A-Frame Brands, the brand-development company behind personal care brands led by recognisable faces such as Gabrielle Union, Naomi Osaka and John Legend, has raised $11.2 million in a seed funding round.
The round was led by venture capital firms Forerunner Ventures and Initialized Capital, with additional investment from Manzanita Capital, Moise Emquies and Columbia Care, as well as the Fisher family, who are best known as the founders of Gap Inc. A-Frame raised $2.5 million in an initial funding round in 2020, and its individual brands have raised a collective $5 million on their own.
Founded in 2019 by retail veteran and investor Ari Bloom, A-Frame is planning to use the capital from the funding round on hiring, and inventory and marketing for its coming brands. The time is apt: in the next six months, A-Frame will launch three brands, including Legend’s already-announced skin care line, though the company is aiming for a pace of two new brand launches a year, Bloom said.
Also at the forefront of A-Frame’s strategy is prioritising diversity, both in building its internal team and its brands. Its first brands all focused on creating skin care for people of colour, from Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade’s baby skin care brand, Proudly, to Osaka’s Kinlo, a sun care line designed for people of colour, to Legend’s coming gender-neutral skin care brand. Next, A-Frame will turn its attention to creating brands for more demographics that have been underserved by the personal care market in the past — the “unseen and unheard,” as Bloom said.
“Thinking about packaging, ingredients and all of the things that you would want in any modern brand, ultimately, a large swath of our country just doesn’t have access to those brands,” said Eurie Kim, managing partner at Forerunner Ventures and a board member at A-Frame. “When those brands come out, they’re usually targeting, a white, coastal, urban Millennial. This [approach] allows for an ability to bring much more diversity to light.”
A-Frame’s standard marketing tactic is a tried-and-true one: Teaming up with a high-profile celebrity partner as the co-founder and face of the brand. Celebrity beauty brands are ubiquitous — just last week, Gwen Stefani announced she’s launching a colour cosmetics label — and no longer is a famous face a guarantee of success. (In January, BH Cosmetics, which banked on collaborations with singers like Iggy Azalea and Doja Cat to propel the brand, wound down operations and filed for bankruptcy.)
But Bloom isn’t too concerned that A-Frame’s brands will fade into this seemingly-endless pool of celebrity labels. That’s because A-Frame aims to creates products that fill a hole in the market, and identify a well-known partner — and co-owner — accordingly, rather than simply banking on a talent’s colossal Instagram following to gobble up the product.
“We always say we’re trying to solve problems, looking at problems that affect 30 to 50 percent of the population, because of their skin colour, gender identity, sexual orientation or accessibility,” he told BoF. “When we come with a compelling product that solves a problem, and we talk about a national celebrity, who is the co-founder and face of the brand, it’s a really compelling package.”
Creating brands that fill a need by conducting internal research and consulting with third-party retailers to understand what kinds of products are missing from the market adds authenticity, argued Hill Harper, co-founder and board member at A-Frame.
“People are very savvy, they can literally feel if someone is just throwing their name on something because they got a check,” said Harper. “Someone who’s intimately involved in being an owner of the company, there’s a difference.”
As for future aspirations for the brands A-Frame is building, Bloom is blunt about his intent.
“We are building brands to be sold,” he said. “We’ve self-identified as a team that’s really good at building new brands, and we’re probably best in the zero to $100 million sales range. After that, that’s probably time when a bigger company comes along and does buy a brand that makes sense for their portfolio.”
In fact, A-Frame is already assembling each team to resemble the corporate structure at the conglomerates that he hopes will eventually pick up the brands A-Frame is creating, so the teams can more seamlessly be integrated into bigger strategic companies.
“The brands are constructed in a way that they should be a pretty ideal fit to be purchased by a strategic because they have the resources and people that they’re looking to add, and they don’t have full-time resources that are those that they don’t need, like supply chain, HR, and legal,” added Bloom.