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How Gwyneth Paltrow Turned Starting a Lifestyle Brand Into the Logical Next Step for Celebrities

Gwyneth Paltrow, Goop

Marc Patrick/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

From “homespun weekly newsletter” to niche guide for the well-heeled to burgeoning lifestyle behemoth (still mainly for the well-heeled), look at what has become of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s goop.

“I never really knew where I wanted it to go when I was starting it,” the Oscar winner, who realized she had become her friends’ go-to lifeline to ask about bathroom renovations, told USA Today in 2008. She had only recently started putting the original goop newsletter together in her kitchen. “I just thought if I could affect one woman’s life positively who was trying to do all the things I was doing, and I had one solution that worked for me that might work for her, it was worth it to try and share it.” 

Less than 10 years later, the world is awash in Gwyneth’s solutions (they come in liquid, solid, vapor and pill form). But the solutions market is also getting increasingly crowded with high-profile entries, brand names created by bold names, all offering answers to that big, overarching question: How can I make my life better?

Or, in lieu of that, how can I make my life look better, particularly on Instagram?

Now we don’t actually mean to sound that cynical about goop, the Honest Company, Draper James, ediTORIal or the grandmommy of them all, Martha Stewart Living.

If you like to cook and take care of your skin and enjoy the art of nesting and wearing prints, then these are all for you! And when you’re cooking a goop recipe that calls for a Le Creuset cast iron enameled Dutch oven—guess whose signature, significantly more affordable cookware line is coming to the rescue?

That’s right, Martha’s brand makes many good things.

So it’s not as though Paltrow created a monster entirely on her own, though she often gets the credit and the grief for venturing into our virtual worlds with her highfalutin tastes. Rather, Stewart has always sounded quite secure in her belief that the actress will never hold a candle to her own eponymous empire (even after former Martha Stewart Omnimedia CEO Lisa Gersh went to goop in 2014). After all, Saturday Night Live was poking fun at Stewart for years before Stephen Colbert presented his own haute lifestyle brand, Covetton House, or Funny or Die mercilessly mocked a ramen-slurping GP’s sanctimonious ways.

And when you factor in how Oprah Winfrey makes her “favorite things” fly off the shelves, “Gwyneth” is hardly the first one-name-only influencer.

“Is Gwyneth the next Martha?” Stewart tweeted (generously, she probably thought at the time) after attending a star-studded yet intimate dinner party Paltrow hosted in New York to celebrate the release of her first cookbook, My Father’s Daughter, in 2011.

Six years later, the answer is still “not yet.” But Paltrow would be the last person to claim she’s trying to be the new Stewart. Instead, she’s become her own category, a simultaneously loved and hated beacon of holier-than-thou affluence that even her most ardent fans know is unobtainable but still get a kick out of studying up on anyway. Caught in the middle of it all are some truly excellent recipes, a storied annual detox and a suspicious jade egg.

So how did “goop” and “Gwyneth” became such buzzwords for all that is right and wrong?

Gwyneth Paltrow, It's All Good Cookbook

Stewart, who was a model and stockbroker who realized in the 1970s that she set a particularly fabulous table and was one heck of a hostess, became a household name thanks to her domestic brand. She has come to connote all that is just so. People “get their Martha Stewart on” when they’re going all out for a party.

Paltrow, on the other hand, was already a household name, an A-list, privileged AF actress when she decided that if her friends could benefit from her advice, why not other people outside her inner circle. What did she know, aside from how to spend money and hire people to do things for her, and maybe roast a chicken herself once in a while? Why in the world should people listen to her?

But somewhere along the way—as goop expanded to include cookbooks, then a website, then online retail, then bricks-and-mortar retail, then signature beauty products, then a $500-to-$1,500 wellness summit and now a magazine—people began to listen. Sometimes raptly, oft ironically, but they paid attention. The newsletter hit 1 million subscribers in 2016.

Though it’s often the inevitable backlash that makes splashier headlines, and as the famous face of the company it’s Paltrow who’s the target of all that ridicule, for every hater there are 10 fans—and probably 10 more who claim to hate-read and hate-peruse the site. But at the end of the day, a click’s a click.

And Paltrow is paying attention.

“I want to know, how engaged is everybody? What are they clicking on?” she said last year in a video for networking hub Linked In, talking about her obsession with analytics.

Whether or not Paltrow herself has become a trusted name in wellness (recent backlash vigorously objects to that notion), her site remains a reliably readable and aesthetically pleasing presence in the congested online arena, and it’s one of those things that defies its skeptics by the fact of its sheer existence. People can hate on goop all they want—but it’s only growing. Which means, people are giving it a reason to grow.

Last year goop benefited from the ultimate in powerhouse infusions—a reported $15 million in venture capital—and relocated its headquarters from New York to Santa Monica, Calif., Paltrow’s kitchen long since past being large enough to accommodate her growing team. This summer the first issue of the glossy quarterly Goop, featuring a nearly-nude-but-for-mud GP on the cover, debuted, a partnership with Condé Nast in an era when the death of print magazines is announced every other day.

