Prestige is one of the dominating categories in beauty. Statista reported the U.S. prestige beauty industry reached $18.8 billion in sales in 2018 and 2019. In 2021, it grew to $22 billion. Though the allure of high-end beauty products is undeniable, the accompanying price tag can be exclusionary to many beauty lovers. This extends beyond single products and is often highlighted within partnerships and collaborations within the beauty space.
Beauty brands usually collaborate with celebrities, influencers, or other companies to extend their reach. This often allows the collections to be marketed as premium, making them more desirable and ideally more profitable. According to LaunchMetrics, some of the most lucrative collaborations of 2020 included Anastasia Beverly Hills and Amrezy, Pat McGrath Labs and Supreme, and M.A.C Cosmetics and Lalisa Manobal. Each of these campaigns generated more than $500K in Media Impact Volume, a metric that measures the impact of influencer marketing on a brand's image.
While the aforementioned partnerships are exciting, many come with price points too high for those without disposable income. Which begs the question: Is there space for affordable and profitable collaborations that feel enticing but not exclusive?
This is a hefty question to tackle, but E.l.f. has found success at a very affordable price point with solid products and cheeky collaborations. The company's chief brand officer Gayitri Budhraja tells us, "At E.l.f., we remain focused on disrupting industry norms, shaping culture, and connecting communities through inclusivity, positivity, and accessibility."
With all products priced at $16 or less, E.l.f. is accessible to a broader pool of beauty lovers. The brands E.l.f. collaborates with further underscore their commitment to unpretentious beauty. They teamed up with Chipotle in 2021 and now they've launched a collaboration with Dunkin' Donuts.
"We are always looking for like-minded digital disruptors with a Gen Z Cult following, who remain at the forefront of culture—Dunkin’ was a natural fit," Budhraja says. "We also love how aligned our brand missions are—two community-led brands delivering high-quality products at unbelievable prices."
When the collaboration debuted on April 3, the brand reported the Classic Dunkin' Stack Vault (a set of all five e.l.f. x Dunkin’ makeup products) sold out in under 10 minutes. The TikTok hashtag #elfxdunkin has since amassed over 30.4 million views on TikTok. The brand also expertly chose Mikayla Nogueira as the face of the collection, a relatable beauty influencer from Massachusetts, which further contributed to its virality.
With the Chipotle collaboration, the brand says the avocado sponge sold out on its launch day in two minutes. And to date, the #elfxchipotle hashtag has 13.6 million views on TikTok. These metrics highlight the demand for beauty partnerships that feel approachable to the everyday consumer.
"E.l.f. always understands the assignment when it comes to collaborations," beauty influencer Dante Villarreal notes. "They really have combined my love for food and makeup into these collections."
"As a consumer, I'm drawn to the vibrant visuals and fun packaging E.l.f. creates for collaborations," Byrdie editor Olivia Hancock adds. "But as an editor, launches like the Dunkin' collection resonate for a different reason. They spark a larger conversation about where beauty has been and where it's headed. In the past, some brands have been guilty of perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and feeding into the idea that you need their products to be beautiful. E.l.f. is the antithesis of mundane, exclusionary beauty."
Byrdie's editorial director, Hallie Gould, agrees: "The beauty industry has been a less-than-inclusive place for far too long. E.l.f's collaborations offer a fun, unpretentious element to the space. To me, it's brilliant; they're in on the joke. It's not just affordable—it pokes fun at the idea makeup should be anything but joyful."
The brand's food collaborations have experienced meteoric success because they're in tune with the current beauty climate. Consumers are growing disenchanted with celebrity-backed brands and luxury beauty drops—E.l.f.s launches feel refreshing. As we've embraced the idea of "dopamine beauty" (a concept that beauty brand Youthforia discusses often) over the last few years, beauty lovers are prioritizing playfulness and experimentation in their makeup routines more. Products like a donut-shaped sponge or coffee-inspired lip scrub strike a chord because they fully lean into the whimsicality of beauty.
Bottom line: For consumers, e.l.f.'s food partnerships have helped bring enjoyment back to beauty. For brands, e.l.f.'s strategy proves luxury partnerships aren't the only path to relevancy. Relatability can generate revenue. The cosmetic industry should pride itself on having low barriers to purchase because beauty should be for everyone.