There is no better advertisement for Rhode than seeing Hailey Rhode Bieber in the flesh with seemingly no makeup on, the natural light in her New York City apartment dancing off those famous cheekbones, illuminating her flawless lit-from-within complexion. But like Rhode itself and that modeling career, perfect skin is something Bieber has had to work for. When she tells you skincare has always been a passion of hers, you believe her when she starts to tick off the names of experts whose brains she has picked and the ingredients she’s taken a deep dive into.
From the beginning, Bieber knew her skincare line would be more than just a beauty brand. That’s why she partnered with Michael D. Ratner, Founder and CEO of OBB, and Founding Partner and Board Member of Rhode. “We met through mutual friends in LA about seven years ago and Ratty—I call him Ratty—had worked on Justin [Bieber]’s documentary Seasons and that was my introduction to him on a work basis,” Bieber recalls. Creating that intimate documentary together built trust between them. After Ratner asked her to cameo in a show he was producing and “she crushed it,” as he puts it, they knew they needed to do more together.
Then the pandemic hit. “It opened up this space in this time for me to pursue something in skincare, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time,” Bieber says. “Since I was a teenager, I’ve always been very routine and regimented with my skincare. I love the beauty space in general—hair care, body care, makeup—but I’ve always been drawn toward skincare because the base of everything, the base of great makeup, starts with glowing from the inside out and absolutely healthy skin.”
Bieber approached Ratner with the idea to launch a skincare line. “I always wanted to start my own brand in general; I chose to go with skincare first because I reached a point where I had been modeling for a long time,” she says. “I had tried so many different things. I had the extreme privilege of being able to work with different estheticians and dermatologists. I’m like a sponge; I soak up knowledge, so I’ve always been really inquisitive and asking questions to all these people I’ve gotten to work with. What ingredients do you love? What do you find that works?”
During the pandemic, Bieber got her hands on every skincare product imaginable, from the expensive to least expensive and everything in between to try everything and see what really works. “I had already known what I liked in skincare and what worked for me,” she says. “But I wanted to dive deeper into the structure of everything. The conclusion I came to was the expensive stuff doesn’t necessarily mean it works better than tried and true, solid, affordable stuff. I came to this idea of making very luxurious products and solid formulas that you could get for an affordable price, and also that was aesthetically pleasing and fun.”
It was crucial to Bieber to build a brand she had complete creative control over. “At that point I had lent my name and my face to beauty brands before and I had reached the point where I’m not interested in doing that anymore. I want to build something myself,” she says. Ratner had built OBB, so Bieber trusted him to help her build her brand.
Ratner was in from the instant she called him. “I said to her we both don’t know what we’re doing in this space, so let’s make sure we find the right people,” he recalls. “A really powerful tool for entrepreneurs is admitting and knowing what they don’t know. I soon realized how unique Hailey was, because the one thing I didn’t want to be a part of was another celebrity brand. I very quickly realized that’s not what this was. She was scouring the internet to find new tips, hacks and tricks. She was talking to dermatologists, estheticians and chemists, and truly nerding out.”
Bieber and Ratner started by building their dream team from the ground up, talking to VCs, CMOs and CEOs. They weren’t interested in participating in incubators or licensing deals. Even though it was much harder, time-consuming and riskier, they were determined to create their own formulas and a brand that was all her own.
“It was very fortunate that I got to watch a lot of people launch their brands before mine,” Bieber says. “That really helped me to decipher what I did and didn’t want to do. And that helped me decide what route to take because you can feel authenticity. This is so authentically important and real to me, and that helped me take the route of building it brick by brick.” Ratner adds, “That set us out on the harder, longer journey, but it was worth it.”
As the brand was being developed, Bieber was looking for a platform where she could speak directly to people. “Obviously, YouTube is the best place to do that,” she says. “With this brand, I want people to get to know me in a way where it’s not controlled by somebody else.” That’s how her YouTube channel got started, produced by OBB. Her popular series, Who’s in my Bathroom?, came from the idea of being in the bathroom at the Met Gala. “In past years, everybody would be crowded in the bathroom, talking and taking photos,” Bieber says. “It was always this bizarrely amazing scene. And then the idea of when you’re out with your girlfriends, and you’re in the bathroom, and you’re talking about the ex-boyfriend you saw and your plan of action.” Bieber has a rotating roster of guests come into her bathroom and do an informal interview, playing games and chatting.
