Q&AA: Gwyneth Paltrow on Goop, Blazing Trails and Taking Criticism

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Credit: Jen Keenan

It's been a circuitous road for Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress-turned-lifestyle guru, since she founded her provocative site Goop back in 2008. While the brand appears to invite critics like no other, it does have loyalists. Revenue doubled last year from 2015, and half of its retail sales this year are expected to come from its own Goop-branded products, according to a spokeswoman, who pointed to a Business of Fashion report in which Goop's 2016 revenues are estimated to be between$15 million and $20 million. Ad Age chatted with the queen of questionable health trends about being a trailblazer, goop growing pains, why she doesn't get Twitter and some famously controversial products.

Paltrow spoke to Ad Age before allegations of sexual harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein led to his abrupt dismissal from his company. Through a spokeswoman, Paltrow declined to offer additional comment beyond an interview with The New York Times in which she, now 45, said Weinstein had harassed her at the age of 22 when filming "Emma."

Congrats on the inaugural issue of your new print magazine. I have to ask though, about the mud. How long did it take to wash it all off?
Hahaha, oh my God! It was actually quite the scene. We were in a studio in New York City, and honestly, luckily there was a shower there. But I felt terrible traipsing mud all the way up the stairs, there was no way to get it off. It was pretty funny; definitely a messy one!

You've partnered with a bunch of brands since launching Goop. The Guccis, the Pradas—they make sense, but working with Old Navy and Tropicana Essentials Probiotics seems more diverse. What goes into the choice?
I started nine and a bit years ago in my kitchen in London, and there was a really long time before I monetized the brand at all. The way in which I gently dipped my toe into monetization was with selling certain slugging on top of a newsletter—I wasn't doing native content or anything like that. You start to see a brand scale and see them partnering with people when it doesn't feel intuitive or aligned. You can do a lot of damage to a brand. When we started to build a team, I said to everybody that it was really important we have brands on the site that we love, that we use and believe in—it doesn't matter if it's a mass brand like Old Navy—that was my son's favorite brand—or Cartier, it just has to be authentic, a brand we love at any price point.

How has that strategy worked out for you?
The team is constrained in some respects because I do feel that there are certain brands that really seem out of line with our values—it would be hard for the audience, hard for me and for the reader. We can't accept a lot of the brands that have the most ad dollars to spend.

What brand would never be on Goop?
Maybe like a chemical, something classified as probably a carcinogen, that kind of thing.

Let's talk Cannes. You've gone to the advertising festival for the last two years. What do you see as its role?
It's been so interesting to watch that evolve from afar and then up close the last couple of years. Now it's this massively important meeting point for brands and brands who are buying and selling. I'm a complete neophyte in the world of advertising. I've been learning a lot as I've been going, but in this day and age what seems to be the current theme is brands are looking for ways to authentically reach a new audience. It seems to me the old tricks, the tried and true tested way products go out into the marketplace isn't working with the same resonance so brands are really looking for more creative ways to reach that audience. It's interesting to be privy to these conversations of how brands are struggling and figuring out the ways they can proliferate the markets.

And for Goop?
For us, it was a nice opportunity to go into the marketplace, meet with CMOs, talk about what we're doing and try to foster those relationships with brands. Our media business really powers our content and our content powers our commerce so the media platform is a crucial part of the business. I really love the opportunity to work with brands and work within the constraints of that brand, to find great ways of making native content work. We have a high repeat rate with our brand because we take so much care and do things in a way we would want it done if it was us.

You have the site, a magazine, a conference series, a permanent store, and a shoe collaboration with Christian Louboutin. Which venture is the most unlikely, the one young Gwyneth never could have foreseen?
There are two parts to that. One, anything that has to do with an Excel spreadsheet—the fact that I know Excel is like a nightmare. And the advertising business, I was always on the other side as a hired face to help brands achieve whatever they were trying to achieve, so to be on the other side is very surprising.

Most of Goop's recommendations seem just a tad unaffordable—while a rollneck sweater is indeed a 'closet staple,' its $1,250 price tag could be limiting. Who is your target audience?
We have two kinds of different demographics— a very affluent shopper and then our reader demographic is a much wider demographic, still on the affluent side but our shopper is bizarrely affluent. Women, median age 34, half are married, half have children, educated and HHI [household income] of $100,000.

What's your own daily media diet?
Pretty narrow. I read every morning, I read the New York Times' Daily Briefings email—it's fantastic. I also read the Business of Fashion and the Financial Times—those are the three digital subscriptions that I have.

How about social media?
I've never been on Facebook, personally. I am not really on Twitter but I do love Instagram and I consume it. My posts forward to Twitter, but I don't. I don't get Twitter. I love Instagram for the visual, and I like Pinterest. If I'm waiting in a doctor's office, it's the new magazine, very personalized content. It's a brilliant business.

When do you find time to sleep?
This morning I was very excited to sleep 45 minutes later than normal. My son is on a class trip in Catalina so I didn't have to get up and do the whole thing in the morning. But I woke up at the same time anyway! I woke up at 6:10 a.m., earlier than my alarm for 6:15 a.m.

We've all seen the criticism. The recent vaginal jade egg advice attracted an impressive amount of snark, for example. How do you feel about being a punching bag and why has it become so personal?
I've always been this person in the culture—when I started doing yoga 20 years ago, there was a lot of snark about it, now there's yoga on every corner. When I wrote my cookbook "It's All Good," which was to make delicious comfort food but gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free—some of the press on it was so vitriolic, saying I don't feed my children, it was really personal and awful. Now the gluten-free market is in the billions. I think we are trailblazers. We introduce concepts first and we challenge systems. We make people uncomfortable, and there is an aspect to women coming together and asking a question that threatens an existing system. Sometimes the best way to try to thwart that is by ridicule but we don't believe that women should be silenced. We are very comfortable with our place in culture and some of the pushback we get, we think we are bringing up incredibly crucial questions. There are days when it hurts our feelings but we believe in our mission.

You've also come under fire for some allegedly deceptive advertising practices around labeling. What's your response?
As I said, I started alone in my kitchen and we're now nearly 110 people, of course we've had growing pains like any other company. If we've ever been in the wrong, it was never our intention. Of course we work to correct and in this case, around third-party products we sell, we were restating claims the brand we love had stated. We've gone back and modified those claims; 200 other websites were making the same claims but we accept that we are more of a target. We also want to be the absolute best in terms of making sure we are aboveboard, but as far as our own products, we haven't run into that. We're incredibly careful about the claims we make around our own products. Going forward we're going to be very careful about repeating other people's claims.

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