Selena Gomez on Mental Health, Her Mission to Impact and What’s Next for Rare Beauty

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Selena Gomez still doesn’t have social media on her phone, which she first revealed in 2019. At the time, she was Instagram’s third-most followed celebrity.

“I do all of my posts through just texting my assistant and the caption that I want,” Gomez explained, calling from her home in Los Angeles.

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The global star has 265 million followers on the platform. On TikTok, she has 35.5 million fans, and on YouTube, she’s accumulated 29.8 million subscribers. It’s been three years since she deleted the apps.

“I say that because that’s a huge, significant part of why I feel like I’ve been as healthy as I have been,” she continued. “I’m completely unaware of actually what’s going on in pop culture, and that makes me really happy. And maybe that doesn’t make everybody else happy, but for me, it’s really saved my life.”

She simply “snapped,” she admitted, regarding the decision.

“To be honest, I was just, like, ‘This is too much information,’” she went on. “This is too much of my personal life spread out everywhere, and it just felt uncontrollable. I felt like my thoughts and everything I was consuming revolved around a million different other people in the world saying good things and bad things. And I just thought, ‘Why would I — I don’t get anything from it. Nothing is giving me life.’ And I just snapped, and I was over it. I wanted to delete it altogether, but my team was smart enough to convince me not to. But I’m happy I didn’t, because it is such a wonderful way to stay connected, and when I do go on, it makes me happy to know that I’m just being completely honest and being true to who I am.”

After being in the limelight essentially her entire existence, in 2017, Gomez revealed a change in her life; she’d received a kidney transplant as part of an ongoing treatment for lupus. Then, last year, in a candid conversation with Miley Cyrus on Cyrus’ at-home Instagram Live show “Bright Minded” (created in the earlier days of the pandemic), Gomez opened up about mental health, sharing her struggles battling anxiety, depression, and for the first time, she publicized her bipolar diagnosis.

“There was this immense amount of pressure I had growing up that I felt like I needed to be a good role model,” Gomez said. “And then I felt like maybe that was just unrealistic, and my life became very public really quickly, and I didn’t know that I was going through my own journey with mental health at the time. So, it was really confusing growing up, and once people created this narrative of my life, I realized I can’t be quiet anymore. I have to just address what needs to be addressed, and that’s me reclaiming my story, which is, ‘OK, yeah, I was definitely going through a hard time, and this is why, and this is what I deal with.’”

The public’s reaction to the news was a turning point, said Gomez: “There was a window in media that the media would be shamed for being rude to someone who’s open about getting help. And that was a blessing, because I feel like much earlier on, they would have taken advantage of that. But ever since I’ve been open about my own journey, I have people come up to me all the time and tell me about what they’ve walked through. Or just people that have completely grown up with me, or exactly my age and watched Disney and now are going to be 30. It’s weird. It’s life. And I love connecting to people. If I have this platform, I might as well use it for something good, because that’s what keeps me going.”

Over the last two years, Gomez has used her influence to effect a lot of good, particularly with the launch of her beauty line, Rare Beauty.

Just as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty (which launched in 2017 with a message of inclusivity, influencing a slew of celebrity beauty launches and forever changing the landscape), Gomez has driven the discussion around mental health, paving the way for brands and consumers to speak publicly about coping with pressure, stress and anxiety. What she’s developed alongside her team personifies a new kind of beauty, one free from contouring and morphing the face and centered on embracing the self, enhancing the natural, accepting all aspects of one’s inner and outer beauty. The message is clear: do what makes you happy, have fun.

As important, it’s also a business that gives back. One percent of all Rare Beauty sales go to the Rare Impact Fund, the brand’s nonprofit affiliate working to expand mental health awareness and services, particularly in underserved communities. The goal is to raise $100 million over the next 10 years, while $1.2 million dollars is to be distributed so far in grants to eight organizations working in the mental health field.

One percent of all sales of Rare Beauty are donated to mental health causes. - Credit: Courtesy of Rare Beauty
One percent of all sales of Rare Beauty are donated to mental health causes. - Credit: Courtesy of Rare Beauty

Courtesy of Rare Beauty

The cause is one that resonates deeply with young shoppers. “Over 40 percent of Gen Z and Millennials are turning to brands and celebrities and influencers that they know and trust and whose values align with them and among those issues, mental health is one of them,” said Elyse Cohen, vice president of social impact. “So, there’s an opportunity for an authentic founder and celebrity like Selena, who has such an incredible story, to make change on an issue. That storytelling piece and her own commitment and connection is invaluable.”

