NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith. And in this episode, we’re going to be speaking with New York City makeup brand, MAKE, and stepping onto Launch Pod, we have Ariana Mouyiaris, the creative director and co-founder. Thank you for stepping onto the New York Launch Pod, Arianna.
Ariana: Thank you, Hal.
NYLP: So what is MAKE?
Ariana: MAKE is the first for-benefit brand in the beauty industry, which means that it was founded as a social enterprise. We give 10% of sales, whether it’s directly through our website or through our wholesale to a foundation called the We See Beauty Foundation, which supports women-led, worker-owned cooperatives. So we’re really innovative business platform. And it’s so exciting because we’ve founded here in New York City. All the manufacturing of the brand is done in Long Island City, so it’s really close to home. And what exactly do you want to know?
NYLP: When did you start?
Ariana: We launched in February 2013. So just a few years ago, but we’ve already had very good feedback. We launched in Barneys’ in September of that year, we have quite a few kind of prominent third party websites who were stalking us, and we’re now looking to launch in the U.K. and in the Middle East.
NYLP: So in 2013 or before, were you looking around and saying the world needs another cosmetics brand?
Ariana: I was actually saying the exact opposite. I absolutely do not think that the world needs or needed another beauty brand, but my father, who is founder of MAKE as well, his business was always contract manufacturing. So for the last 40 years, he used run one of the biggest, most successful contract manufacturing companies for beauty internationally, making for the great and good in beauty, including incubating Francois Nars’ line in the ’90s.
And he had a lot of success in the business, but wanted to give back in a way and to do something that was very close to his heart, and that was supporting cooperatives. He grow up in a small town in Cyprus, about 4,000 people, and was raised by his aunt and uncle who were a part of the cooperative. He, as a young child, six, seven, eight, was selling eggs to the local cooperative, was able to buy his first bike from the proceeds of those sales and stuff like that.
So he saw from a very early age how cooperative businesses and cooperative societies allowed for everyday people to better their lives, and that’s something that he really believe in. And I studied International Relations for my B.A. at Brown, and I’m equally passionate about social development and looking at new forms of using capitalism basically to do more for society. So that was where our interest collided.
NYLP: So 10% of sales are going to the We See Beauty Foundation?
Ariana: Exactly. So, a lot of brands do charitable work, which is very commendable. And given the scale, it’s significant, for sure. But we want it to really make a stronger commitment to saying that business could be done differently and to kind of bet our bottom line on it.
And so giving 10% of the sale price means something costs $25, $2.5 is going to go directly to the foundation. It’s different than saying 10% of proceeds after sale, after profits, on one lipstick color in one month of the year is going to go to breast cancer, for example.
So again that’s a challenge, and that’s something we’re trying to make work. It makes little to no money for any advertising spend and stuff like that, so we’re really coming at it from a more independent standpoint, in a grassroots perspective, and hoping the message resonate with them, but also that the fact that we’re not compromising in terms of quality or design or aesthetic or our inspiration in terms of really trying to create something innovative and novel, that people want to live with and use. I think that’s where we’re different.
NYLP: And this money is going into cooperative businesses or helping start-up cooperative businesses?
Ariana: The goal of We See Beauty Foundation is to incubate and accelerate women-led, worker-owned cooperatives in the Americas. We started focusing first, excuse me, or primarily in the United States, but I believe in our second year, we were already collaborating and working with Mercado Global, which works with non-profits and cooperatives in Guatemala. So we were already partnering with interesting companies who were doing work outside of the States.
We try to not only incubate in sense of funding different cooperative projects. So we have done that. We worked with Opportunity Threads, which is a cooperative in North Carolina. It’s a cut and sew cooperative working for the fashion accessories businesses. We’ve given them, for example, a grant to help develop their business to buy machinery and to work on their website and photography, stuff like that, which has been great. But we’ve also helped bring in new business projects.
So we have collaborated, again, with Mercado Global. We designed a bag, which was using textiles from the Guatemalan cooperatives, and then having them assembled and made in the United States, and then sewing them to our site. And then we’ve also worked to launch that with other partners here.
So, through giving a new platform for these business, they’ve also been able to, again, just reaching new audiences and grow. Yeah, I believe in that first year when we were working with Opportunity Threads, they grew something like 200% that year, so it’s been really satisfying.
NYLP: And then when you see this growth, what does that mean for these cooperatives?
Ariana: It just means that they’re able to build more sustainable businesses and to reach a wider audience, whether it’s gaining new patrons, new people who want to collaborate and work on things, working outside of a scope that they might have had without the exposure. So that’s, again, something which is part of the foundation’s mission.
NYLP: And when you see that growth, what does it mean for the women in the cooperatives?
