How a cream for your booty became a billion-dollar business

In a sea of launches, some brands deserve the hype. Verity Clark breaks down the business behind cult beauty buys


by Verity Clark |
Published on

‘Can you get me one of those yellow tubs of moisturiser that smells like a beach holiday?’ As a beauty editor, I am used to receiving requests for in-demand products, but this message has been a repeat offender. For the last six or so years it’s pinged in from a random rotation of my 30-something friends. Yes, Sol de Janeiro’s Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, is one of only a handful of items that’s reached cult status. Then, at the tail end of last year, the texts changed. But the brand remained the same. ‘Hi, it’s Marcie, can I have one of those fruity fragrance mists from TikTok?’ Marcie is 11.

There are few brands whose cultural cachet runs the gamut of fashion editors, A-listers, TikTokers and tweens, but Sol de Janeiro is one such. In less than a decade, the Brazilian-born bodycare brand has gone from being the insiders’ guilty secret – sugary scents and gaudy colours don’t usually break through in fashion circles – to sales of more than $1bn.

Like all good brand founder stories, Sol de Janeiro’s started with a ‘eureka’ moment. Unlike most brand conceptions, however, this one took place in a string bikini on a Brazilian beach. When co-founder and CEO Heela Yang, a Harvard Business School alumna and beauty industry veteran, relocated to Brazil, she was struck by the lack of judgement that she encountered as a pregnant woman wearing – by her own admission – a ‘tiny’ two-piece.

And so in 2015, Sol de Janeiro was born. The idea? To bottle Ipanema’s body-loving good vibes. The first product, Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, £48, bounced into the bodycare market with vibrant packaging
as round and juicy as the posteriors it promised to perk up. Sure, the body cream came well-stocked with ingredients (guaraná extract, cupuaçu butter) that claim to aid a taut tush, but it was the almond- pistachio scent that hooked the masses.

Nine years on, it’s still Sephora’s biggest-ever bodycare seller. One Bum Bum Cream sells every six seconds – no doubt sometimes to the long line of adoring A-listers: Selena Gomez, Hailey Bieber and Sabrina Carpenter are members of the fan club.

But how to swerve the fate of being a one-product wonder? Go viral. In 2023, ‘Sol de Janeiro’ was the second most searched-for beauty term on Google; there are over 100 million video views of the brand – and it cornered an untapped area of the beauty sphere: fragrance mists.

More affordable than the luxe fragrances frequenting bathroom shelfies of the last few years, Sol de Janeiro’s floral, fruity sprays hit the sweet spot with a younger consumer. ‘It’s the perfect girly fragrance,’ declares one TikToker on spritzing the soft jasmine of Cheirosa 68, £24. ‘If I had to wear only one perfume mist for the rest of my life it would be Sol de Janeiro Cheirosa 62,’ says another, before dousing herself in a cloud of pistachio and salted caramel. Touted as the viral beauty product of 2023, the gourmand mists have racked up more than 850 million TikTok views. And been responsible for the brand’s tripling of sales.

Having started life on the beach it makes sense that the brand, a majority-owned subsidiary of Groupe L’Occitane, is setting its sights on SPF. The range of factor 50 products is fronted by Sofia Richie Grainge, a move that has cross-generational appeal –her dad is, of course, Lionel Richie. Because what cements cult status more than commandeering space on the beauty shelves of 16 and 60-year-olds

From the beach to a billion dollars. Not bad for a girl in an itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, yellow bikini.

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A masterclass in staying relevant, 40 years after it first hit counters the iconic make-up brand is the second most-mentioned brand on Instagram. Profits from the Viva Glam lipsticks have raised over half a billion dollars for charity. Plus, it gave us the most famous red lipstick of all time, Ruby Woo, £20. Some 120 of the pillarbox red matte lippies are sold every day. *chef’s kiss*

It’s 2024 and suncare has finally become sexy – all thanks to this one brand. Its lightweight, skin improving formulas disrupted the white, gloopy SPF market and proved that wearing sunscreen could, and should, be a joy. Bravo!

Igniting fiery conversations around skincare ingredients, the beauty editor favourite has seen a slew of copycats follow its better-for-skin ethos and remove the ‘suspicious six’ (including alcohol and silicones) from products. Long before it became a TikTok darling, editors would schlep to the US for it.

Verity Clark is the Acting Health & Beauty Director at Grazia


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