A little pill-shaped lipstick in the perfect shade of nude is helping lead a paradigm shift when it comes to beauty. According to Natalie Mackey, Co-Founder of Winky Lux, makeup should be uncomplicated, affordable and influenced by today's social trends.
Mackey, who began career in finance, is a fast-thinking entrepreneur with a passion for disruption. Her brand is designed to lure Millennials out of the drugstore with a thoughtful curated assortment of products designed specifically for this in-demand demographic.
“We're trying to take market share from drugstores and convenience stores," says Mackey, who launched Winky Lux with her partner Nathan Newman in 2016. “It's about a dollar more and you get the full luxury experience; a product in a box with gold stamping. It's a thoughtful and niche value proposition at $14, but you aren't settling. If you go into drugstore most of the makeup is actually expensive, so why not get something more authentic?"
In 2015 Mackey launched Glow Concept, a holding company set on shifting the narrative when it comes to affordable beauty. The company's portfolio brands, which include Winky Lux, Jypsy and Laqa and Co., launches new products every 15-30 days and works closely with digital influencers to drive sales, both on and offline. Glow Concept brands sell to over 200 retailers across 90 countries including ASOS, Sephora, Belk and Fred Segal. Winky Lux is in over 1000 doors internationally, including Nordstrom, Pac Sun, Forever 21, American Eagle, Sephora in Asia, and Colette in Paris.
“Winky Lux is designed as beautiful precious little jewels of beauty," says Mackey. “It's not mass or class; it's more about the product."
The brand, which is known to be immediately reactive to trends (think: rainbow eyebrows), is all about relevancy and speed. Mackey said that while not all trend-inspired products are meant to become best sellers, they do help add to Winky Lux's social buzz.
“We were seeing girls putting color on eyebrows and thought this is cool, so we launched the rainbow eyebrow palette, which is still one of signature products," says Mackey, revealing that among the brand's best selling shades is a nude called Meow. “Compared to other products we sell very few, but we get a lot of press and digital traction. Some products are more for relevancy and to add excitement to the brand. it's a reason to talk to customer."
At the core of the Winky Lux brand is offering Millennials products that evoke a luxury brand experience at just pennies more than mass market offerings, available at drug stores (where the majority do their makeup purchasing).
“A lot of thing marketers don't address is the crippling student debt young girls have; it's higher than it's ever been," says Mackey. “We are finally starting to see recent college grads get jobs again, but they have a ton of debt and higher lifestyle expenses. Everything has gotten incrementally more expensive. Studies show they still buy a lot of their makeup at drugstore but are embarrassed by it because the branding is so off."
With that realization, Mackey set off to create a “super luxurious line at a drugstore price," with a focus on quick product execution.
“We sought quick turn time manufacturers and invested in technology to make supply chain really succinct," says Mackey. “We have a hard fast 45 day [product manufacturing] rule. If the lab can't keep up, we'd move on."
According to Mackey the move to produce fast not only allows the brand to be immediately reactive to social media trends,), but also as a way to keep inventory under control.
“The way that startups die is inventory risk," says Mackey. “We wanted to be able to get into a product fast, and launch it into the market while it's hot."
In terms of the product assortment, Winky Lux designs were inspired by Artist Damien Hirst's 'Pill' Collection.
The range includes nine product categories: lipsticks, glosses, eye palettes, face powders, contour powders, brow sculpters, blush, illuminator, and cream eye shadows. Each product is packaged in custom white lacquer, silver, or gold and is housed in a floral patterned box. Lip Velours, which are among the brand's top sellers, feature metallic packaging, shaped like a pill capsule. Additionally, each lip velour color has its own hashtag so millennials can track their color and see a digital mood board that inspires new ways to wear the color.
WIth over 50,000 direct customers-the brand does 30 percent of its business online- in just 14 months, Mackey said she is focused on growing the social media following and identifying more trends that can become future products.
“We have a lot of young Millennials on the team who track Millennial publications like Mashable, Popsugar, Buzzfeed, and Refinery 29, as well as influencers," says Mackey, adding that Winky Lux trend scouts identified more than 350 trends just last year. “Trends start small and then they have a ripple effect."
Mackey says the Winky Lux future may include new partnerships with retailers like Target, with a masstige positioning. This summer will also bring a standalone Winky Lux retail store to the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.
“Having a store will allow customers to come down and see all the new products as they happen," she says. “We can have parties, and hold activations. Having a retail space also gives you data and power and the ability to know how much you can sell in a certain amount of space"
And, of course Mackey says she is hoping to continue improving the brand's turn around time, making ideas become products even faster.
“The faster we launch the more customers we get," says Mackey. “The more people care about us, the more they need something new. We want to keep innovating, and keep the product lineup fresh."
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.