The mission of being a purpose-driven beauty brand has been a brand ethos from the start, as envisioned by Gomez. Today, accelerated by the impact of the health crisis and the new social justice movement, consumers are demanding a deeper commitment from brands. But Gomez, with her forthrightness when it comes to her mental health issues and funding towards the cause, has had that aim from Day One. And it’s made Rare Beauty a brand of the future, setting a path for the world’s next generation of founders on how to successfully create a business with impact.

“I wanted to create a safe, welcoming space in beauty that supports mental well-being across age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, cultural background, physical or mental ability,” Gomez said. “I really hope that the brand can continue to make quality products that people feel happy using and knowing that we support them.”

“Selena’s goal of helping people and making them feel good about themselves and recognizing how special and beautiful they were from the inside out, we realized that that’s what was missing in the market,” said Scott Friedman, Rare Beauty’s chief executive officer.

Born and raised in Texas, her career began as a child actress on “Barney & Friends,” before rising to fame as Alex Russo in the Disney Channel’s sitcom “Wizards of Waverly Place.” She was 19 when the show aired its last episode, and that same year — 2012 — in a bold and significant move, she unveiled her next role at the 69th Venice Film Festival, playing a bikini-clad party girl in Harmony Korine’s R-rated “Spring Breakers.” America’s darling had grown up.

Now 29, she’s since starred in a Woody Allen film opposite Timothée Chalamet, and more recently, alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short in the Hulu comedy-mystery “Only Murders in the Building.” She’s also executive producing through her company July Moonhead Productions, with projects that include the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and her HBO Max cooking show “Selena + Chef,” which premiered in the summer of 2020. All this, and she’s managed a career as a pop star, too. Signed to Interscope Records, she’s a multiplatinum recording artist with hits that dominate the radio (while being the face of big-name brands that include Louis Vuitton, Coach, Puma, Coca-Cola and Pantene). Most recently, she released the Latin-influenced EP “Revelación,” an ode to her Mexican heritage. And all the while, she’s been involved in philanthropy, notably a UNICEF ambassador since age 17.

Gomez has arguably excelled in every venture, and what she’s been able to do exceptionally well is build the right teams around her as she navigates each endeavor. Rare Beauty — her cosmetic lines — is no different.

“I basically said, ‘I want people that have been doing this for so long, who are willing to take a chance and take this journey with me,’” she said of the business, launched in California about a year ago in September 2020 (though the idea for the brand took shape pre-pandemic). “Most of the team joined in 2019 and 2020, but I had a vision, and I knew I needed experts to help me bring that to life. So, I’m very fortunate to have the team that I have and obviously would be nowhere without them.”

Selena Gomez - Credit: Maddie Cordoba/WWD
Selena Gomez - Credit: Maddie Cordoba/WWD

Maddie Cordoba/WWD

The hires began with Friedman, who brought on Mehdi Mehdi, chief digital officer, and Joyce Kim, chief product development officer — all three NYX Cosmetics alums. The team, about 50 employees to date, also includes Katie Welch, chief marketing officer, Kim Magee, chief sales officer, and Elyse Cohen, vice president of social impact.

“We really tried to absorb as much as we could about what makes her so special and why people love her so much and that’s kind of where the essence started,” Mehdi said of early days of development. “In terms of the creative, we took a lot of inspiration from the looks that she’s done, the makeup that she’s done, the fashion that she’s done, her music videos, her personal aesthetic.”

The questions was: What exactly is it about Gomez that allows for her to have such resonance with her audience?

“The more we got into it, her vulnerability was the thing that kept coming up,” he continued. “She’s been so open and honest about who she is and some of the struggles that she goes through and the challenges, and there was a sense of just everyone could see themselves in her.”

They leaned into storytelling, producing lo-fi content.

“We had to pivot a lot, because it impacted so many aspects of the business, from manufacturing shutdowns and slowdowns to transportation problems.…Then there were all the retail store closures and restrictions on capacity and then you couldn’t use testers,” said Friedman of COVID-19. “All the photo shoots had to stop…no more live events. Selena ended up doing so many things, so many tutorials from her house.”

Gomez had informal, relaxed discussions with her Rare Beauty community from the intimacy of her bedroom at times, welcoming a personal dialogue that wasn’t limited to beauty conversations. It was a challenging year, with a universal need for connection, and the result made for powerful moments.

“I get to sit in chats with maybe 20 girls, and they each will tell me their story and what they’re walking through and how they met other people in the community that has helped them as well,” Gomez said. “It’s been really beautiful to see just how much the brand is touching people’s lives. And that’s all I really wanted at the end of the day. I wanted to make quality products that were easy and sophisticated but also accessible. I really wanted it to take care of people’s hearts.”

