An in-depth investigation into why Glossier quietly discontinued its Play line

On December 15, 2020, Glossier quietly revealed that it would be discontinuing its Glossier Play line on January 4, 2021, by way of targeted emails. 

The email was purportedly sent to anyone who had purchased Glossier Play products in the past and stated that the company is “committed to creating a thoughtful and highly-edited product portfolio, and sometimes that means discontinuing products.” The discontinuation of the Colorslide eyeliner, Niteshine highlighter, and Vinylic Lip gloss comes months after Glossier stopped selling the Glitter Gelée gel after recognizing that the glitter used was not biodegradable.

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Glossier Play seemed to be designed for popularity as the colorful younger sister to the brand’s more natural core collection, featuring dialed up shades, Troye Sivan in its ad campaign, and the promise of making getting ready more fun. But now, less than two years after its launch, Glossier Play is being discontinued. What went wrong for a line whose success was all but written in the stars? 

screenshot of email detailing the discontinuation of the Play line

Sustainability

The most reasonable explanation is the most obvious one: for a brand that promotes natural beauty, the Play line was markedly unnatural with the colors, glitters, and packaging. In addition to the issues with Glitter Gelée’s formulation, many consumers took issue with how the products were individually wrapped in foil. With a growing focus in the beauty industry on sustainability in product and packaging, Play has stood out with its lack of concern for either. 

But why is that becoming a large enough issue to take down the brand now? The answer, as with everything these days, is the coronavirus pandemic. As the WGSN Beauty Team recently reported in “Key Trend 2021: The New Naturals,” COVID-19 has led to an increased desire for natural and sustainable beauty products as it inspires consumers to feel they have control over their health and wellness. 

In addition, last year began with graphic imagery of climate change as the world watched the Australia Bushfires in horror. People around the world are finally waking up to the effects of climate change and, in response, are looking to change their lifestyles and consumption habits as a way to better help the planet. In her April 2020 report, WGSN’s Beauty Strategist Emma Grace Bailey stated that two of the most successful strategies for beauty brands moving forward in 2020 were to actively support the environment and to create clean packaging. 

While Glossier ultimately changed the Play packaging after receiving backlash, it still seems as though the line ran countercurrent to not only Glossier’s move towards sustainability but that of the beauty industry at large.

 

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Disconnect from the Glossier brand

Glossier’s marketing strategy rests on the messaging that their products do not make you beautiful but instead accentuate your natural beauty and are accessible for everyone. Their products are skincare focused and, by extension, more muted in color and hype. While this isn’t to say their core collection is underwhelming, it felt like Play never fully matched the Glossier image.

Cassidy Olsen, a freelance journalist and former editor at Reviewed, tested out Play when it first came out in 2019 and compared it to similar products from a drugstore line (Wet n’ Wild) and a luxury line (Marc Jacobs). We spoke to her about her experience with Glossier Play from beginning to end.

Her initial take? “The Play brand was disjointed from the core Glossier products because you couldn’t swipe them on and expect to look great. Colored eye pencils, chunky glitter, and goopy shiny lip color need practice and knowledge to shop for and apply correctly.” 

This feeling is evident from the Glossier subreddit: one post from ten months ago reads, “Glossier, to me, is that ‘girl next door’ look that’s really wholesome. Their ads aren’t sexualized; none of [the] product names are sex/drug references. Glossier isn’t really ‘going out clubbing’ makeup.” The editorialized nature of Play separates it from the core collection, alienating it from Glossier’s main consumer base.

Many commentators on a subreddit post specifically discussing the line noted that while there is a market within Glossier fans for something like Play, buyers are already getting the hyped up makeup they want from other beauty brands.

Olsen reiterated this point, stating that “DTC [direct to consumer] brands that are taking off online for young markets are generally supposed to be good at one thing, and stick to that thing. But the natural way of business for the past ten years is growth by way of diversification and expansion, and that ends up being antithetical to the new model and why we like these brands so that diversification and expansion can backfire.”

 

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Lackluster performance

Before Glossier Play launched in March 2019, the company built up a sizable mystery around what it could possibly be. We spoke with Kylie Medlin, an art director, and long-time Glossier rep.

“There was so much mystery behind what was going on, even with the reps,” says Kylie. “We didn’t get any hint of Play until the night before. When I was able to try out the products, I was excited of course since it was (extra) shiny and new, but realized the line was difficult to fit into my every day.” 

After that, Medlin says that the collection continued to underwhelm: the formulas weren’t fantastic, the application process was difficult, and the results were patchy after only a short amount of time. Simply put, the immediate hype of Glossier’s big secret wore off faster than Vinylic Lip.

Medlin and Olsen both confirm that they remain fans and frequent consumers of Glossier’s core collection products, and Medlin went on to propose a solution for Play’s shortcomings: “Maybe it would be successful if they released existing products and formulas (that their customers already are familiar with) with bumped up glittery colors and shades.”

 

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A quiet goodbye

As a frequent Glossier Play user myself, I’m sad to see the products go but I understand it’s all for the best. Play’s rise and fall offer a clear case study in what consumers expect from beauty brands, especially in 2021, and how staying true to your core mission can actually be your best asset.