New Economic Realities   //   July 1, 2024

Why more celebrity-founded brands are pivoting

Celebrity-founded brands are quietly pivoting or relaunching as they try to adjust to current consumer sentiment.

New celebrity business concepts continue to every day, and there’s now dozens of competing brands in categories as disparate as skin care and alcohol. But, some brands are finding after launch that it takes some fine-tuning to truly make their brand stand out. More celebrity brands are rebranding, being sold to new owners, or going dark on social media as they try to figure out their next move. Recent examples include Naomi Osaka’s sun care line Kinlò, which is relaunching next spring with a revamped look. Meanwhile, Thor’s Skyr, which lists actors Terry Crews and Dylan Sprouse as co-founders, is pivoting from a grocery yogurt line to Icelandic skyr bars, and is opening up a food service concept this summer.

These moves speak to how crowded the celebrity brand space has become. Like any other brand, some celebrity-founded concepts are finding that their initial vision is too complex to execute, or isn’t gaining the traction they hoped. Still others are finding that they have to adapt to new consumer behavior years after they launched. Those that can’t adapt are filing for bankruptcy, as evidenced by the fate of Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s Hello Bello, as well as the biotech firm Amyris, which worked with Jonathan Van Ness and Naomi Watts, among others.

EleVen, the apparel brand of Venus Williams, is one of the celebrity brands that is taking a pause right now. In an email to retailers in February, Williams said that her apparel line is taking time to “refine our strategies and enhance the overall brand experience.” She added, “this pause is not a farewell but a see you soon.”

Some of these brands are being forced into a pivot amid troubles with their partners or parent company. Stripes, actress Naomi Watts’ menopause-focused beauty brand, is getting a new owner and with it, a new strategy. Watts bought back the company when its incubator Amyris filed for bankruptcy, and this week the brand was acquired by L Catterton for an undisclosed figure. The LVMH-backed PE firm plans to grow Stripes on channels like Amazon and on QVC, as well as launching in Canada this year.

One of the challenges is that executing a rebrand takes time, particularly if new products or new packaging is involved. In the meantime, that may leave customers wondering what exactly is going on with the brand.

On the Instagram account for Naomi Osaka’s sun care line, Kinló, some customers have been commenting and wondering why certain products are out of stock on Amazon and Walmart’s website, where the brand is sold.

Kinlò, a line designed for melanin-rich skin tones, was launched by Osaka in 2021 in partnership with the incubator A-Frame Brands.

 Avantha Arachchi, the chief operating officer of A-Frame Brands, told Modern Retail in an email that currently there are still some Kinlò products available on Amazon and through Buy With Prime on Kinlò’s website. “We are excited that new products and a rebrand will be coming in spring 2025,” Arachchi said.

“Regarding the rebrand, like any business, you build for what you believe the market is looking for at that time,” Arachchi said. “The market and what the consumer is looking for is very different even just a few years later, so a rebrand allows it to always ensure that it’s resonating with the consumer,” she added.

The relaunch will include refreshed versions of some of Kinlòs most popular SKUs that are currently sold out, such as the Golden Rays Sunscreen. “We’re holding off on those products until the relaunch, it’s part of the nuance of sun care products,” Arachchi said. “Though we obviously know and believe that sun protection is needed 365 days a year, the reality of the market is that the period of highest sales is from early spring through mid-summer.” 

Genevieve Gilbreath, founding partner at Springdale Ventures, told Modern Retail I have seen relaunches of brands be generally successful.” However, she added that a pivot or relaunched celebrity brand has not exited recently, so it’s difficult to measure their ability to go far under a new direction.

Pivoting or doing a brand reset isn’t necessarily a bad thing, said Gilbreath. But, the challenge she said is “you definitely lose momentum when you disappear from shelves,” explained.

For Thor’s Skyr, exiting grocery shelves is all part of the rebrand. Thor’s Skyr launched in 2021 as a grocery line, and was sold through chains like Central Market and Stop & Shop. The Icelandic-style yogurt brand was co-founded by Unnar Beck, Icelandic strongman Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, along with actors Crews and Sprouse. 

But in the coming months, Thor’s is pivoting to building out brick-and-mortar skyr bar destinations that serve items like smoothies and bowls. The first location is opening in Phoenix in July, followed by one in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake.

“We launched the first skyr bar in the U.S. in January this year inside LA Fitness in partnership with Blendid,” Beck said. The opening came after testing the concept at three events last year to gauge interest in skyr bars among Americans. Beck said the concept was also received positively at the National Restaurant Association Expo, which encouraged the company to embrace the pivot. “Healthy skyr bars are widespread in Iceland and have even replaced McDonald’s there,” he said.

Beck’s service experience comes from owning a number of restaurants and bars in Iceland, he said, which he’ll use to operate the Thor’s bars.

But retail isn’t completely off the table in the future, Beck added. “I’ve been approached a lot lately by interested candidates in the ‘cups’ part of the business,” he said. “I’ve got people begging for more skyr and I’m almost at the point of finding the right partner to handle the retail aspect of the brand.”

A brand reset bodes well for some celebrities. Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs originally struggled on Amazon when it launched in 2019, and struggled to gain traction through an online-only presence. The brand then took a hiatus for a couple of years, and returned with a refreshed product line with a focus on skincare-infused high-pigment makeup. When it relaunched in 2022, Haus Labs decided to make its debut at Sephora, where the brand’s best-selling foundation consistently sells out. 

Relaunches in the crowded beauty category in particular are also becoming more common. Know Beauty was first launched by Vanessa Hudgens in 2021 with singer Madison Beer. But Hudgens relaunched the company last year on her own. She told Glossy that the original concept, in which customers get matched to product recommendation based on a DNA test kit, didn’t land due to its complexity. “I think, nowadays, the main thing consumers want is easy. So, you want to make sure it’s easy to get, easy to handle, easy to understand, easy to operate,” Hudgens said at the time. 

Overall, there is less of an appetite for vanity business ideas as investors in particular have become less enamored with celebrity-led consumer brands. And the concept or product idea has to stand on its own. “There are a lot of brands that have stalled out and can’t raise capital,” Gilbreath said. “There’s just less money that’s impressed by celebrities because we’ve had time to see it doesn’t work most of the time.” 

Dhruv Patel, founder of the newsletter Celebrity Packaged Goods, said it’s no surprise that a number of the brands with celeb founders are pivoting or quietly winding down behind the scenes. 

Patel said many of these businesses have only been around two to three years, when a lot of people in Hollywood were stuck at home during the pandemic. As such, he explained that right now many of these companies that were expected to grow into their valuations can’t raise the funding they need. 

“I think because there are so many brands still in market, we’re still going to see a lot of them go to rollups or go to sleep,” Gilbreath said.

Despite the perceived troubles, more celebs are expected to announce brands this year. The 2024 pipeline is still full, Patel said. “I am bullish on celebrity brands,” he said. “There are still big names in talent that are about to launch brands.”