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Scarlett Johansson Says Her Plant-Based Beauty Line Is the “White T-Shirt of Skin Care”


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Scarlett Johansson does not share her life with the world on social media. In this way, the actress hews to a pre-Instagram model of stardom, when celebrities were seen and heard in limited and intentional ways (read: when promoting a project). Johansson’s place in modern Hollywood, though, is evidenced by the launch of her new skin-care brand The Outset, as she joins a chorus of other celebrity beauty brands that seems to grow larger for consumers each season.

The Outset is an eco-friendly, plant-based skincare line. Johansson’s co-founder and the brand’s CEO, Kate Foster Lengyel, was founder and CEO of SwearBy, a digital site focused on word-of-mouth product recommendations. Together — with funding from The Najafi Companies (the first institutional investor in Beach House Group, the brand studio behind Tracee Ellis Ross’ Pattern hair care line and Shay Mitchell’s travel essentials company, Béis) — Johansson and Foster created a line of six fragrance-free products: a cleanser, prep serum, day cream, night cream, fine line cream and lip treatment ($28 to $54). The brand’s signature is Hyaluroset Complex, a trademarked, hydrating ingredient blend that’s a botanical alternative to hyaluronic acid. On March 1, the items will be available on the brand’s direct-to-consumer website, and at sole retail partner Sephora on April 26.

Johansson — who was working on the launch amid her now-settled lawsuit against Disney over Black Widow’s release — and Foster spoke with The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom in December and again in February for a rare look at two different stages of the brand-building process as the founders inched closer to its debut in the marketplace.

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From left: The Outset’s Firming Vegan Collagen Prep Serum, Botanical Lip Rescue Treatment, Gentle Micellar Antioxidant Cleanser, Nourishing Squalane Daily Moisturizer, Restorative Niacinamide Night Cream and Smoothing Vitamin C Eye + Expression Lines Cream.

The Ouset

Johansson admitted that before she dove into creating her own brand, the idea seemed daunting. “I never understood the background of how brands come to be. I just didn’t feel like I had a place at the table, because it was this whole new venture,” the actress told THR. “I think over time, I just felt more confident that it was something that I had a perspective on. And felt like it was worth pursuing this dream.”

She started envisioning the line five years ago. “[The Outset] just was born out of curiosity and a genuine love for beauty and for skincare,” says Johansson. Early in the process, the budding entrepreneur met with several beauty companies about pairing with them, but she “kept coming back to this really authentic desire” to forge her own path.

She met Foster (“my producing partner, essentially,” says the actress) through mutual friends in the beauty industry, and the two recall being immediately aligned on how the brand should take shape: “I needed somebody else that felt brave and confident enough to do it independently of some of the major houses and brands. So Kate, I think, was the person for the job because she is a risk-taker. And she and I had a similar kind of ethos around beauty.”

Says Foster of Johansson, who serves as chairman of the company: “From our first meeting two years ago to where we are now, her vision then and the way that she described the brand, it’s like 99.9 percent the same as what we’re introducing.”

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The Outset co-founders Foster (left) and Johansson.

Courtesy of Tess Ayano

Johansson knew she wanted every piece of The Outset’s launch to feel like a “hero product,” which meant scaling back the number of initial items. “We needed to focus our resources on this limited amount of SKUs and really understand what the most important thing to the consumer is. If our idea is noise reduction, and there’s obviously a million celebrity brands, this is the opportunity to create something that makes people’s lives easier,” she says.

From the brand’s minimalist blue-and-white packaging and clean ingredients (like vegan collagen) to the marketing language (“Return to the essential”), The Outset is positioned as a simple, everyday line, with bottles made from post-consumer glass recyclables. (The products are available either à la carte or as a starter set, with refills launching later this summer along with a smaller-sized travel set.)

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The Outset’s Restorative Niacinamide Night Cream.

The Outset

“We always talk about this brand being like the white T-shirt of skincare,” says Johansson, noting that the products can be paired with other brand’s products successfully. “It’s not about resurfacing or reinventing your skin, it’s really about preserving the skin that you have for the future.”

(Neither Johansson nor Foster would discuss specific terms — including ownership percentages — of The Outset’s deal with its backer, Najafi, but industry sources say the initial investment falls within the range of $5 million to $10 million. Business deals for celebrity brands can take many shapes and forms, from licensing to outright ownership to hybrid models.)

The actress’ experience working in film, she says, also helped her in building and working with a team from the ground up. “The idea that the best idea rises to the top — it’s a collaborative process. And I love that collaborative process and being one voice in a group,” said Johansson, adding: “I’m used to, for my other job, having an idea that’s kind of half-baked, and if something’s not working feeling comfortable scrapping everything and starting out from scratch. That to me is how you get a refined final product. This process has been very similar.”

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Johansson strategized with an editor over videoconference. “I’ve invested a lot of myself into developing something that I felt could build the foundation for trust with the consumer,” she says.

Courtesy of Loic Mae

When THR caught up again with Johansson and Foster in February, it was just two weeks ahead of the product debut. The pair had been dealing with supply-chain issues, which caused the launch to be delayed by several weeks. Foster notes the team had been hard at work on the technical side of things, like integrating and populating content on the website and creating tutorial videos, which Johansson, with her eye for film, insisted have a “beautiful cinematic quality.” Foster also says that the company is looking to shift from working with several freelancers and consultants to migrating more jobs in-house. The team was also working on final touches such as quality assurance testing. “We need to make sure that the products are all categorized properly in the warehouse, and that the website fires on all cylinders,” said Foster.

For a brand centrally focused on serving the consumer, trials and rounds of testing ahead of the launch have been pivotal in terms of refining the product formulas and packaging.

“Along the way, we’ve been doing customer testing to get feedback, and have just had phenomenal responses in terms of the positive reception to all of the products individually, but we also feel the daily essentials regimen is really the backbone of the line,” adds Foster. Early testers included many of Johansson’s friends, some of whom have described the line as “subtle.”

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Johansson behind the scenes at The Outset campaign shoot in September in Brooklyn.

Courtesy of Tess Ayano

Of course, one challenge in promoting The Outset is Johansson’s lack of her own social media accounts, platforms that many other stars use to spotlight their brands. But The Outset did launch a company IG account (@theoutset) Feb. 20, quickly gaining 66,000 followers, including Johansson’s husband, Colin Jost, who affectionately joked in the comments of the brand’s second post: “Is this the best way to contact you?”

Looking ahead to the fall, there are more product launches to come, such as a mask. “Things that are a little bit more specific … to boost your skincare regimen,” explains Johansson. In the future, she sees The Outset branching out into makeup products, fragrance, home goods, baby care and even apparel. “I’m interested in creating a legacy brand. This is the long play for me,” she says. “It’s very important to me that we grow the company.”

Asked to discuss the Disney suit, Johansson declined to comment, citing legal confidentiality, but did say: “I have a lot of stuff going on, and I definitely have a lot of balls in the air. But I think I’m at a place in my life finally where I’m OK delegating. I spent a long time where I just put a lot of pressure on myself to keep the balls in the air by myself. And it’s just impossible, especially since I have two children now [the youngest born over the summer], I have a film and television production company, and I’m still acting. So it’s just about, I think, nourishing my relationships with my team. This project right now needs a lot of attention, so this is where my focus is, and then when I go off to do a film, I know that [The Outset] is healthy.”

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A campaign image of Scarlett Johansson for the launch of her new skincare brand The Outset.

The Outset

A version of this story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, The Hollywood Reporter may receive an affiliate commission.

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