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WSL In The Press|August 25, 2022

Maesa Launches Itk Skin Care Brand With TikTok Stars Brooklyn, Bailey McKnight

By James Manso on August 19, 2022  ||  BeautyInc. -  A Publication of WWD

TikTok creators Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight's new Gen Z skin care brand Itk is launching Monday in an exclusive partnership with Walmart as the retailer bids on younger, digitally native consumers.

With Gen Z street cred on one hand and brand-building prowess on the other, Maesa has teamed up with creators Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight for its latest venture. 

The brand, called Itk (an abbreviation of “In The Know”), is launching Monday in an exclusive partnership with Walmart Inc. as the latter bids on younger, digitally native consumers. The 15 products, ranging across skin care and ingestibles, are priced between $6.97 and $14.97. 

The move comes at a pivotal time for both incubator and retailer. Maesa, the parent company of Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty, Kristin Ess Hair and others, has launched two other digitally savvy brands with famed founders this year, including hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons’ eponymous hair care range, and Ashley Tisdale’s wellness brand, Being Frenshe. 

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer saw net sales grow 5.7 percent to $24.4 billion in its most recent quarter, WWD reported Tuesday, though it anticipated a $2.1 billion headwind due to currency exchange rates. 

Those challenges haven’t stopped Walmart from going bigger on beauty, though, launching Gen Z-friendly skin care brand Bubble and Sharon Chuter’s Uoma by Sharon C. last year. It also debuted Next of Us, a hair care brand cocreated with P&G Beauty, and jumped into prestige beauty with a shop-in-shop partnership with Space NK earlier this year. 

Its latest move with Itk is planned to help the retailer tap further into the Gen Z market. 

“As beauty customers look to social and digital trends to inspire their purchasing decisions, Walmart is committed to offering an assortment of products that fits their lifestyle and interests at prices they love,” said Creighton Kiper, vice president, Walmart Beauty, U.S., in an email. “Brooklyn and Bailey offer insight on what Gen Z consumers want in their daily beauty routines, and we’re excited to welcome their inclusive and customer-inspired skin care line, Itk, to Walmart’s growing assortment of on-trend and accessible beauty offerings.” 

The 22-year-old twins behind the brand boast 7.7 million followers on Instagram, nearly 7 million subscribers on YouTube and 6.4 million followers on TikTok. Though they each earned degrees in entrepreneurship from Baylor University, they relied heavily on their vast community when developing the brand. 

On Instagram, the duo crowdsourced insights from their followings, and those insights played a key role in the brand’s development. 

“Whenever we were looking to design and formulate, we actually asked our audience on Stories via questionnaires, what do you look for in skin care? What is your go-to skin care product? We even, at one point, had them voting on what kind of bottle textures they liked or color. They didn’t necessarily know exactly what they were doing it for, but they were voting on essentially what they liked in a product,” Bailey McKnight told WWD in an exclusive interview. 

“When we asked what kind of skin care products people like, we ended up getting a couple hundred thousand responses. It was a significant amount of people that were interacting and giving us their opinion. It’s great data for us to be able to pull that and use that in what we’re innovating, and which products we’re presenting,” she continued. 

The products were also created with social media in mind. One of the heroes, a clay mask, turns pink upon application. 

“That one’s just really fun to apply to your skin, and a lot of people will have a lot of fun with that on social media,” Brooklyn McKnight said. 

Leveraging the sisters’ expertise also makes them an advantageous partner for Walmart as it bets more on the Gen Z beauty consumer. 

The McKnight twins amassed a social media following in 2013, and beauty has always been a content focal point. Their mother, Mindy McKnight, regularly used the twins as models on her own YouTube channel, Cute Girl Hairstyles, which has north of 5 million subscribers. She also has a Walmart-exclusive brand with Maesa, which launched in 2020. Brooklyn McKnight is also a licensed aesthetician. 

“We tried our hand at beauty and whatever that looked like, whether it was makeup tutorials on YouTube, or how to style a scarf or daily skin care routines. Then, I went to get my aesthetician’s license, so it’s evolved over the years. Our fingers have dabbled in more than one category in beauty,” she said. 

To that end, they’ve seen their consumer age up with them. 

“Brooklyn and I are big sisters to our audience, they look to us for advice on all things that they go through. We have videos of us getting braces on and off, we have breakups, examples of advice on period information, all of that advice,” Bailey McKnight said. “Most recently, we’ve been asked a lot about skin care, especially because of Brooklyn’s aesthetician program. It’s a very trustworthy recommendation from Brooklyn and I to our audience, because we have built this friendship, sister-sort of relationship with them.” 

Sixty-five percent of their audience falls between the ages of 14 and 28, though the twins noted their followers range across ages and demographics. They also feel relatability is the secret sauce to retaining such a robust following, which will be instrumental in growing Itk’s digital awareness, particularly on TikTok. 

