Pharrell Williams has been at the forefront of music and fashion trends for over 20 years. Going on his eternally youthful looks alone, however, you’d never guess two decades have passed since the global icon became a household name. At age 47, Pharrell has added his signature touch to everything from adidas sneakers to made-in-Japan garments. With the launch of Humanrace, Pharrell’s new skincare line, he might have just created the perfect D2C brand.
Pharrell Williams is known for a lot of things. Ask a hip-hop head and you’ll likely hear a lecture on why his years with N.E.R.D. are his most influential. Ask a promoter and you’ll leave the conversation convinced no one’s come close to producing as many club hits as Pharrell. Ask Kanye West and you’ll hear words of praise, outlining how Pharrell paved the way for Kanye and others to make their mark in fashion.
Pharrell’s cultural impact over the years across categories is as varied as his artistic output. He worked on era-defining hits like Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. He helped bring Japanese streetwear to the West, sparking up a friendship and professional relationship with legendary designer NIGO, the creative mastermind behind A Bathing Ape.
He worked closely with adidas executive Jon Wexler on a line of sought-after products, including the game-changing Supercolor pack and an extremely limited collaboration with Chanel that fetches upwards of $12,000 on the resell market.
Throughout it all, Pharrell’s retained his impossibly youthful looks—he’s looked 20 for 20 years. It’s why his latest product venture, Humanrace, couldn’t be more on-brand. Although launched—and sold out—just weeks ago, it’s a product line that’s seemingly decades in the making.
Built on Shopify’s massively popular ecommerce platform, it’s the rare D2C brand that stands for one person’s cultural stature and improbably vitality in a world overrun with indistinguishable D2C brands.
Here are four reasons why.
1. It Builds on His Personal Brand
Societal ping-ponging over the course of 20 years is what’s allowed Pharrell to permeate pop culture through and through. Furthermore, everything Pharrell puts out into the world he puts out with intention and, increasingly, that intention has to do with diversity and inclusion of people from all backgrounds.
Take the 24-hour music video for his viral hit “Happy” in 2013. The monumental work saw the pop impresario dance through the streets of LA alongside celebrities such as Magic Johnson and Steve Carell, in addition to anonymous extras whose 15 minutes had finally arrived. Tellingly, Pharrell shared the video through Twitter with the caption, “None of us are perfect, but we’re all here. There’s room under the sun for everyone.”
Pharrell’s cultural ubiquity has been around since Day 1. What the last few years have shown us is that he’s found a way to turn his omnipresence into a brand that celebrates people from all walks of life.
It’s all led up to Humanrace, a line of skincare products that makes its purpose clear from the outset. The first description of the brand on humanrace.com reads as follows: “a collection of all-gender skincare products created with the belief that, now more than ever, nothing is more important to humanity than our unified health and wellbeing.”
An accompanying quote attributed to Pharrell takes it one step further: “Humanrace Skincare doesn’t differentiate by race or gender. We’re creating for humans; we are all born in the same skin and Humanrace celebrates this.”
Pharrell’s personal brand doesn’t differentiate by race or gender either, and all of his music is for everyone everywhere, just like Humanrace. It’s what gives the product a sense of meaning from the outset—a must in the crowded D2C space—and a way to stand out from the thousands if not millions of other brands offering essentially the same product.
2. The Message of Sustainability Comes Through Loud and Clear
The Humanrace website doesn’t have a ton of content. There’s key creative which juxtaposes the bold green products next to Pharrell’s impeccable features. Besides that there are a handful of quotes and product descriptions, half of which I quoted above. That’s what makes it’s message of sustainability impossible to miss.
Once the visitor becomes acquainted with the product, Humanrace launches into its sustainability pitch, detailing its proprietary refill system, which includes an inner unit made of over 50% post-consumer recycled landfill plastic. These refills can be popped out of the green base and recycled, and when customers need a new refill, they can order one online. The refill units themselves are sealed with heat instead of traditional plastic caps, a change the brand claims saves over 1,200 single-use plastic caps per hour during manufacturing.
And while Humanrace isn’t the first to offer refillable skincare products—it’s a hallmark of Gloria Noto’s brand NOTO, among others—it further builds on Pharrell’s personal brand. Across both adidas and G-STAR Raw (a Dutch denim brand co-owned by Pharrell), Skateboard P has collaborated with Parley for the Oceans and Bionic Yarn, two leading companies that repurpose coastal and marine plastics, on products constructed partially of ocean waste.
At the same time Pharrell began refining his personal brand, focusing it around acceptance of all people, he began honing in on the importance of sustainability in a world confronted with the effects of climate change. It again perfectly captures Pharrell, this time on a different yet equally important side of his global brand, adding further meaning and value to a product that plays only to its creator’s strengths.
3. It’s an Affordable Way to Buy Into the Pharrell Brand
It’s no secret beauty has fared well under the corona-conomy. It’s a category that offers entry-level prices across products that consumers have a surging interest in as they look to treat themselves while cooped up at home. A master of offering his brand across categories and price points, Pharrell’s entry into beauty couldn’t have been better timed.
The last few years has seen Pharrell apply his design sensibilities primarily to footwear and apparel, asking prices of $140+ for sneakers and $90+ for hoodies. With Humanrace, he’s able to drop the accessibility of the Pharrell brand significantly, starting at just $32 for a rice powder cleanser, while the entire three-product routine runs a relatively reasonable $100.
At those prices, it’s classic Pharrell. Ask slightly above the going rate—the adidas Stan Smith Primeknit goes for $110, while the adidas x Pharrell Superstar Primeknit costs $140—so that early-adopters feel they’re getting something premium while the majority doesn’t feel alienated.
The price point strikes a delicate balancing act, too. D2C brands often make a fuss about offering the quality of a legacy product for a fraction of the cost. Not Humanrace. Instead, it has enough confidence to present itself to the world at face value, just like Pharrell.
4. The Products Are Artificially Scarce
Pharrell has the rare ability to be everywhere at once. He also has the rare ability to make certain products from his creative output exceedingly difficult to get. In practical terms, that means working with the right people at the right time to ensure his name is always at the forefront of art and culture.
In 2014, Pharrell teamed up with COMME des GARCONS and KAWS, years before the latter began taking over museum entryways and shipping yards. More recently, he helped popularize Cactus Plant Flea Market, a brand that produces garments in ultra-limited quantities started by his former assistant Cynthia Lu.
Today he’s plastering the Humanrace Instagram with the entire spectrum of today’s biggest cultural influencers. There’s hip-hop stars Tyler, The Creator and SZA. There’s skater Blondey McCoy and model Alessandra Garcia. There’s Dr. Dipen Parekh, a Robotic Cancer Surgeon and the COO of UHealth Miami.
He’s now taken learnings from both ends and applied it to Humanrace, at least at launch. While clearly positioning itself as a skincare line for everyone, it’s limited release all but guarantees further demand for the product down the road. It also acts as an incentive to join the Humanrace Community, a newsletter that updates subscribers on the latest products and announcements.
It’s a strategy that D2C darlings are adopting more and more. Italic, the luxury-without-labels retailer also built on Shopify, made a splash when it launched earlier this year with an invite-only model and limited inventory. Although there’s no membership fee, Humanrace marches to the beat of the same drum, creating a sense of demand that an artificially low supply helps foster.
It’s not quite the model Supreme perfected but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a lifetime of creativity and vivacity distilled into a single D2C brand. Pharrell is Humanrace. Humanrace is Pharrell.