Society / Fashion / Beauty / Profiles

Houston Mom/Entrepreneur Builds a Beauty Empire

Two years in, $30 Million in Revenue and Rumors of a Sale

BY // 10.20.16

It’s high times for Houstonian Tiffany Masterson and her Drunk Elephant skincare line. On Monday, Women’s Wear Daily (the bible of all things fashionable) floated the idea that Estée Lauder was positioning to buy the two-year-old firm which is expected to make between $20 and $30 million in retail sales this year.

That comes on the heels of a launch of the line in Australia two weeks ago. Mecca Maxima (the Sephora of Down Under) sold out of Drunk Elephant products in two days. No surprise there as the line is the number one growth brand at Sephora and one of the fastest growing brands in the history of that company.

Fasten your seat belts, Drunk Elephant launches in Canada next week and Europe is on the map for 2017.

“We’re still a baby. We grew faster than we expected,” said the soft-spoken mother of four who founded the company in 2014. “We launched in Sephora in January of 2015 and no one could have anticipated the reception.” This year, the line is experiencing a whopping 400 percent increase in retail sales over 2015.

Drunk Elephant beauty line
Drunk Elephant’s products are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and non-toxic synthetic clinical ingredients.

Friends will recall that back in 2009, Masterson sold a bar cleanser from Malaysia that quickly became a must-have among her girlfriends. From that venture, selling from the back of her car, Masterson has built a formidable skincare empire. She dumped the cleanser after learning that it was a marketing hoax and after deciphering what caused it to be so popular.

“It came to me one day when I was walking around West U. It was what was not in the bar,” she said perched in her sunlit office above Armandos. “The reason people’s skin was changing immediately was because the skin was given a break of sorts, a cleanse.” Instructions on the bar advised to use no other products.

What was not in the bar? No essential oils, no fragrance, no silicones, no dyes, no chemical sunscreens. You won’t find any of those in the Drunk Elephant line that focuses on a proper pH level and is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and non-toxic synthetic clinical ingredients.

“I couldn’t find anything that I could use so I made it myself,” she recalled. Her early experimentation and eventual discovery of a talented chemist in Los Angeles set the course. “I asked myself, what do I want, what products do I need.”

She began with six products — two bars, a vitamin C, zinc-based sunscreen, TLC glycolic night serum (the number one best seller), and the Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil.

It was that oil that inspired the Drunk Elephant moniker. The line is loaded with virgin marula oil, which comes from the fruit of marula trees in Africa. Elephants have a penchant for the tasty fruit, which ferments in their stomachs and makes the pachyderms tipsy.

The line with the whimsical name is winning kudos across the skincare spectrum. All of her products have received a top, five-star rating in Beautypedia, including her most recent introduction, Lala Retro, a whipped silicone-free cream composed of six African oils. Drunk Elephant is the first company ever to receive the top ranking by Beautypedia for all of its products. In 2015, the line won Allure Best of Beauty award for sunscreen and this year Best of Beauty award for the Lala cream.

And about that sale to Estée Lauder. Masterson tells WWD, “We’ve been in talks with private equity and strategic partners, and we’re assessing that need right now. We’re coming close to a conclusion. We’ll possibly bring in some sort of investment partner simply because we need help handling the intense growth.

Masterson started the company with a $300,000 investment from her brother-in-law. Today, her brother, based in Austin, handles the financial end of the firm that has grown to 25 employees spread across Los Angeles, Austin and Houston. She has six more products on deck which will be introduced in three-month intervals. Stay tuned.


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