ColourPop: Fast Fashion Beauty, Niche Branding, and The Sisterhood of Liquid Matte Lipsticks
I am one of those people who help keep a market afloat, specifically the cosmetics industry. If you ask me, I am the middleman who funnels her paycheck to these brands through purchase of, say, my 50th nude lipstick (yes, I am aware that the concept of "nude makeup" is contradiction of terms), 17th moisturizing face mask (what if this one moisturizes better?!), 23rd volumizing mousse (dude I really have promising but thin hair.) In other words, you can think of me as a willing financier to Sephora, Birchbox, Bite Beauty, and a number of other beauty companies. And if you ask my friends and family, they think of me as the crazy cosmetics lady who lives with enough makeup for a traveling drag show troupe of 50.
I am aware that I will die poor and homeless. And if I am lucky, even looking like Marilyn Manson (That is, if I am lucky.)
It is not that I love wearing makeup all the time (I go out without anything on my face quite a bit for a person who currently owns 56 lipsticks - after having thrown out about 20 a couple months ago), or that it is my favorite hobby. Also for a person with about 6 makeup removers of different varieties, I sometimes sleep with my makeup on - something my mom points out to me as a bad idea as soon as my face appears on FaceTime. My mom does not take the aging effects of makeup lightly. No.
I suspect the correlation between cleaning your face every night and having your life in order is very high in her opinion.
Nevertheless. Beauty products are my crack, and not only because I like them on myself - which I do. But I also read beauty market news and analyses for fun (right now I have my eyes open like a crazy person because I am thinking how much I love doing that.) I love trying products on, and getting 10 dirty fingers and a palette of various colored pigments on my hands. The shine is like seeing a unicorn, it is a total high seeking and acquiring the good stuff, and I will most likely start grinding and snorting it one day (wait, that's cocaine.)
In other words, there is no nude lipstick and dark brown eyeshadow you cannot sell to me. Even if it is bad, I will still buy it to see how bad it is. I am talking like that kind of unreasonable, credit-card debt generating behavior.
Understandably (?!), I also follow some makeup blogs. The Pixiwoo are my go-to, I really like Hannah Martin, and I follow Temptalia every day for the recent reviews. As a true millennial consumer, I rarely buy a product without reading online reviews and seeing swatches first. Word of mouth is important to those like me, a market factoid that a lot of brands have taken into consideration while marketing their products to bloggers, vloggers, and the like. And it only makes sense because (I am hoping) everybody knows that most cosmetics advertising is pretty much solid-gold BS.
I am sorry if I feel like I am being taken for a fool when I see the fine print of "The model is wearing artificial eyelashes" when I am watching a CoverGirl or L'Oreal mascara ad. But I do. And in fact, I take back my apology. If you are so openly mocking your market audience's intellect, you kind of have it coming. At this day and age, I am not going to believe any kind of brand marketing that tells me a cream will make me look 6 again. I have no interest in having my heart broken with false hopes, okay?
ColourPop is a brand which does what it promises - of course, I am talking about a color cosmetics brand rather than a skincare brand. I heard about ColourPop from Temptalia about a year ago, and it has become one of my favorite brands. To be perfectly honest, their best known product - The Matte Liquid Lipstick - is too intense for me. But a gazillion women love it, and it is damn good for what it is supposed to do. In other words, mine is a personal preference rather than product failure. I also prefer other blushes to ColourPop variety because I have so many other favorites. HOWEVER.
The eyeshadows. It is not that they are $5 a pop, but how good they are. (The brand is overall at a lower price point, but very high in quality.) There are dozens of colors, a lot of them very interesting (the coppers, reds, and yellows?! Yes, yes, and yes.) The texture is very innovative, bouncy, soft and moist but it sticks to you. The matte eyeshadows sometimes run a little more, but their metallic or shiny shadows stay there all day. It is what a high-performing product is, for such a good price. Which is why I LOVE these little things (my absolute favorites are Cricket, Game Face, Central Perk, and Mooning. The last one is my all time favorite eyeshadow, for those interested. Which is I am assuming, nobody.)
And what is interesting about Colourpop is not only that they provide a great selection of colors, an innovative texture, and do it all for a nifty price. It is also a great example of the recent developments in the beauty market - the fact that niche beauty brands are growing faster than the whole beauty industry overall (What *are* niche beauty brands? Here.) In fact, Euromonitor expects from the niche brand market a sustained growth period until 2020.