In one video, her grandfather (her grandparents live with her) accidentally makes a cameo unaware she’s filming.

“Selena just burst out laughing, like, ‘You’re going to be on the internet,’ and we kept it in there because it was so funny and so real,” said Welch, who shared that TikTok was the brand’s most significant tool (linking boosts in sales to viral moments on the platform). Gomez, with the help of her friends and family, often engages in funny skits on TikTok, where she’s her most playful.

“One of the things we showed — with Selena being so real and authentic — is how easy the makeup was to use, and that was something that rose to the forefront of a desire from the community,” Welch said. “They want it to be simple and easy to use, and of course high performance, but also uncomplicated.”

Among the offerings, Rare Beauty first introduced core complexion products, foundation, concealer, a primer and face mist, as well as lip, cheek and brow items.

The brand’s bestselling product category is blush, which surprised the team.

Blush has been a breakaway category for Rare Beauty. - Credit: Courtesy of Sephora
Blush has been a breakaway category for Rare Beauty. - Credit: Courtesy of Sephora

Courtesy of Sephora

“Shortly after our Soft Pinch blushes, we launched a Stay Vulnerable Melting Blush,” Kim said. “Now we’re a blush brand and that just never crossed our mind, but when you think about how much blush can change your face in terms of giving it kind of life, just a flush of color, it makes sense….We had no idea that that was going be such a hit for us.”

Rare Beauty held 165 digital educational trainings in the last year, instructing makeup artists and beauty advisers on information and how to use each product. The latest release — everything is cruelty-free and vegan — is a mascara.

“It’s been getting a lot of love, which is so exciting,” Gomez said. “I love, personally, our foundation, because it doesn’t even require that much, and it just makes your skin feel weightless.”

The product, which comes in 48 shades, is a focus for the brand at the moment, said Magee: “We’re getting behind our foundation in major way. We’ve been doing complexion events. Skin tints are a trend that’s doing really well right now within Sephora, and that will continue. There’s a light makeup trend that’s happening that has really taken off.”

According to Artemis Patrick, executive vice president and global chief merchandising officer for Sephora, blush, but also eyeliners and lip products have been Rare Beauty’s leading categories.

“Since its launch, it has been wildly popular with both our clients as well as our beauty advisers and our beauty community within Sephora,” Patrick said of the brand. “Everything within the Rare Beauty assortment is $30 and under, which allows for broader accessibility to the incredible prestige formula and beautiful packaging and componentry that won’t break the bank.”

Releasing exclusively with Sephora — online and in-stores, plus Sephora inside J.C. Penney — alongside direct-to-consumer at Rarebeauty.com was always the plan, according to Friedman. Along with the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Rare Beauty is now found in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, making it present in 31 countries total as of July of this year. Next, the brand will be found at Sephora at Kohl’s.

“By the end of next month, we’ll be in over 1,700 doors,” Magee said.

What’s next in product development?

“I hear from the community a lot about shadows,” Gomez said. “We’re definitely listening to what people want for sure.”

The Gomez “superfan” is more likely to shop on the brand’s site (where there’s extras like merch), while the “beauty junkie” is buying at Sephora, according to Friedman.

“Our d-to-c business is growing,” he said. Declining to comment on financials, he added, “We’ve seen growth. There are some fluctuations based upon the pandemic. But we’ve definitely continued to grow. It’s not always linear. It’s a wave. It keeps going up. If you look at a chart, it keeps going up to the right.”

Moving forward, continued global expansion is in the plans.

“We have to be able to do it right,” Friedman said. “We’re very, very happy with the Sephora relationship. And we’re not in a rush to go to other retailers. There will be a time where we would. We’re considering different things.”

To Gomez, opening a shop of her own, is on the bucket list.

“I mean that would be the highest of high dreams,” she said. “I would love for it to stand on its own and be that. I think as of now, I’m really happy with where we are, and I want to continue to just stay where we are for a bit, and then I think that, ideally, I would want nothing more than to see it become beyond beauty.”

As she gets ready to turn 30 next year, what’s been the biggest lesson learned?

“It feels good to finally not care as much as I did,” she said. “I think of how many years I wasted just caring so much about what people thought, and it was just suffocating. And I think I wasted time doing that. What I love so far about getting older is that I’m starting to just really be happy with who I am, know what I want and know what I don’t want.”

She’s looking forward to the next decade, she said: “I love getting older. I love living life, and I love learning and growing and traveling and meeting amazing people. Yeah, I’m excited.”

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