“TikTok is a place to show off personality, and we’ve seen multiple success stories of brands really adapting them, and showcasing their brand personality on social media. It’s done wonders for them. That’s definitely a strategy we have going into it, especially coming from our background where our entire brand is built around personalities. Itk will reflect that, and have personable content that people feel they can relate to, rather than a brand as an authoritative figure speaking to a consumer,” said Bailey McKnight. 

The brand’s ethos, hence the name, is built around making skin care less complicated and more approachable. That also informed the categories the brand is launching with — basics ranging across cleansers, moisturizers and serums, as well as treatment patches and a clay mask. 

“We had a really hard time narrowing down exactly what we wanted to start with because the world is our oyster, and there were so many options. We narrowed it down to what we felt like was necessary for the beginner or base-level skin care routine, cleansers, moisturizers and some serums. Those are easier introductory items and as we continue, we hope to continue to add more products,” Brooklyn McKnight added. 

Simplicity made sense as a brand pillar for Maesa as well. “With the Gen Z consumer, thinking about skin care as a category can be extremely complicated, extremely overwhelming. It was important for us and for Brooklyn and Bailey to bring a voice to the market that was relatable and authentic,” said Dana Steinfeld, senior vice president of Blue Sky Brand Development, Maesa’s brand development arm. 

Maesa’s M.O. — tapping big names for accessibly priced formulations, starting with exclusive retail partnerships — is driven in part by data, and partially by instinct. Though Steinfeld didn’t comment on sales, industry sources anticipate Itk to reach $18 million in sales during its first year on the market. 

“We’re not a company that’s 100 percent data-led, it’s important to have, but we also very much go by gut,” Steinfeld added. “Sometimes, you have a certain founder or certain opportunity that may not be the obvious choice.” 

“We’re always listening to the consumer, what kind of opportunities we see out there really comes straight from trends, consumer intelligence and also talking to our retail partners. We have close connections with all
of the retailers that we work with, and we understand what it is they’re looking for as well,” she continued. 

The brand’s communications will focus largely on demystifying formulas and unretouched results. 

“My goal is to make beauty approachable. Beauty standards are just insane. Social media makes them crazy,” Brooklyn McKnight said. 

Added Bailey McKnight, “One of the most important things for us was on social media, not always having that picture-perfect presentation that people know is edited. For example, skin, as perfect as it gets, still has flaws, blemishes or wrinkles. We want to make sure sure people understand that good skin isn’t edited and fine-tuned, it’s just real skin, and having that real, authentic personality behind the brand.” 

“A robust social media following does not a brand make, but it does come with plusses for a retail partner," said retail analyst Wendy Liebmann, founder and chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail.

“In the days when we had the big glossy celebrities that we all know and still recognize, that was the ability to get instant recognition and media impact,” Liebmann said. “Now, TikTok has become that at least for a newer generation... for me, it’s about the impact of the face.” 

The cohort has been targeted by other players in beauty — namely specialty giants Sephora and Ulta Beauty — as it ages up into higher spending power. Sephora recently announced a partnership with Instabrand Glossier; Ulta was named the top beauty destination in a Piper Sandler survey of more than 7,000 teens earlier this year. 

“This is what they’ve been working around at Walmart, in terms of enhancing their beauty offer: getting beyond the everyday, national brand names and everyday low prices. Their partnership with Space NK creates more of a Sephora, Ulta-ish atmosphere in the aesthetic of the store,” Liebmann said. “Exclusives like this really are their play on how to get younger people in. They’re working across several approaches to this, and the question becomes, how do you stick to it. You have to create the right environment, you have to support the image of the brand, both in-store and online.” 

“It’s a pretty dynamic opportunity,” Liebmann said of Itk. “They need traffic drivers and they need trip drivers. Often, these kinds of brands are the traffic drivers to the space, and the big national brands are the ones that are actually the sales drivers. You’ve got to get that balance. You’ve really got to be prepared to support this brand at all those different levels in-store, online and in social media, because that’s the dynamic if you want to build traffic for this brand.” 

Liebmann posited that Walmart’s acne business is ripe with opportunity, which Itk — its products include acne-fighting ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, niacinamide and vitamin C — is likely to tap. 

“Acne is a category that’s very important to this generation, and something that they’re always looking for new options and alternatives for. And it’s not limited by income, so that broad appeal means it’s really an opportunity for Walmart and Maesa both.” 

Acne was a specific point of concern for Bailey McKnight. “It’s all about confidence for me. I was that tween that walked into middle school with a pimple on my face, and I was terrified to go to class,” she said. “I want to be able to help those kids that are struggling with confidence, and want to do something about it. They want to feel glowy, and if our products help them get there, then we have definitely succeeded.” 

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