After years of serving as the face of several beauty brands, Tony award-winning actress Scarlett Johansson is ready to lead a company she can call her own. Before joining forces with longtime fashion and beauty executive Kate Foster Lengyel in 2020, Johansson spent three years educating herself on all things beauty and brand development. When the global pandemic hit, the duo remained committed to building a consciously clean beauty company virtually. Two years later, their hard work paid off with the official launch of The Outset, a vegan, fragrance-free, and dermatology-tested skin care line.

Chief had the pleasure of welcoming Johansson and Foster Lengyel as they shared an intimate look at their journey to bringing the brand, that was five years in the making, to life.

On the Importance of 'Dating' Your Co-Founder

Scarlett Johansson: "The majority of our time spent before we launched all happened like this, over Zoom. I think we met twice in-person before the entire world shut down. So, a lot of our conversations in the beginning of this process were just trying to take in everything that was going on. We were meant to be throwing the ball back and forth and like, 'What's the blue-sky idea? 'What is our brand ethos?' 'What do we stand for?' 'What's important to us? 'What are our values?' But at the same time, the world was crumbling and we were two mom's trying to figure out how to adjust… It sort of was this, I don't want to say forced intimacy, but, in a way, we learned a lot about one another, and who we are fundamentally as people.

"We certainly had a dating period before we decided to partner, and that was also really important, because we knew we were about to do something that was going to be potentially at times very, very stressful, and we'd be handling a lot of money, and we would be talking about all this stuff that can bring up a lot of discomfort for some people… We really both are straight shooters. We are people that believe in transparency… and have a very, very strict no-asshole policy."

Kate Foster Lengyel: "Don't sign the operating agreement on day one. Definitely give it some time to marinade and keep it kind of casual and get to know each other before you're ready to take on the serious stuff, as you would with any relationship, right? You wouldn't get married on the first date."

On Challenging the Beauty Industry

SJ: "I have this no-swag policy. I just can't stand getting all this packaging and stuff… I said to Kate, we have to be as sustainable as possible, which is challenging, actually, because you're looking for partners who also share that same vision. The beauty industry is incredibly, incredibly wasteful and can be very toxic for the environment. We still buy all of our stuff in plastic that has one single use. We saw an opportunity: If we're going to make this new line, how can we use clean ingredients? How can we use post-consumer recyclables? How can we make our secondary packaging as minimal as possible? How can we look for paper alternatives? How can we leave as little an impact while knowing we're also putting something new out there? Is there an opportunity for us to change the game? These are our bigger-picture hopes, that we can have that kind of impact on the industry, and I think it's definitely possible. It's something we're always striving to get better at, but we try to be as progressive as we can in that area."

KFL: "[We try to be] honest about the fact that it is a work in progress. To Scarlett's point, like we are still making beauty products and manufacturing things. So, it's having a balance in our messaging that we're not saving the world, but we want to be as mindful about the world that we're living in and the community that we're a part of so that, you know, we can do the best we possibly can."

On Using Social Media Authentically

SJ: "For eons, even way before The Outset, I had pressure from managers and different people in studios to participate in social media personally. I definitely think it's a very useful tool for many people, and I have a lot of friends who use it responsibly and really enjoy social media. For me, it's just not my thing. I'm too fragile. Going into this project, there was a lot of pressure to start my own personal social media identity. Everything that I do, I try to do in a very authentic way. Every part of The Outset is completely authentic. I just feel like it [starting social media] is completely counterintuitive and, in a way, against my own core value to put something out there that feels phony and present it as, 'Hi guys, I just started this social media identity,' but then 40 minutes later be like, 'Hey, want to try a cream?'

"I love our company, I love our brand, and I would love to produce content for it and participate in that way so that people know how to find me, and what I want to talk about, and that it totally comes from an authentic place. That we can create a community at The Outset and it can be someplace where we all talk with one another and we are all able to participate in a truly authentic way."

On Their Advice for First-Time Entrepreneurs

KFL: "Part of it is trying to always align yourself with people who share your same values. I think if you're all playing off the same sheet music, it's going to be a better song. It's just about doing whatever you can and trying to figure out also how you can improve. We can all be a work in progress.

"I would also make this recommendation of soliciting feedback kind of at the right time. We are thrilled that we're launching in Sephora. When Scarlett and I went and had our meetings with them, we came with a very fully baked concept but not in a place where anything couldn't shift or evolve. So, we were able to get feedback from them on product naming and on some positioning of the products. It's huge to have an expert like that in your back pocket. That was a critical learning: Trying to figure out throughout your development process how to not just focus inward [but] get some validation that is productive. Ultimately, it's going to be up to you to decide what feedback you act on and what you don't. Your job as a founder is always to take in data and then edit and figure out what you move forward with."

On How to Find Your Voice

SJ: "I remember when I was in my early twenties, I represented a lot of other luxury brands, and I had great partnerships with them. Eventually, I think there was a time in each one of those relationships where I would feel like I was no longer someone else's blonde, or someone's pinup. There were all these boxes that I think women are often put in. I was in my later twenties — and it also probably came with becoming a mom — and my perspective shifted. It was like, I have confidence in all of these other areas in my life, why am I still representing somebody else's ideal? Even though it seemed daunting to me to learn this whole new industry and to bow out of these very lucrative opportunities, this point of view is valuable to me. I was buoyed by that confidence I had in myself. It's so important when all the dust settles that you have this confidence in your own point of view. I don't mean it in a pig-headed way, but there is a lot of value in having that kind of integrity. It can help you through a lot of nay-saying and it can help you through the transition from one thing to the next."

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