Can This Genius Beauty Brand Crowdsource the Next Big Thing?

Have you ever stopped to think about where beauty product trends really come from? The source isn't necessarily Fashion Week runways, Instagram feeds, or celebrities on the red carpet (though it often seems that way). The truth is, product trends catch on thanks to savvy marketing.

Having worked behind the scenes for brands, I know how the system works. Once CEOs see the opportunity to churn out their own take on a formula, a fad starts to rise. Think about it: there are seemingly hundreds of sheet masks, dozens of dry shampoos, and an abundance of liquid lipsticks. That's because just a few early versions of these formulas were well branded (perhaps even sponsored by a celebrity), and competitors wanted to get in on the fun. From there, they've been replicated and revised.

Not that I have a problem with that. I, along with millions of other women, love comparing and contrasting products in hopes of perfecting every step of my regimen. (As a beauty editor, this is my favorite part of my job!) But every now and then, my mind starts to wander. There are so many genius creations out there — makeup setting spray, thermal nail polish — and I know that the industry has only scratched the surface of innovation.

That's why Brandy Hoffman and Patricia Santos teamed up to create Volition, a beauty brand that is deaf to trends but instead listens to one important voice: the consumer.

Combined, these women have nearly 40 years of experience working in beauty, with Hoffman's primary experience in operations and Santos's in venture capital. Their paths crossed when they ended up working for the same skin care company in San Francisco.

"[Hoffman and I] bonded over the things we wanted to change about the beauty industry," recounted Santos. "One of them was that the consumer was really being brought in too late to actually affect the product development decisions and make products better."

Added Hoffman, "There was a problem with product development decisions being made in boardrooms, and we knew there was a better way. If you're used to seeing the same products come out of the funnel, then something has to be changed in the beginning of the funnel."

They observed the rampant success of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in the tech industry and started to talk about how a similar startup model would be disruptive in the beauty world. From there, Volition was born.

Above all, Volition is a platform where creative beauty junkies can come together and think up their dream products. If you've fantasized about the perfect moisturizer, hair cream, or lipstick, you can submit your idea for consideration. Should your ideal item actually already exist, the Volition team will let you know and share a direct link to where you can buy it. But if it doesn't, and Santos and Hoffman deem your concept worth deeper exploration, you'll work with a lab to bring it to life.

Having worked with independent beauty labs in the past, I knew that Volition would be a concept that intrigued the chemists, too. "[Chemists] embraced Volition really quickly — labs have passion projects," explained Hoffman. And that's true. These scientists sell their formulas to big beauty brands and work to develop innovative products. In the end, though, those more unique items never hit shelves and are rejected in favor of the hottest fad.

Hoffman shared that a handful of Volition community members are actually chemists, hoping to get their dream products created. One such scientist is "Julie K," who successfully worked with Volition to develop Thanakha Radiant Bronzer ($40) and Moringa Silk Body Spray ($45).

However, the process doesn't stop with R&D. Once you've developed your dream product, tens of thousands of women — the Volition community — will vote on whether it should be produced. If it's popular among the real-girl crew, it will become a retail product. Getting intrigued and excited to submit your own concept? Know that the process is entirely free. Even better, should your product go to market, your name will be on the packaging, and you'll receive a percentage of its royalties. Fans who voted for your item will also get a discount.

"This is the perfect marriage of empowerment, enthusiasm, and bringing the community feel together, and really flipping how a beauty brand comes up with products," gushed Santos.

Women who are particularly active on Volition are members of communities that feel underserved by what's available on shelves. "It was very important for us to be inclusive," said Hoffman. She told me that she's currently working with a black woman whose go-to dreadlock conditioner became mass produced. The formula changed dramatically, and on her search for a resolution, she found Volition. "I was tired of 'ethnic' being a niche and underrepresented segment of the beauty industry," said Lisa S. Her creation, Rose Essence Conditioning Spray, is now up for your consideration.

From a sales perspective, Volition is brilliant. The team is able to estimate — based on the community interest — how successful a product will be should it be developed. "Most brands are guessing," remarked Santos. "They have to sell millions of millions of units, because they have high manufacturing minimums and retail inventory requirements so . . . guessing, plus those high minimums . . . you shoot for generic products that hit the largest fraction of the consumer market."

And because a product is sent to its ideator throughout every step of the formulation process, she can address even the most specialized concerns. Hoffman told me that once Volition sells through its entire stock of Thanakha Radiant Bronzer, they will be changing the packaging to a dropper instead of a pump, as its test market preferred the former.

Though the buzz surrounding Volition has been relatively quiet so far, one big company has taken great interest in its philosophy: QVC, where Volition will make its debut on Aug. 10. "Each of our products comes from a real woman and her real problem," Santos said. "QVC is going to help her bring that innovative story to life." "They've always been very community-centric," Hoffmann noted. "With volumes of people come power."

That's certainly true when it comes to Volition's business model. It's my hope for Volition that being on QVC will raise awareness for its community, resulting in more exciting ideas on the platform. Right now, there are just a select few products, including Pomona, a DIY sheet mask printer. Pour wine, juice, coconut water — whatever you want — into the machine, and it will "cook" it into a fresh mask. I've also been an advance tester of the Helix Restorative Eye Gel, a snail-mucin-infused antiaging treatment that practically melts into skin and improves the subsequent application of undereye concealer. I was also completely impressed by the (completely original!) products that made it into the official Volition collection.

"We believed in the platform first before we knew any of the products," said Santos. "We just knew if we asked women what they needed, they would tell us, and they would be genius ideas." Added Hoffman: "If somebody is copying somebody, it's because they're lacking the innovation to think outside the box. We will continue to think outside the box. As long as we stay true to our brand values, we'll move, ideate, and transform — because our community will tell us to."