In the cultural lexicon—and perhaps the English language—there are few words more polarizing than Goop.
For its detractors, it’s synonymous with pseudoscience and overpriced products. Some consider it to be little more than fodder for the internet’s collective amusement—a purveyor of vagina-scented candles, $17,000 earrings and wellness tips that have included vaginal steaming and bee venom therapy.
Recently, the chief of the U.K.’s National Health Service, Simon Stevens, accused The Goop Lab With Gwyneth Paltrow, Goop’s Netflix show, of “spreading misinformation.”
But for its fans—1.3 million followers on Instagram and 36 million listens and counting to its eponymous podcast—Goop is a beacon. It’s also a burgeoning empire that spans multiple platforms. It’s a website and newsletter. A fully stocked ecommerce platform and private-label product line (including beauty products and apparel). A podcast. An events business. A Netflix show.
And it has an A-list founder and CEO—Gwyneth Paltrow—at the core of it all.
The Academy Award-winning actress’ involvement has meant that since Goop’s inception 12 years ago, whatever the company did was high profile. But to solely credit Paltrow’s celebrity for Goop’s success is to tell only a chapter of the brand’s story.
Goop has succeeded where so many other celebrity-led brands (oftentimes, Goop imitators) have failed. Blake Lively’s lifestyle site, Preserve, lasted for only a year before she shuttered it in 2015. The Kardashian-Jenner sisters all launched subscription-based apps and websites in 2016; by 2019, all five were shut down. Even Meghan Markle (now the Duchess of Sussex) ran her own Goop-esque website, The Tig, before marrying Prince Harry. She closed shop in 2017.
Fame “does not make your business,” Elise Loehnen, Goop’s chief content officer, tells Adweek. “It means you can get people to come once, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay.”
And it’s true—Goop is so much more than just Paltrow. The company now has 250 employees, including editorial staffers, a team of scientists and researchers, product buyers and a marketing team.
The company was reportedly worth $250 million in 2018.
Building a business
Goop was born at Paltrow’s kitchen table, where she debuted Goop in its inaugural format, a newsletter. It was 2008, and she was fresh off her role as Pepper Potts in the first Iron Man movie. Though Goop was then a one-woman show, Paltrow tells Adweek that it “didn’t feel like a side project.”
“I was pretty deliberate when I started it,” she admits. “I really thought, ‘This is the first tiny step in this long, long road.’ That said, it’s not like I started twisting my mustache with some master plan of how I was going to start a business. It was very lo-fi, very homespun, with a lot of heart.”
But “homespun” is in the eye of the beholder. Paltrow’s status as an A-lister—the star of films like Emma and Shakespeare in Love—brought instant attention to her lo-fi endeavor.
“You look at someone like that, and you’re like, ‘Wow, if you’re a celebrity, you live internationally and you have access to everything, then your choices must truly be the best of the best,'” explains Amber Venz Box, founder of influencer affiliate platform rewardStyle, adding that Paltrow was “one of the first influencers.”
It probably didn’t hurt that Paltrow openly shared her own life on her platform. She famously announced her divorce in a post on Goop titled “Conscious Uncoupling” in 2014, inspiring a personal connection with Goop’s audience.
“I’m an inherently very curious person,” says Paltrow. “I’m easily inspired. And so to create something from that true place of where the intention was, to connect and to share and to inspire and to be inspired, I think that resonates.”
It would still be a few more years, though, for Goop as we know it today to come to fruition. It was a slow but steady build. Paltrow recalls hearing from companies whose products she’d share on Goop that they’d sell out, or that the mention would lead to so much traffic, their website would crash.
“There was something at the core of what we were doing that was truly resonating with people, and was creating a lot of trust and a significant call to action,” she recalls. “I started to think, OK, maybe within this will be the key to monetizing the business.”
Every year, Goop hit a new milestone. The ecommerce platform launched in 2012. By 2013, the company had a million subscribers to its original product, the newsletter. (That same year, Paltrow tapped Loehnen, a former editor at Lucky magazine, to head up content.) In 2014, Goop launched its own private-label products, from beauty to wellness supplements to clothing.
By 2015, the team totaled 24 people, half in New York and half in Los Angeles. Those in California worked out of a barn attached to Paltrow’s house. Later that year, Paltrow raised her first Series A round (as of today, outside investment in the brand totals $82 million) and moved the team into its first office, in Santa Monica.
