In November 2015, Kylie Jenner launched three lip kits. The kits, consisting of a lip pencil and liquid lipstick available in a pinky nude, a beige neutral and a deep brown, sold out almost immediately.
Jenner’s wasn’t the first celebrity beauty brand to launch. In 2009, Australian model Miranda Kerr founded Kora Organics, while actor Drew Barrymore launched Flower Cosmetics in 2013. But Jenner’s was the first to leverage the reach, engagement and influence of its founder in the social media era. Nearly six years later, the lip kits have evolved into a full makeup and skincare brand and in 2019, she sold 51 percent of her business (at a valuation of $1.2 billion) to Coty for $600 million.
Cardi B has teased a forthcoming makeup range, as has YouTuber James Charles, while Hailey Bieber, Gwen Stefani and Ariana Grande all reportedly filed trademarks for beauty products. Welcome to the golden age of the celebrity beauty brand.
It used to be that celebrities were the faces of beauty brands, starring in campaigns, endorsing the products in interviews and wearing the makeup on red carpets. But being the face is no longer enough—celebrities want ownership, becoming major players in the industry in their own right. And with the growth of the global beauty market over the last few years—the industry was valued at $532 billion in 2019—it’s not surprising.
“Celebrities are increasingly aware of the quick financial gains to be made, with the opportunity to monetize a loyal online fanbase and use their social media page as a marketing platform,” says Gabriella Beckwith, beauty consultant at market research firm Euromonitor.
But for everyone chasing a Fenty success story, fame and following alone won’t ensure sales. As the market becomes increasingly crowded, brands will have to rely on that notoriously slippery concept of authenticity to gain the trust and business of their target audience.
The power of authenticity
Today, beauty consumers have never been more educated about what they are putting on their face or more demanding about the quality. It’s why it matters that Pharrell Williams collaborated with his longtime dermatologist, Dr Elena Jones, for his skincare brand Humanrace. It’s why Halsey prefaced the announcement of her makeup brand About-Face in January by establishing her credibility. “Many of you know I’ve done my own makeup for a long time,” she wrote on Twitter. It’s also why actress Millie Bobby Brown drew criticism after posting a skincare tutorial in which she seemingly didn’t actually apply any of the products to her face. Brown issued an apology a few days later, writing, “I’m still learning the best way to share my routines as I get to know this space better—I’m not an expert.”
Eyebrows were also raised when Jennifer Lopez recently said that her age-defying skin was the mainly the result of years of olive oil use—despite selling a new line of skincare products (her multitasking serum costs $118). Followers were skeptical of these claims, with some even suggesting the singer had had Botox, to which Lopez responded: “For the 500 millionth time. I have never done Botox or any injectables or surgery!”
At the other end of the spectrum, Victoria Beckham established her credentials as a serious player by partnering with industry favorite Dr Augustinus Bader for her first skincare launch. “We tend to think of celebrity brands as inauthentic partnerships—traditionally, that is often what they were,” says Sarah Creal, co-founder and CEO of Victoria Beckham Beauty. “Celebrities can no longer slap their name on something and not have their communities realize that’s what’s happening. Those who are in it for the short term or inauthentically won’t last—consumers are savvy.”
A long-time beauty executive, Creal met Beckham at Estée Lauder, with whom the designer launched a capsule cosmetics collection, and was drawn to her passion and vision. While she says there is “no doubt” the former Spice Girl is a celebrity, they don’t consider Victoria Beckham Beauty a celebrity brand, but rather a bona fide indie startup. “Having Victoria as a partner obviously shines a light on the brand that we wouldn’t have otherwise, but we still have to stand up to the scrutiny and credibility that any new beauty brand would need to.”
The importance of quality over influence
Celebrities undeniably wield great influence over their following, but if they want to convince consumers to buy their products, this credibility and, most importantly, gold-standard quality, is non-negotiable. “People aren’t just buying into the face—they equally expect the product to work as hard as any other brand they’d engage with,” says Victoria Buchanan, senior futures analyst at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory.
The audience agrees. “[I think some] products by celebrities are bad quality because it is believed that people will buy them regardless,” says Marion, a 17-year-old gen-Z consumer from Toronto. “But the product itself should be more important than the celebrity or advertising.” It’s quality that she cites as the reason for buying the few products from celebrity brands that she’s purchased—a Rare Beauty highlighter with good reviews, a Fenty concealer because of its range of shades.
While a celebrity might make consumers aware of a brand (they’ll pay close attention if it’s someone they’re a fan of), it’s rare that they would buy a beauty product because of the name alone. On the whole, they remain wary of products, particularly when it comes to skincare, do their own research, and always listen to expert advice.
Like all trends, the celebrity beauty bubble will eventually burst. The sharp decline of celebrity fragrances following its 2011 peak shows what can happen when consumers move on from a category. Nothing lasts forever and we’ve already seen a gradual shift towards hair brands, such as Tracee Ellis Ross’s Pattern, Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s Anomaly, and sexual wellness products via Cara Delevingne and Dakota Johnson.
When that moment comes, those brands left standing will be the ones that have established their authenticity and credibility, played to the strengths of their creators’ personal ethos and identity, and, above all, proved their quality. As noisy and loud as your social media presence might be, in the end, nothing talks like results.
We know plastic is a big problem in the personal care industry. A look around your bathroom will tell you as much but to give some wider context, in its sustainability studies, L’Oréal estimates that packaging accounts for, on average, 50 percent of the environmental footprint of its products.
It’s something that L’Oréal, and many of its peers in the beauty industry, is making moves to address. It seems every hour on the hour there’s a new brand or company pledging to get rid of superfluous packaging or to up its use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic or to switch to other materials entirely, some of which they say are biodegradable. Those are often steps in the right direction, but in truth, we’re just scratching the surface. There’s still much to sort out and it’s all a bit confusing.
Here, a look at the current, well, climate, plus guidance that can help lead you to the best possible purchasing decisions — because we should all be thinking of each one as a vote. “How we purchase things is more powerful than our political [moves],” says Tom Szaky, CEO of recycling giant TerraCycle. “When we buy certain things or don’t buy other things, it changes the world more aggressively and more quickly.”
So, first, here is what to know about plastic packaging.
Plastic packaging is rarely recycled (yes, even when you do everything right).
So far, the big promise of recycling has largely failed us — only nine percent of the plastic is ever actually remade into something usable. One reason why: If you don’t clean that bottle or jar fully and remove all stickers, residue, etc., it will be rejected — and can even contaminate a whole batch of material sent for recycling, according to a report last year by GreenPeace.
Looking for that little triangle of arrows on the bottom isn’t necessarily a slam dunk either. The reality is that only packaging with a 1 or 2 stamped in that triangle is going to be widely municipally recyclable. A quick experiment: Of five plastic-housed beauty products randomly selected from this writer’s medicine cabinet, two had no recycling symbol at all, one was a category 4, one was category 2 and the final was a 1.
But there’s even more to consider: For example, if a plastic pump includes metal (which almost all do), it can’t be processed. (This is something some brands like Love Beauty and Planet are addressing with new designs.)
“Another uncommonly known fact is that dark plastics — such as black, navy, or dark brown — cannot often be seen by sorters in recycling facilities and so they end up in landfills,” says Sarah Dearman, vice president of circular ventures for The Recycling Partnership. Also a problem for sorters: small packaging. According to TerraCycle’s Szaky, nothing smaller than two-inches cubed is ever going to be recycled — that’s pretty much every cap, lid, and a lot of beauty minis.
At the end of the day, recycling is a business. Recycling plants will only recycle what they can recycle at a profit — things like large pieces of clear plastic, clear glass, and aluminum. “The question is really not can something be recycled, but will it be,” Szaky said at a recent sustainability summit.
When plastic is recycled, there are still a couple of catches.
I am by no means suggesting you give up on trying to recycle the plastic that comes into your life. Even a nine-percent recycling rate is a lot of plastic that avoids a landfill. In 2018, for example, just in the U.S. alone, 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were created for beauty and personal care products, according to Euromonitor International.
What’s nine percent of that? 711 million units of rigid plastic. Plastic isn’t endlessly reworkable, though — most plastics can only be processed once or twice. Recycling plastic essentially downgrades its resulting quality every time it is put through the process — and that means virgin plastic may have to be added to make a “recycled” package functional.
