Incubator Slate Brands Acquires Frontman To Grow Its Reach With Gen Z Guys

Slate Brands, a beauty incubator with men’s brand Insanely Clean in its portfolio, is increasing its presence in the men’s space with the purchase of men’s acne care brand Frontman.

The deal marks Slate Brands’ first acquisition and is intended to boost Insanely Clean’s community of male gen Z personal care shoppers. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. Frontman will be subsumed under the Insanely Clean name, and its co-founders Annelise Hillmann and Nick Bunn, who came up with the idea for Frontman in 2018 in the Harvard University dorms, aren’t staying on with Slate Brands.

“Our vision has always been around making self-care accessible, particularly with respect to male users who have not learned a lot about skincare not having been socialized into skincare or been given the tools to take care of their acne,” says Hillmann. “We created the brand around ultra-fast skincare and cosmetic products that could help give guys instant confidence. That’s an idea around self-care that the Slate team is creating with Insanely Clean.”

Although men’s personal care is growing—Hillmann mentions it’s accelerating twice as fast as personal care overall—challenger brands have struggled to find their footing in it. Hillmann and Slate Brands founder and CEO Judah Abraham emphasize that nailing marketing messages is particularly crucial for resonating with male shoppers, and Abraham wants Insanely Clean to build on the learnings Frontman has accumulated about appealing to them. Frontman and Insanely Clean’s customer bases are largely guys in their late teens to twenties.

Slate Brands has acquired Frontman for an undisclosed price to grow its presence with gen Z guys. Frontman’s bestselling product is the $24 Skintone Acne Treatment. Gene X Hwang/Orange Photography

Abraham says, “Men use deodorant, toothpaste and shower products, that’s their full personal care menu. Outside of that, a product has to be need-based and really speak to them. Acne makes a lot of sense for that.”

Frontman launched in November 2022 with Skintone Acne Treatment, its bestselling concealer with salicylic acid formulated to treat and cover zits. The brand’s assortment later expanded to Zit Spray, Zit Patches, Zit Wipes, Papers Anti-Oil Sheets and Skintone Zit Patches. Prices range from $9 to $24. Launched in 2022 as well, Insanely Clean sells two products: $21 Day ‘N’ Nite Face Wash and $23 Instant Moisturizing Mist.

“We created the brand around ultra-fast skincare and cosmetic products that could help give guys instant confidence.”

Frontman has discovered that stressing the functional rather than cosmetic benefits of Skintone Acne Treatment has been important in drawing male customers to it. Insanely Clean has likewise discovered that zeroing on the problem-solution angle of its products is essential. Abraham explains that the brand designed Day ‘N’ Nite Face Wash to not leave skin feeling dry following application, but has noticed that talking about that design isn’t as enticing to men as simply stating, “If you have dry skin, use this.”

Frontman and Insanely Clean, which has pulled back on influencer marketing, have also detected that influencer marketing isn’t a slam dunk to win over male personal care shoppers. Hillmann says, “They see an influencer advertising for a product, and they almost think there’s something wrong with it.”

Frontman co-founders Annelise Hillmann and Nick Bunn Gene X Hwang/Orange Photography

With less reliance on influencer marketing than women’s-oriented brands, Frontman has been able to optimize its customer acquisition costs to be profitable on the initial purchase. It has had a diversified advertising mix across Google, Meta, TikTok and Amazon. Half of Frontman’s sales are from Amazon and the other half are from its direct-to-consumer channel. Seventy percent of Insanely Clean’s sales are from Amazon, and the remainder are from DTC. The brand is on track to be profitable this year.

Frontman raised $1.2 million in pre-seed funding from Recharge Capital. From 2022 to 2023, Hillman shares its business multiplied 3X, and it registered a repurchase rate that’s higher than the industry average.

“Our goal is to create brands that add value and will be profitable.”

Discussing the men’s personal care category, she says, “It’s about finding the customer in the right moment and getting across the value proposition. Once they come, they are very sticky. They are not churning. It just takes a more nuanced hand to speak to this audience and do things that feel authentic to them.”

Both Frontman and Insanely Clean were previously stocked by Urban Outfitters. Later this year, Insanely Clean plans to pursue a retail strategy involving beauty specialty retail, where females are the main customers, and barbershops, where males are the main customers.

Owned by incubator Slate Brands, Insanely Clean is subsuming the Frontman name. By next quarter, Slate Brands will have six brands in its portfolio. The company’s portfolio primarily contains brands tied to influencers.

Slate Brands isn’t done leaning into men’s. Insanely Clean currently has three products in the works, and the company is developing another men’s brand. Slate Brands has primarily launched brands in partnership with known personalities, including Second Self with Brittany and Briana Murillo, Auden Lueur with XO Macenna and Hue by Hayley Kiyoko. Insanely Clean is an exception to that. By next quarter, Slate Brands will have six brands in its portfolio.

The company doesn’t rule out further acquisitions. “We have had quite a bit of inquiries, and we’re open to it, but it needs to be strategic,” says Abraham. “At our core, our goal is to create brands that add value and will be profitable.”

While Bunn and Hillmann are exiting Frontman, their entrepreneurial pursuits aren’t over. Hillmann hints she may not be done with the personal care space, and Bunn is thinking about consumer technology. “We are mostly brand builders,” says Hillmann. “We love to create unique experiences.”