Latin-American beauty Regina Merson had a very specific, very personal point of view when she created her makeup brand, Reina Rebelde, which translates to “rebel queen."
“I founded the brand on my experience as a Mexican American woman and my relationship to beauty and its rituals," says Merson. “There are many nuances within the culture to explore."
With the goal of uniting bold, saturated colors with artful packaging that was expressive of Latin culture, Merson's brand is meant to capture some a Hispanic woman's key attributes; namely “big emotional eyes," strong brows and “gorgeous full lips.'
“Two categories that have been hallmarks [of Latin women] in pictures featuring Aztec princesses to revolutionaries to beautiful entertainers in the Fifties, have always been a strong eye and beautiful lip."
Merson, who was an attorney before launching her beauty company is a self-taught “makeup junkie" who wanted to create a line that mimicked the experience of being a Latin woman in this country.
“My brand expresses the duality of my life: speaking Spanish and English, having multiple cultural norms, traveling, feeling intense nostalgia and pride in my heritage and being part of a community of fierce Forward-thinking, hardworking Latina women.
To wit, Reina Rebelde products incredibly long-wearing, with pigments that are versatile (can be applied dry or wet), as well as buildable for more intensity from morning to evening.
“We have a very similar relationship with beauty as a Hispanic culture," says Merson. “People who are interested in beauty are captivated by unique messaging that is so rooted in a specific point of view."
According to Merson, her consumer community has been built via grassroots word of mouth initiatives, and is the brand's social channels reflect real women using the product line.
“Our Mentality is we are rebel queens," she says. “Each woman is part of it."
Here, 10 questions with the gorgeous founder, on changing the narrative on diversity through beauty.
What separates your brand from other brands in today's crowded market?
Reina Rebelde is the only brand on the market that directly and authentically celebrates and speaks to the Latina consumer, specifically by recognizing what it means to be bilingual, bicultural Latina in the United States, which we bring to life via our carefully curated makeup products.
Can you speak a little about the look of your products, specifically the art you chose to feature on the components?
Every touch point of Reina Rebelde is designed and inspired by the essence of this unique Latina woman and the many dualities she has in this life—spiritual, physical and social. From the initial encounter with the carton, which features butterflies and skulls—Mexican symbols for the spiritual transformation that we undergo in our lifecycle, to the interior of the box with the vibrant red and pink Mexican roses that speak to our inherent love of life, color, and our own cultural and personal vibrancy. The main icon of the brand is our Chica, who was was designed by a talented tattoo artist in East Los Angeles. The Chica is meant to be a pictorial representation of our customer. She is always beautiful and her makeup is always flawlessly applied, because we are very much in touch with our feminine energy, but she also has another side that is constantly operating in her life. She is so fierce, brave, strong and unapologetic -that is where the imagery of the tattoos come in. The tattoos are “Milagros," which mean miracles in Latin-American spiritual folklore. The tattoos are not meant to be literal, but rather they signify this long history that we have of women in our lives and in our communities who have prayed for us and blessed us with the best of intentions.
There is a very unique culture within this empowering demographic and we get it, because we are this demographic. It is also a brand with a very defined and specific point of view not just on brand identity, but product performance, and speaks to the unique cultural relationship that Latina women have with their makeup and their beauty routines.
How has being a Latin American shaped your brand?
As I always say, being a Latina woman has been and will always be the most profound privilege for me. It has shaped me in many complicated, but ultimately positive ways in who I am as a woman and how I relate to other women around me. There is a such a deep, connected, multi-sensory attachment that I have to my heritage and my homeland of Mexico, and knowing that my cultural core has given me the foundation from which to explore what being a modern woman is in the world. The name is a complete reflection of that journey that I know I share with so many other women — how we call each other “Reinas" (queens) as terms of endearment and empowerment in our culture.
It seems today all social influencers are launching beauty products to immediately successful results. In your opinion, is this a good thing or a bad thing for the beauty industry?
I think it is a positive thing, because it is democratizing beauty in many respects. It is no longer in the hands of just major corporations to decide what products consumers get, the consumer gets say in the process to some extent, and that is always a positive in my book.
What are your primary marketing activities? How do you find and attract new consumers?
Primarily, we use social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) to market Reina Rebelde and attract new consumers. Reina Rebelde was built on a very grass-roots ethos that is very word-of-mouth based. We know it will take more time to grow, but we also think we will ultimately reach the consumers that really connect with the brand and will hopefully connect emotionally with it as well.
What are some of the challenges in terms of running a beauty brand?
It is ALL challenging, but that is part of the fun. Some of the key challenges are having the patience to do things the right way for the brand long-term even if there are so many short-term solutions or options that feel very seductive at times. Product innovation is difficult, because the options may seem endless, but finding exactly what you are after can be limiting. Running a tight ship is difficult, as a start-up beauty brand, I want every dollar to count in ways that are meaningful/impactful for the consumer, which often means that there is more work that has to be done by me on the backend, and as I am learning, there are many aspects of the operations that I am not great at, but am learning to be proficient at.
Can you describe your target customer?
A Reina Rebelde is a fierce, aspirational, unapologetic Latina woman who appreciates and owns her identity. She is an exquisite and ambitious woman who embodies her powerful cultural duality by showing her grand beauty to the world.
What beauty brands do you think a good job of being inclusive of different ethnicities?
Overall, I created Reina Rebelde because I felt that so many beauty brands were missing the mark with the Latina consumer in the United States and their unique cultural relationship with beauty, specifically. So many beauty brands were/are talking to Latinas in a monolithic manner, which dismisses the complexities of our culture or they create “one and done" marketing initiatives once a year and don't truly dedicated an ongoing dialogue with this powerful beauty consumer.
What are some of your creative inspirations?
I'm a multi-sensory woman in the sense that I absorb the sights, sounds, smells of everything I do and experience. To that end, I find creative inspirations in the most random of places, but always discover that I am at my creative peak when I am traveling (especially to Mexico or other countries in Central America) and when I am meeting and connecting with different women through the brand. Their individual stories, how they bring the product to life as part of their daily narrative and express their individual version of being a Reina Rebelde gives me a constant source of creative material.
What is your expansion plan? What can we next expect from you?
We have some new products in the works that are taking some time to get right. And that will of course be a constant process, but only when it makes sense. And there are some big strategic ways we are working on to connect with individual communities around the country and penetrate deeper in these amazing Latina communities.
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
Up at 6:30 AM, tons of coffee + check all emails + work out, dressed and made up by 8:30 AM, do my morning calls from 8:30 AM to 9:30 Am. Next, in-person meetings/social media marketing and management/special projects preparations through lunchtime.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Steve Jobs - because his journey to Apple started with his love of an art form (calligraphy), not the linear route we would have expected. I love stories of moguls who have no technical background in the companies that they build.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Flaming Hot Cheetos.
5. What is your spirit animal?
My 13-year-old golden retriever Maximus.
6. What is your life motto?
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell
7. Name your favorite work-day snack.
Flaming Hot Cheetos. It's an obsession and my guilty pleasure.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
"A little crazy."
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
My dog (for my heart and soul), Reina Rebelde Bold Lip Color Stick in Rosa Salvaje (for my vanity), and my iPod (for my mind).
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.