- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Talk to branding specialists at the major talent agencies, and they all agree: Celebrities are rushing to create their own consumer product brands like never before, spurred by such factors as availability of capital investment and, in some cases, squeezed paydays in Hollywood amid the streaming era. “It’s exploded,” says Toby Borg, CAA’s head of global client strategy. “With the pandemic, people were at home with time to explore their passions. The pandemic definitely accelerated a trend that we were already seeing.” Underlying it all: the example of O.G. peers in the space who already have had stunning success as entrepreneurs. In April, Rihanna was declared a billionaire thanks largely to her Fenty cosmetics line. Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. is now valued at more than $1 billion after going public earlier this year. And the selling juggernaut that is the Kardashian and Jenner clan continues to mint cash, with Kim Kardashian West, founder of the hugely successful Skims shapewear line, becoming a billionaire last spring, and Kendall Jenner’s 818 tequila line selling out during its launch this year. “Celebrities see their peers selling companies for nine figures, and they want in,” says Kosha Shah Eisenberg, chief development officer of social-media-powered selling platform NOWwith.
There are many paths to becoming a successful Hollywood entrepreneur in 2021. Some stars take their cues from founders who are in it for the long term, like Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow, while many look to hire a seasoned CEO and build a brand that will sell for a major exit price, a la Casamigos. The tequila brand, co-founded by George Clooney, sold to Diageo in a deal worth up to $1 billion in 2017.
Others may pair up with brand incubators like Maesa or Beach House Group or take ownership stakes in existing companies, while many stars continue to pursue licensing agreements, which in some cases look more like ownership deals, with equity involved and payouts at certain benchmarks. “These deals are evolving because the market is progressing in tandem,” says Sam Wick, head of UTA Ventures.
For their part, investors and major companies hunger to pair with Hollywood stars and gain access to their social media reach. “When a celebrity posts something, you acquire customers instantaneously,” says WME partner Brooke Slavik Jung, who is in the agency’s branded partnerships group. “These companies can put money into research and development versus having to put money into buying customers. At the end of the day, companies have realized that they can exit much quicker if they bring talent on board.”
But these days, stars often are expected to write their own checks to come aboard startups. “Even a couple of years ago, talent expected business leads to come to them transactionally, like a movie deal. Now the market is wising up. If talent want to be entrepreneurs, they have to put their own money on the line in a show of good faith. It’s become a litmus test of who to work with,” says Shah Eisenberg.
No matter the business structure, one thing is crucial: authenticity. “The key ingredients that make a celebrity brand succeed in 2021 include aligning talent with a product that is authentic to their personality and lifestyle, creating an emotional connection to the consumer,” says Carol Goll, head of global branded entertainment at ICM Partners.
One other thing is key as well; it’s what Kendall Ostrow, chief growth officer of NOWwith, calls the flywheel model. “Having success is no longer about doing one thing exceptionally well; it’s about building an empire and having 25 irons in the fire at once,” says Ostrow. “A successful film and TV project is no longer a golden ticket. For some, it’s simply the fuel to create the mass global appeal they need to build their brand and business. For empire builders who have a flywheel of content and commerce, every move fuels the next.”
While some experts think both the beauty and spirits businesses are saturated, others still see room for growth in those areas, along with less crowded lanes like home, health and wellness, and kid-focused brands. “There hasn’t been a disruptive celebrity brand in food since Paul Newman,” adds Wick. “I’m confident that in the next few years we’ll see a number of those, as well as more virtual restaurants and QSRs [quick service restaurants] like what George Lopez has done with George Lopez Tacos on Nextbite.”
Celebrity brands show no signs of stopping. Among the stars who have announced their own start-up brands recently are Scarlett Johansson, who is planning a beauty line that will debut next year, and Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, who are starting Proudly, a baby product company for melanin-rich kids. And in September, Jennifer Aniston dropped the first products in her new LolaVie hair care line, while in late October, Ellen DeGeneres launched a skin care brand, Kind Science. Wick says that he believes so many celebrity brands are finding success because millennial and Gen Z consumers have “less loyalty” to traditional brand names. “Younger consumers are looking for brands that they can connect with by understanding the company’s story and are more likely to sample new brands. Those factors lend themselves to the opportunity to create new disruptive brands and for talent to play a pivotal role with those launches.”
