EXCLUSIVE: Thirteen Lune to Launch In-store at J.C. Penney

Thirteen Lune, the online platform selling Black- and brown-owned beauty brands, is expanding into retail in partnership with J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

It’s a store-in-store concept as part of J.C. Penney Beauty — what the retailer calls its new beauty category. Focused on showcasing diversity, it’s launching online at jcp.com and in select locations in October, with more than 30 Thirteen Lune brands. Nationwide rollout will begin in fall 2022, into early 2023.

“We were working on our new beauty strategy, and the importance of championing beauty inclusivity and had watched what was going on at Thirteen Lune, had a chance to meet with Nyakio and Patrick, and I have to say, it sounds a little cliché, but it was an emotional meeting with like-minded people coming together and realizing that we were meant to be together quite frankly,” said Michelle Wlazlo, Penney’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer.

“Absolutely,” chimed in Nyakio Grieco (of beauty brand Nyakio). She cofounded Thirteen Lune with 11 Honoré’s Patrick Herning. “As Patrick says all the time, you had us at hello….When we were introduced to the J.C. Penney team and heard about their new strategies for beauty, the alignment was beyond anything that we could imagine. We were speaking the same language.”

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Launched in December — developed on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement — Thirteen Lune’s mission has been to “change the narrative in the beauty industry and help to make it more inclusive, more diverse and show that really celebrating hyper-inclusivity is a great bet,” Grieco continued.

Initially carrying 13 Black-owned brands, Thirteen Lune now offers more than 70 brands, representing Black and brown founders from around the globe. Early investors include Sean Combs, Naomi Watts, Gwyneth Paltrow, venture capitalist Patrick Finnegan, Gregg Renfrew of Beautycounter, Tracey Cunningham of Mèche salon, former U.S. Ambassador Nicole Avant and Sydney Holland of Urban and The Mystic (who have raised $1 million, announced in January).

Nyakio Grieco Courtesy of Thirteen Lune

“People buy into people before they buy into products,” Grieco said of the strategy at Thirteen Lune, noting that she and Herning have been introducing their roster of brands by showcasing the founders’ stories through blog posts and Instagram Live videos. “We have curated the most amazing group of storytellers with rich history…really celebrating the beauty of inclusion with nontoxic, efficacious, incredible products. It’s about discovery and really bringing us all together, unifying us through the lens of beauty.”

The new deal with Penney’s will help amplify the mission, while establishing a more omnichannel presence for Thirteen Lune.

“It just gives us an even greater opportunity to connect with our consumer,” explained Grieco. (Their audience, too, is diverse, she said.)

“Even when the world was saying retail was dead, we refused to believe so,” she went on. “And we were always future forecasting, thinking about ways when we would be able to have that in-real-life experience.”

It’s also personal for Grieco, who grew up shopping at the American department store chain.

“I knew stepping into a J.C. Penney that I felt seen, so it was honestly a no-brainer for me,” she said.

“A lot of what we’re observing right now can come off as performative,” she added. “You know, people trying to do the right thing or trying to check the box. And from Day One, from the very first moment of conversation, what I knew to be true — with my history as a J.C. Penney shopper and then to now get to be a Black retailer within J.C. Penney — is that there was nothing performative about this.”

Michelle Wlazlo Courtesy

J.C. Penney — founded in 1902 and headquartered in Plano, Tex. — has five decades of experience serving millions of consumers in both retail and at J.C. Penney salons, said Wlazlo: “We are really on a mission to create a new kind of inclusive in-store and online experience. And one that reflects customers’ wants and needs, and I say that, I know many others do, but want to be clear how important it is for us that it is no matter age, gender, race, skin tone, hair type, beauty regime or budget, quite frankly. Together with like-minded partners like Thirteen Lune, we’re going to offer this perfect mix of mass, masstige and prestige…We did extensive, extensive customer research to really understand what our customer wanted, and how they prefer to shop and their beauty favorites, and they told us pretty loud and clear that they want to shop beauty differently. They want a broader assortment of brands at different price points.”

J.C. Penney aims to be a “one-stop shopping” experience in beauty, as the company transitions out of its partnership with Sephora — which ends in the fourth quarter of 2022. Launched in 2006, there are around 600 Sephora shops operating inside J.C. Penney locations.

“Truly, respectfully, it’s been a beneficial enterprise for both of us,” Wlazlo said of Sephora.

Last year was a financially challenging time for the retailer, navigating the impact of COVID-19 and filing for bankruptcy, which lasted from May to December. (Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management lifted the company out of bankruptcy by acquiring its retail and operating assets, as reported by WWD.) Following a legal dispute, in which Sephora USA Inc. looked to end the partnership with J.C. Penney, the businesses have “worked constructively to resolve outstanding legal matters and have agreed to mutually beneficial revisions to their joint enterprise operating agreement,” J.C. Penney said in a statement in spring 2020 (terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed).

“Together, J.C. Penney and Sephora, we do remain committed to the current partnership and will continue to operate support inside J.C. Penney,” said Wlazlo.

Moving forward, beauty as a category, “today but even more so going forward, is a critical component of our strategy,” she added.

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