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."
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."