Wick though cautions that it’s not always possible — or advisable — to judge the success of a celebrity brand based on its first year in the market. “Successful brands are ones that invest over time, build out their narrative and connect with their audience in a meaningful way,” he says. “Not every business has to be structured with a massive marketing spend right out of the gate. There can be a process where they build the business annually, facilitate pop-ups that resonate with their audience and then ladder into retail relationships.”
So which stars will be the next Rihannas and Jessica Albas, and build the next billion-dollar brands? For its inaugural list of top Hollywood entrepreneurs, THR spoke with brand experts for their picks for empire-builders of the moment, based on sales, social media, commitment and growth potential.
BEAUTIFUL, DREW MAGAZINE, FLOWER BEAUTY, FLOWER HOME
The multipronged Barrymore Brands universe — which includes Flower Beauty, Flower Home and Beautiful by Drew Barrymore — continues to grow. Barrymore has partnered with Walmart since 2013, and her everyday products available at the mega-chain now span makeup, beauty tools, eyewear, home accessories and furniture, paint, wallpaper, kitchenware and more. “It’s attainable. There’s nothing about me that’s niche,” Barrymore tells THR. “I am big and bright and want it to be for everybody.” Adds Anthony Soohoo, executive vp home for Walmart U.S., “The Walmart customer is looking for quality and style, and they expect us to deliver it at an affordable price. I think that’s why Drew’s brands have been so successful.” (Flower Beauty is also sold at CVS and Ulta stores.)
Barrymore, who is publishing her first cookbook, Rebel Homemaker: Food, Family, Life, on Nov. 2, adds that she is working on roughly “150 SKUs [or items]” at a time. The secret to staying organized while balancing so many different pursuits, she says, is collaboration.
Helping propel everything: hosting a daily talker, The Drew Barrymore Show, now in its second season. “It’s very much the center of the wheel,” says Barrymore Brands president Chris Miller, “and all of the spokes now are all these other things that we do.” Barrymore’s pivot to her latest role as a talk show host was guided by a desire to show audiences her real self — not a character — for the first time. “This show is a very grounding force in my life, so I try to kind of put it at the center and work around it,” she says. The show already has an offshoot magazine, Drew, the first issue of which released in June of this year.
Miller says that Barrymore’s move into creating her own brands was “less surprising for me because she’s been producing — I mean, our first movie that we did was Never Been Kissed in 1999,” he says. “And from that moment, she was in charge of budgeting, selling, marketing, like every single thing, choosing DPs, photographers, casting the whole thing. She’s been producing for 25 years.”
HAPPY DANCE CBD, HELLO BELLO, THIS SAVES LIVES
There are common threads through each of Bell’s business ventures, which include This Saves Lives snack bars and Happy Dance CBD body products. They’re affordable, responsibly sourced and made, and give back to causes. “I have a pretty strong moral compass and wanted to be at the table steering the companies to make the best choices possible for the consumers, the product, the production line and the Earth,” says Bell, adding that she believes a for-profit-for-good model is the future of business.
At least when it comes to her brands, she seems to be right. Hello Bello will soon open its own diaper manufacturing facility in Waco, Texas, to help keep costs low and quality high, and it donated more than 1 million diapers to dozens of nonprofits in 2020. Meanwhile, Happy Dance is now sold in nearly 1,000 Ulta stores nationwide, and 1 percent of all profits is donated to A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which helps women who are rebuilding their lives after prison. And This Saves Lives has expanded into kids snacks like oatmeal and granola and provides nutrient-dense food packets to children facing acute malnutrition.
Hello Bello president Erica Buxton says having a distribution partnership with Walmart starting from the launch in February 2019 helped “create a brand that offers high-quality ingredients at affordable prices.” She says Bell’s involvement in decision-making reinforces the company’s focus “on plant-derived ingredients, sustainable packaging and our environmental footprint” and she “is a huge driver of our engaged, passionate community.” Bell says creating a community around Hello Bello, which she co-founded with husband Dax Shepard and three business partners, has been one of her proudest accomplishments. “We started the company because parenting isn’t equal for everyone,” she says. “No one should have to choose between their baby and their budget.” Bell adds, “As a new mom, I felt less-than so often. I wanted to remind parents and caregivers that they are not alone, and that it’s OK to laugh at how hard it is to raise tiny humans!”
