Accessibility Trumps Ingenuity in the Beauty Industry
A celebrity being not just the face of, but the owner of a beauty brand is nothing new. Before Rihanna debuted the wonderfully inclusive Fenty Beauty, Iman launched IMAN Cosmetics in 1994, which was also created with the idea of a diverse shade range as its foundation.
If celebrities owning cosmetics brands isn’t a recent development, then why does it feel like it is? Social media, and the accessibility to your favorite influencer, is the answer. And Kylie Jenner is arguably the person who started the overwhelming trend of celebrity beauty brands—a trend that is likely still in its infancy.
Let’s backtrack a moment and ask the question: Can anyone start a cosmetics brand?
Makeup has a history spanning thousands of years.
Ancient Egyptians used crushed charcoal as an early form of eyeliner.
Ancient Romans reportedly applied swan fat to minimize wrinkles.
Victorians covered red spots with rice powder.
From the very beginning, makeup was not something produced by experts. It’s true that often only royalty or upper class individuals had access to certain ingredients, but makeup was something that could be created in the home. Makeup did not become big business until the early 20th century when people like Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden innovated cosmetic empires.
Once cosmetics fell into the hands of not just enterprising women, but corporations, that pretty much became the norm until recently. This is partially because, to consumers, it felt like the production of makeup should be left to the experts, which at the time, was large companies. Corporations asserted authority in not just cosmetics, but clothes, haircare, and just about anything you can think of. Cosmetic companies also used a smart strategy—celebrities—to endorse their brand, which tied a familiar face to a faceless company.
Corporations dominating the cosmetics industry was not an entirely negative thing. This meant that makeup could be mass produced, and therefore, accessible to not just the rich—but anyone who had some extra spending money. Of course, luxury brands aren’t exactly affordable, but drugstore brands were and are.
Another positive about big businesses, rather than individuals, controlling the cosmetics industry was that the ingredients were mostly regulated. This is not to say that dangerous chemicals aren’t present in products. It’s that obviously harmful ingredients wouldn’t be included, though some of the chemicals in the products harm you later rather than sooner—unlike the Arsenic Complexion Wafers that were used to supposedly get rid of blemishes in the late 19th century.
Although the ingredients are FDA-regulated in big cosmetic brands, like Cover Girl, that doesn’t mean they are good for you. Products are still filled with potentially harmful ingredients, such as parabens. This problem wasn’t talked about until the public started losing trust in corporations and putting an emphasis on organic ingredients. Largely, due to the culture social media had a part in creating.
This is where we come back to celebrity cosmetic brands.
Giant cosmetic companies using celebrities to advertise is effective, sure, but not believable. It’s not believable that people who have access to the best beauty products in the world use drugstore brands. But, when a celebrity creates their own brand, no matter how affordable, it’s far more believable that they are using their own products. They supposedly created them. Plus, a celebrity brand isn’t exactly indie, but, they aren’t a giant, faceless corporation. Combine the distrust of corporations with the feelings of closeness social media allows, and an ideal atmosphere for a celebrity beauty boom is created.
Kylie Jenner’s brand took off partly because of her constant social media presence, and the fact that she grew up on a reality show, made the public feel like they knew her. Jenner also did something really smart. She talked about her biggest insecurity (her lips) and turned that into the foundation of her business. Makeup is empowering and expressive, but for many, it is also a way to feel better about insecurities.
Kylie Jenner isn’t your average person. She lives a life of incredible privilege and luxury—a life she would have likely had even without her cosmetics empire. Yet, the disclosure of her insecurity made her much more relatable. Buying her brand feels like buying from an individual far more than it does when buying from a brand like Maybelline.
But, what right does she have to start launch a beauty brand? She is very young, and before her brand, there wasn’t anything to indicate that she has knowledge and experience outside of using makeup on herself. It’s understandable that models, celebrity makeup artists, and even beauty influencers would create a makeup line, but why would someone who has seemingly no prior makeup experience or education create a beauty brand? Because they can. In a sense, this shift is a return to where makeup began—in the hands of the individual—even if that individual is already wealthy.
