Bum Bum Cream, Bikini Pics and Body Spray: What’s Behind the Sol de Janeiro Hype



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Gen-Z fragrance TikToker Paul Fino has a stockpile of Sol de Janeiro lotion and body sprays in nearly every scent. But he still longs for the one that got away: a special-edition body spray made with pop star Anitta that came out almost three years ago.

“That’s the one spray that I totally regret never grabbing. I probably will [buy] it eventually on eBay or Mercari,” he said.

Originally $19, the 90-ml mist he seeks is now on Mercari for $130 as the resale market for the brand’s sold-out products thrives online. Sprays and body lotions in the discontinued scent Coco Cabana are featured in eBay listings from $80 to over $200, often exceeding the cost of a bottle of Chanel or Dior fragrance.

“Sol de Janeiro fans are insane. They’ll easily pay those resale prices,” said Fino. “It goes farther than, ‘Oh, I really like this brand.’ People are diehard fans.”

Customers’ obsession with the nine-year-old body care brand led sales to rise by 199 percent year over year to reach €474 million ($518 million) in the nine months ending in Dec. 2023, according to parent company L’Occitane International SA’s most recent earnings report. Sales are expected to reach nearly $1 billion for the full fiscal year. This increase has blown past that of others in L’Occitane’s portfolio, including its namesake line L’Occitane en Provence. As a result of its explosive growth, shareholders are calling for Sol de Janeiro to be spun off as a publicly listed company in light of reports that its parent company may be considering an offer to be taken private.

Early to spot demand for emerging categories such as body care with its cult Brazilian Bum Bum Cream and affordable fragrance via body sprays, the brand has cultivated a devoted Millennial, Gen-Z and increasingly Gen-Alpha customer base with on-trend product and a wholesale-centric retail model. It has expanded to a full-fledged body care brand with a growing number of categories, including its Rio Radiance sunscreen, which launches this month.

“Early on, when we launched the Bum Bum Cream, some sceptics thought, ‘Oh, it’s another hot [one-hit wonder]. It will be gone in two years.’ But it’s not going anywhere, and it’s inspired a lot of other products,” said Sol de Janeiro co-founder and chief executive Heela Yang. Yang, a former Clinique marketing executive, co-founded the brand with Camila Pierotti and Marc Capra in 2015.

Cellulite Cream’s Beach Day

Before its fragrance frenzy, Sol de Janeiro’s initial rise came from its novel approach to body care. It combined tropical scents and colourful branding to upend the idea that cellulite creams were an embarrassing secret meant to be hidden in one’s bathroom cabinet. Touting skin-firming benefits, the Bum Bum Cream was its sole first product.

“The magic is, with Sol, it’s not just ‘problem-solution.’ It’s ‘problem-solution, but have fun, enjoy, make it a sensorial experience,’” said Alicia Sontag, a partner at private equity firm Prelude Growth Partners, which invested in the brand in 2019.

Yang’s inspiration for the brand came from beach life in Brazil, where “so many shapes, all sizes, all colours, all ethnicities” readily flaunted their figures. She relocated to Rio de Janeiro in 2008 with her husband, who took a job with his family’s business there.

“My passion was not, ‘How can I create the most amazing firming cellulite cream?’ That was not my intention. We ended up there because we decided that body care was the perfect category to help us really spread this message about this positivity head to toe,” she said.

Using the hashtag #FlauntIt, the brand’s ethos was a perfect match for the proliferation of bikini photos on Instagram at the time, especially those taken from behind. Its early feed was filled with photos of swimsuit models and peach emojis, conjuring aspirational thoughts of vacation photos rather than one’s problem areas. That bold branding also helped it stand out on store shelves at a time when beauty startups were opting for minimalist direct-to-consumer websites. Sol de Janeiro heavily prioritised wholesale, launching in Sephora less than a year after its debut.

That bet paid off. The Bum Bum Cream rose to become the number one body care product at Sephora, which was a big factor in attracting an investment amount from Prelude, said Sontag. It has remained the number one body cream at the retailer for six years, according to the brand.

“The velocity of the Bum Bum Cream was incredible,” said Sontag.

Since the investment, the brand more than doubled its sales every year. When sales reached $60 million in 2020, it attracted the attention of L’Occitane International, which purchased a majority stake in 2021, valuing it at $450 million. Following a February report that L’Occitane International was considering a bid to be taken private by Blackstone Inc., minority shareholder Butler Hall Capital requested that Sol de Janeiro be spun off and listed on the US stock exchange. The shareholders estimated in a letter to the board that the brand could be worth over $8 billion, stating that it has “faster growth, better margins, and far lower penetration” in the US than the rapidly growing E.l.f. Beauty.

Defying DTC

While many of Sol de Janiero’s predecessors, such as L’Occitane, The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works, have banked on standalone stores for their distribution, the brand has taken a starkly different approach.

Sol de Janeiro has no standalone stores, with wholesale partners driving its growth. Following its success with Sephora, the brand expanded to Ulta Beauty in January.

“We’re not so arrogant that we think that they will come to us. We want to be where they are,” said Yang.

Instead of permanent stores, Sol de Janeiro hosts in-person activations such as its six-city US pop-up tour in 2023. A recent February New York pop-up shop saw lines that lasted for three hours and had 18,000 visitors, according to the brand. An Austin pop-up in August had similarly long waits in more than 100-degree heat.

Established body-care brands have seen a different trajectory.

The Body Shop has fallen under administration, while Bath & Body Works reported a net sales decrease of 1.7 percent to $7.4 billion for the 2023 fiscal year ending Feb. 3. L’Occitane’s US branch filed for bankruptcy and closed 23 stores in 2021; it has had the slowest growth in its parent company’s portfolio.

For now, permanent stores are not part of Sol de Janeiro’s near-term strategy.

“If you have a retail store 365 days a year around the corner, it’s hard to maintain excitement,” said Yang.

PerfumeTok Enters the Picture

Today, Sol de Janeiro is a full-fledged brand with shower gels, hair care and deodorant, but one category has superseded the others: body spray, a relic of the late ‘90s but updated for the TikTok generation.

Launched in 2017 with the scent used in its Bum Bum Cream, Cheirosa ‘62, the brand’s perfume mists come in multiple fragrances that fans eagerly collect. Last year, the brand ramped up marketing of the mists to younger shoppers with a colourful Sephora endcap display and a campaign featuring “Euphoria” star Barbie Ferreira. As its scale has grown, celebrities continue to be a focus for the label; next week, the brand announces another Gen-Z star as its latest ambassador.

With 1.6 billion views on the #soldejaneiro hashtag on TikTok, 75 percent of the top-viewed TikTok posts about the brand are centred on its perfume mists. It has tapped fragrance-specific influencers associated with “PerfumeTok” as well as mainstream TikTokers known to drive beauty sales, like Alix Earle. Teens and tweens are an especially big focus. The brand has enlisted Katie Fang, known for her influence over Gen-Alpha beauty purchases, and Earle’s younger tween sister, Ashtin, for social content.

Sol de Janeiro’s signature scents have been associated with multiple viral trends, including videos listing the Cheirosa ‘68 mist as a dupe for Baccarat Rouge, or adding glitter to spray bottles. In December, TikTokers spread and quickly debunked an odd Sephora review claiming that a body butter in the brand’s newest scent, Delícia Drench, attracted spiders.

As its customer base has expanded from millennials posting their swimsuit photos on Instagram to teens displaying colourful body spray collections, Yang attributes the brand’s growth to its agility. But that does not mean changing its core identity.

“If we launched as a fragrance brand, I don’t think we’d be here by now,” said Yang. “We’re body care first.”



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