Jillian DiIorio, chief sales and giving officer of This Saves Lives, says Bell, along with fellow founders and actors Ryan Devlin, Todd Grinnell and Ravi Patel, is actively involved in its operations. “She’s in the loop on all the major decisions and new product launches,” says Dilorio. “We have additional investors, but the founders are definitely the voice of the brand.”
The same is true of Hello Bello and Happy Dance, the latter of which is a partnership with CBD brand Lord Jones. “She reviews and advises on all of our product formulations,” says general manager Summer Frein, who notes Bell also uses her creativity to make videos like the one addressing the common question, “Will CBD get me high?” (It won’t.) “Kristen has the ability to explain things in a way that that’s intriguing and interesting, and you feel reassured. Our mission is to destigmatize the plant, and for Kristen to lock arms with us and do that is really special.”
As for the future, Bell says she isn’t “counting anything out” when it comes to new ventures, but at the moment her hands are full with projects she’s passionate about. She tells THR that she takes seriously the trust that more than 17 million followers across Instagram and Twitter have in her: “I have a responsibility to make sure I’m promoting only things I trust and would use myself. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t.”
ONCE UPON A FARM
In late 2017, actress and philanthropist Garner and John Foraker, an investor and CEO, met to discuss a small but visionary business built around the idea of making food for kids with healthier ingredients. Once Upon a Farm was created by two San Diego entrepreneurs, Ari Raz and Cassandra Curtis, to develop fresh and nutritious cold-pressed snacks catering to early development.
The company’s mission proved a strong fit for Garner, whose partnerships with groups like Save the Children revolve around public policy and advocacy for families. “It just made sense to me,” says Garner, who serves as chief brand officer, noting that the Once Upon a Farm team has a “shared vision of a mission-driven company and food justice and making nutrition more accessible.”
Now, Foraker and Garner are part owners of the company whose organic products can be found via the direct-to-consumer Once Upon a Farm website and at such major retailers as Target, Whole Foods and Kroger. “We’re at about 1.5 percent household penetration in the U.S. now, which is pretty significant for a brand our size,” Foraker says, adding that the company is “the fastest-growing plant-based brand for kids in the U.S.”
In addition, Garner’s century-old family farm in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, is a small supplier thanks to her uncle Robert, who uses a biodynamic farming method to grow produce. Garner notes to THR, “It’s the very farm that my mom grew up on that inspired my work with Save the Children, that inspired me wanting to join a company that would help kids like the kids that Save serves.”
Curtis, the brand’s chief innovation officer, drives the product development side of the business, which moves pretty quickly from the ideation to sale stage — “within nine months or so,” Foraker says. The company’s most popular products offer a balanced mix of fruits and vegetables, like green kale and apple, and include brain-boosting ingredients like chia and hemp seeds.
“Our applesauce includes the skin because it’s a great probiotic,” Garner says, noting that it’s important to introduce new and fresh flavors to young children. “I’m so happy to be part of expanding their little palates.”
Garner says the choices the Once Upon a Farm team (all of who have children) makes — from recipes to packaging, and beyond — “all have to come from parents’ need.”
“This truly would have solved a problem for me as a young mom,” she says. “We started a whole new area of healthy snacking. There weren’t refrigerated fresh snacks, you could get cut-up apples or baby carrots, but we’re a whole new set in the grocery store, so we really did have to educate parents. We’re a really viable snacking option as well.”
FABLETICS, INBLOOM, KING ST. VODKA
“There were a couple of us about a decade ago — me, Gwyneth [Paltrow] and Jess [Alba] — who thought to ourselves, well, it’s one thing to endorse a product and to have a quick in-and-out relationship with a product, but saw a bigger opportunity,” says Hudson of her entrepreneurial start. “I looked at that and said, ‘You know, I’d rather bet on myself and start a business in something that I love and something that I believe in and see what happens.’ And at that time, it was sort of like, ‘Really, you want to take on that risk and everything?’ And, like, ‘Yeah, I do.'”
Ten years later, the risk has paid off. Fabletics, the activewear brand she co-founded in 2013 — after being approached by TechStyle Fashion Group execs Adam Goldenberg and Don Ressler (ShoeDazzle, JustFab, Savage X Fenty) — now has more than 70 stores in addition to its online retail, with the company saying it surpassed $500 million in sales in 2020. Kevin Hart recently came on board as an investor as well as the face of the men’s line. And the company — which has done collabs with Demi Lovato and YouTuber Liza Koshy — is reportedly preparing for an IPO that could be valued upward of $5 billion, per The Wall Street Journal. (The company declined to comment, and Hudson declined to comment on what her percentage stake is in Fabletics.)
