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Beautycon’s L.A. Return Has Learnings, a Celebration of Inclusivity – WWD

Beautycon’s L.A. Return Has Learnings, a Celebration of Inclusivity – WWD

“They were only, like, 20 bucks,” said 21-year-old Bertha, revealing Slayyy extensions in her shopping bag. “I’m looking forward to getting my hair braided.”

It was Day Two of Beautycon, which returned on Sept. 16 and 17 in Los Angeles after a four-year hiatus. Acquired by Essence Ventures in 2021, the beauty festival is under new management, and while there were some bumps with the relaunch, overall the experience was a positive one.

“This time around, it’s a little bit different,” Bertha, a California psychology student, went on. “It’s much smaller. I feel like last time there was a bit more booths and a lot more going on. But I like it. It’s really interactive. It’s great.”

The last time she attended Beautycon was in 2019, when the event was on the verge of facing hardships, layoffs and a civil suit. It was hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Center then, with 720,000 square feet of exhibition space. This year, with a new team, it was held at The Reef, a smaller, more intimate venue, taking over about 150,000 square feet. The weekend lineup included panels, presentations, masterclasses, live shopping segments, interactive activations and featured a show floor with beauty brands on display.

“I was just curious to see how they were doing it, because I heard it was at a different place,” Bertha said of her interest in Beautycon again. She paid $23 for the one-day general admission ticket. A two-day pass was $35, while VIP (which sold out) was $300 and included a goodie bag of beauty products.

“There was a little waiting in the beginning,” she said of the line to enter the floor, arriving with two friends. “We waited maybe 20 minutes.”

Bertha, like many, had seen the backlash Beautycon received online by some for the issues faced on the first day, including long waits.

“I was hearing people say things here, and on Instagram, too, there was a lot of stuff,” Bertha said of overhearing criticism.

“How Beautycon L.A. actually was this year,” reads the pink text in a video uploaded on TikTok by user mua.alyssa_caputo333. “We were packed in like cattle with very few booths to visit,” it continues, featuring a video of the scene. “There were maybe 24 brands total compared to the over 300 last time. Booths ran out of product just two hours after doors opened. Minimal line control if any.”

“Yesterday was chaotic,” said Rebundle founder Ciara Imani May on Sunday. “Today has been a much better brand experience for the attendees. They can actually come up and engage with us a bit more, because it’s not so busy. But I think that for the first year of being under Essence, they’re doing a really good job of centering Black-owned brands and also helping everyone understand that products that are made for Black people meet everyone’s needs.”

May is also in the hair extension business, though she’s created a plant-based alternative. Manufactured in her hometown of St. Louis, Rebundle partnered with North Hollywood-based braid bar and beauty supply shop BeautyBeez for a booth to showcase its first product, Braid Better. The extensions come in eight colors and three lengths, utilizing a patent-pending technology that repurposes discarded banana stems.

“I settled on banana fiber because of its likeness to hair,” May explained of the brand, launched in 2021. “It’s itch-free, nontoxic and biodegradable after use.”

Sophia Dennis, head of programming at Beautycon, actress Peyton List and Stephanie NöNe Dunivan, vice president for experiential, branded solutions and video at Essence, during the Pley Beauty live shopping segment.

Getty Images for Beautycon/Arnold Turner

Rebundle and Slayyy — also offering a “toxic-free” solution via a “secret sauce to cleanse the synthetic fibers,” according to its site — were one of about 30 brands with booths. They were among the newcomers, joining more established companies such as big-box retailer Walmart (with the largest footprint as Beautycon’s partner), Shea Moisture (which also had significant space) and Palmer’s.

“I think that it’s important for people to understand that it’s Beautycon’s first year back under Essence,” May said. “And so, there’s going to be some kinks, but overall it’s been a really good experience for us as our first activation.”

“I liked it from a creator perspective,” said 19-year-old content creator Ameenha Lee, who’s attended previous Beautycon events. (With nearly 200,000 followers on TikTok and about 9,300 on Instagram, Lee was invited by Beautycon and didn’t purchase a ticket.)

She enjoyed the diversity of content creators present — the likes of rapper Saucy Santana and Dieux cofounder and chief executive officer Charlotte Palermino — and applauded Beautycon for including microinfluencers. “You never know who somebody will become. Putting a spotlight on everybody is super important.”

She also liked having personal interactions with the brand founders and reps. “So far, to me, I think it’s a really great launch.”

“They showed up in overwhelming numbers,” Beautycon’s head of programming Sophia Dennis said of visitors. Approximately 40,000 people interacted with Beautycon content this weekend, according to organizers. (The number reflects both online viewers who watched the livestream on and in-person visitors. When asked how many physical attendees there were, Beautycon was unable to provide the exact number in time.)

Dennis acknowledged the kinks of Day One, noting that the team was able to work through them and provide a better experience on the second day.

“With the first day, there’s definitely a lot of learning curves, realizing certain things and changing them to make the experience better and to run smoother in real time,” continued Dennis. Along with added security, they created a better flow plan. “The thing that I’m the most excited about is being able to take some of the feedback that we got from the experience in general…and then, Beautycon in 2024 can be a better experience in all the different cities that we go to.”

She would like to see Beautycon expand internationally to Dubai and Tokyo or Seoul. But first, she hopes it heads to New York: “New York just has a very unique and diverse mix of people who are obsessed with beauty.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) Caroline Wanga and Kelly Rowland speak onstage during Beautycon™ Los Angeles 2023 at The Reef on September 17, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Beautycon™)

Caroline Wanga, president and CEO of Essence Ventures, in conversation with singer Kelly Rowland.

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Getty Images for Beautycon/Arnold Turner

With its fresh tag line “rally the rising beauty rebels,” Beautycon has a message of inclusivity. It was reflected in the talks (“Redefining Traditional Beauty Standards” and “Self-Expression & Disrupting the Status Quo”) with various speakers of different backgrounds. Special guests included Bia, who performed, Kelly Rowland, Marsai Martin, Peyton List (with Pley Beauty) and Sabrina Dhowre Elba (with S’able Labs). The audience — mostly women — was diverse, too.

“We’re a melanin-inclusive brand so it makes sense that we’d be in this environment,” said Gillian Corbin, senior communications manager at S’able Labs. “But what I didn’t expect is so many of the women were so invested in their skin care. Everybody has a dermatologist. Everybody knows the ingredients. I didn’t expect to have such an engaged skin care audience.”

“We’re able to share our brand story and our product story to a whole different audience,” Jessica DeBruyne, chief product officer at S’able Labs, added. “Yesterday was crazy. I don’t think any of us expected that. There were just so many people overflowing and only four of us. We needed more help. It was just packed.”

“You couldn’t move in here,” added Corbin.

“We’re prepared now,” DeBruyne said.

Nearby, Stephen Yaseen and Jonathan Wormser echoed the sentiment.

“Overall, today has been a little bit easier, because we have a better lay of the land,” Yaseen said. “And in general, Beautycon has been reworked today. It’s a little bit more organized.”

The New York-based founders of Good Weird — with model-actor-skateboarder Evan Mock also in attendance as creative director — opted to showcase a claw machine to attract the crowd. Along with product, visitors could win toys and candy.

“We went with an arcade theme because we are hugely nostalgic inspired,” Wormser said. “We wanted to come up with a game that would interact the consumer and draw people in, knowing that at the same that they’re waiting to play, we can showcase products and talk through our brand.”

“And it’s been great to have everyone test product,” added Yaseen. “We’ve been educating people in understanding how we’re differentiated.”

They make genderless beauty for all, he said, while sharing a message of embracing individuality. “It’s what Beautycon is about.”

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