Coauthor: Elle Leemay Chen
Imagine getting a vagina-scented candle as a present. And, it's $75. What to make of this? Is it weird, funny, outlandish? Or is it empowering because it's destigmatizing the female body? Debatable, but what is clear is it's a Goop product.
Goop is the "modern lifestyle brand" that has brought us revolutionary products. These include the Psychic Vampire Repellent Spray ($27), Glacce Rose Quartz Bottle ($80), Goop Jade Vaginal Egg ($66). We are, of course, dubious of them.
But, how does a company sell these items and make $255 million in revenue in FY2019?
Goop embodies the extremes of wellness culture and pseudoscience permeating into mainstream adoption. But there's a reason why it has received legitimacy and notoriety: Gwyneth Paltrow. So let's dive into this controversial brand and how the Hollywood actress propelled it.
Earning the rank of most hated celebrity isn't easy. But that's what the tabloids called Paltrow in 2014, after her "conscious uncoupling" from Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay. By the way, "conscious uncoupling" is fancy celebrity lingo for divorce.
Paltrow was an A-list actress and no stranger to controversy. Even her 1999 Oscar for Shakespeare in Love is a significant upset in the eyes of many. But for as many people who hate Paltrow, there are just as many who aspire to be her. We love to hate her.
Paltrow represented what was and still is the quintessential Hollywood ideal of beauty. She's blonde, wealthy, thin, and famous. And she found a way to package up that image and dream into a brand for sale at a high price point, no less.
Goop had simple beginnings in 2008. Back then, Paltrow debuted Goop as a nutritional newsletter. The first issue featured recipes for banana nut muffins and turkey ragú. Harmless enough.
The company started as a silly and fun project. Even the name has a quirky origin. "Goop" got its name when branding legend Peter Arnell told Paltrow that all successful internet companies have double o's in their name. So she added that to her initials GP.
By that logic, should we go from Slidebean to Slideboon? Let us know what you think.
Although Goop started as a simple newsletter by 2009, it had around 150,000 subscribers. So, it was time to take the next step.
For about six years, Goop gained the audience's trust by recommending products alone. But, Gwyneth Paltrow pursued her bigger ambitions for the company. So, Goop jumped into e-commerce in 2014. It launched products like branded vitamins, fashion, and housewares to start.
The idea to go into e-commerce made sense. Goop had a loyal and captive audience that all aspired for that perfect Gwyneth Paltrow lifestyle.
And those fans proved willing to spend whatever money it took to achieve that goal. This following allowed Goop to charge everyday items at absurd price points. For example, a $725 pajama set.
There are too many ridiculous and expensive products to all go through. So, in this article, we're mentioning some in the crazy lineup. Unsurprisingly, Goop had an immediate association with the privileged, expensive, and absurd.
Was this craziness part of the recipe? Well, it could've been. Prominent VCs took notice because of that. But Paltrow wanted the brand to outgrow herself. So in 2016, she said she wanted to separate herself from Goop until no one remembered she had anything to do with it. Yet, right now, it's tough to separate Goop from its infamous founder.
And, Goop had plenty of momentum. The company raised $50 million in its Series C led by New Enterprise Associates in 2018. Most recently, the company raised an estimated $53 million of Series D from Greycroft in 2019. The pre-money valuation was $380 million. But, no matter the great numbers, the controversy was always there.
Goop began to face backlash as it went from beyond a lifestyle brand and into wellness. As a strategy, it mercilessly exploited the culture surrounding this topic.
It makes sense. If something also has health benefits, there is even more opportunity for an upcharge. And Goop began promising that its products could do more than what science could prove. That's when the company got into some serious trouble.
In September 2018, the company made headlines for settling a $145,000 lawsuit. The reason? Goop claimed that its vaginal eggs could balance hormones and healing through crystals.
After settling, the company had to admit that some of its outlandish health advice may not work.
So, wait. Crystal vaginal eggs with hormone-balancing powers didn't work? Shocker.
But that didn't slow down the company. It also launched a Netflix show called Goop Labs, where employees tested out pseudoscience. Well, it received a 30% review on Rotten Tomatoes.
Even the UK's National Health System criticized the documentary. The health authority linked the company with misleading claims online. It went as far as calling them quacks, charlatans, and cranks.
Furthermore, Goop had "beef" with NASA. You know, the agency that put men on the moon. Goop claimed that its Body Vibes stickers used "NASA space suit material" to "rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies." The bad thing is NASA denied this.
Two representatives stated there were zero merits to the statement. As a result, Goop removed its NASA-related claim. Instead, they said it was an error. Apparently, their engineer was "misinformed by a distributor about the material in question."
Most telling was that, although Goop pulled the claim from their site, they released a statement defending their actions.
"Our content is meant to highlight unique products and offerings, find open-minded alternatives, and encourage conversation."
So, in a way, their statement backtracked on any apology and condoned their actions. Plus, it signaled they would continue to do so.
And so, we come back to the vagina-scented candle. That's right; we haven't forgotten about it, even as recently as 2021. Recently, that same product became a $5 million lawsuit, as one allegedly exploded.
But, the fascinating thing is that, in the case of Goop, it seems that all press is good press. All this news only served to direct the company traffic and attention.
One would think it'd be in chaos for a company that has gone through so much controversy. But, no. Goop is still around today. It even has renewed its widely criticized Netflix show for a second season.
Some may argue that the company isn't hurting anyone, so why does it matter? Some people want Goop's products. They're willing to pay for them to achieve an aspirational lifestyle. So, they should go for it.
But, when a company spreads misinformation and promises health benefits, it becomes an ethical question. Should we "open a dialogue" or take advantage of consumers?
Many times when we hear about insane products, we laugh it off. But Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow provide legitimacy, and it is hazardous. Moreover, Goop actively propels those pseudoscience products into the mainstream.
But has all its controversies hindered Goop as a business?
We can't know if this strategy has succeeded Goop since it is a private company and has not released its financial information. But, based upon Paltrow's responses to Goop, it seems that the company is still thriving.
Despite how much we wanted to make fun of what they do and 'predict' their demise, we seem to be wrong. Goop is seemingly at the forefront of wellness brands as controversy only continues to feed the beast.