And, of course, there needs to be a demand for post-consumer recycled plastic for it to have anywhere to go. With reports of large amounts of plastic being incinerated or sitting in storage due to lack of need, this has been a real problem. However, with more companies working with recycled material very slowly increasing, there is some hope for the future.
“Biodegradable” plastic very often… isn’t.
You may notice a shift toward plastic made from natural sources designed to break down more quickly. “These include materials such as sugarcane, and there are also opportunities to source from other innovative feedstocks such as seaweed and other algae, as well as food waste by-products,” says Olga Kachook, senior manager at GreenBlue, a nonprofit dedicated to the sustainable use of materials.
These alternative plastics could have a big positive impact: A 2017 study found that switching from traditional plastic to corn-based material could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.
Yet there’s a pretty big “but” here. Some of these alternative materials can contain additives that “may actually result in more environmental harm,” says Kachook. And the term “biodegradable” itself unfortunately doesn’t mean much. “Biodegradability is driven by many factors and stating a package is ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t qualify the timeline, conditions required, safety of the elements, or the degree of degradation,” says Alison Younts, lead sustainability consultant at the consulting company Trayak.
And, for now, looking for the word “compostable” doesn’t help either. A compostable certification only indicates that a material is able to break down in large municipal or industrial composting facilities as opposed to a home or community bin. Right now only four percent of Americans have access to curbside composting pickup, says Szaky. And in a recent study conducted by TerraCycle, only one in 10 of the industrial composters where those curbside binds wind up actually accept compostable plastics.
But plastic isn’t all bad. (Didn’t see that coming did you?)
Yes, plastic pollution is a crisis. But, unfortunately, there is no magic-bullet alternative material, and plastic alternatives can in some cases cause as much if not more environmental impact. Glass, aluminum, and paper all have their own drawbacks — including being more expensive, something consumers may not be ready for, according to a 2019 Euromonitor report — and choosing one of them over plastic isn’t always a sure-fire path to reducing your overall carbon footprint.
Take aluminum, which gets a lot of buzz for being widely recycled, endlessly reusable if uncontaminated, and lightweight. However, it’s important to note that it’s recycled aluminum that gets all the love. When the package you’re buying is virgin, it’s another story, as the byproducts of producing new aluminum, according to the EPA, have global warming potentials (GWP) 6,500 to 9,200 times as strong as carbon dioxide.
And, of course, it has to be recycled by the consumer, which happens about 35 percent of the time when it comes to the category including packaging, according to the EPA. While that’s a number much stronger than plastic recycling, it still leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Paper has its own concerns. When it comes to virgin materials, Life cycle assessments of paper, including those in a case study looking at grocery bags in Singapore published this year in the Journal of Cleaner Production, suggest plastic bags could have a lower overall environmental footprint than paper ones. Recycling paper does cut its CO2 output (as is the case with most recycled materials compared to their virgin counterparts) by a considerable amount (40 percent less) but it can only be recirculated between five to seven times, according to the EPA.
And then there’s glass, a material with complex considerations. It’s not always practical, as soapy hands and steamy conditions offer the threat of shattered bottles in your shower. And according to a study published last year in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment that put pasteurized milk bottles made of virgin plastic, recycled plastic, glass, and returnable glass bottles head to head, even after factoring in the savings from reuse, returnable glass ranked behind plastic in CO2 emissions due to the high energy demand in the production process, as well as the carbon footprint of shipping it.
It’s hard out here for an environmentally-conscious consumer. And it can be a tough call for brands when deciding which tradeoffs to make. “Plastic packaging offers a number of benefits, including being lightweight and often requiring less material overall for a package than other materials like glass and aluminum,” says Kachook. “Switching to other formats without considering the tradeoffs might increase the emissions of shipping or sourcing the material.”
So what do we, as beauty-loving consumers, do?
For all of the many factors in this conversation, that answer to that question is actually pretty simple. First and foremost, focus on the “reduce” portion of reduce, reuse, recycle. Strip your routine down to the basics and simply buy less stuff. When possible, you can opt for packaging-free bar options (such as Ethique’s shampoo and conditioner bars).
Refillable packaging is another thing to consider, either directly through beauty brands with refill programs or via Loop, which offers borrowable containers given for a refundable deposit you get back when you return the empty to be professionally cleaned and reused. Pantene, REN, The Body Shop, and more are part of the program, and it recently got a big boost by partnering with Ulta to create the loopbyulta.com store.
For the empties you do end up with, there are ways to up your chances of having the material reused. First, you can check to see if the brand behind it has a mail-back recycling program of its own like Burt’s Bees. If it doesn’t, TerraCycle takes packaging (including hard-to-recycle items) either through drop-off locations (including Nordstrom stores) or via mail with purchasable boxes and labels.
The organization (which is also behind the Loop store) estimates that last year about 10 percent of all the waste it diverted from landfills in 2020 was related to the beauty industry, thanks in part to its launch of over 50 new recycling programs around the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. “By the end of 2020, about one-third of all of our active brand-sponsored recycling programs were for beauty-related products,” says Alex Payne, North American public relations associate for TerraCycle.
Finally, it’s simply back to showing up with your dollars (i.e., votes) by researching before you add to cart. There are niche lines focusing on sustainability (like the 90 percent plastic-free We Are Paradoxx) and companies finding smart ways to reduce their plastic waste (like Colgate’s new Keep toothbrush with an aluminum handle that you, well, keep forever, replacing only the small plastic head) and big splashy pledges from big brands (like Unilever’s plan for sustainable living and Estée Lauder Companies’ new initiative to create an advanced recycled tube package some time this year) and smaller promises to use more PCR material to reduce the demand for virgin plastic… it all adds up.
Pay attention as well to partnerships with groups such as GreenBlue‘s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which helps companies make more sustainable choices as well as educate consumers with its clear How2Recycle labeling program. The Recycling Partnership has created the Pathway of Circularity program to help guide companies through the process of creating packaging materials that will actually get recycled. They’re currently working with Burt’s Bees, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal USA, Procter & Gamble, and more.
Buying from these brands making moves truly helps the bigger picture. “Investors are looking at what the consumer is doing,” says Simon Fischweicher, head of corporations and supply chains at CDP North America. Nonprofit that runs a global disclosure system for investors and companies to manage their environmental impacts. Purchasing a product that is labeled or advertised to have more sustainable packaging in itself can have a positive impact.
“Maybe spending that extra 75 cents isn’t going to change the world, but that decision is part of a collection of decisions that people are making that creates a trend,” says Fischweicher. And, trends can become movements — the hope here is to make the movement big enough that it’s not even a possibility for brands not to act.
By now, it’s been well-established that social media has turned those who might otherwise be beauty enthusiasts into downright industry powerhouses. People like Marianna Hewitt and Jackie Aina have been able to build entire businesses through channels like Instagram and YouTube.
But while Katie Jane Hughes definitely leveraged Instagram to get to where she is today, her path has been slightly different from your average influencer’s. For one, she’s not shilling her own products; for another, she isn’t known for doing one signature style of “Instagram makeup” — and that’s because her actual beauty signature is experimentation.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #50 series on my blog.
“As soon as I started to wear makeup myself, and the crazy changes of makeup styles that I did go through — which were terrifying, now that I look at it — you have to go through all of those to find your signature style,” she says. “And I don’t think we ever really land on our signature style; I think that we land on different signature styles throughout our lives.”
That means that followers of Hughes will learn how to do something she dubs “Big Mac Energy” (yellow lids with bright red-lips) one day, and how to layer Weleda Skin Food under Glossier Haloscope for a glossy highlight the next. That sense of playfulness is partially how Hughes got where she is today as an in-demand makeup artist. A few years ago, she began experimenting with the kind of editorial looks she wanted to do professionally on her own face and posting them to Instagram.
From there, she grew a huge following pretty organically; now, she works with brands like Glossier and the newly launched Rose Inc., creating looks for campaigns. It’s a bit of a leap from where Hughes first began: She learned how to do nails and was working with brands backstage at fashion week, even though her real passion was in makeup. But while it may seem to the outside world that Hughes is undoubtedly, well, “making it,” she’s not resting on her laurels just yet.