On top of that, Hudson has launched King St. Vodka and InBloom nutritional powders as well as the podcast Sibling Revelry, which she hosts alongside brother Oliver Hudson.
In jumping from leggings to liquor and beyond, a common thread has been “democratizing wellness,” Hudson says, along with lessons learned from her onscreen career. “I became an actor because I wanted to play all kinds of different characters, and then it’s the same thing with business,” Hudson tells THR. “I can have a nutritional wellness company, but I still like a cocktail. It’s really important to feel a balance.”
David Kanbar, Hudson’s partner at King St. Vodka, says he’s seen her portfolio of companies “grow organically out of her own life,” and watched the star dedicate the time to making her product right. “She was involved in absolutely every detail of the branding and making the vodka,” he says. In a spirits industry largely dominated by men, he says, “She gets into the weeds.”
“I’d like to build businesses that actually mean something, not just have a lifestyle brand,” says Hudson, who on top of her growing empire also has Apple’s Truth Be Told and the upcoming Knives Out 2 among her recent projects. “I want to get involved in a bunch of different things that I’m into and make the best possible version of that and grow and grow and do great things,” she says. “I think that we need more women in business and we need more women making money that can hopefully circulate that money responsibly.”
ZOA, TEREMANA, VOSS
Dwayne Johnson may be the world’s biggest action star (and Hollywood’s highest-paid actor for two years running), but the Rock would like to be seen as something even sturdier: successful entrepreneur. Two years after a sizable investment in Norwegian-based premium water brand Voss, he’s making a splash in the beverage sector. “Hydration has always been top of mind for me,” says Johnson, who regularly broadcasts his workout regimen to 275 million followers on Instagram. “This goes back to when I was a teenager, just dipping my toes into the realm of health and fitness. [Since then,] I’ve always been very particular with what I ingest, particularly with beverages.”
So it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see him enter the energy drinks space earlier this year with the launch of ZOA, marketed as a health-conscious choice for pre- or post-workout regimens. And his year-and-a-half-old Teremana Tequila has moved 1.4 million cases in its first 16 months, the fastest liquor launch in industry history.
According to Johnson’s business partners, this speaks to more than simple celebrity appeal. “DJ is not a [traditional] ’showbiz partner,’ though he is in showbiz and he is definitely unique,” explains John Shulman, co-founder of Zoa. “He is a creator — sometimes of businesses, sometimes of content — but always as a true principal in the process.”
For Teremana, that meant much more than frequent social media selfies with new product. Johnson got on the ground with distillers in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico, to develop the actual liquid entering the bottle. He even helped conceive the name, riffing on the Latin word for “earth” with the name of a supernatural spirit from Polynesian lore.
When taking meetings with distributors and importers, he speaks their language, too. “Case sales and margins are always important,” he says of Zoa. “The bigger goal, though, is [building] a lifestyle brand. You can start to see the expansion of what it can be, into a lot of different categories. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
It’s also a team effort, of course. And Johnson is quite consistent with who he keeps in his corner. Namely, serial impresario (and former wife) Dany Garcia. In addition to co-founding the aforementioned beverage brands, the tandem started their own production company, Seven Bucks, in 2012. Last year, the pair led a consortium to buy and reinvigorate the sputtering XFL professional football league.
“To me the most important ‘P’ word in my business isn’t profit — it’s people,” adds Johnson, whose earnest connection with his fanbase has always been instrumental to his enduring success.
Garcia says that bond has been key in allowing Johnson to move from the medium of content into the product realm, and stresses that stars need to “earn” consumers’ permission to be successful. “Our partnership and consequent ventures together are founded on a rigorous process of multi-layered brand development and authenticity coupled equally with the audience/consumer’s needs and emotions as top priority,” says Garcia. “We have an unwavering professional belief that nothing is more important than our consumer and their experience.”
JLO BEAUTY, DSW’S JLO JENNIFER LOPEZ COLLECTION
At September’s Met Gala, Lopez stepped out not only in a custom Ralph Lauren embroidered gown with a faux fur shearling cape, Navajo stamped silver cuff and ring, and silver jewelry from the Ralph Lauren archives. But it was those other accessories that put an exclamation point on the evening’s theme of American fashion while proving, yet again, the force of J.Lo’s business savvy on one of the world’s most photographed red carpets.
