I am with Drunk Elephant founder, Tiffany Masterson, in a luxurious suite at The Peninsula Paris for this interview. The chilly weather prompts Masterson to sip warm lemon water from a teacup as we exchange initial pleasantries. This intimate affair is a far cry from the brand’s annual House of Drunk party, an energy-fuelled event that had taken place two evenings earlier at Pavillon Rive Gauche. House of Drunk Paris was Masterson’s way of making a comeback after the annual event took a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. And sure enough, this return hit all the high notes with the event’s hashtag garnering 2.7 million views on TikTok in just a month. This moment in Paris—parties, macarons, skincare and all—brought to mind how far the brand has come since its humble beginnings almost ten years ago.
From stay-at-home-mum to beauty entrepreneur
It all began when Houston-based Masterson searched for an effective solution to address her skin-related issues. The quest was futile as formulas available on the market then were almost always laced with unnecessary ingredients that further aggravated her skin woes. She didn’t understand why until she began working for a skincare brand, thus sparking her interest in skincare ingredients and formulations. “Besides asking for recommendations, customers were also complaining about their skin issues,” she shares. “I was curious to know what the root causes were, so I asked them what products they were using.”
She took the initiative to create an Excel spreadsheet, where she would enter every product mentioned by customers into a column with their corresponding ingredients. “I did my own research and learnt about the role of every ingredient in the formulas,” she reveals. From there, she pinpointed six ingredients commonly used in skincare that are responsible for causing adverse reactions. Calling them the Suspicious Six, they comprise essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones, chemical sunscreens, fragrances/dyes and sodium lauryl sulfate. “These ingredients help to make products smell, feel and look good. But I was more concerned about how a product benefits the skin,” she admits. She also noticed that many people claimed that they were allergic to beneficial skincare ingredients, such as vitamin C, retinol and glycolic acid. But they never realised that it was the six ingredients in their skincare that caused such skin reactivity.
Upon further research, Masterson realised that there was almost nothing in the market that didn’t contain any of the Suspicious Six. She saw this as an opportunity to create a line of toxic-free skincare products because she, too, was looking for formulas that were safe and suitable for her skin. In 2013, her brand Drunk Elephant was finally born. Then six years and countless bottles of Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil later, Shiseido acquired the brand and it continues to be one of the top-selling brands around the world today. Masterson’s story is not about overnight success. Instead, it reminds us that hustle and heart will pay off in the long run.
Masterson isn’t one to pay attention to trends, preferring to march to the beat of her own drum. Which explains why Drunk Elephant rattled the skincare scene when it first launched. Unlike other brands which preferred to stick to tropes of exclusive (read: inaccessible) old-school luxury, Drunk Elephant’s non-conformist approach was all about frank conversations and engaging the senses. As far as product packaging goes, the brand’s signature vibrant bottles dispense doses of skincare goodness in quick, one-twist pumps. “The whole experience is meant to be sensorial and stimulating. I wanted users at every age to find satisfaction in using our products,” she shares. As the years went by, Drunk Elephant amassed a collection of cult favourites including the C-Firma Fresh Day Serum, A-Passioni Retinol Cream and B-HydraIntensive Hydration Serum.
From the toy-like packaging to the concept of the Suspicious Six, detractors commented that Drunk Elephant’s approach was just a gimmick. Yet, the statistics don’t lie. Drunk Elephant is one of the fastest-growing prestige skincare companies in history. Since 2015, it has clinched over 285 beauty awards. Every 60 seconds, a bottle of Protini Polypeptide Cream is sold around the world. In 2019, Drunk Elephant became one of the top skincare brands at all its retail partners, raking in US$120 million in net sales globally. And that very year, Shiseido acquired the brand for a whopping US$845 million.
The Shiseido touch
“It still feels so surreal to me,” Masterson admits. “We’ve gone from one to 23 markets in two years.” Quick to acknowledge that this feat would be difficult to achieve alone as an independent brand, she is grateful that Drunk Elephant’s alliance with Shiseido provided the brand with the technology and resources to innovate freely according to her vision. Not only has the brand launched a body- and hair-care line during its time with the Japanese beauty powerhouse, but the brand has also experimented with make-up like O-Bloos Rosi Drops, which has grown to be a cult favourite.
Seeing how far the brand has come since its humble beginnings, we couldn’t help but wonder: what else is up Masterson’s sleeve?
Glowing towards a sustainable future
“We’re almost all recyclable, but we want everything to be eco-friendly,” Masterson reveals. “We need to develop post-consumer recycled content, while not compromising on the incredible packaging that we have.” Despite how big the brand has grown, Masterson recognises that there’s room to be better. She looks forward to the innovation that Shiseido can provide for her to ensure more recyclability in the future. “I also hope that we’re still helping people with achieving healthy skin, but on a larger world stage. And I also hope that our ingredient elimination philosophy, which is to reset the skin to its healthiest, most balanced state, will be made crystal clear by then.”
Drunk Elephant’s five bestsellers to know
Protini Polypeptide Cream
C-Firma Fresh Day Serum
A-Passioni Retinol Cream
B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
Lala Retro Whipped Cream
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