Frederic Court, co-founder of Felix Capital, a venture fund that participated in that first round, says the team was immediately struck by Paltrow’s “very clear vision,” and says she’s “one of the best entrepreneurs we’ve had the chance to work with.”
“She had a lot to prove on the business side,” notes Court, referencing Paltrow’s lack of business experience prior to Goop. “But we thought she had many of the right attributes. There was real brand equity. Once that trust is established between an individual and the brand, there are a lot of ways to extend that relationship into something that can enable you to build the business.”
Growing a business
Goop’s business model can be summed up in two words: contextual commerce. Goop creates content and sells products—and the two often go hand in hand.
“It’s a little bit of a unicorn, the formula that we have for our brand partners,” says Wendy Lauria, Goop’s svp of brand partnerships. “We start with the content, we’re able to integrate our partners through the ecommerce and then they’re able to touch and feel and experience both Goop and the brand at our experiential events.”
Unlike other media platforms today, Goop does not often use affiliate links. Instead, its work with brands comes through collaborations or sales through Goop’s own ecommerce platform. Partnerships with other brands have become a hallmark of Goop’s business: It has teamed up with everyone from home decor store CB2 to size-inclusive retailer Universal Standard and an endless stream of fashion brands: Christian Louboutin, Frame, Stella McCartney and Lilly Pulitzer. Each choice, says Lauria, is about bringing a “fresh, modern, Goop twist to it and making sure that it resonates well with the reader so that we’re bringing it through every channel that we can.”
Those channels range from physical stores to events, like the In Goop Health conference founded in 2017. Later this year, Paltrow and Loehnen will take In Goop Health sailing with Celebrity Cruises, where guests can attend a one-day version of the summit aboard a ship.
When it comes to Goop’s bottom line, however, it’s retail—from brick-and-mortar stores to private-label product lines—that plays a substantial role. Beauty, in particular, is big business: It’s the fastest-growing category and is projected to make up nearly half of Goop’s overall ecommerce sales this year.
Goop’s first venture into creating its own products was a partnership with organic beauty company Juice Beauty in March 2016. Since then, the team has taken on the responsibility of developing its own products, a process that can be lengthy, says Loehnen—for example, the brand has been working on a lip balm for the past four years.
These products are then sold not only on Goop.com but also in one of the company’s five permanent brick-and-mortar locations. Goop first opened a store in 2014, with a pop-up in Los Angeles, and Loehnen says they’ve become something of a gateway for people who are perhaps less familiar with the brand, or even have been turned off by a headline in the past, to “be able to experience us in real life.”
“People have an expectation of the brand,” she says. “And then they come in and they say, ‘Oh, like, I like these people.’”
Goop’s stores feature an expertly curated assortment of products, from fine jewelry to chunky sweaters, facial oils and aesthetically pleasing cookware. Everything in the store captures Paltrow’s own relaxed-yet-refined vibe, with an aspirational price point. (A sweater from Goop’s own G. Label brand can run up to $595, while a Goop night cream is $140.) And, of course, there’s the company’s own take on wellness: Goop-branded supplements with cheeky names like “Why Am I So Effing Tired?,” vibrators and other sex toys, among other products.
Health and wellness
Goop’s approach to health and wellness has brought the company significant attention, or notoriety, depending on how you see things. The company has a reputation for embracing alternative treatments and therapies, prompting fans to label Goop “courageous” and critics to assert that it’s “dangerous.”
From its earliest days, Goop has promoted wellness tools and practices from the somewhat ridiculous (a $15,000 24-karat gold sex toy) to the downright unsafe (gynecologists were quick to warn against the practice of vaginal steaming in 2015).
Some of Goop’s criticism, of course, is warranted. Dr. Jennifer Wider, a women’s health expert, says practices like vaginal steaming “prey on women’s insecurities.” Goop was also slapped with a $145,000 fee in late 2018 for false advertising over its health claims that jade eggs could improve orgasms, hormonal imbalances and more when inserted into the vagina. Since then, the company has bulked up its science and research staff—now 10% of the content team are scientists—and, says Loehnen, is sure to be “exceptionally clear” in labeling whether something is backed by science.