That evening, Lopez also pointed her toes in metallic platform stilettos from her JLo Jennifer Lopez shoe collection for retail partner DSW (two weeks before the holiday range dropped) and put her best face forward using six products from JLo Beauty, her luxury skin care line that launched in January. Even the product names — That Hit Single, That Star Filter, That Blockbuster, That Limitless Glow Sheet Mask, etc. — telegraph the multihyphenate talents that have kept Lopez in demand for decades, on screens big and small and selling out arenas worldwide.
It was a synergistic flex for a global superstar who, in recent years, has pivoted to create a portfolio of her own brands and invest in start-ups rather than simply lend her considerable star power (180 million Instagram followers; 45.1 million on Twitter) to outside brands and designers. Her investments include Goli nutritional supplements, telehealth and prescription delivery company Hims & Hers, Super Coffee, the just-announced BodyArmor and meal delivery service Wonder.
Asked how she defines her entrepreneurial efforts, Lopez, the principal and founder of Nuyorican Productions, tells THR that she wants everything to reflect her life and personal philosophy. “I believe business is an art just like anything else I do, and you have to create it every day. I see life as an art, and it’s within your power, just as in your business, to make it as small or as big as you want. Whatever that means to you,” Lopez says. “Over the last several years, I have transitioned into becoming an owner, investor and, in the case of JLo Beauty, a founder. I want to align with brands that feel authentic to my values and that are inclusive, innovative and forward-thinking, with the goal of helping them have a greater impact on society.”
She says the launch of JLo Beauty taught her again that success boils down to surrounding oneself with the right people. “You need a great team,” she says, “JLo Beauty has been a passion project for over a decade, a whole team working together, the result of a lifetime’s work. I also learned that if something is yours, you have to be into the details and you need to have your fingerprints all over it. Throughout the process I learned to harness that aspect into every business I touch.”
Lopez — who was named Adweek‘s Brand Visionary for 2021 — says she’s proud of everything that she’s touched during her career from beginning to now, but she’s most proud of the life she’s created for her family. “And I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the people and partnerships that I’ve been able to collaborate with along the way,” she says. “Once we learn that mistakes are necessary, and every mistake is a lesson the sky is not the limit because I believe we are all limitless.”
AVIATION GIN, MAXIMUM EFFORT MARKETING, MINT MOBILE, WREXHAM AFC
When it comes to marketing, there may be no one more innovative and dialed in than Reynolds. The actor-entrepreneur’s ability to share his enthusiasm about businesses including Aviation Gin, Mint Mobile (in which he bought an ownership stake in 2019), Maximum Effort Marketing and Wrexham AFC has proved both effective and lucrative. About two years after Reynolds invested as a part owner, Aviation in August 2020 sold to spirits giant Diageo for $335 million (in a deal that could pay out up to $275 million more) in an agreement that saw Reynolds retain an ownership stake. And Maximum Effort in July merged with advertising software company MNTN.
“Showing up is so important and picking up the phone and having skin in the game,” says Reynolds. His portfolio is eclectic by design and centered on storytelling. “Our philosophy is to bring people together in fun, smart, unexpected ways — and I think alcohol, wireless, lower-tier Welsh football and ad tech all counts as a pretty unexpected grouping,” says Reynolds. “It’s about joy — as corny and silly as that sounds, I think it has real merit and traction, particularly in the year 2021.”
Of course, it’s easier to connect when Reynolds has direct access to 57 million followers across Twitter and Instagram, where no one seems to mind seeing the ads despite the fact that posts about his businesses are clearly promotional. “Consumers and audiences are aware they’re being marketed to, so our feeling is to drop the artifice and lean right into it,” he says. Because Reynolds is both the marketer and the client, he’s able to respond to the zeitgeist in real time instead of waiting on layers of corporate approval. One notable example: In 2019, he hired the actress from the widely criticized “Peloton wife” commercial, shot a video for Aviation Gin that lampooned it, and posted it — all within a few days after the viral ad first aired.
“Ryan is so quick to pick up on things and kind of fearless,” says George Dewey, who started working with Reynolds on the marketing campaign for Deadpool in 2015 and launched Maximum Effort with him in 2018. “The wonderful part about doing ads for Aviation Gin is that as soon as we finished texting each other the script it was approved because I was literally texting the owner of the company. The simplicity of how it works with us is a tremendous strategic advantage.”