“I’m not where I want to be, and I feel like that sentence — ‘I’m not where I want to be’ — is something that I don’t take lightly, because I don’t think any of us are ever where we want to be,” she says. “There’s always room to grow, room to develop and learn more stuff.”
When did you first become interested in beauty?
Really, back when I was a little kid, because my mom was a singer and I always used to watch her put her makeup on before she would go on stage. She would have these scarlet-red lips, these black lashes that were super-thick and bushy and beautiful, and loads of bronzer. She was just super, super glam. Seeing my mom transform into this stage siren was really cool.
I wanted to do music too, initially. You know, music and beauty really weirdly go hand in hand. I think you’ll find a lot of people who are talented in music and are also talented in makeup. I don’t know what the actual tie is, but it’s often a common thread.
What were your first jobs within the beauty industry?
My first job in the makeup industry was at an Estée Lauder counter back when I was 17 in my hometown of Birkdale, in Merseyside, [England]. It was the first time I started finger-painting with eye shadows, and I remember getting kicked under the counter by my manager, because I was like, “Yeah, just use your fingers for all these eye shadows, it looks great!” and she was like, “No, you could be selling brushes!” I was like “Whatever, I like the way this looks with my fingers.” I just painted Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for a Rose Inc. shoot with my fingers for one of the looks, and it’s a funny, full-circle kind of situation.
I didn’t really love that counter experience and that counter lifestyle, but you have to go through it; it’s training, and it’s an integral part of doing makeup. You have to learn on real people before you learn on models.
From there, I was 17, 18, and I got a job in a nail shop and learned how to do nails. I was a manicurist for about five years, doing nails in salons, and when I moved to London in 2008, I started to do nails in London in a fashion environment, which helped me connect with all these people. I knew I wanted to do makeup, and that was a very much a stepping-stone career for me.
Then I began assisting people who wanted someone that could do nails, as well, for jobs where there wasn’t a manicurist on set. It was a weird, fortunate situation to be in, because people wouldn’t necessarily [hire an artist to do] their nails with their makeup — which I totally get now. Even though I was already there in my head, I wasn’t being taken seriously by my peers.
I always knew that I wanted to rebrand when I moved to the U.S. in 2013. I was Butter London’s global ambassador for about three and a half years, and I moved there to be with them because they were also wanting [to launch] makeup. I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to go from nails into makeup.
I started putting makeup more at the top of my priority list, and then when I left the brand in 2016, I just disassociated myself with nails completely. It was like, this is it, this is where I’m going to cut ties with my nail past. A lot of people don’t even know that I used to do nails now, and it’s only been two years. It’s quite amazing how [social media has helped] going cold-turkey into makeup.
How did social media help you make that transition?
I honestly don’t think I would be where I am now without social media. I never really assisted for anyone because of the nail thing, so I definitely took a different path. I think that it would’ve taken a lot longer, and I think that social media is changing the game for so many talented creatives like me. It’s become this mini-agent and given us a platform to show what we can do, and what our styles are.
For me, my social media blew up because I was basically posting creative looks on my own face that I wanted to do in an editorial setting, but I wasn’t really getting to do it because editorial was so neutral and natural. Only the biggest and the best makeup artists would get to do the creative stuff.
If my Instagram was what it is now, but four years ago, the people that take me seriously now would not have taken me seriously then. I strongly believe that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I just said, I think it’s just that things have to get there on their own, and people have to get there on their own. Even though I was shooting a few editorials and a few branded things every month before my social really took off, you didn’t really get the opportunity for jobs back then, in 2014 and 2015, to do the creative stuff that we get to do now because of social media. People weren’t as expressive on social media like that.
Where did you get the idea to use your social media as a platform?
I was seeing a lot of what I would call “Instagram makeup” on Instagram, but nothing else — that heavy brow, that heavy contour and that heavy lip, and the cut crease and the liquid liner and all of the things, the lashes. That’s totally fine, and I loved watching those tutorials; it’s not my style or my aesthetic anymore, but I was there at one point in my life. I genuinely have such a deep appreciation for it, because it’s really fucking hard to do that makeup. I actually tried to do it on myself a couple of times, just out of the sheer fun factor. I had to stop halfway through, because I couldn’t actually do it.
I’m okay with that, because it’s not the style of makeup that I do, and it’s not the style of makeup that I think I would ever get asked to do on set, which is what I care most about. My makeup in an editorial setting and an advertising setting, because that’s my career. The Instagram stuff is really just a bonus, cool little side project for me. It’s my passion project, being able to educate women and men and whomever wants to wear makeup around the world doing the similar styles that I do on myself.
I really like feeling like I’ve got a minimal, fresh complexion; quirky, cool color combinations that inspire me. I think that I put something out there that spoke to me as a creative and [it resonated with people] because they didn’t find that many accounts like mine. Now my Instagram is literally my agent; it books me every single one of my jobs.
Why is it important to stay accessible to people who follow you?
Because it’s like, without them, what’s the point? Without actually helping them reach their beauty goals, or inspiring them to try something new, to get closer to what they want to be at that period in their life, what’s the point? It’s very hard to engage back sometimes, because it really takes everything out of you when you’re just feeling a little bit like you don’t want to be on and you just want to do nothing.
People notice that you’re not there. It’s funny, I was away for a week and somebody was like, “Is everything okay? I haven’t seen you on Instagram,” and I’m like, “No, I’m good, thank you so much for checking in, but I just needed to take a week off.” It’s amazing that people would notice that, but it’s also amazing that it takes that much work. I don’t think of it as work, I think of it as a hobby that just takes a lot of my time up. But everything relies on engagement. Why do it if you don’t have the time to engage?
How did the experience of working within a brand prepare you for what you do now?
I don’t think I would ever work with a brand exclusively ever again. Not because it was bad, but because I really, really love being able to use multiple brands. Back then, I did use multiple brands; I just wasn’t able to talk freely as much to the public about what I loved and used, because I was always talking about that brand — and I wanted to talk about that brand, because I had a big hand in some of the product development.
I don’t even think if I ever did my own line — which I probably won’t, because there’s just so much stuff on the market, but who knows — I don’t think I would even be exclusive to my own brand, ever. I just think everybody loves Chanel Soleil de Tan, and everyone loves Nars Creamy Concealer.
How do you choose which brands you work with?
If something goes in my kit professionally, it’s 99.9 percent on my table at home. The best thing a brand can do if they know that an artist likes something is send them two, because they’ll get double exposure from that person’s social channels, if they have one, and then in their kit.
Texture is a massive thing for me; if something has a beautiful texture and reads beautifully in a photograph, then it’s definitely going in my kit and in my table. Like, Weleda Skin Food is an absolute massive one for me, as are most Glossier products, like Stretch Concealer, I use at home and I use in my kit, as does Haloscope; Creamy Concealer from Nars is also on my table and on my kit, as is the Caudalie mist. There’s so many.
How do you choose which projects you take on?
This is another amazing thing about social media. I work quite closely with Glossier, where I do some of their shoots and I create some of their content, and I’ve seen a few products [prior to launch], but I was talking about that brand super-organically on my Instagram prior to working with them.
I always start talking about a product organically first, even if the brand approaches me and says, “Oh, we really want to work with you.” I’m like, “Well, send me stuff, let me use it first, see how it feels, let me use it on my social and Instagram Stories, see if [my followers] like the product, if they’re interested in seeing more, and then we go from there.” I wouldn’t just take a random product out of thin air and go, “Oh, look at this, it’s cool!” It’s not my style at all.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
It’s getting involved in the creative process from start to finish. I just worked on a campaign with Innisfree; the content will be out in September, but I worked on a project with them from start to finish where I weighed in on the casting of the girls, weighed in on the photographer and weighed in on the looks that I created for the campaign, and I’ll weigh in a little bit on the editing. The same goes with brands like Glossier. It’s more of that whole, full-circle creative process from either a branded or an editorial standpoint.
[From a] social standpoint, the best part of it is just feeling like you’ve made somebody’s day and helped them achieve their beauty goals that they’ve struggled to achieve.
What’s something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out?
