A men’s brand, Faculty, launches with nail polish — and seed funding from Estée Lauder

“It’s not a nail polish company.” It’s almost the first thing out of the mouth of Fenton Jagdeo of Faculty, the startup he co-founded in 2019 with Umar ElBably. Though their Toronto-based company currently sells just three shades of nail polish along with some nail stickers — that’s it — the products are a wedge to something much larger, says Jagdeo.

There will be merchandise, according to the former business management consultant. There will be men’s foundation, and eye shadow and very possibly hair dye, all of which is focused around a “new wave of masculinity,” Jagdeo explains.

These items aren’t likely to appear in the aisles of Sephora or CVS, suggests Jagdeo. Faculty is instead “going to be very selective about who we have conversations with. We’re imagining the Essences of the world, the StockXs, the Kiths. That’s where our clientele is.”

More, he says that in the same way that the prominent culture publication Hypebeast created a “desire for new product and newness,” Faculty has “mastered the drop model,” meaning that Faculty has and will continue to advertise a limited supply of a product before invariably selling out of that item. (Those three nail polish shades and the sticker set? They’re long gone.)

If you find yourself wondering if Faculty aims to become a streetwear company or a cosmetics company, Jagdeo is succeeding in his mission. As he explains it, “essentially, our goal is to blur” that dividing line.

It’s utterly implausible and yet strangely alluring, which likely explains why the cosmetics giant Estée Lauder just led a $3 million seed round in the five-person outfit, joined by RareBreed Ventures, Maple VC, Debut Capital, Creative Connectors, AUFI, 10K Ventures, actress Maisie Williams and recording artist Iann Dior.

After all, there is little to separate one cosmetics brand from another, aside from storytelling and the ability to build up a loyal following. (See, for example, Glossier and its mega-valuation.)

Even Jagdeo readily admits that Faculty’s nail polish is “not, from a purely chemical perspective, different” from what’s widely available in the market already. Yet he sells the vision easily while insisting that ElBably, who attended the same business school as Jagdeo, is the better storyteller of the two.

Certainly, their pitch — that men need more ways through unconventional men’s products to express themselves — is a smart one. Consider that the men’s personal care market alone is expected to balloon to $75 billion over the next six years, according to Grand View Research, and there are few established grooming brands for millennials, even while plenty of outfits are trying. (SNL even came up with a skit recently about a new men’s cosmetics brand called “Man Stain,” which pokes fun at men who want to wear make-up but feel insecure about it.)

Meanwhile, the streetwear market is even bigger — it was in the range of $185 billion in sales in 2019, according to PwC analysis — and new brands are breaking through all the time, including brands that, like Faculty, are the express opposite of hyper masculine.

Naturally, Estée Lauder’s imprimatur could make a difference here, too, particularly given that the cosmetics giant isn’t known to actively invest in startups or lead seed rounds. Indeed, while Jagdeo says the funding will help Faculty with its marketing, R&D and operational expenses, he notes the real advantage to working with Estée Lauder is the mentorship it can provide, as well as its ability to open doors for Faculty.

Says Jagdeo, “It’s a lot easier for us to say, ‘Hey, you know, we’re working with Estée Lauder and Estée Lauder is one of our investors,’ versus, ‘We’re two guys with a dream.'”