The support of Reynolds’ family, his “voracious curiosity” and his outlook on life are also huge assets, according to Dewey. “Ryan is the Vancouver cop’s kid,” he says. “He’ll always have an underdog mentality, and every single day he approaches things with such gratitude and kind of a lucky-to-be-here attitude that has never faded. He authentically loves [these companies] and wants them to succeed.”
For now, Reynolds is focusing on his current endeavors and isn’t looking to take on another new business — especially when he’s balancing it all with a Hollywood career and quality time with his wife, actress (and now also mixer maven) Blake Lively, and their three daughters. He emphasizes that 90 percent of his work is building relationships. “Particularly coming from showbiz, so many relationships are ambassadorial,” says Reynolds. “The companies that are under our roof are also companies that I own, that I’ve put money into. I’ve invested time as well. That’s the part of it that I think is somewhat unexpected. So much more of it is based on good old-fashioned relationships than it is the making ironic fastballs of joy marketing materials.”
CACTI SPIKED SELTZER
The Texas-born and -raised recording artist, producer and creative mogul released his spiked seltzer beverage, Cacti, in March. Crafted in collaboration with Anheuser-Busch, the drinks sold out within the first 12 hours online and flew off shelves within the first 24. During its first week, Cacti claimed the highest first-week rate of sale for a variety pack in the company’s history.
The canned seltzers, which boast a relatively high 7 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV), are available in nine-count variety packs that offer strawberry, pineapple, and lime flavors, and single 16- and 25-ounce cans of pineapple and lime options. The product is advertised as being “made with natural flavors” like “100 percent premium blue agave from Mexico.” But a recent false advertising lawsuit has challenged how much real agave (versus agave sweetener) is present in the drinks. An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson responds that, “Cacti Agave Spiked Seltzer is made with 100% premium blue agave from Mexico. Agave is used as both a flavor enhancer and a sweetener in many products. We believe this lawsuit is without merit and will vigorously defend against it.”
In 2020, the hard seltzer beverage industry made $1.8 billion in revenue and was projected to grow 35 percent in 2021, according to industry data site T4.
The singer also has had a string of successful brand partnerships with McDonald’s, Dior, Nike and PlayStation, and created Astroworld Festival, an annual two-day concert in his native Houston, now in its third year. The fest returns on Nov. 5 and 6 with a lineup that includes Earth, Wind & Fire; Tame Impala; Bad Bunny; SZA; Roddy Ricch; and Master P.
WALMART COLLECTIONS, ROOMS TO GO FURNITURE LINE, FOSTER GRANT EYEWEAR
Years before Modern Family made her a household name, Vergara was mapping out a business plan that extended beyond her work in front of the camera. “She always knew exactly what she wanted,” says Luis Balaguer, CEO of Latin World Entertainment (LatinWE), the production company and talent management agency he and Vergara founded in 1994. “Early on, Sofía realized the potential beyond her salary as an actress and television host. That led to the calendar she did in 1995 — I was able to get a printer to produce 100,000 of them and give them to me on consignment; we ended up selling roughly 2 million.”
“While I was still in Colombia, I realized I could sell a lot of magazines by being on the cover,” Vergara tells THR, “I was a single mother, so my motivation was really just to provide for my family, but it made me start to think about what other kinds of things I could sell and other ways of earning an income.”
Fast-forward to Modern Family‘s 2009 debut, and Pepsi, Kmart and Procter & Gamble came calling for endorsement deals. Her current business ventures include a growing partnership with Walmart as well as a furniture line with Rooms to Go; fragrances; and an eyewear collaboration with Foster Grant. Companies are attracted to both Vergara’s authenticity and her considerable pull with the Latin market.
“As a woman, a mom and a Latina, Sofia knows how to engage her audience on all of those levels,” notes Alex Bort, senior vp global business development and innovation at LatinWE. “The consistency of who she is drives a lot of her success.”
Beverly Hills-based LatinWE proved to be a gamechanger, and not only for Vergara. “When I met Luis, we decided to start LatinWE to help represent Latin talent more powerfully and in a new way that would create opportunities and allow them to be compensated fairly,” says Vergara. “From the beginning, we recognized and respected the huge purchasing power of the Hispanic community. Tapping into that has been very important for my career, and helping other people leverage their own brands was always a part of what we wanted to do with LatinWE.”