Nothing really. I feel like about four years ago, I probably would have said that I wish I had known that it was more important to spend more time assisting and try to get on as somebody’s first assistant for a good four or five years. But I think, because of the way my career took a turn, I’d probably be doing myself a disservice by doing that. I feel like my path took a turn that I didn’t think it would take.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Find a signature makeup style that makes you happy, share it, post it, don’t over-edit your content if you like that real-life kind of skin. Keep promoting yourself in a way, but not in an obsessive way; just do it in a very natural, organic way.
It’s such a collaborative industry nowadays. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley found me on Instagram and was like, “I really love your work, I’d love to work with you sometime,” and it went from me doing her makeup for an event in New York to working on a bunch of Rose Inc. stuff with her. You’ve just got to figure out who you want to create with and try to make that happen and learn from it and grow from it.
How have you seen the industry change since you started out?
There’s definitely more room for the new guard of talent; the old guard of talent are doing a slightly different thing. They’re launching brands and they’re doing more collaborative things with brands, whereas the new guard of talent is doing more social collaborations and getting more of that airtime on editorial websites and editorial Instagram. Before I felt like a lot of the talent that would’ve been featured in print, like quotes about products and that kind of stuff, would have been the iconic, old-guard kind of crew, now I feel like it’s much more my generation, the up-and-comers getting that space, which I think is awesome.
What is your ultimate goal for yourself?
I think I’ve done a lot of amazing things so far — I led a fashion show at Lincoln Center, that was a massive moment for me. I cried at the end of the show because there was so much pressure on it, and I was just so proud. I got emotional after the Rose Inc. shoot. There’s so many things that I’ve done, I feel ungrateful to say that I haven’t gotten there yet. But I feel like more of what I’m doing now is what I want to do more of.
I think if I did a collaboration with a brand that I really, really, really loved, that had my name on it somehow, that was super-organic and true to my brand as well as their brand, that would be a pretty special thing.
The future looks even brighter for cult skincare beauty brands The Ordinary and NIOD, part of Deciem Inc.—following Estée Lauder’s $1 billion purchase for majority stake in the Canadian-based, multi-brand company.
Estée Lauder Companies Inc. announced that it will increase its investment in Deciem Beauty Group Inc., from 29% to 76%.
ELC, which owns a portfolio of leading beauty brands including MAC, La Mer and Bobbi Brown, made its initial investment in June 2017, and will purchase the remaining interest after a three-year period. Net sales at Deciem for the 12 months ended Jan. 31 were approximately $460 million.
“Over the last four years, we have built a truly special long-term partnership with the incredible Deciem team, and we are excited for what the future holds,” said Fabrizio Freda, president and chief executive officer at Estée Lauder Companies, in a prepared release.
“The company’s hero products, desirable innovation, and digital- and consumer-first high-touch approach have been instrumental to its success.”
In 2013, Brandon Truaxe founded Deciem, known as “the abnormal beauty company,” with the goal of raising transparency in the beauty industry. The company’s portfolio includes six brands; The Ordinary is its largest brand followed by NIOD.
The Ordinary, whose celebrity fans include Kim Kardashian, retails from $3.95 to $28.90, while the vast majority of products retail under $10. The brand’s top-selling product is the Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, a skin blemish serum, for $5.90. According to the company, one product sells every second globally. If The Ordinary offers broad appeal with its budget-friendly prices, NIOD, whose slogan is “skincare for the hyper-educated,” is the higher-end crown jewel in terms of marrying science with skincare. For instance, the smaller-size 15 ml. Copper Amino Isolate Serum retails for $60. All of the Deciem products are created in house in the lab.
“One of the biggest marketing drivers is word of mouth and this can only be achieved by creating formulations that are loved,” said Nicola Kilner, cofounder and chief executive officer of Deciem. “Our products have high levels of trusted ingredients, clear percentages of actives, and most importantly they work.”
Part of the beauty products’ appeal is their simple, almost scientific-looking design.
“The bottles create a lab-like visual in a bathroom cabinet,” Kilner said. “The design has led to a larger conversation about ingredients, we have resonated with a newly coined consumer, the ‘skintellectual,’ who knows exactly what to put on their skin, what the formulas do and in which products to find these ingredients.”
Being a part of the Estée Lauder family will open up a whole new world for Deciem, the executive noted.
“You look at the ELC portfolio of brands and now The Ordinary can mix right next to La Mer,” Kilner said. “We always tried to push that price point does not define luxury.”
The acquisition will allow Deciem to have access to Estée Lauder’s vast resources to grow their brands, particularly global distribution and supply chain.
“We will continue scaling The Ordinary,” Kilner said. “Then we want to get back to the heart of Deciem, which is to be an incubator of brands. Our research and development chemists are working on formulations for new brands as we speak.”
The company’s journey and rise to cult beauty status was not without challenges and growing pains.
“Estée Lauder supported us at our lowest, continue to trust our decisions and most importantly they have loved us throughout,” Kilner said.
The $1 billion paid by Estée Lauder reflects a market value of $2.2 billion. Excluding this gain, Deciem’s net sales and earnings are expected to have a negligible impact on Estée Lauder’s fiscal year 2021 consolidated results, according to the release. The acquisition is expected to close in the quarter ending June 30.
Deciem’s founder Truaxe recognized the synergy between the brands and said Estée Lauder was the only “forever home” for the innovative beauty company.
“They put brand ahead of business and are family-orientated throughout—two values we ferociously hold dear,” Kilner noted.
Well, this was unexpected…Dinosaurs and unicorns will be featured on the products that are being targeted to Gen Z and Millennials.
Break out your quilted Coach cosmetic pouch because, for the first time ever, Coach makeup is now a thing. Thanks to a new sure-to-sell-out collab with Sephora Collection, the American heritage brand is debuting a flashy new assortment of beauty must-haves. Think glittery lip glosses, groovy makeup brushes, and collectible eye-to-face palettes in the likeness of Coach’s unofficial mascots, Rexy, Sharky, and Uni. “This collection is inspired by Coach’s free-spirited attitude, which really comes to life through the colorful and animated packaging, and is grounded in the beauty expertise of Sephora Collection,” Brooke Banwart, Vice President & General Manager of Sephora Collection, exclusively tells Refinery29. “Together with Coach, we set out to create a unique collection of wearable essentials that will evoke a sense of confidence and embody the core values of both brands.”
As any Coach stan will notice, iconic brand motifs like the brand’s animal friends, ladylike tea roses, and hangtag charm feature heavily in the packaging. “We took all of [the brand inspiration] and developed product formulas and shades that were high-quality at an affordable price point, which is what our clients know and love about Sephora Collection,” Banwart adds. “We worked closely with Coach to finalize the color palette and align on all details from metal finishes to colored glitter.” The full collection became available on March 2, and prices start at $16 for a pack of soothing eye patches and top out at $68 for the five-piece brush set. Palettes clock in at $38 apiece, and feature cheeky designs like rose-embossed pans, and a fashion-forward color palette that evokes Coach’s downtown-cool vibe.
SHOP THE PRODUCTS BELOW
Coach x Sephora Collection Rexy Eyeshadow Palette
Inspired by the fearless and playful spirit of Rexy, leader of the Coach mascots, this palette provides impeccable payoff with blendable formula. The versatile shades allow you to create both everyday and playful looks that are easy to apply on the go, making this palette a must-have accessory for your handbag.
This glittery five-piece brush set features playful Coach mascots and the tea rose, a symbol of the Coach girl’s wild, feminine spirit. Each brush was custom designed with a glitter handle and vegan, synthetic bristles. The set comes housed in a fun, glitter brush stand with detachable and adjustable rings in featuring Coach’s favorite mascots and the tea rose.
This Set Contains: – Powder brush – Angled blush brush – Highlight brush – Shadow brush – Crease brush – Stand – 5 x Adjustable rings
Coach x Sephora Collection Sharky Eyeshadow Palette
Inspired by the fun and ferocious Sharky, one of the Coach mascots, this palette provides impeccable payoff with blendable formula. The versatile shades allow you to create both everyday and fun looks that are easy to apply on the go making this palette a must-have accessory for your handbag.
