Kosås Founder Sheena Yaitanes grew up in a house full of makeup, thanks to her mother’s job as a rep for brands Clinique and Clarins. “I thought that having boxes of makeup around the house was normal. I was really drawn to it [the makeup],” remembers Yaitanes. “All my memories of playtime involve using lipstick and eyeshadow as my toys.”
By the age of 10, Yaitanes had made herself an expert in all things makeup. “I had a robust knowledge of every brand. I also knew all the steps in building a face [with makeup].” Fast forward to Yaitanes literally rolling up with her gigantic cart of makeup to UC Irvine, where she was pre-med. While she was studying organic chemistry, Yaitanes had an aha moment. “Organic chemistry unlocked the mystery of formulation for me. I learned the nomenclature for naming chemicals and suddenly I could actually read the ingredient deck and understand it.”
After college and attending business school at Chapman University, Yaitanes formally studied painting with an LA-based artist. Yaitanes’ painting studies taught her the anatomy of a flesh tone from a fine art perspective. “I realized that nude is contextual. In order to create authentic flesh tones you have to add reds and blues in the undertones.”
Yaitanes leveraged this lesson in 2015 when she launched Los Angeles-based Kosås with a four-lipstick collection intended to flatter every skin tone. The response was overwhelmingly positive. “From the beginning, the most common review has always been ‘I wasn’t a lipstick person until I tried this.’ We could tell within the first few months that the market clearly had an appetite for what we were making.”
After solely selling from her website for six months, Yaitanes started getting incoming calls from retailers like Violet Gray, Bloomingdales, Goop, Revolve, Ayla Beauty, Neiman Marcus, and Credo Beauty.
Clean-beauty retailer Credo Beauty was Kosås’ first multi-door retailer with eight stores throughout the U.S. Annie Jackson, co-founder and chief operating officer of Credo Beauty, said that Kosås’ Rosewater lipstick has been a staple at Credo since Day 1. “Kosås’ secret sauce is really pigment and formula. The shade range has the richest pigments we have ever seen with an incredible formula. Our customers love that any shade looks great on them.”
Dara Kennedy, founder of Ayla Beauty, an online non-toxic beauty and wellness retailer with a brick and mortar in San Francisco, is known for her discerning selection process when it comes to choosing brands to stock her shelves. Ayla was one of Kosås first retailers. “It’s tough to get non-toxic color cosmetics just right,” explained Kennedy. “Kosås really set itself apart from the competition with the performance of its formulas: the lipsticks are long-wearing, whisper-light, and non-waxy, and the palettes are universally flattering and invite intuitive play, even among the less makeup-savvy.”
Kennedy also said that because the Kosås lipsticks work across a wide range of skin tones it translates to fewer returns. “It’s really so hard to go wrong with any of them — even if you’re buying online.”
This ethos of universally flattering makeup helped Kosås double their revenue from 2016 to 2017 without outside investment. Yaitanes added four more lipstick shades and blush/highlighter duos to her collection. By the beginning of 2018, Yaitanes knew she was ready to look for outside investment to increase the brand’s offering and presence. “It was important for us to pick a partner that had a lot of experience in clean beauty and would be able to really add value – support us and help us scale.”
This partner turned out to be Alison Ryu, Managing Director of CircleUp Growth Partners, a $125M institutional fund focused on investing in early stage consumer brands. “The relevance of Yaitanes’ background as both a chemist and artist coupled with the intentionality she brings to every decision about Kosås, leaves you wanting to learn more,” said Ryu via email. “As we have gotten to know Sheena, we are excited about her gift for storytelling, not just about her own life, but more importantly, about the world of Kosås that she has created.”
Yaitanes intends to enlarge the world she has created by using the new funds to expand Kosås’ international distribution into the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, and the Middle East. Kosås will also be adding its first complexion product this summer. “Having even skin is the number one confidence builder from a makeup perspective, “ says Yaitanes. “Kosås was always meant to be a full-face brand and there are still so many areas of the face I haven’t conquered yet.”
The Kosås deal is the latest in a wave of investments backing indie beauty brands this year: Superfoods-based skincare brand Youth to the People received a minority investment from Strand Equity, millennial cult-favorite Glossier received $52 million in new funding from its existing investors, and natural beauty brand W3ll People got a minority investment from NextWorld Evergreen.
Terms of the Kosås deal were not disclosed.
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