THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTERThe star and her business partner Kate Foster Lengyel take The Hollywood Reporter inside the launch of The Outset, the actress’ new vegan, eco-friendly brand.
Scarlett Johansson does not share her life with the world on social media. In this way, the actress hews to a pre-Instagram model of stardom, when celebrities were seen and heard in limited and intentional ways (read: when promoting a project). Johansson’s place in modern Hollywood, though, is evidenced by the launch of her new skin-care brand The Outset, as she joins a chorus of other celebrity beauty brands that seems to grow larger for consumers each season.

The Outset is an eco-friendly, plant-based skincare line. Johansson’s co-founder and the brand’s CEO, Kate Foster Lengyel, was founder and CEO of SwearBy, a digital site focused on word-of-mouth product recommendations. Together, with funding from the Najafi Companies (also an investor in Tracee Ellis Ross’ Pattern hair care line and Shay Mitchell’s travel essentials company Béis), Johansson and Foster created a line of six fragrance-free products: a cleanser, prep serum, day cream, night cream, fine line cream and lip treatment ($28 to $54). The brand’s signature is Hyaluroset Complex, a trademarked, hydrating ingredient blend that’s a botanical alternative to hyaluronic acid. On March 1, the items will be available on the brand’s direct-to-consumer website, and at sole retail partner Sephora on April 26.

Johansson — who was working on the launch amid her now-settled lawsuit against Disney over Black Widow’s release — and Foster spoke with The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom in December and again in February for a rare look at two different stages of the brand building process as the founders inched closer to its debut in the marketplace.

Johansson admitted that before she dove in to creating her own brand, the idea seemed daunting. “I never understood the background of how brands come to be. I just didn’t feel like I had a place at the table, because it was this whole new venture,” the actress told THR. “I think over time I just felt more confident that it was something that I had a perspective on. And felt like it was worth pursuing this dream.”

She started envisioning the line five years ago. “[The Outset] just was born out of curiosity and a genuine love for beauty and for skin care,” says Johansson. Early in the process, the budding entrepreneur met with several beauty companies about pairing with them, but she “kept coming back to this really authentic desire” to forge her own path.

She met Foster (“my producing partner, essentially,” says the actress) through mutual friends in the beauty industry, and the two recall being immediately aligned on how the brand should take shape: “I needed somebody else that felt brave and confident enough to do it independently of some of the major houses and brands. So Kate, I think, was the person for the job because she is a risk-taker. And she and I had a similar kind of ethos around beauty.”

Says Foster of Johansson, who serves as chairman of the company: “From our first meeting two years ago to where we are now, her vision then and the way that she described the brand, it’s like 99.9% the same as what we’re introducing.”

Johansson knew she wanted every piece of The Outset’s launch to feel like a “hero product,” which meant scaling back the number of initial items. “We needed to focus our resources on this limited amount of SKUs and really understand what the most important thing to the consumer is. If our idea is noise reduction, and there’s obviously a million celebrity brands, this is the opportunity to create something that makes people’s lives easier,” she says.

From the brand’s minimalist blue-and-white packaging and clean ingredients (like vegan collagen) to the marketing language (“Return to the essential”), The Outset is positioned as a simple, everyday line, with bottles made from post-consumer glass recyclables. (The products are available either à la carte or as a starter set, with refills launching later this summer along with a smaller-sized travel set.)

“We always talk about this brand being like the white T-shirt of skin care,” says Johansson, noting that the products can be paired with other brand’s products successfully. “It’s not about resurfacing or reinventing your skin, it’s really about preserving the skin that you have for the future.”

(Neither Johansson nor Foster would discuss specific terms — including ownership percentages — of The Outset’s deal with its backer, Najafi, but industry sources say the initial investment falls within the range of $5 million to $10 million. Business deals for celebrity brands can take many shapes and forms, from licensing to outright ownership to hybrid models.)

The actress’ experience working in film, she says, also helped her in building and working with a team from the ground up. “The idea that the best idea rises to the top — it’s a collaborative process. And I love that collaborative process and being one voice in a group,” said Johansson, adding: “I’m used to, for my other job, having an idea that’s kind of half baked, and if something’s not working feeling comfortable scrapping everything and starting out from scratch. That to me is how you get a refined final product. This process has been very similar.”

When THR caught up again with Johansson and Foster in February, it was just two weeks ahead of the product debut. The pair had been dealing with supply-chain issues, which caused the launch to be delayed by several weeks. Foster notes the team had been hard at work on the technical side of things, like integrating and populating content on the website and creating tutorial videos, which Johansson, with her eye for film, insisted have a “beautiful cinematic quality,” as the actress puts it. Foster also says that the company is looking to shift from working with several freelancers and consultants to migrating more jobs in-house. The team was also working on final touches such as quality assurance testing. “We need to make sure that the products are all categorized properly in the warehouse, and that the website fires on all cylinders,” said Foster.

For a brand centrally focused on serving the consumer, trials and rounds of testing ahead of the launch have been pivotal in terms of refining the product formulas and packaging.

“Along the way, we’ve been doing customer testing to get feedback, and have just had phenomenal responses in terms of the positive reception to all of the products individually, but we also feel the daily essentials regimen is really the backbone of the line,” adds Foster. Early testers included many of Johansson’s friends, some of whom have described the line as “subtle.”

Of course, one challenge in promoting The Outset is Johansson’s lack of her own social media accounts, platforms that many other stars use to spotlight their brands. But The Outset did launch a company IG account (@theoutset) Feb. 20, quickly gaining 66,000 followers, including Johansson’s husband Colin Jost, who affectionately joked in the comments of the brand’s second post: “Is this the best way to contact you?”

Looking ahead to the fall, there are more product launches to come, such as a mask. “Things that are a little bit more specific … to boost your skincare regimen,” explains Johansson. In the future, she sees The Outset branching out into makeup products, fragrance, home goods, baby care and even apparel. “I’m interested in creating a legacy brand. This is the long play for me,” she says. “It’s very important to me that we grow the company.”

Asked to discuss the Disney suit, Johansson declined to comment, citing legal confidentiality, but did say: “I have a lot of stuff going on, and I definitely have a lot of balls in the air. But I think I’m at a place in my life finally where I’m OK delegating. I spent a long time where I just put a lot of pressure on myself to keep the balls in the air by myself. And it’s just impossible, especially since I have two children now [the youngest born over the summer], I have a film and television production company, and I’m still acting. So it’s just about, I think, nourishing my relationships with my team. This project right now needs a lot of attention, so this is where my focus is, and then when I go off to do a film, I know that [The Outset] is healthy.”