Inspired by the tea rose, a symbol of the Coach girl’s wild, feminine spirit, this nail set features an essential quick drying base/top coat and universal pretty pink shade for a complete nail look. Add a twist to your classic manicure with the self-adhesive nail stickers—an easy and convenient way to accent the nails. This free-spirited and ambitious set lets you sport whichever Coach mascot speaks to you on any given day.
This Set Contains: – 4 x 0.156 oz/ 4.6 mL Lip Glosses in Nude Pink (pinky nude with subtle shimmer), Mauve (creamy light cocoa), Shimmer (multi-dimensional dazzling pink), Berry (burgundy).
Inspired by magical Uni, one of the Coach mascots, these softly romantic matte and shimmer shades will take your glow to the next level. Use these three shades to complement your natural glow. They can be worn day or night and through every mood and memory you make. This palette is the perfect accessory to apply on the go making it a must-have for your handbag.
This Set Contains: – 0.07 oz/ 1.99 g Rose (matte blush) – 0.07 oz/ 1.99 g Bronze (shimmer highlight) – 0.07 oz/ 1.99 g Clay (matte bronzer)
Inspired by the tea rose, a symbol of the Coach girl’s wild, feminine spirit, these cucumber-rose infused masks are thin, curved sheets that contour to the shape of the under-eye area perfectly to stay in place. Apply while getting ready for the day or when winding down for the night.
Highlighted Ingredients: – Aloe Vera: Imparts conditioning and calming properties. – Chamomile: Helps soothe the skin. – Cucumber: Softens and moisturizes.
Inspired by the tea rose, a symbol of the Coach girl’s wild, feminine spirit, this nail set features an essential quick drying base/top coat and universal pretty pink shade for a complete nail look. Add a twist to your classic manicure with the self-adhesive nail stickers—an easy and convenient way to accent the nails. This free-spirited and ambitious set lets you sport whichever Coach mascot speaks to you on any given day.
This Set Contains: – 0.25 oz/ 7.5 mL Pink Nail Polish – 0.25 oz/ 7.5 mL Clear Base/Top Coat – Nail stickers
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #39 series on my blog.
There are few makeup bags that haven’t, at some point, been graced by a Bobbi Brown product. A brand that puts making women feel (as well as look) good at its core, 16th of January marked the 30th anniversary of its inception. To celebrate such a lengthy time in the beauty industry, the brand has, excitingly, appointed makeup artist Hannah Murray as global artistic director.
“Bobbi Brown is a brand I’ve loved since I started as a makeup artist,” Murray tells Vogue over the phone. “It’s such a well-loved global brand, and we have very similar philosophies regarding embracing natural beauty and individuality, as well as empowering women. These are things I’ve been championing for a while so it feels like a very natural fit.” Take a peek at Murray’s Instagram page, and you’ll see image after image of luminous skin, playful details around the eyes and bold brows on models and celebrities alike. Her makeup is real, fresh, and a far cry from the heavy contouring and airbrushed skin that have become popular in the last few years.
All of which makes her an excellent fit at a brand known for its feature-enhancing (rather than covering) products, where she will be overseeing everything from the fashion shows Bobbi Brown sponsors and campaigns, to education and product development. She has had experience with the latter before, having worked on the (rather brilliant) Topshop beauty line when it launched in 2011.
“I’m essentially going to be the visual voice of the brand, and I think with everything that’s been happening in the world, it’s a really pivotal moment to see things with fresh eyes and build on Bobbi Brown’s heritage,” she says. “I’ve lived in New York for the last 10 years, and before that in London, and I very much understand both the American aesthetic and the European sensibility and aesthetic too – it will be interesting to see that merge, something I think will give the brand a freshness, too.” When it comes to new products, we can expect some “innovation, excitement and fun”.
Though she isn’t, like many of us, forced to sit on Zoom all day, Murray is keenly aware of the “giving, giving, giving” that is endless, exhausting meetings, and believes in the power of beauty – whether that’s pampering your skin or applying some mascara – to uplift a mood. “There’s something ritualistic about [skincare and makeup]. Just like fresh air and eating well, having five to 10 minutes to yourself to cleanse, put a mask on, massage your skin is so healing. I have a three-year-old boy, so grabbing those moments is grounding. We all need to take care of ourselves and have a bit of me time.”
As for the beauty trends she expects to be big this year? Here she shares three of her key predictions.
“Instead of applying 10 products just to walk out of the door [like we used to], it’s now about feeding your skin and making it feel fresh and juicy and plump and alive. That’s a feeling thing, as well as being about how you look, and it’s using texture rather than product. You can layer on balms – I often dab Bobbi Brown’s gorgeous Lip Balm on cheekbones as it really makes skin look alive, like spa-fresh skin.”
“I’m hoping we’ve moved on from baking and cut creases – I want to see skin, feel it, and let it breathe. Another of my favourite products is the Bobbi Brown Extra Illuminating Moisture Balm, which is a lightweight moisturiser that imparts a subtle pearlescent finish for a “flawless, hyper-real skin effect”.
“I think everyone now wants to look healthy, like they’ve been outdoors and not stuck indoors for three months! I’m thinking the beauty of a real flushed cheek and freckles.” Try the brand’s Pot Rouge, a buttery-soft cream blush which melts into skin seamlessly for a natural finish.
“Take cues from the ’90s and apply eyeliner to your waterline to tight-line around the eye. It gives a bit of definition but it’s not laboured over. Makeup should do the work for you, you want to wear products that are smart, easy to use and that work well for you.”
This squalane-based balm not only nourishes dry under-eyes, but it also is packed with concentrated encapsulated retinol (which is more gentle on the sensitives skin region) to smooth the look of fine lines.
From the brand’s first foray into the curly hair category, this cloud-like cream — designed for type 4A, 4B and 4C coils — gives game-changing definition. It also contains a Healthy Curl Complex, which provides a protective, strengthening barrier around each strand.
Besides looking oh-so gorgeous on your vanity, this pretty pink potion really does pack a punch. The eco-conscious brand (this packaging is 100% recyclable through Terracycle) partnered with Harvard University to develop a patent-pending booster that’s proven to pump up your skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid and collagen.
What’s left to say about the year 2020 that hasn’t already been said? These past 12 months may have tested humanity and the planet and every institution on it in ways most of us could never have fathomed — but even in the bad, weird, living nightmare times, the beauty industry did not quit.
Despite the odds, the economic downturns, the flailing retail structure, the unstable political climate, the sheer number of times the word “unprecedented” was uttered, beauty charged on. After all, there were game-changing formulas, groundbreaking technology and conversation-shifting campaigns to bring to market.
And so, as we look back at 2020 (and slowly but surely claw our way out of it), industry experts — ranging from dermatologists to Insta-famous makeup artists to beauty editors — identified some of the most noteworthy beauty launches of the year.
It was a big year for celebrity beauty, and a handful of star-backed brands had an impressive showing on this list, with multiple experts highlighting their superiority or buzz-worthiness amidst a sea of so many other celebrity lines. Skin care also reigned supreme, particularly as so many of us spent a record-breaking amount of time at home, staring at our own faces during Zoom calls. And perhaps most promisingly, brands that emphasized inclusivity — by serving marginalized and too-often underserved communities, by bringing all genders into the beauty conversation, by broadening the definition of what “good” skin can look like — were a welcome addition to 2020.
