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Beauty for the ages: How FORMA brands designs for Gen Z and Millennials

Deanna Utroske
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Beauty for the ages: How FORMA brands designs for Gen Z and Millennials

©All photos REM Beauty / Forma Brands

San Francisco-based portfolio company FORMA brands is dedicated to buying, building, and boosting cosmetics and personal care brands for consumers under 40. FORMA’s Senior Director of Packaging Design, Lauren Golik, spoke with Luxe Packaging Insight about how she and her team translate that objective into componentry.

Today, wholly owned brands come to FORMA brands, an “incubator, accelerator and curator of beauty brands,” owned by equity firm General Atlantic either via acquisition or in-house invention. FORMA also partners with celebrities to launch brands - such as REM Beauty, a celebrity-partnership brand created with Ariana Grande - with influencers to develop collab collections, and with stand-alone brands for placement in the company’s retail stores. 

“Even though a 25-year-old might not have the same economic situation as a 40-year-old, she typically still wants to feel sophisticated,” explains Lauren Golik, referring to the company's focus on the 40 and under consumer. Golik leads a team of six designers, production artists, and freelancers, in her role as Senior Director of Packaging Design at FORMA brands.

While the brands FORMA has on the market today (Morphe, Bad Habit, Lipstick Queen, REM Beauty …) appeal more to this younger millennial beauty consumer, the company is currently at work on several brands targeted to Gen Z.

Not all FORMA brands sit in the same market tier, but Morphe, perhaps the centerpiece of the FORMA brands' portfolio, “has price points that are crazy low, yet we try to bring an elevated aesthetic, through shapes and finishes, for example,” says Golik. “The core Morphe aesthetic is gloss black and matte black. We play with those two textures and find that that tonal effect is a luxury cue that resonates with our customer,” she explains. Golik adds that in today’s aesthetic, soft curves work better than hard corners, a substantial package weight remains important, as does the click of a magnetic closure.

Designing beauty for youth

What are the challenges of designing for the younger generation of FORMA brands' consumers? It’s “more difficult and more fun than designing for millennials", according to Golik. “They're unconventional, they shun luxury and value more transparency and equity. Design-wise, they like things that are a little funkier and unexpected, and color palettes that are slightly more 'out there'. As a designer,” she acknowledges, “that makes me a little nervous as I feel like it's very trendy.”

Product formulas figure into packaging design for these consumers too: “Gen Z is really into unconventional and sensorial formats; a mousse foundation or a mousse primer is the number-one TikTok sensation.” And, she explains, that necessarily limits packaging options.

Other trendy formulas, such as solid or balm-type formats “are a bit more flexible as they can be put in a stick or in a compact.”

Millenials & Gen Z: shopping with values in mind

Like other beauty brands and manufacturers, FORMA is at work to improve the sustainability of its product packaging. Going forward, there will be changes in primary packaging materials, updates to secondary packaging, new tracing-paper dustcovers inside palettes, and more.

“Millennials and Gen Z are shopping by their values and are willing to spend more to have sustainable packaging. And consumers, in general, are more aware of the limitations of curbside municipal recycling and know that most beauty components cannot be recycled with today’s infrastructure due to size, mixed materials, and lack of secondary markets for many of the commonly used resins,” says Golik, “so it's a strategic decision to bring in more sustainability initiatives across our whole portfolio.”

Each brand will meet company guidelines in its own distinctive way, “because they're all so different,” explains Golik. “As an example, Morphe has mostly black componentry, which allows us to use a high level of PCR without worrying about crazy color shifts. Whereas it might be difficult with another brand that uses lighter colored plastic packaging.”

Beyond sustainable materials, Golik and her colleagues are exploring refill options and in-store recycling. With both strategies, however, she points out that there are practical challenges around consumer participation and user experience to consider.

Refills & the user experience

Despite the challenges, Golik sees refillable packaging and takeback programs as an important trend that will impact the industry for years to come. The return-refills scheme, where the brand owns the package and collects it back, sanitizes it, and refills it, is one to watch, according to Golik. She already sees success in the market for this sort of refill scheme with Loop in the food industry and with the skincare and supplement brand Ace of Air, which she worked on in her previous role as Art Director in an innovation agency.

At Ace of Air, the pack is owned by the brand and the consumer pays a fee to rent it. The boomerang box goes back and forth hundreds of times. They have commercial sanitation facilities and refill it and send it back. “If you can make it easy to send it back in, it actually makes a better consumer experience,” believes Golik, as the brand can invest significantly more in package design because it is meant to be used so many times. “You can really be thoughtful about the materials and experience as opposed to a disposable counterpart. That's the most exciting trend that I've spotted!”

When asked about the FORMA brands pipeline, Golik promises, “big innovation” in core categories for Morphe, as well as, “new and buzzy influencer collaborations, seasonal capsules, and celebrity brand partnerships in categories we haven’t entered before.”

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