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."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.