“Biden Beauty is an initiative that was near and dear to my heart because Very Good Light was behind it. It was a small idea that became a reality and was really amazing to see it thrive. We wanted to support the 2020 elections — arguably the most important of our lifetimes — and engage Gen Z and the beauty community to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. To do this, we [sold] a beauty sponge by the name of the Biden Beat from a beauty brand called Biden Beauty. We ended up selling one sponge every 60 seconds and it was probably the most meaningful initiative I’ve been a part of.” —David Yi, Founder and CEO, Very Good Light
“We don’t include men enough in conversations on skin care. Although Humanrace was created for all genders, [it’s] exciting to have a man at the forefront of the push to normalize skin care beyond just facial hair grooming. I love that the brand is guided by the expert input of his dermatologist with carefully selected science backed ingredients and prioritizes exfoliation and hydration as part of its simple three step routine.” —Dr. Adeline Kikam, Board-certified Dermatologist and Founder, @BrownSkinDerm
“[I] particularly [like] the Humidifying Cream. I wasn’t expecting to be floored by this product, but it’s honestly one of the best moisturizers I’ve ever used. I think we’re all a little burnt out when it comes to celebrity beauty launches — especially this year — but it seems like Pharrell actually put a lot of time and care into this one. He was thoughtful with his collection, from adding braille to the packaging to working with the brilliant Dr. Elena Jones to create simple and clean, but effective formulations, and I definitely appreciate it.” —Kayla Greaves, Senior Beauty Editor, InStyle
“Many men are not as passionate about skin care as they should be. And [Pharrell] is Benjamin Button! He’s pushing 50 and looks arguably 20-30 years younger. It’s about time he shares his secret to the fountain of youth.” —Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and Founder, BeautyStat
“Humanrace was a late entry this year, but made a lot of noise upon release. Although it’s a small launch it has the potential to attract a whole new audience to the skincare industry. It’s exciting to see.” — Saleam T. Singleton, men’s beauty advocate and contributing writer for Byrdie and AskMen
“I think Pharrell Williams’ Humanrace debut was incredibly successful and highly anticipated. The man is practically a vampire and for years we’ve been dying to know (beyond the fact he has melanin on his side) how he continues to look like he’s in his 20s. Not only is it a simple system of just three products, but it’s also eco-friendly. Wins all around!” —Julee Wilson, Beauty Director, Cosmopolitan
TATCHA THE SERUM STICK
“I’m already a loyal fan of the entire dewy skin collection, but the stick is like Chapstick for the face and perfect for the random seasonal dry spots. I also use it as a highlighter in makeup applications when I’m looking for a shine without any pearl. Being a hands-free application and a multitasking product, it feels like a true hero of the year.” — Shayna Goldberg, makeup artist and consultant at The Wall Group
KOSAS REVEALER CONCEALER
“This concealer-meets-eye-cream has enough coverage to work on the toughest spots, but is flexible enough that the 16 shades work for every one of my clients all wrapped up in a dreamy formula.” —Tony Tulve, freelance makeup artist
“Patrick Starrr’s One/Size truly brought some new, better and different to the market. Yes, it was makeup, but it was gender-neutral makeup and represented a new breed of founder at Sephora. Patrick is unabashedly himself and wants others to be as well, which is so needed in an industry that’s striving to be inclusive but not quite there.” —Priya Rao, Executive Editor, Glossy and host, “Glossy Beauty” and “Unfair” podcasts
“It seemed like the world stopped when Rihanna came out with her skin-care line. Everyone either had already tried it, wanted to try it or was watching YouTube videos of people trying and reviewing it. It’s so revolutionary for the simple fact that it’s Rihanna, a well-known Black woman, showing that you can [create a] business that feels true to you.” —Ali, beauty model, creator and makeup artist at @SweetMutuals
“I haven’t tried any of the products myself, but many of the reviews I’ve seen have been more lukewarm than I would have expected. Much of the trepidation from the online skin-care community came from the use of fragrance in the Fenty Skin products. This product launch ignited a wide-ranging debate about the function of fragrance in skin care and whether the fears surrounding it are warranted. While most consumers probably have no idea about the debate around fragrance, I think there are a few lessons to be learned here: First, skin-care hobbyists can be extremely discerning, and not even someone as universally adored as Rihanna may not be immune to their criticism. Second, for the many celebrity skin-care launches that followed it (we’ve already seen entries from Pharrell and Jennifer Lopez this year), we can expect even more criticism as these people are seen as outsiders with little experience by the industry.” — Dr. Angelo Landriscina, board-certified ermatologist in New York City, @DermAngelo
“Fenty Skin broke barriers when it came to promoting sun protection for darker skin tones. The brand messaging is very inclusive, showing that skin care is for everyone.” —Tiara Willis, esthetician and influencer, @MakeupforWomenofColor
“Fenty Skin was for sure the most talked-about, most debated, most anticipated launch of the year, mainly because of innovation (Fat Water and the idea of the toner essence), effectively speaking to young, Black consumers about the importance of SPF and because of ingredient discussions on witch hazel and fragrance.” —Dr. Ranella Hirsch, Board-certified dermatologist in Boston
“[Selena Gomez] entered the already crowded celebrity-with-a-beauty-brand space, but gave it purpose in 2020. It’s so refreshing to have a brand centered around giving back to the community Gomez herself is part of with the Rare Impact Fund. Everyone at Elle has been obsessed with the products to the point where we won’t shut up about them. To more inclusive and transparent brands with a mental health impact in 2021!” —Chloe Hall, Beauty Director, Elle.com
“Rare Beauty was the most exciting launch for me, mostly because it felt genuine. Celebrity brands will always make headlines, but not all launches are up to snuff. But the team managed to carve out a unique space for themselves while creating a great lineup of staple products. It was a cohesive launch with purpose. I respect the brand for creating the Rare Impact Fund, which promises to donate $100M over the course of 10 years, starting with 1% from Rare’s first year of sales. As someone who’s often pitched new brands and products on a daily basis, it’s important for me to see that this celebrity-faced brand has a long-term vision.” —Kirbie Johnson, content creator and Co-host, “Gloss Angeles” podcast
“When Selena launched Rare Beauty, it was clear that she really took her time to build this brand. The product formulations are innovative (that Lip Soufflé is so good!), the packaging is gorgeous and most impressive was Rare Beauty’s commitment to being a mission-driven brand. While I’m hoping fewer celebrities feel the need to launch their own beauty brands in the future, I do hope that those who do take note from Selena.” —Sara Tan, beauty editor and Co-host, “Gloss Angeles” podcast
SUPREME X PAT MCGRATH LIPSTICK
“This was Supreme’s first foray into makeup in its 26-year history, and the Pat McGrath Labs brand was the perfect co-conspirator. Streetwear is supposed to be about breaking the rules and foraging new paths; McGrath has done both her entire career. I think there are a lot of lessons the beauty world can learn from the streetwear space from both a marketing and storytelling perspective, and visa versa. So much so, I once wrote about it earlier this year. I’m interested to see how else these worlds may dance together.” —Darian Harvin, Beauty Reporter, Beauty IRL
TATCHA THE LIQUID SILK CANVAS PRIMER
“I’m always looking for products that can retain longevity and stretch makeup to new boundaries through intense color payoff or innovative formulas. Tatcha’s launch of Liquid Silk Canvas Primer in the spring of 2020 was the [brand’s] first bridge product integrating innovative skin-care ingredients into makeup. This product became the makeup magnet of the year locking down whatever you put on top of it.” —Daniel Martin, makeup artist and global director of artistry and education at Tatcha
MAKEUP BY MARIO
I had to personally add it to this list, how could I not? One of the most world-renowned and looked-up-to makeup artists came out with his own makeup brand exclusively at Sephora in 2020. The brand’s mission statement is:
“Created by Master Makeup Artist Mario Dedivanovic, MAKEUP BY MARIO features pro formulas and tools in the most universal shades and easy-to-use textures. Infused with Mario’s philosophies and techniques, each product is crafted to provide an effortless makeup experience and inspired artistry.”
Black consumers are calling for a movement, not a moment. Welcome to Artist Spotlight #26 series on my blog.
The year was 2018. Beyonce delivered one of her most historic performances as the first Black woman to headline a set at Coachella. Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians premiered to fanfare proving that, contrary to popular belief, films with a leading cast of color have global appeal. Yet even though 2018 was a landmark year for representation in various industries, the beauty industry missed the memo.
At the top of the year, Tarte unveiled its new 15-shade Shape Tape Foundation range, where only two shades were designed for darker complexions, a negligent move given that Fenty Beauty debuted just months before with a revolutionary 40-shade collection that was ultimately dubbed #TheFentyEffect. It Cosmetics, BeautyBlender, and several other brands missed the mark, too. How, in 2018, were Black women still fighting to reform the beauty standards that continually fail to recognize consumers beyond “medium tan,” “warm honey,” and “almond?”
In August 2018, seven Black influencers—Monica Veloz, Ofunne Amaka, Jessie Woo, Tiara Willis, Armanda Tounghui, Shanygne Maurice, and Cydnee Black—answered the same question POC have been pondering for years: “Why is it still a struggle to find foundation for dark skin?”
