Cofounder Jon Shanahan talks about introducing makeup to men through TikTok and an omnichannel approach.
Great products become a part of shoppers’ lives.
They find their way into routines, and they can be there in a pinch when needed.
Brands set out to create goods that reach this status with their customers. If they are serving a unique function, they could help to shape new categories along the way.
Yet getting to that point requires not just developing unique and effective products. It also requires showing shoppers where those products fit into their days, and even how to use them.
Stryx is on that journey in the area of men’s cosmetics.
The brand was launched in 2019 by Jon Shanahan and Devir Kahan. They both had breakouts on their wedding days, and soon found there was a market for products that could offer a way for men to cover up pimples. They could also apply to blemishes, razor scratches, scars and dark circles.
After completing the XRC Labs accelerator in New York, raising pre-seed and seed funding from investors, and building traction through DTC channels, the company is on a growth trajectory. From a start with concealer and tinted moisturizer, it has added a number of SKUs from lip balm to bronze gel. The most recent is a Deep Java shade of concealer. Stryx is also making a higher volume of products as it gains retail partnerships to appear in stores like Target, which it recently added.
At the same time, Shanahan said in a recent interview that attracting new users to these products is ultimately about tapping into something more fundamental: Showing men that cosmetics are for them.
“I don’t think it goes through most men’s minds that you can put makeup on, or that you can have that instant cover of skin,” Shanahan, the New York-based brand’s CMO, told The Current on the floor of Shoptalk in Las Vegas.
Yet when they have a wedding, first date, presentation or even a Zoom call, many men that Shanahan talks to allow that there’s a moment when they want to enhance their appearance. They just don’t have a product for it, or know how to use cosmetics.
So Stryx’s work is also about building a brand of cosmetics that are made specifically for men "from the ground up," Shanahan said. This includes not just how the products are made and packaged, but also how the brand presents them in education and marketing.
When it comes to formulation, the brand developed products that take into account the differences between how beauty products would perform on men’s and women’s skin. At the same time, Stryx worked with makeup artists to develop products that were easy to apply. Most beauty products have a place in a person’s routine, but men often don’t have that established. So Stryx leaned toward quick application and multiple uses in a single product that men tend to favor.
In the area of packaging, Stryx aimed to make a product that looks cool. Considering what James Bond’s concealer would look like led to a sleek, pen-shaped tool that fits in a pocket.
Stryx concealer. (Courtesy photo)
But having the product that's a match for the audience is just one step. In a market where men aren't necessarily familiar with cosmetics, Stryx must break down preconceived notions about who wears makeup.
“We have to overcome a stigma about these products that guys can’t wear a cosmetic, and the fact that guys don’t know how to use, wear or apply it,” Shanahan said.
One way to do that is to show it to them. For Stryx, TikTok proved to be a great place to do so.
Having previous video experience with YouTube, Shanahan started experimenting with the short-form video platform in 2019, and quickly found it was a great format to show how to use Stryx products. With the brand’s tinted moisturizer, the ability to demonstrate it helped catapult the product.
“It took our worst selling product… to our best selling product,” Shanahan said. “Still to this day, it does very well because it’s a very visual product.”
Now TikTok is a primary driver of the company’s DTC business, both through paid and organic approaches.
Given how the rise of #beautytok has been driven by demos, it makes sense that similar content would bring traction for these types of cosmetics, as well. Shanahan said the platform prioritizes trust that products are what they say they are, and the fact that he is a founder talking about a product only adds to the authenticity.
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Just as important is how Shanahan talks about them. Rather than a hyper-masculine approach taken by some brands, he is observant of walking a “fine line” of speaking directly to men, but doing so in an inclusive way.
This comes back to building a connection with a shopper, and showing where makeup fits in. While there might not be a routine for men’s cosmetics, Shanahan sees a path that customers follow: Guys start to work out, then they dress better. Then, they might start using skincare products.
“This is the next step of that, which is instantly changing and instantly augmenting your appearance,” he said.
Taking an omnichannel approach also helped the brand become a part of the landscape for men. It launched into 2,000 CVS stores in 2020. Nordstrom.com followed in 2021.
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Recently, it partnered with Target, and is set to appear in all 950 of the retailer’s stores. That put Stryx on shelves right alongside the other products that men seek out.
“The fact that we’re saying you can go to Target, and you can buy your grooming essentials, which is your razors, your deodorant and a concealer – that’s a huge validator,” Shanahan said.
The brand optimized production for wholesale from the start, so it had the operations in place to move into big, in-person stores. When it came to getting buy-in from retailers, Shanahan said a pitch resonated that pointed out how men’s cosmetics could bring not just an audience, but also grow a category.
“The shave category is only so big. How do you grow the personal care category? You bring in cosmetics – a product that has never been sold before,” Shanahan said.
More validation has come from spokespeople. The brand partnered with Tom Sandoval, a star of “Vanderpump Rules” on Bravo. ESPN host Gary Striewski is familiar with makeup given his on-camera role, and became known for talking sports while wearing a mask on Snapchat. Now he’s speaking for Stryx, as well.
Seeing prominent personalities on TV use and talk about makeup only helps to normalize makeup for men everywhere.
“Having those more masculine spokespeople is really important," Shanahan said.