The actress and America’s Got Talent judge kicked off her Walmart relationship in 2019 with a denim collection for sizes 0-20; dubbed Sofía Jeans by Sofía Vergara, its success has led to intimates, sleepwear, loungewear and activewear collections with the retailer, while footwear (designed to not conflict with a relationship she has with Payless Latin America), jewelry and home collections are expected as future expansions. “We use great materials and design the clothes with women’s bodies in mind,” Vergara says of the denim collection’s popularity. “It was so important to me for Sofía Jeans to be size-inclusive so that women of all shapes and proportions could wear cool, flattering, affordable looks that make them feel beautiful.”
Vergara’s Foster Grant relationship, meanwhile, debuted in 2020 and spawned from a personal need: She discovered she needed reading glasses and couldn’t find any “that I felt were stylish and went with my personality,” says the actress, who turned 49 in July. “I didn’t want old-lady glasses!” Philanthropic components are also key: For every pair of Sofía Vergara x Foster Grant glasses purchased, a pair is also donated to Restoring Vision, a California-based nonprofit organization that donates reading glasses to charitable groups assisting underserved communities around the world, while EBY, the lingerie-subscription service Vergara founded with startup entrepreneur Renata Black in 2017, donates 10 percent of its proceeds to Seven Bar Foundation, which assists women with microfinancing to start their own small businesses.
Food and entertaining are two categories Vergara says she also plans to pursue, calling them both “huge passions of mine,” and a food-products partnership with Sam Nazarian’s C3 is in the works.
But next up for Vergara is a beauty collection, expected to debut in spring 2022, with former Kiehl’s president Chris Salgardo as CEO. “I am working with an incredible lab in Spain called Cantabria that makes skin care and sun-protection products that I’ve used for years and are really popular in Europe, but are hard to find in the States,” Vergara explains. “They have been amazing to work with because they really are leaders in innovation and technology and have been so open to what we wanted to create. It can be a long process, but I never want to rush anything, especially not something that people are going to be putting on their bodies. Anytime you are creating something brand new, it is going to take time to get it right.”
F45 GYMS, MARK WAHLBERG AUTOMOTIVE GROUP CAR DEALERSHIPS, MUNICIPAL APPAREL, PERFORMANCE INSPIRED NUTRITION, WAHLBURGERS
The actor-producer, famed for his work ethic and grueling early-morning gym regimen, is not only a prolific investor and entrepreneur but has now starred in two docuseries that promote his empire-building acumen. Wahlburgers, which ran from 2014 to 2019 on A&E, centered on the burger chain he co-founded with his brothers Paul and Donnie Wahlberg (the chain currently has more than 55 locations in 22 states), while the HBO Max show Wahl Street, which premiered in April and looks at his entire portfolio of brands, already has been renewed for a second season.
His brands and investments include rapidly expanding gym brand F45 Training, where Wahlberg became an investor in 2019 after writing a check for at least $5 million, which now has more than 2,800 franchises in 63 countries. Says F45 Training CEO Adam Gilchrist, “Since its launch in 2013, F45 Training continues to be one of the fastest-growing fitness franchises in the world and in July became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.” Adds Gilchrist of the value of having the star on the F45 team, “As an investor in the brand, Mark supports F45 by promoting our fitness model to potential members and our franchise business system to potential franchisees. His entrepreneurial acumen is therefore just as important to the brand as his impressive physique being attributed to working out at F45.”
Meanwhile, Wahlberg’s 4-year-old supplement company, Performance Inspired Nutrition — whose products include protein powders and bars — recently signed licensing deals in the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and welcomed pro golfer Bryson DeChambeau as a new investor. (According to Claire Morton Reynolds, senior industry analyst at Nutrition Business Journal, the overall sports nutrition supplements sector is expected to grow to become a $7.9 billion industry, up from about $7.5 billion in 2020.)
“He loves to wake me up. He is always on me for new products,” says Performance Inspired Nutrition co-founder Tom Dowd, a veteran executive at GNC. “He has amazing business instincts, and he’s about as hands-on as anybody could be.”
Written by Laurie Brookins, Evan Nicole Brown, Kirsten Chuba, Ashley Cullins, Chris Gardner and Brad Japhe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
valentine's day gift guide