“When you walk into these beauty corporations, you’ll most likely see a white-dominated office space so, because there aren’t a lot of black voices at the table, there isn’t anyone to say, ‘Hey, this launch is not okay,’ or ‘You need to do something different because these shades are not diversified,'” Willis, founder of the popular Twitter and Instagram account @MakeupForWOC, said at the time. Transparency in companies’ hiring process and leadership board is just as important as delivering a diverse shade range.
Now, two years later, the beauty industry is in the midst of a reckoning. Following an outcry from consumers and influencers, a slew of brands began broadening their offerings and campaigns to be more inclusive. But sometimes their efforts verge on the performative: In June 2020, as the nation broke out in protests in response to the senseless killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and other acts of violence by police and white supremacists, brands flocked to social media in droves to lend support to the Black community, issuing statements of solidarity and pledges to be more inclusive in the name of being “woke.” There were also many brands who remained mum in the face of social injustice, revealing that if they didn’t care about Black consumers before—both on the shelves and in boardrooms—why would they start now?
UOMA Beauty founder Sharon Chuter launched Pull Up for Change in response to the brands’ silence, an initiative demanding that companies come forward with a demographic breakdown of their employees to demonstrate they’re more than just talk. Once a buzzword brands used to hide behind their shortcomings, will inclusivity move beyond trend to become an ongoing movement?
Would you say the beauty industry is still failing people with darker skin tones?
I would say no, it’s not failing us but I feel brands are getting a little bit too comfortable. With everything going on with Black Lives Matter movement, we’re seeing an uprising happening, and within that uprising demanding for basic human rights, we’re also seeing a lot of calls to action for black creators, creators of color. And in that, you’re seeing so many disparities that still happen behind the scenes that haven’t been addressed.
On the surface, yes, we’re getting more foundation shades and better campaigns, so brands have made a lot of progress. But that’s not to say Black people can relax now. No, we have to keep demanding that if you’re going to launch something that has 60 shades, make sure all the shades are available in-store and that people know how to find their shade—that’s one of the areas of the makeup industry that almost never gets talked about, the in-store experience. Retailers will say, “Oh, we can’t have this many shades because of the space,” or “These units don’t sell.” That relationship between the brand and the retailer, and that relationship between the retailer and the consumer needs to be worked on more.
When you put out products for people, you have to realize that there’s actually people on the other end of the buying process that will be introduced to your product for the first time. Having only select shades in stores or not enough deep shades to begin is frustrating. Is that the first impression you want to give?
This call for diversity in beauty extends beyond shade ranges to opportunities for Black creators, too. As an influencer, what has been your experience trying to obtain opportunities and ensure you’re being paid fairly?
I do all my deals on my own and it’s hard to not get taken advantage of because there isn’t a lot of transparency in terms of what’s the going rate for X, Y, Z type of project. Sometimes, people just don’t want to pay my rates. I have decide to not pursue opportunities from brands that don’t value what I’m doing, or don’t want to pay what I’m worth.
I had a post on Instagram that basically was just alluding to the fact that “diversity” has to go farther than just posting someone on your Instagram page. Are you paying them? Are you making them feel heard behind the scenes? Do they have a voice? That just goes for employees, too. Because there are sometimes the lone black employee on a team, and they might have an opinion, and it might not be heard, or they might not feel comfortable voicing it. So, we’re in a great place with that right now. A lot of people are being offered things that look like opportunities, but they’re often exploitation.
Thankfully, there’s an Instagram page called it’s Influencer Pay Gap, and people send anonymous DMs to the Instagram listing their age, race, sexual orientation, and follower count is, and how much they’ve been offered to do a project. Accounts like these are providing some transparency in terms of what people are getting offered and what people are getting paid.
What changes have you seen in the makeup industry since 2018?
Two years ago, it seemed as if every brand was in a race of who could put out the most foundation shades. And people got lost in the idea that just having a lot of foundation shades means they’ve cracked the code on diversity when, really, if the rest of your brand isn’t consistent then you didn’t do anything meaningful. There are brands that have gotten better since then. But there are some brands who either put out their inclusive shade ranges in the last two years, and didn’tkeep the same energy with concealer, bronzer, contour, etc.
Especially right now in 2020, it seems it’s the year of bronzers and every brand is putting out their own bronzer. I did a video swatching the latest bronzers and a lot of them—between their advertising and what the product actually looks like—there was a disconnect there because the shades didn’t match IRL. It goes to show how genuine some of these brands are, because if you have to Photoshop a color to make it look dark online but ashy or lighter in person, that says a lot about how a brand views us. We’re clearly not important enough for them to put any effort into making products for us.
Is there truly hope for brands to “keep the same energy” or do you feel like the same outdated outlook persists behind these launches?
Well, minimal effort was being put in before this whole “inclusive” wave. Before the Black Lives Matter movement that’s going on right now, it’s always been a thing. But before it became as widely talked about as it is right now, before George Floyd’s death, you could see that the inclusive marketing that some brands were using was already starting to die down. And I’m happy it’s been brought back up again because of the current place that we’re in right now.
You can look on a brand’s Instagram page and scroll back to 2019 and see what maybe one dark-skinned person on there, maybe throw in a couple other people of color. But a brand drops 60 foundation shades and deserves a pat on the back? That energy wasn’t being kept until right now. And right now everyone with Pull Up or Shut Up, putting out their business, brands are reaching out to black creators. Even now some people have already said that that energy has started to die down. It’s a matter of if a brand genuinely wants to do better, they’re going to. It will become clearer to see which brands hop on for the moment and then go back because championing diversity is too much work for them.
What’s your advice to the Black consumers who are finding it hard to trust any brands these days?
Write down the names and take screenshots of how brands are responding to the current climate and Pull Up or Shut Up. In a few months, revisit those brands to see if they stayed true to their words, especially since right now, we need 18 new releases. So it really puts these brands in a competitive place where they’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is, because if brand A and brand B release something, but brand B does better, then brand B is probably going to get that person’s purchase. Spend your money on brands that support you year-round, not just for the moment.
What do you want to see more of from brands moving forward?
Transparency and dialogue. In the past few weeks, there were brands that have called me and said, “Listen, we just want to hear from you and how you’re feeling.” I’m Black and it’s been awful but I’m glad brands are trying to do the work to make Black influencers feel seen and heart. I’m talking huge brands that were like “Listen, whatever it is, whatever concerns you have, whatever you need from us. We’re trying to show our support. How can we show our support?” So I want to see more brands trying to be completely transparent because I only align myself with brands that align with me as a person.
Also, diversity isn’t only a 40-plus shade range. What about the LGBTQ representation? Don’t support the LGBTQ community for just one month and then move on. I’m definitely am seeing a lot more diverse campaigns but it has to be the standard. The current uprising in beauty and the Black Lives Matter movement forced brands to really step up and realize that they need to make a change. I’m sure it scared the hell out of a lot of brands. Good for them.
As a frequent makeup shopper, where else do you see brands missing the mark?
Undertones. I think a brand came out with 100 shades but where are my undertones? To find your perfect foundation shade, you have to understand undertones. Understanding undertones makes it easier to shop online, especially now that we can’t go in stores and play in makeup or swatch. A foundation range is only as good as the undertones it offers. I’ve played with several different foundations and I still reach for my Fenty Beauty foundation because she understands my undertones. It’s lazy to throw out a foundation with limited undertones because not everyone is warm or golden honey or orange. Brands need to get specific with these shade ranges because black women, black people are not just one shade. We’re not as red. We’re made up of a range of beautiful colors and tones that should be reflected in the products we spend our money on.
What has the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign revealed to you about some of the beauty brands you’ve supported?
Basically what we already knew: There’s a real lack of diversity in the boardrooms of our favorite brands. If there’s lack of diversity, there’s going to be a lack of faith, you’re going to see a lack of ideas and a lack of understanding. If there was a black woman at that board meeting, or a black cosmetic chemist who was in there making those formulas, they would obviously be like, “Oh, I have black family members. I’m black. These shades don’t actually work on us.” And they would actually be that voice to say something.
Diversity in boardrooms is one thing, but where else are brands lacking?
