The Beauty Education of Birchbox Editor Mollie Chen
Subscription services, particularly of the beauty variety, have become more popular over the past year, but Birchbox still remains one of the biggest household names in the young industry. Though she’s been with the start-up for three years, editorial director Mollie Chen still does not consider herself a beauty junkie.
“What I really love is content,” Chen says. “I love telling stories behind a product or place or a person.” After graduating from Harvard, Chen took a job as an editor at Conde Nast Traveler. At the same time, her best friend Hayley Barna, a student at Harvard Business School, was looking to start a business to help customers find and purchase products in a more streamlined way—and so, Birchbox was born.
Soon after Birchbox was founded, Chen left her job to join the start-up. Chen’s role is crucial to the vision that Barna has strived for. “Even if we pick products for you, you still need the context,” she explains. A subscriber may want to know why a specific product was selected or why it’s phenomenal or how to use it—and that’s where Chen shines. “Beauty is full of different stories,” Chen says. She loves sharing the stories behind companies and advising beauty lovers what products will work for them.
Beauty (or grooming, for the men) products are at the heart of Birchbox, but Chen does not view Birchbox as a beauty company. “We’re a technology company,” she believes. She points to the beauty profile a subscriber creates when she first joins the service (the company uses this survey to provide individualized products). It uses an innovative computer program to determine products the user will not only love, but also does not already own. The main goal, Chen says, is to bring people happiness through helping them discover their perfect samples.
While Chen’s biggest passion after all these years is still the stories behind brands and products, there are clearly hazards to the job—beauty has indeed become more of an obsession. “I love finding new products and I love testing new products,” Chen says. Since her time at Birchbox, she’s become particularly addicted to face oils. “Basically, anytime we get a new face oil, I’m always the one who grabs it off people’s desks so I can try it,” Chen admits.
Chen has found herself experimenting more with lip colors, though lip gloss may be many girls’ foray into makeup. “That’s actually something I’ve learned [only] since coming here,” Chen, who previously shied away from bright colors, confesses. Tips she’s picked up include keeping your face (relatively) natural when wearing punchy lip colors as opposed to caking on a full face of makeup. “It feels younger and kind of more modern to have just a clean, fresh face,” Chen adds. She also recommends baby steps, starting with a stain or looking for a matte finish that won’t feel as “foreign.” If you’re dipping your toes into bright lip colors, she loves chubby lip pencils for beginners. (Nowadays, Chen is personally drawn to bright corals and tangerines—her favorites include NARS Schiap and Beauty is Life Red Hot.)
Beauty products will always encapsulate more than just their formulas for Chen. When she named her favorite body oil, Neroli Aromatic Body Serum by One Love Organics, she couldn’t help but share some background. “It’s this brand that was started by two best friends,” she says, describing how the brand was founded.
As for finding your perfect products, be patient! Chen advises ensuring that the fundamentals of your routine are in place—make sure that you’re drinking enough water, exercising, eating well, sleeping right, and taking off your makeup at the end of the day. “If you’re not doing all those things, then the great products won’t do anything for your skin,” Chen says. Then, it’s about mindfully using the right ingredients for your skin, looking, for example, for face products full in natural oils. Doing a little extra homework, she explains, can go a long way. Look at Chen—she has gone from modest beauty user to a beauty editorial expert!