25 Jul, 2023 Jen

WARDROBE ICONS – As one of the most successful actresses of the 21st century, Scarlett Johansson has cemented her place in Hollywood history. Now, she’s hoping to triumph in a new sector: beauty.

Last year, she launched The Outset, a range of clean, conscious skincare that aims to gently restore the skin back to health. No harsh ingredients, no gimmicks, just effective products that are thoughtfully formulated and effortlessly powerful. Born out of her own struggles with problem skin, experienced on a very public stage throughout her teens and 20s, it has been a passion project five years in the making.

As the brand celebrates its UK launch, exclusively at Cult Beauty, the Oscar nominee chats to us from her New York home, where she lives with her husband, the comedian Colin Jost, and two children. She shares how The Outset came to fruition, the secret to a successful business partnership and how she approaches the work-life balance conundrum.

Can you tell us the story behind The Outset?
I’ve always been into skincare. I grew up taking care of my skin and was very interested in how other people took care of theirs, because I had acne for a very long time. When I was in my teens and into my 20s, a lot of the information out there was about these very complicated, multi-step regimens that often involved a lot of stripping and crazy, harsh exfoliants. It was all about cleaning dirty skin, that’s what the message was. For years, I was looking for some kind of relief from this constant cycle of drying out my skin and then getting acne, then drying out and getting acne. When I was in my mid-20s, a make-up artist was like: “You’re going to have wrinkles and acne!” Then, purely out of having no other option, I just avoided anything with oil and moisture because I was terrified it was going to trigger breakouts. I finally thought, “Maybe I’ll just try moisturising” – I think, intuitively, the only thing I hadn’t tried was to leave my skin alone, to nourish it and invest in products with healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Within a week, my skin was completely transformed, just from doing that. I went on a mission over the next few years to find brands that had everything I was looking for, that were elevated but accessible, and there wasn’t one, so I set down the path of understanding if creating a line along that philosophy was something I could do. That’s how it was born. I couldn’t realise it, though, without my co-founder and business partner, Kate Foster. That’s when everything started to click into place.

Skincare is an incredibly noisy market right now – there are so many options out there. What do you hope The Outset brings that’s different?
Hopefully, a breath of fresh air. It’s such a crowded market, as you say, that it’s hard to navigate. Our products play well with others; you can be using active [ingredients], try all the latest skincare trends, but you can always use our products and know that they’re not going to peel the top layer of your skin off! Everything in the line is calming and nourishing and made for everyone. Our three-step regimen is very transparent: wash, prep and moisturise, out the door in two-and-a-half minutes. The simplicity of the line is what makes it stand out, and the efficacy of that simplicity.

If someone was coming to The Outset wanting to simplify their routine, which products would you recommend they start with?
Definitely the three-step products. Each one stands on its own, but I think if you don’t have a skincare routine, it’s the easiest way to enter. With consistency, there are noticeable differences within weeks – I have friends that suffer with eczema and acne, redness and dryness, and it’s just amazing to see the results after a week of use. It really is hard to have a start-up, it’s so, so hard, but the thing that keeps us going is the fact that the products are so great and we have such a high repeat customer on our website. It’s really promising for us – that’s our guiding light and makes us feel it’s a worthy pursuit.

This has been a passion project that’s been five years in the making. What advice can you offer to other women who have a passion that they want to turn into a business?
To be flexible. There are so many different challenges I could never have foreseen, whether it was supply-chain issues, distribution challenges or production challenges. There are so many variables that I think you have to be flexible in order to keep going, because everything is constantly changing. If you’re so stuck in your ways, you’re going to end up being really disappointed. For me, it’s been a lesson in being present, figuring it out as I go and being OK with the unknown.

And what is the best piece of advice you have received on this journey?
My friend, Matt Higgins, an entrepreneur who’s just written a book called Burn the Boats, has always said: “Don’t have a plan B!” If you have a plan B, you’re going to have that security to fall back on, and in his opinion that’s the death of the realisation of the dream. I think that’s awesome! You need that kind of determination to be successful in whatever you do because there’s always going to be so many other people or ideas that are just as good or better, so you just have to put your foot on the gas and keep on going!

The brand is a partnership between yourself and Kate Foster. As women working together in business, what are your tips for forging a successful partnership?
We laugh a lot. That was one of the most attractive things about Kate when I met her – she’s just really funny and loves to laugh. There’s so much that constantly needs to be addressed for the business, so it’s just great that we can have a laugh. It’s also keeping a positive attitude with one another, keeping an open line of communication if something is bothering you or you’re worried about something. Having that kind of trust and open communication is everything in a partnership.

You run The Outset alongside your career as an actor and producer, as well as motherhood – how do you balance everything?
I don’t think there is a balance. I’m not sold on the idea that you can balance your work and life, and that, to me, is helpful, as then I don’t feel this pressure to try to balance it out because, in my opinion, it’s impossible. One thing is always going to be the thing you’re not focusing your energy or your attention on and there are going to be consequences to that. Some of them are good, some of them are bad. It ebbs and flows. Family is my priority – I have two young kids – so knowing that I can’t do everything and that there is no balance and that I’m going to have to outsource some things and say no to stuff – those are all helpful ways of staying afloat.

Several of your Hollywood contemporaries have also entered the skincare and wellness space – did any of them offer any words of wisdom before you launched The Outset?
I hugely admire what Gwyneth Paltrow has done with [Goop]. She started that when we were working on a film together; [the director] Jon Favreau would call her ‘The Global Concierge’ because she had all these great recommendations constantly, and that was a passion of hers – travel, lifestyle, wellness, all that stuff – and she decided to turn that into a business. At the time, there wasn’t any precedent for that. She’s said to me: “You have to love it, because it is a full-time job. It is not something that you can just hand off.” And you can feel that in [Goop]. I’m so passionate about skincare – I have been for a very long time – and that’s what keeps me going forward.

The Outset’s philosophy is all about being gentle with your skin. What ways do you try to be gentle with yourself in life?
Gosh, I try to give myself a break. I think women, particularly, put so much pressure on themselves, whether it’s the work-life balance or the disparity between men and women in the household and who is the primary caretaker of the family. The expectations are so much higher for women than men. We’re also critical of one another in a way that men aren’t. I think, as I’ve gotten older, I try to remind myself that I’m in the middle of it – I’m doing life and that’s why it’s hard. That’s something to pat yourself on the back for; you’re doing it, you’re raising your kids, you’re fulfilling your obligations to the people you care about and that’s a commendable thing. I try to take a moment to remind myself that I’m participating in life and that’s why it’s challenging.

Can you talk us through your daily beauty and wellness rituals?
I usually exercise four days a week, which for me is the biggest part of my mental wellness. I’ve been doing Pilates for the last three or four years. When I started working out in my 20s, I did a ton of heavy weightlifting and training hard and it was really tough on my bones. I got to the point where I realised that my recovery time was so much longer as I got older that I switched to Pilates, and it’s been life-changing for me, amazing. I take care of my skin every day, even if it’s something as simple as using our purifying mask every few days. I take a nap, if it’s possible – I’m a huge believer in that. Growing up on set and working 16 hours a day, I had the habit of napping. It’s so restorative, even if it’s just 20 minutes, taking the time to shut down in the middle of the day and recharge – to me, that’s really important.

What’s next for The Outset?
Having a legacy brand, not just like a flash in the pan, is something I would love. I love our products and I love our community. Watching it grow and keeping the positive, hopeful feeling within it – that’s the dream. And also to be able to continue to set standards within the industry for clean skincare and beauty transparency. That, to me, is very rewarding.