It’s easy for brands to create an extensive range, but they’re not doing the necessary work to actually try it on black skin. Chemists are putting strong green undertones or pink undertones that would normally work for others, but that’s not realistic for darker skin tones. When it comes to bronzers and blushes, and the other steps of makeup, there is a lack there with finding colors that suit dark enough. Think of influencers like Nyma Tang. She had a whole video where she spent hundreds of dollars buying all the bronzes before trying them all and none of them worked for her. It’s 2020. It doesn’t make any sense.
What has the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign revealed to you most about some of the beauty brands you’ve supported?
It’s not enough for the black community that these beauty brands want to expand the shades. We want to see us represented in the offices too. We want to see black people represented on the executive board. Who are decision-makers? We want to know that you are being inclusive all the way around, not just with your shades. We want to know that black people actually have opportunities within your company. I think that this is what this movement is all about. Black women spend the most money in the beauty world, so if we’re spending the most money we need to be represented. We need to have a say so in what’s going on in these companies.
How has finding your foundation shade become easier?
Finding my shade has become easier because I’m purchasing from black beauty brands more than before. UOMA Beauty, Juvia’s Place, Fenty Beauty, there are a lot of different black owned beauty brands that are coming out and cater to us. Who can speak to our shades better than us? Shopping for my complexion is easier because I’m supporting products made for us, and by us. Just keeping it real. Pro tip: find brands that represents me and you won’t get disappointed.
What’s your general advice to brands that want to do better?
Look around your office then you’ll know where to start. See who’s not there, you know where to start. It’s that simple, really. When brands or companies try to make it seem like it’s so hard, no it’s not. Just look around. Are there black women here? No. Hire them. Where they at? Be intentional about being “inclusive”. You can’t be inclusive without being intentional. Initiatives like Sharon Chuter’s Pull Up For Change are needed. It’s going to change the hiring process. It’s going to change how these companies look at us. They’re going to have to finally look at us and say, “Okay dang, we really got to listen to these black women. We really have to listen to them because not only do they have these platforms. But then they have these platforms that can influence the buying power.”
Canadian-born London-based makeup artist Michael Brooks, also known as The Brooks Brother, made his YouTube debut in 2017 and has since then been inspiring his followers with his mesmerizing, artistic beauty looks. Having landed his role as Smashbox Cosmetics UK’s pro MUA earlier this year, Brooks has been paving the way for queer creatives by advocating for better representation and diversity within the beauty industry.
At a young age, Brooks already had an eye for glamor and beauty. The moment he saw his favorite alternative, pop punk boy bands wear makeup was when he decided to experiment with his own looks and explore his talent. With additional interests in music, art, digital content creation and fashion, the multi-disciplinary creative is changing the game and is definitely a talent to watch.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #25 series on my blog.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how your passion for makeup started?
I grew up in Canada, in a suburb just east of Toronto. I’ve always had an interest in the arts and I studied various areas of visual and performing arts throughout my entire childhood, but I’ve always been fixated on glamor and beauty. At around 12 or 13 years old, I began to take notice of men I saw wearing makeup in my favorite alternative/pop punk boy bands and I wanted to try it myself. Around that same time, I was involved in some performing arts extra-curricular activities, so the idea of wearing makeup on stage didn’t seem odd to me. I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a home that prioritized my happiness, self-expression and safety above all. As I got older, I moved farther away from my music, dance and theater studies and grew an attachment to wearing makeup and providing it as a service to others. After high school, I decided to take a certificate course in makeup artistry. I’ve been doing it professionally since.
How did the opportunity to work with Smashbox Cosmetics UK come to be?
I’ve been working on and off in retail makeup for the better part of my career, and a lot of that has been within the Estée Lauder group of beauty brands. Most recently, I started with Smashbox in their studio space in March of 2020. I had worked on a few freelance campaigns in their studio for another cosmetics brand in 2019 and happened to meet the manager of the space. When they had a position become available, I was put forward and was looking for a change, so I went for it. As you can imagine, with all the changes our world has seen this year, it hasn’t been at all what I expected. Starting a new position with a new brand in the midst of a global pandemic certainly has impacted the process.
“The online social community is a real place for inspiration and discovery, which keeps me going through this challenging time.”
You started making YouTube videos before moving to London. What would you say are the biggest differences between Canada and the UK’s creative industry?
The sheer size of the creative industry in the UK is the biggest difference I’ve noticed. In London, there’s always room for someone to break in, as long as you’re willing to work for free, network until you’re blue in the face and never give up. I feel like my attempts to break into the creative industry in Toronto barely scratched the surface because it’s much smaller. Bigger cities tend to have more opportunities, as long as you’re willing to take them on.
What are some challenges you’ve faced working as an MUA amid COVID-19? How have you been able to overcome those obstacles?
Well, I basically surrendered my entire freelance makeup artist career to the virus and I still have not picked it up. Unfortunately, I simply don’t feel safe working that close to anyone’s face. Over the last two and a half years, I hustled to make a name for myself in a new city and country, only to have it completely squashed by COVID-19. That one still hurts.
But in staying home and making more use of my own face, I turned my hobby of posting online into a job. Now, I’m spending my time creating looks, video and photo content and getting paid for it. There are so many people out there using platforms like Instagram for creating content and to express themselves. The online social community is a real place for inspiration and discovery, which keeps me going through this challenging time. The loss, which is hopefully temporary, came with a gain.
In what ways do you think the dynamic of the beauty industry has changed this past year?
Generally, I think the beauty industry is changing entirely. The beauty industry for online creatives and beauty content creators is in the midst of a continuous shift, and over the last year, I have seen more accountability from beauty brands, transparency on the inner workings of the “influencer” sphere, and a lot more people and former working makeup artists using themselves as their own canvas. The beauty industry desperately needs to prioritize more queer voices and faces, especially those of BIPOC folks. I’ve seen it more this year than ever but there is work to be done. The retail makeup space is undergoing a change in terms of the consumer experience, and a lot of brands are primarily e-commerce now. As for the creative world and working on set (not that I can speak from experience anymore), safety precautions are continuously evolving, but the show must go on. I feel like we’re all becoming more independent, and I think brands are starting to see their consumer as the authority, rather than the other way around.
“The beauty industry desperately needs to prioritize more queer voices and faces, especially those of BIPOC folks. I’ve seen it more this year than ever but there is work to be done.”
What does beauty mean to you?
Standing in your truth. Accepting what you love about yourself and also accepting what you might not love about yourself. To me, beauty is not only about how crisp your eyeliner is or how glowy your skin looks. It’s accepting all of yourself in all forms. Most importantly, it’s about doing what feels best, regardless of how the world sees you. If it feels right, do it.
What is your creative process like when coming up with your beauty looks?
It’s usually based on an image, shape or a specific group of colors. Sometimes I sketch it out when I’m really organized, and other times I wing it from an idea floating around in my head. When I can’t get it right, I’ll take a selfie and doodle on my own face until it makes sense to me. Executing it is a whole other venture. I’m a Pisces so my head is always in the clouds thinking of ideas.
What are your do’s and don’ts when it comes to makeup?
I don’t like telling people what they should and shouldn’t do with their makeup. My least favorite part of working as a makeup artist is the expectation that my opinion and experience is superior to someone else’s. It’s important to be able to offer my input when it’s needed, otherwise, I mind my business. What I will say is, don’t be afraid of makeup. Wear as much, as little as you want or nothing at all – however you want. It’s your face and it washes off.
Can you share with us any exciting projects you’re working on for the rest of 2020 and in the new year?
I was recently named one of three winners in a contest with a well-known makeup brand, so over the next few months and into the new year, I’ll be working collaboratively on a collection with one of my favorite musicians that is set to launch next summer. Easily the most exciting project I’ve ever been a part of!
I’m also taking part in Instagram‘s #ReelSelf Sessions this October, which is a virtual three-day event packed with exclusive content and inspirational talks to support creators to learn, grow and express creativity. The sessions themselves will cover everything from creativity online, how to get noticed and insider knowledge to keeping well online and offline, as well as forecasting new trends. The online world has been a great place of support for me, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences.
Otherwise, I’m always brainstorming ideas around how I’d like to leave my mark on the beauty industry. Hopefully, 2021 will bring me a return to my freelance makeup career, a new set of goals and more exciting opportunities.