The Gen-Z Whisperer: How Julie Schott Made Acne a Laughing Matter

Nobody was laughing in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel except for Julie Schott, the former Elle beauty director, current pimple patch mogul, and idea machine for consumer packaged goods marketed towards Gen-Z. She was describing mass retail strategy when her voice suddenly dropped to a hush. “Am I being too loud in this room?” she whispered, then softly chided herself. “We’re in a library.” Schott joked about how you go to Target for toilet paper and then end up leaving with a haul of things you never knew you needed. She joked about watching TikTok on planes, cigarettes and fecal incontinence.

Given the volatility of placing comedy anywhere near our faces and bodies, the beauty industry is not known for its sense of humor, and typically requires a bomb squadron’s care to make it funny. Schott, who left her career in editorial to become Gen-Z’s marketing guru, doesn’t make it funny so much as she makes it unserious. She tried to be an influencer once, but found it difficult to express herself vulnerably. “I have trouble being earnest,” she told me.

Years of hard Instagram labor have left Schott with the aloof sheen of an influencer with jet lag. Even early in the morning, draped across a sofa in Martine Rose sweats, her cheekbones protrude, capped in what little light the lobby lets in. She seems to thrum with a low-grade anxiety, which is one of many frequencies that attune her to Gen-Z, along with an almost Dadaist sense of humor and a plain comedic honesty.

“They’re very funny,” she said. “They’re not afraid to say what it is, and they’ll tell you when they hate something.”

Consider when she launched Starface with entrepreneur Brian Bordainick in 2019. Schott’s blockbuster innovation — hydrocolloid patches that are coloured and cut like stickers — and priced them at $22. “They were on TikTok like, ‘Girl, I’m not paying that.’” Schott laughed. “Fair!” Now they cost $14.99, and are available online, and also in Target and CVS. In other words, nearly everywhere.

Since then, Schott and Bordainick have been launching new brands at the astonishing pace of about one per year. There’s Starface and Julie, an emergency contraceptive; Futurewise, a skincare brand based on the viral trend of supermoisturising, called “slugging,” and Blip, a brand of smoking cessation gums and sticks.

If Emily Weiss whispered makeup to Millennials, Schott knows what Gen-Z wants. In this light, it’s possible to read her and Bordainick’s portfolio — from its whimsical acne stickers to its TikTok trend-based skincare line — as a series of commercial envoys to a little-charted market.

A brand, when animated by Schott, sounds like “your friend who follows the same Instagram pages and Twitter accounts that you do,” said Alexandra Pauly, the beauty editor of HighSnobiety. Starface’s product, in particular, has an ineffable effect. “They’re more than just pimple patches,” Pauly added. “It’s impossible to not feel some type of way when you put a little pink star or Hello Kitty on your face.”

Starface is still the mothership around which the others orbit. Since its launch in 2019, the brand has raised about $18 million in funding and is on track to approach $100 million in revenue this year, Bordainick said. Julie has enjoyed at least some momentum, arriving on shelves in late 2022, a few months after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. Sales doubled in the past six months while the general contraceptive market lagged. But Futurewise and Blip, have yet to achieve nearly the same buzz. And there was Plus, a sustainability-minded body care line that shuttered some three years after it was introduced.

Some products are easier to sell than others. But Schott is less of a genius at selling things than she is a generational talent at marketing them. At 35, she is mid-Millennial, and says she feels like most of her cohort when she’s in a Cody Rigsby Peloton class. At other times, she cuts a younger figure, like when she makes “girl dinner” inspired TikToks for Julie (the brand). She’s always on TikTok — scrolling, but also looking for her precious stars. Is that one on Doja Cat?

“She just has a really strong pulse on youth culture,” said Brian Bordainick, Schott’s business partner. The two comprise Brand New, a two person-sized brand launchpad where Bordainick builds the business and Schott builds the brand, something she’s uniquely good at doing, according to Bordainick.

“It’s like, ‘Holy shit.’ She just nails it every time,” he said.

