Leith Mathews is the founder and CEO of UAE-based rokpool, an online platform dedicated to men’s personal care products.
Safe spaces come in all shapes and sizes, and today — in our modern world of omnichannel retail and cross-platform shopping — more men are finding solace (and themselves) in the discreet, face-saving surroundings of online stores and direct to consumer (DTC) websites.
Shopping online is providing a most-suited retail environment for men, as it allows for timely access to product and category information, empowering their decision-making with facts and data. This, in stark contrast to the offline shopping experiences of old, that were designed and optimised for the female consumer.
Luxury brands are acknowledging the increased importance of the male consumer. Balenciaga says men are now among its biggest sales drivers, and most luxury fashion brands are expanding their menswear offering at a faster rate than woman’s clothing. This appetite for luxury goods and clothing is due to men placing a greater emphasis on their appearance, fuelled in-part by social media.There is now a vastly increased number of men engaging in a sophisticated grooming regime. Online shopping channels and DTC brands are providing the gateway to broad acceptance for the male cosmetics category, breaking down traditional masculine barriers to build sales in the ‘premium mass’ sweet spot.
Armed with a greater sense of self, added confidence and a more nuanced appreciation of what it means to be a man — or rather, look like one — men are taking to the global male grooming market with all the boyish enthusiasm traditionally reserved for more “manly” or “manly”-adjacent pursuits. Such as: growing beards, eating steaks, lumberjacking and axe-throwing.
While the “new normal” has become shorthand for life post-Covid, the catchall is very much applicable to contemporary perceptions of manhood. More so than ever, for a growing cross-section of men, enzyme cleansers, balancing serums and nourishing moisturisers are the new normal.
That male grooming has managed to cross the threshold of acceptability — in the hearts, minds and bathroom cabinets of more men, including bros, guy’s guys, and dudes — owes a great deal to changing attitudes. As shown by several studies, the lines between definitions of “feminine” and “masculine” are becoming increasingly blurred; this blurriness leading to a more clear-eyed understanding of just how layered and grey — as opposed to black and white — identity is.
According to a survey conducted by the University of British Columbia and the Canadian market research firm, Intensions Consulting, millennial men are more likely to endorse traditionally female qualities, valuing altruism, openness and self-care above conventionally male traits like physical strength.
For many, this shift in mindset is liberating. A new generation is flying the coop and finding its flock among the virtual shopping aisles and web-pages of online retailers. Trawling the net for the finest skincare, rejuvenating haircare and invigorating supplement products has never been more manly.
This is borne out by hard numbers. Globally, figures show men are becoming increasingly mindful of their grooming. In Britain, for example, research carried out by Champneys — the UK’s “original” health resort — highlights that self-care is fast becoming a priority for British men: a quarter of the Brits surveyed by the luxury spa brand eager to spend more time tending to their health and personal wellbeing.
Such is the demand for cosmetics and personal-care products that the global men’s grooming market is expected to be worth over $81 billion in only three years.
The explosive growth of the international male personal care industry can be attributed to digital-savvy startups making it aspirational yet accessible for everyday guys, including Hawthorne, Huron and Geologie in New York, LA’s Asystem, Texan brand Disco and Paris’s Horace. Hawthorne as one example of the interest in the space has received $22 million in funding from investors that include Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet’s Imaginary Ventures.
Until the rise of online shopping and DTC players, there existed no adequate retail channel for sophisticated men’s personal care. Department store beauty halls and specialist retailers such as Sephora were tailored to the female beauty consumer, and were intimidating to male shoppers, and supermarkets are not premium enough. Through tailored online environments, these startups have been able to meet customers in the privacy of their homes where they won’t feel self-conscious about entering this serum-filled world.
In the wake of Covid-19, the expansion of the digital retail economy should come as no surprise, the pandemic and the resulting movement restrictions spurring a change in consumers’ shopping and spending habits.
If brands can get their products into a man’s hands, much of the battle is won. Men are famously more brand loyal than women when it comes to fashion, and this goes for personal care too. If they like a brand, they’ll stick with it, often treating it as a one-stop shop for all their products. This also leads into subscription models and replenishment services.
It is easy to understand why so many male shoppers take to the net for their retail needs. Straightforward and seamless, this modern take on retail speaks to the tech-minded habits of digital nomads, enabling them to shop — and live their lives — at the speed of the internet.
For men, much more than convenience, ease of use or safety, e-commerce also provides privacy. With personal-care and grooming still very much gendered in offline shopping environments, in spite of our increasingly fluid definitions of manliness, many men place a premium on the discretion ecommerce offers.
What’s more, online shopping also caters for less experienced self-care shoppers, void of pushy sales assistances (common place within traditional retail), knowledge and information is efficiently accessed via the online portals. It introduces them to a variety of personal care products and treatments, laid out in a palatable manner for customers to digest.
In spite of the increasing appetite of the male consumer, the personal care industry still appears to be catching up to offer suitable supply to the demand - a cursory Google search highlights the glaring lack of self-care provisions for men.
With the global men’s grooming market exhibiting such tremendous potential, and the GCC men’s grooming market primed to exceed $4 billion in value by 2022, men’s personal care is an important part of a changing world, where outdated views on masculinity are rapidly reshaping.
The global grooming industry needs to hold up a mirror to itself to reflect on what it stands for and what its customers want. Brands that go above and beyond gimmicky marketing campaigns and ads to authentically represent the new world will prosper. We need to scratch beneath the surface of cosmetic appeals to their male patrons to truly change the face of personal and self-care. This shift in attitude, business model and approach would benefit us all — going by the evidence, judging by the look of things.