Ariana: Well, again, it means that they’ll have a job, and they’ll be able to take profits probably out of the company in that year. It also has meant that the cooperative itself has grown, they’ve been able to bring more women on to the team.
So, sometimes it’s easy to feel like, okay, what’s the big deal if one small cooperative brings 2 or 5 or 10 new people on to the staff? It seems like a meager addition to the workforce or to the local economy. But within those families, those women might be supporting two or three children who will then have more access to education, more access to health care, and that just has a roll-on effect.
NYLP: So, when you were starting MAKE, what did you need to get started as a beauty brand?
Ariana: I guess you need everything that any brand needs really, you need a vision, which was fairly clear from the beginning. We already had a really magnificent and probably the best partner we can possibly ask for in terms of parent company, that had all of the knowledge and skill of…again, at the time, it was I’d say 38 years worth of experience really, contract manufacturing and creating some of the best quality cosmetics in the industry.
So, yeah we were just very, very lucky to have incredible labs, a really wonderful team, a core team, and then to bring on just really key members who got the vision and wanted to see how to make a social enterprise and for-benefit business not feel like a token gesture or a charity purchase. You know, something that would really be strong on its own legs.
NYLP: What would you say the MAKE brand is?
Ariana: I’m smiling, because MAKE, it’s really…I don’t know. For me, MAKE is a really approachable beauty brand because it believes in creative self-expression. And what inspires me about the Creative Director of this brand is that I don’t feel like I have the keys to telling you how to look beautiful. I don’t think that power is in anybody outside of whoever is choosing to buy and wear the product itself.
For me, beauty has always been confidence, when somebody feels comfortable in their own skin, and it’s not about whatever is coming down the fashion runways, although sometimes it’s aspirational and you might want to try it, or you might really resonate and relate to it.
But if wearing a clear mascara and finding a great SPF product that protects your skin, it makes you feel pretty, or wearing a lip gloss, or a super high pigmented eye shadow, making a platform that would allow people to say, “Okay, out of all of this stuff, I can find something that speaks to me,” I think that that’s…
I don’t know if that’s empowering. Maybe empowering is the wrong word, but it’s just refreshing not to try to be didactic as a brand, and to say that we believe in contemporary beauty, and that is minimalist beauty as well as maximalist beauty, and just trying to provide the building blocks for the everyday.
Personally I’ve always been somebody who loves multi-functional products, things that I can apply with my fingers, things that are really tactile and easy to use. And again using very high-quality pigments, we’re able to give a lot of coverage, very intense color, but also blendable color, so it’s easier to not mess up and not feel like you’re doing it wrong, and at a price point, I think, that that’s really accessible. So in that way, it allows people to experiment more.
NYLP: It’s kind of a tough line in the beauty industry in terms of what to sell and how to sell it. How are you selling confidence? What is the way that you’re doing that?
Ariana: I don’t know if anyone can sell confidence, but we can absolutely, I think, try to say that inspiration and color and beauty is all around us, and each of us sees that differently. We all have our own perspective. And what we’ve done from the brand side is to say, “Well, we would like to show you how we see beauty, and that’s in collaborating with people outside of the beauty space, seeing how they see the world and see color, given essentially free rein to really create something that inspires them.”
So our brief isn’t to do consumer research or focus groups or catalog what the latest trendy colors are going to be for a season. It’s to say, “Okay, we work with really, really talented people.”
And for example, working with Faye Toogood who’s British, she is a furniture designer, creative director. She launched a unisex clothing line a few years back. She has such a nuanced sense of color. And so I was kind of saying to her, “What’s something that inspires you? We would like you to do a color collection. You can come up with anything, and we’ll find a way to turn that into a product.”
So her first collection for us was called New Medieval, and it was kind of looking at a near future, slightly apocalyptic landscape inspired by the north, like Iceland and volcanoes and medieval pigments. And we took all of the visual imagery that she brought to us and the colors.
And from that initial concept we said, “Okay, based on those dark hues, those would make really beautiful eye shadows. And we can make something, add a little luster and create some powder with that, you know, those deep magma hues from the volcano to make an amazing lipstick. Let’s do a matte lipstick, one of the finishes that resonate with you.”
And so each collaborations has really been a dialogue and a conversation, really, to come up with something, again, quite new one. And I think that if you look back at our catalog, we’ve done three artist-led collaborations at this point, and they all feel really timeless. And that was very much our goal, and part of the intention that at any given point, these concept collections would be relevant.
And they absolutely are. Like we collaborated with Maryam Nassir Zadeh who owns and runs her eponymous label down the Lower East Side. She’s such a visionary, inspiring individual. And she came up with these kind of nostalgic, ’70s-inspired hues, but made them really contemporary in terms of just the approach. We shot an original video out in California. She was raised in Los Angeles, so it was a very personal collection.
