose Inc has reportedly hit around $20 million in annual net sales, but the clean colour space is crowded with lines like Tower 28, Saie and Kosas, which is most likely to trade next. Insiders say it’s in Huntington-Whiteley’s best interest to buy the brand back.
If Pipette was larger, Johnson & Johnson or P&G would be natural homes for this modern-day baby and children’s personal care line. It is found in mass retailers like Target and Amazon and competes on price and performance with Aveeno Baby or Johnson’s Baby (both owned by J&J) but without the dated branding or the baggage of J&J’s talc-related cancer claims. J&J launched Vivvi & Bloom last year to appeal to Gen-Z and millennial parents; integrating those efforts into Pipette wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Buy One, Get the Rest Free?
In order to avoid a fire sale, Amryis’ best bet is to sell its entire portfolio to a single buyer. Orveon has the experience to make this work, but a more likely partner is a company like Authentic Brands Group. Authentic Brands has minimal penetration in beauty, and has become a holding company for the intellectual property of once-popular names like Barneys New York.
Hand sanitiser line Olika, menopausal labels MenoLabs and Stripes, the latter of which is backed by Watts, textured hair care line 4U by Tia from Mowry and skincare label Tersana are still small.
Authentic Brands, Orveon or others could pay for Biossance, JVN or Rose Inc and effectively get the others thrown in as part of the deal. A smart buyer could easily integrate the technology, products and even customers of these brands into its largest ventures (for example, Terasana products could be rolled into Biossance, or JVN could do a textured hair collaboration with 4U by Tia) or quietly shut them down.
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