The first guest of Who’s in my Bathroom? was Bieber’s best friend, Kendall Jenner. “She’s on her journey with her brand 818 Tequila as well,” Bieber says. “She came on and we’re taking shots of 818 and I felt so good about the launch because people were able to see our dynamic. I want people to be able to relate to me, although I know I live a life that can be extremely not relatable. I’m not trying to force people to relate to me, I just am really trying to get across that I feel like I’m normal. I am aware that I live this very not regular, not normal life in these very not regular circumstances.”
Bieber’s YouTube Bieber’s channel was reportedly one of the fastest accounts to hit one million subscribers on the platform. “I want to continue diving deeper into tutorials and skincare and more fun beauty-related things, especially when Rhode launches,” Bieber says. “It’s been organic and fun. I’ve had guests that I’ve never met before and we’ve had amazing conversations. I walk away from it every single time feeling fulfilled by it.”
Brands are no longer just about the product—their platforms are also part of it. “We live in a world where everything is so fast and people are absorbing so much information at once,” Bieber says. “The reason that content is going to play such a big role is people absorb their information solely through their phones. If you’re trying to get something across to a consumer, it has to be through content platforms—YouTube, TikTok, Instagram. You can’t have a successful brand without them.” Rhode amassed an Instagram following of nearly 200k before posting a single photo. Early in the pandemic, Bieber used TikTok to take a deep dive into skincare and had conversations with people in the space.
The way products are sold has changed drastically and Ratner acknowledges that Rhode is tapping into this evolution. “There are a lot of different factors now,” he says. “My production company makes television and movies and we took a television and movie quality approach to YouTube. We have a partnership where Hailey retains ownership of what she’s doing and that’s really powerful. As a young woman who’s chairwoman of her own company, and owns her IP, that’s a new world approach, something you couldn’t have done back in the day. As Hailey always acknowledges, she is grateful for her unique circumstances to be able to have these opportunities, but she’s taking those opportunities and ultimately sharing the love with other people and highlighting the team helping her.”
Bieber hired a team of six full-time employees that are all women as part of Rhode’s message of female empowerment. Expanding on that sentiment, one percent of sales will go to the Rhode Futures Foundation, which aims to invest and support 1,000 women and their families by 2023. For their first year, Rhode is partnering with the Accion Opportunity Fund, Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the LIFT Communities Family Goal Fund.
“Being married [to Justin Bieber] and having more eyes on me, I exist in a world of media that likes to perpetuate women against women,” Bieber says. “Instead of building each other up, it’s about tearing each other down and having trauma and not being able to support each other. I’ve had a really hard time with that. We’re stronger in numbers and supporting each other. There’s room for everyone to thrive; there’s space for everybody to succeed. I want to do my best to perpetuate that and not be part of the pettiness and drama. I would love to share it with the world and lift each other up. If I can be a teeny bit of that it would make me happy.”
Bieber has also worked closely with Ratner’s fiancée, Lauren Rothberg, a marketing expert with a proven track record at brands like Reformation and Michael Kors, to help her hone the brand’s identity, creative visuals, positioning and voice. As Head of Brand, Rothberg also helped Bieber build her team. “I really wanted to build a team of women that could help me bring this vision to life and that I can hopefully empower to be the best they can be in their specific field,” Bieber says. “Without my team I would not be able to be launching a brand. They worked their asses off to help see my vision through.”
Rhode eventually brought on One Luxury Group as the minority partner in the business, though Bieber funded the bulk of Rhode with her own money. “When you’re building anything, you have to trust yourself and you have to trust your gut,” Bieber says. “Sometimes that’s hard for me because what if I make the wrong decision. I did my best with every decision and every step that we took to trust what my gut was saying and trust what my heart was telling me with all the information I had absorbed and been given. And I also really wanted to invest in myself. The most I’ve ever spent my money on is this brand.”
