The deluge of advertisements that come with the holiday season often drown out any cautionary notes about over-consumption. But that may be changing, as the influence of Instagram and the less-is-more shopping habits of millennials and Gen Z push the purchasing conversation toward quality over quantity. 

Perhaps no brand is more associated with this movement than Violet Grey. In fact, their only-what-works model just might be the future of sustainable consumption. 

Rather than moving fast and breaking things, Violet Grey has taken a slower approach with a focus on building a fanatical following. Their metric of success is customer retention — a benchmark that reinforces adherence to their rigorous ‘Violet Code’ of product selection.

Violet Grey got its start like so many 21st century brands: as an Instagram feed. In this case, one belonging to interior designer Cassandra Grey, the company’s founder. 

The popular feed evolved into the Violet Files blog before taking off as an e-commerce venture and then a brick-and-mortar luxury beauty platform. Unlike the massive spectrum of products and price points one might find in a Sephora or Ulta Beauty, Violet Grey’s stock is deliberately pared down. Only products that are the mainstays of celebrities and their makeup artists make it onto their shelves.

In practice, that means that their bestsellers include both a $14.90 cleanser and a $350 “super-anti-aging” serum — both of which can be purchased on Violet Grey’s site and in their single retail location on Melrose Place in Hollywood. The commonality is not absolute cost but cost-efficiency: if it works, it gets on the shelves. And Cassandra Grey keeps her shelves notoriously small. 

In terms of sustainability, that slim shelf equates to less waste in Violet Grey’s supply chain. Since the company directly meets consumer demand with its hyper-curated product supply, it can lessen excess inventory and stifle operating costs typically associated with that waste.

Financially speaking, the model works and investors are keen on it. After securing $2 million in seed funding ahead of its 2013 launch, the company closed a $10.2 million Series C round in early 2018 after generating an estimated $5 million in annual revenue. Since, Violet Grey has achieved cult-like status among everyone from A-list actresses to fashionable teens, the two extremes that make up the company’s nearly half-million Instagram followers. 

Leading with content curation is not a new strategy, but it is an especially relevant one in the digital era. As consumption grows increasingly monitored amid shifts to sustainability, businesses looking for more strategic growth would be wise to pay attention to Violet Grey’s model.

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