That's a lotta $5 a pop eyeshadows y'all.
But what is also novel about ColourPop is that it is almost like a fast fashion beauty brand. It creates new collections (albeit small) often, and has multiple new colors every month. Their production cycle is very fast - and looped into creating in a very short amount of time what their customers want but cannot find. And in order to do that, it uses a production-marketing-consumer feedback cycle similar to that of the fast fashion frontrunner Zara. Of course, Colourpop does not have actual brick and mortar stores. It is "born" as an internet company, unlike Zara whose online presence is just starting to gain efficiency. (Fast fashion brands have actually been late and relatively slow adapters to online shopping - a sluggishness which was particularly surprising for Zara since their production process depends heavily on collecting data from their stores around the world with regards to what sells and what doesn't, and what the customers are looking for. Zara is great at producing more of what sells with the help of this data, and producing what their target market is looking to purchase. That the stores are data hubs for the central design team is the way Zara's business works.) And despite not having brick and mortar stores like Zara to collect data, Colourpop's online shopping portal works well, and they have great communication with their customers on social media. In fact, they are in constant conversation with their customers on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, blogs, in addition to their website. They constantly see how women wear their products, and are able to get many product reviews as soon as the first batch of new product is shipped. They are attuned to what their target market does, feels, and buys. If somebody wants something they have not yet produced, or doesn't like a product, they're going to hear about it - and get on it ASAP. That's how, like Zara, Colourpop can quickly provide the product their customers would buy at that moment.
ColourPop does what Zara does in another way, and does it quite well. First, their business model is that they develop and make all their products in-house. And they market, sell, and ship the products themselves. There is no middleman who needs to be paid extra to make the product, shelf it, or market it. This all cuts down on pricing of the product - and means more revenue for a new company that still has a lot of room to grow to compete with the mainstream brands.
But the way ColourPop operates as a vertically integrated business is a conscious choice. This is not surprising since the Nelson siblings who launched the parent company of ColourPop, Seed Beauty, are industry insiders - who are also behind the crazy-popular Kylie cosmetics (that is Kylie Kardashian, or the "matte mauve lipstick sister" as I like to differentiate her). They state the mission of Seed Beauty as "chang[ing] the business of beauty forever. Unlike any other cosmetics company, we combine under one roof: venture capital, brand design, brand incubation and complete vertical integration — from brand design through R&D and manufacturing" - which is exactly how ColourPop works.
ColourPop co-inventor Laura Nelson says they "don't have to guess what is going to be on trend a year from now", but to "respond to trends as they happen". Granted, everybody in the fashion industry responds to trends - there are very, very few designers who singlehandedly create trends, or those who disregard them. In fact, almost all seasonal collections in fashion and beauty start with a lot of front-end research on what sells, what has performed well for that brand, and on the color-print-fabric trends overall. So, in a way, no designer just has absolute free reign - that is, if they want a commercially successful business in addition to an aesthetically inspiring one. (Merchandisers are these buzzkill people who usually have to give the business input to the artistic direction of the design team, which the designer then uses while he is creating his collection in his own artistic viewpoint. Don't get me wrong. I love the business of fashion. I just call merchandisers "buzzkill" only because I had a very fraught relationship with my own Merchandising professor. It is entirely subjective. I mean, Mickey Drexler's moniker is "the merchandising king" and I think he is genius.)
Anyway. This is all to say, every fashion and beauty brand need to be on top of what is on trend, and what their target audience is looking for. But, what makes ColourPop different is not only that they are faster in figuring out what people want, but also that they can deliver just as fast. On top of that, they are innovative with regards to the products they have. But what I like the most about ColourPop, personally, is that they are inclusive and open to experimentation. The colors they provide work with a variety of skin colors, and they actually provide you with pinks, yellows, bright greens. Simply, I like the fact that they want their customers to experiment, and feel confident in expressing themselves.
Now to be perfectly honest, do I think a lot of the matte liquid lipstick makeup looks I see on Instagram are very, very, very heavy? Yes I do. But there are two things: One, it is your face. You can do whatever you want with it. And two, I am not giving up my ColourPop eyeshadows. Nope.
[You can read the interview with Seed Beauty founders Laura and John Nelson on Missbish]