Kylie isn’t the only celebrity with no background in makeup to launch a beauty brand. Last year, Bella Thorne debuted Thorne by Bella. The line comprises of lip and eye products. Bella Thorne is an actress and musician, sure, but she is not a makeup artist. Is the quality of her line up to par with brands like Tarte? That’s questionable. We’ll leave it to the experts to weigh in. Are her products selling? That’s not a question. They are. People see their favorites, like Bella, look hot wearing their products. The qualifications for producing those products takes the backseat.
This trend of anyone with a big enough following being able to launch a beauty line is best exemplified by Danielle Bregoli—A.K.A. Bhad Bhabie.
Bregoli first appeared on Dr. Phil as a bratty, out-of-control teen. A phrase she spoke on the show “Catch me outside. How bout that?” turned into a wildly popular meme. The popularity of the meme, like any meme, was short-lived. Bregoli, however, didn’t fade into obscurity. Instead, she branded herself as Bhad Bhabie and created a career as a rapper and personality based off of her outrageous attitude.
In the public eye, bad behavior is often rewarded with attention. Bhad Bhabie is no exception. Recently, she signed a six month, $900,000 contract with Copycat Beauty. When news first broke, it appeared that Bhad Bhabie wasn’t the spokesperson for this brand, but that this was her brand. This was likely not an accident. Before, brands were at the forefront. Now, brands hide behind the influencer.
The premise of Copycat Beauty is in its name. The brand copies more expensive brands and releases the dupes at a very affordable price. For example, a copy of a Too Faced Chocolate Gold Eye Shadow palette, which normally sells for $49.00 USD, is on sold on Copycat Beauty’s website for $8.99.
There are a lot of things wrong with copying, but if there is a positive, it’s that the products are affordable. Drugstore products are affordable, but they aren’t made to emulate products that are made popular by social media—products that younger generations desire. Making products so affordable is manipulative in a way because Copycat Beauty is well aware that Bhad Bhabie’s audience is quite young and parents are more likely to purchase inexpensive products. Yet, it’s nice that people who can’t afford expensive products feel like they’re using something similar. Do the products hold up, though?
Jeffree Star reviewed Copycat Beauty in a recent video. In the video, Bhad Bhabie, hand delivers the products to Star’s home, and they appear on camera together. Star is very kind to Bhad Bhabie during the interaction. She is still a child after all, so this isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that the kindness remains throughout the review, even after Bhad Bhabie left.
Star did not completely praise the products he tried, but he did seem to be much softer in his review than he normally is. Although, he criticized the lipstick for not listing any ingredients on the packaging, and the eye shadow for disappearing within minutes, he still gave Copycat Beauty the Jeffree Star approval. This enraged many of his fans.
Fans of Jeffree Star accused him of hypocrisy. In his video, “Full Face of Brands That Hate Me,” Star blamed Huda Beauty for stealing Beauty Bakerie’s ad campaign concept and using it as her own for her “Easy Bake” loose powder line.
For someone who is so adamantly against stealing, Star was very easy on Copycat Beauty. This is perhaps because Copycat Beauty is upfront about what they do. Star said in his rant about Huda Beauty that “If you’re going to steal from people and not acknowledge it—can’t relate.” Should transparency make copying okay? Probably not. But, the fact is that it is going to continue happening. Star may not be attacking Copycat Beauty because they are clear about their intention, but also because he is good at staying relevant. This is clear if you follow his transformation from Myspace star to beauty influencer and business owner.
The makeup industry is undergoing a monumental change. It’s a positive thing that dominance is being taken from giant cosmetic corporations. Is it good that anyone can begin a makeup business? Not entirely, but it is a step in the right direction. It gives a chance for people who are very passionate and knowledgeable about makeup to begin have their brand recognized. Even better, it gives consumers the power to demand better ingredients and quality products. Brands that don’t make the cut can be “cancelled” faster. Hopefully this boom of celebrity and influencer makeup lines will trickle down to indie brands getting more recognition. Makeup should be a means of human expression, not another big business manipulation.