Every single product went through multiple iterations and the Rhode team helped Bieber implement the specific directions and feedback she had. “She was so meticulous with the tiniest little things and I think that’s partly why it took so long,” Ratner says. Bieber was determined not to cut corners. “I fought to have these products be as efficacious and solid as they could be and fought for them to be that way for the price point,” she says. “It was not easy.” Learning about the supply chain and finding the right labs posed challenges.
Rhode is launching with three products. “I wanted to launch with a focus on hydration because no matter what your skin type is, hydration is really important,” Bieber says. “Even if you struggle with acne, you still need to moisturize. Through conversations with friends that have different types of skin and what they’re looking for, hydration was the thing. I did my best to make the products as universal as possible.”
Though their R&D told Bieber every product was worth a luxury price tag, she was adamant that everything is under $30. The Peptide Glazing Fluid is a hybrid gel-serum that delivers dewy hydration while plumping, courtesy of niacinamide to brighten and boost texture, peptides to smooth fine lines, hyaluronic acid for moisture and marula oil to boost the skin barrier. Essentially, it’s Bieber’s glow in a bottle. Then there’s the Barrier Restore Cream, a rich moisturizer that repairs and strengthens the skin barrier with shea butter that contains five fatty acids, squalane to calm, acai to fight free radicals with antioxidants, and peptides and niacinamide. Finally, the Peptide Lip Treatment goes beyond your regular lip balm by protecting and plumping your pucker while minimizing fine lines and boosting volume. Available in three varieties—Unscented, Salted Caramel, Watermelon Slice—it gets the job done with cupuacu to improve skin elasticity, babassu to boost the microbiome, and shea butter and peptides.
Bieber demanded custom packaging that was as sustainable as possible. “I wanted this to feel clean, have a sense of sportiness and feel more gender neutral, like it would work in anyone’s bathroom,” Bieber says. “I also want it to feel very inclusive—everyone’s welcome into the world of Rhode.” The bottles are made from PCR. Rhode is using sustainable shipping company Boox. It was also important for everything to be vegan, cruelty-free and gluten-free.
“We’re working toward being as sustainable as possible, even with our ingredients, so we tried to source everything completely ethically,” Bieber says. “I’m using the cleanest and best ingredients we could possibly find. I also want this to be a brand that can educate people about ingredients and not in an in-your-face way. I don’t want there to be any secrecy with this brand. If you have a question about it, I want there to be an honest answer.”
The beauty market is notoriously oversaturated, so it was also important for Bieber to carefully curate Rhode. “When you go on a website and you want to find a really good moisturizer and there’s like 60 different options, it feels daunting and overwhelming,” Bieber says. “So, the cadence of our launches will be very edited. Very small drops at a time.”
To showcase the Rhode journey, they will release a documentary, The Making of Rhode, about the building of the brand, produced by OBB, on Bieber’s YouTube channel on June 28. “It’s going be two and a half years worth of footage,” Bieber says. “I want people to be able to lift the hood up and be part of it and see how it started, what the conversations have been and how we got here. This is how I’m going to introduce everything to the world.” Ratner adds, “It’s cool to bring it full circle. It’s going to be a really incredible home video of this whole company and her journey as an entrepreneur and founder. You’re gonna see all the tough decisions.”
This is just the beginning for Rhode. The five-year plan is to build an empire, expanding from skincare to body care, cosmetics, lifestyle products and an entire beauty platform. Everything will stay true to Bieber’s philosophy.
“The philosophy that I came up with is one of everything really good, meaning we want to make the best formula we can for this one serum and the best formula we can for this one moisturizer so that when you start accumulating everything in your bathroom, it’s very edited and chic,” Bieber says. “That’s how I look at my style, too. Having one of everything really good is a concept that I stick to in the way that I dress, like a great leather jacket, a great coat, a great pair of jeans. You can have the curated, edited basics and stick with that and keep going back to that. You’re never going to not go back to a perfect pair of jeans, just like you’re never going to not go back to a great moisturizer, right?” That’s why every formula needed to be perfect.