Eyes on Z

Like Weiss, Schott was born in Connecticut, interned at Teen Vogue, and was featured in its pages. (“I not only assist in the closet, but I’ll also be blogging and attending events,” she said as a 20 year old intern, in 2008. “Keep you posted!”) Her earliest years were spent working beneath a pantheon of beauty editors like Eva Chen and Jean Godfrey-June. Schott also assisted the legendary Cat Marnell at XoJane, and was immortalized in the memoir How to Murder Your Life as the Kylie to Marnell’s Kim.

“We were a little like a reality show cast in a way,” Schott said. Every Xo writer had their “thing,” and Schott’s became acne. Not only was she preoccupied with her own, but the topic became a prism for her to refract her feelings about her image onto the webpage. For writers, it was the era of the personal essay; for beauty writers, it was the era of “I Tried It,” where even basic services like acne-prone skin maintenance were given first-person treatments.

Julie Schott, founder of Starface, knows what Gen-Z wants. (Kat & Mariel)

After XoJane, Scott went to Elle, and eventually was named the publication’s beauty director. It was there she presided over a section where traveling editors would share their spoils from abroad, which is how she came across Korean pimple patches. No bigger than single sequins, these hydrocolloid patches not only protect pimples from aggravating elements but supposedly draw offending material, like excess oil, from the area, accelerating the healing journey.

Meanwhile, on Instagram, where Schott spent most of her time, filters were beginning to provide ways to decorate the faces of selfies; some filters would dot your face in emojis, like digital stickers. If every beauty editor has their own genius product idea, combining a cute sticker with an acne patch would become Schott’s.

Around the mid 2010s, Schott fell in with a brat pack of new media workers with large social followings, like Elle’s Prescod sisters or Cosmo’s Carly Cardellino or Allure’s Kristie Dash. Instagram’s hyper-relevance empowered some users past their magazine titles, and editors, intentionally or otherwise, began leaning into acts of influence — posting photos from branded events, attending trips not as journalists but as talent. Schott accepts, but does not glorify, this time in her life: “It was a fun way to self-express myself at that age,” she said, diplomatically.

A Star Is Born

During a gap year between leaving Elle and starting Starface, Schott tried to support herself with influencer jobs and burned out.

“It was comically bad,” she said. “It was just not landing.”

She tried other things. After an Instagram post about continence proved unusually successful, Schott decided to pursue the topic as a beauty beat, inspiring her brief but indelible #pooptalk series. That year she also decided to take meetings with people who could bring her pimple patches to commercial life. Before long, she met Bordainick.

Starface’s first run of patches was, in Schott’s words, “not good.” They came out sheerer than intended, and adhered little more than halfheartedly. A few other and better-known pimple patches, like those from Korea, were — some might say are — more effective at actually subduing acne. But none of them were or are Starface. (Neither its formulas nor its patch shapes are patented, but Starface remains, as of now, competitively unbothered, aside from the odd “star patch” dupes popping up on TikTok Shop.) Sheer novelty propelled the brand’s early success, and they sold out when they launched at Target. Since then, the patches have been reformulated totally to ensure maximum efficacy, opacity and gummy factor.

“Everything that it was on day one is in a completely different format today,” Schott said.

Schott said she was most focused on Starface, at least in the near future: This year the brand is expanding into a new category and will also launch two new colour options — one pink patch for now, and a less colourful option later on. Soon, Bordainick will launch Overdrive Defense, a brand which will apply the duo’s signature brand marketing to drug testing strips and opioid overdose reversal medication, according to filed trademarks; it’s also his first post-Starface launch without Schott formally beside him.

It took me only two hours after meeting with Schott to encounter a group of patches in the wild; a few green stickers formed a constellation on the face of a café barista who presented as Gen-Z (T-shirt printed with IM SO ANXIOUS, hair cut into a mullet). He’s been a customer since launch. “They’ve way improved,” he said, noting a tackier stick factor.

But he doesn’t like them because they work, strictly speaking; he just thinks they’re delightful.

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