And though Paltrow has learned a thing or two over the years about online trolls and growing thick (albeit properly hydrated) skin, she still loves it.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Goop Magazine

Goop Magazine

“I (basically) walked away from a career where people kissed my ass to being grilled by a VC or my board,” she wrote in a September 2016 essay on Linked In.

“I used to worry about myself and myself alone, and now I am responsible for the livelihoods of 50+ people. These days I spend every waking hour trying to execute on a strategy I created with my team to make goop the number one global lifestyle brand (a girl can dream), while trying to get us to profitability before my series B runs out. All while being as professionally fulfilled and happy as I have ever been in my life. More so.”

To those who wonder whether she has a head for business or is more of a figurehead, she insisted that she’s “solidly in the trenches every day.”

She became CEO last year as well, when Gersh left. But regardless of the force of Paltrow’s imprint on every well-curated detail, she is certainly aligning herself with the right people.

And once Paltrow had pioneered an aspirational celebrity brand in the digital space, the path was all of a sudden clear for other actresses and entertainers to take their fame and run with it.

So, to go along with what the fashion magazines and chefs and beauty experts and industry insiders have been telling us already all these years, so appeared the wave of celebrities letting us in on their ideas of the most desirable products or destinations or behaviors for living the good life. Some are fancier than others, none are as fancy as goop, but all are looking to carve out their niche on your phone, on your tabletop, in your closet or in your medicine cabinet, to varying results.

Jessica Alba, The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You

Courtesy of Rodale Books

For Jessica Alba, she wanted ecologically minded products that were safe for her babies—hence, the Honest Company (and subsequently The Honest Life) was born. Lauren Conradloved fashion and entertaining—so she wrote how-to books and started her eponymous empire. Reese Witherspoonwanted to see what else was out there besides acting and pay tribute to her Southern roots—so begat fashion and housewares site Draper James. Blake Livelywas known for her style—enter stage right, Preserve. (Lively did her goopy best, even announcing the impending arrival of her first child on her site, but she shuttered Preserve in 2015 after a year.) Even Tom Bradyis venturing into the lifestyle space with TB12, for men who treat their bodies like temples, as the football star does.

“Sometimes shuttering is good. Listen, she’s a movie actress,” Stewart told Us Weekly after Lively closed up shop. “Why bother with commerce right now? She’s at the top of her career… I’m totally supportive, but you know what? Maybe you can’t do everything at the same time.”

Stewart wasn’t being catty (or too catty). It is impossible to do everything at the same time, plus backward and in heels. Not every site is going to be sustainable for the long haul—as Paltrow most certainly intends goop to be, doubling down at every turn.

While her movie-star status isn’t going anywhere, she’s all in these days on goop while her acting career is on the back burner. (With her slate otherwise clear, she remains devoted to the Marvel Universe—she’s played Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s love interest and voice of reason, since the original Iron Man in 2008 and is listed on IMDb as onboard for the next Avengers movie—not to be confused with Avengers: Infinity Wars, out May 4, which she is also in).

A couple of years ago, Paltrow rejected the notion that she and Alba, Lively and Witherspoon were all attempting to do something similar and were therefore competing. “People are grasping at straws to tie us together and I get it, because it makes a good story, but I’m slightly offended by this sort of generalization that happens with myself and Jessica and Reese and Blake,” she told Time. “Yes, there are similarities. But there aren’t stories in Time written saying, ‘Wow, look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did x, y, and z!'” (Though since she brought it up, there’s totally a fitness section on his website.)

At least at first, however, they were similarly banking on their celebrity to get their businesses—however different they may be—off the ground. Then of course it’s up to the individual products themselves. Alba’s Honest Co., for instance, attracted $100 million in venture capital funding in 2015, and the brand—which now encompasses everything from cleaning products to diapers to makeup—was said to be worth an estimated $1.7 billion. Witherspoon attracted $17 million in funding to launch Draper James online in 2015, she’s since opened several storefronts and, combining that with the goings-on at her Type A Films, she was named one of Fortunes Most Powerful Women in Business for 2017.

No one here is pitting these ladies against each other—rather, we’re merely noting that Paltrow helped inspire with her own, ultimately inimitable, brand.

She may admittedly have had many built-in advantages when she first started, but she proved that if you put out a quality, accessible product (the site peddles goods that range from pricey to laughably expensive, but you can subscribe to the newsletter and delve into the study of goop without spending a dime), people certainly aren’t adverse to listening to celebrity-approved advice.

And so more and more celebs, from Lively, Witherspoon and Conrad to Julianne HoughTori Spelling and, until recently, Meghan Markle, have been trying their hands at sharing what they know—or what they’re finding out—with their fans in prettily packaged morsels. Right this moment, there are no fewer than six celebrities who have websites boasting articles about how you can get the best sleep of your life, let alone filling you in on the hottest workouts, yummiest healthy snacks or ways to de-clutter, de-stress and demystify the mysteries of life.

But everybody needs sleep, and if a celeb-tested method works…we’ll keep clicking back for more.

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