For the most part, Goop owns its reputation as a lover of the “woo woo,” and plays off it, often “for our own amusement,” says Loehnen. And sometimes, there’s viral payoff. A promotional poster this year for The Goop Lab showing Paltrow standing inside rows of pink diamond-like folds—clearly meant to represent the vulva—made headlines, as did the $75 candle printed with a label that read “This Smells Like My Vagina.”
Of course, being provocative isn’t new when it comes to brand building.
“There’s a reason why Cosmopolitan would put sex and orgasms on their cover,” says Danielle Sporkin, OMD’s U.S. head of integrated planning. “That was a bit controversial, but it stood out from the crowd with something they became known for.”
On The Goop Lab, which debuted on Netflix at the end of January, each episode focuses on a number of Goop staffers trying out a different wellness practice: things like cold-exposure therapy (jumping into a freezing-cold lake), psychedelics (taking mushrooms in Jamaica) or vaginal barbells (at the instruction of a 90-year-old sex educator).
Goop’s seeming willingness to try almost anything can likely be traced to Paltrow’s self-described “curiosity,” which has become something of a brand pillar.
“We’re not going to judge something simply because we don’t understand it,” says Loehnen. “This is this person’s experience, or this is a healing tradition that seems to really have an effect. People might find resonance and power in that, they might not or they might just find it interesting.”
What often gets left out of the Goop conversation is this: Why would women seek out wellness tips and remedies from Goop in the first place?
There’s the obvious celebrity-endorsement angle. Paltrow may not be a doctor, but she is a star. And according to Wider, her association with Goop means that when the site makes a claim, fans are inclined to take it seriously.
“Information from public figures, it resonates and it reverberates in the public,” says Wider. “People listen to it, and they follow it.”
But there’s a deeper reason. A growing number of women are vocalizing what they’ve felt for years: that doctors don’t take their medical concerns seriously. Studies show that women are prescribed less pain medication, and they wait longer to get said pain medication when it is prescribed. Seventy percent of people who suffer from chronic pain are women, but 80% of research on matters of chronic pain are done on male subjects. One survey of 2,400 women who deal with chronic pain even found that nearly 65% felt that doctors took their pain less seriously because they are female.
“It is an all-women clan where you feel embraced,” says Wider. “I think that probably appeals to a lot of women that are looking for camaraderie and a place where they feel listened to and that they can experiment.”
For Ashley Redd, a 27-year-old fan who was turned on to Goop after watching The Goop Lab, past struggles in finding “sound medical advice around mental health” has made her more willing to learn about unorthodox options.
“It’s really nice to find people who are willing to try things that are a little more unconventional and actually even just talking about them,” says Redd. “I admire the courage to try things and put it out there for people to decide for themselves.”
Loehnen says that when the Goop team is creating content, they don’t just imagine what their readers want—they listen to their feedback. If a reader writes in about struggling with endometriosis, says Loehnen, the staff will research the topic and let the readers guide them.
“That’s the soul of who we are,” she says. “We’re just constantly looking for the best alternative possible.”
Is Goop good?
No matter if you’re a Goop fan or foe, it’s hard to deny the company’s success. Some of the most storied media properties have faltered (the print editions of Glamour and Self), and digital-only properties that were hailed as the next wave still find themselves struggling (think of layoffs at BuzzFeed and Refinery29).
“Goop is taking the place of traditional women’s lifestyle magazines,” says Sporkin. “People are seeking out this type of content, advice, information [and] product recommendations. And as we’ve moved into more digital spaces, newsletters and blogs and online websites have started to capitalize on the space that women’s lifestyle magazines really used to dominate.”
Indeed, Goop has become a landing place for alumnae of media powerhouses like Condé Nast: In addition to her tenure at Lucky, Loehnen is also a former Condé Nast Traveler editor. Jean Godfrey-June, Lucky’s famed beauty director, now holds that title at Goop.
Those same editors are curating the content that readers scroll through on Goop’s website in the same way that readers once pored over the pages of magazines. Only now, those readers are also shopping their products, attending their events and watching their show on Netflix.
“They want to lead that life, look that way, eat those things and go to those places,” says Venz Box.
Goop’s multichannel release has also allowed for the creation of a fan base much more vast than a magazine could have ever imagined.
“Goopies are unlike any other reader that I’ve worked with in my career,” says Lauria, herself an alumna of Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit and Hearst’s Harper’s Bazaar. “And I think that, in turn, is what our brand partners see as hugely invaluable.”