And lo and behold, the colors of the year this year from Pantone are pastels, and they vary much. If you look at her collection from I believe it was spring/summer 2014, it’s still relevant today. And I believe it will be five years from now. So that’s the way we do it as a brand.
And again, even in thinking about the brands when we launched, the whole landscape has changed in terms of contemporary media, and we launched primarily online first. And there are so many people out there creating their own blogs, creating their own websites, their own podcast, whatever, and finding their tribes and people who relate to their vision, their style. And these communities aren’t necessarily being driven by whatever’s happening in more mainstream commercial culture.
And so it’s been really nice to see how all these various people, what they respond to within line, what kind of products, and how that actually winds up pushing sales and SKUs that we might not have forecast, but people might just see and be like, “Oh, yeah, that really looks like something that I would wear.” And they’re passionate about it, and they reference it, and they Instagram about it, or whatever, and we see this uptick, and that’s really nice.
NYLP: I’m glad that you brought that up because actually in preparing for the interview, I read a little bit about you and MAKE, and one of the things that you said at girlboss.com was there have always been subcultures, but now people are finding their own voices more than ever, are more comfortable to explore, and that your makeup was a part of that. How is your makeup a part of that?
Ariana: Yeah. Again, I think we’re a part of that in that it’s just very much kind of where we come from. If you look let’s say in our About section on our site, we say that the brand is really inspired by creative self-expression, and we wanted to create something that would allow people to use…again my background is more on design. So, if you think of modular furniture, you’re able to add or subtract and create different forms.
And that’s what I loved about looking at the beauty line as well. We have everything that you would expect to find in a traditional beauty line. We have matte eye shadows and matte lipsticks and cream lipsticks and satin shadows.
We cover the spectrum of the product, everything is professionally formulated, it’s really high-quality, but we also have these very innovative, transforming products. So we have products like our Face Gloss or Matte Dew that you can layer over a matte shadow. So you can start to make different combinations based on different finishes and textures that you like as an individual.
And we try to show how these products can be used together to create that. We won’t necessarily say, “Oh, we’re only going to push this,” or “This is what’s in. Just buy reds.” We try to offer you a scope of color and then to give you our review on what’s inspiring us at any given time. But again we have the breadth, that people can really find what they relate to and what they like based on the color SKUs.
NYLP: Are there any other brands that have a similar focus on self-expression?
Ariana: I believe how we’ve spoken about it anyway has been really different. I’m not going to mention a brand, but one that’s just recently launching has kind of adopted a lot of very, very, very similar language, and it’s something we’re kind of looking into. But again, like they say, when people copy, it’s flattery. So I feel like right now, where we are, and how we’ve developed and positioned brand, it’s just speaking to what is relevant right now in contemporary culture. So I’m glad and I would love to see if more minds would take note.
NYLP: What are some of the other lines doing in terms of marketing themselves that’s, I suppose, the traditional way?
Ariana: To be honest, I don’t really follow the beauty industry so closely. I really like to look outside of the beauty industry to just influence, I guess, where we’re going. I feel like, well, it makes my job much more enjoyable and it makes, I think, the feel a little bit fresher.
But I do know that when I see a lot of the bigger players in the industry, not even just the beauty brands, but also the people retailing it, positioning beauty in a way that either sexualizes women or makes them look a little bit ditzy holding a lipstick, that does not resonate with me at all. I find that to feel very dated. And I’m constantly surprised that, I guess, how flat I find a lot of what I see out there and all I can say is, “I wish I had that marketing budget to do more.” But I don’t right now.
NYLP: And are you looking to market to all women or a certain segment?
Ariana: Well, I’d like to say I don’t want to just market to women. I feel like, especially given our last collection, which is the Naxos Collection, we moved into skincare and also hybrid skincare, cosmetic products in what we call a gender-neutral way. I believe that society now is in, not influx, I feel like we’ve reach a stage where things are really post-gender. It’s seems a little bit staid to be talking about things in terms of male or female.
And honestly if I had teenage boys who are going to like a metal concert or a theme party, and they want to buy an eyeliner, like, “Good for you. Try that. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t have to say that you’re gay or that you’re bisexual.” I feel like that’s not inconsequential.
And it very much goes back to saying or feeling like creative self-expression is really fundamental to our point of view, whether I’m a woman, but I don’t relate to wearing red lipstick, it doesn’t mean that I’m not feminine, or that I don’t see myself as a woman, but I can skew the words androgyny one day, and feel more “girlie” another day. And that’s all part of my personality, and I feel that we all have these multifaceted aspects to our personalities that shouldn’t be constrained by any fixed notions of color, race, gender. So that’s where we are.
NYLP: So very inclusive for the brand.
Ariana: Hey, anybody who wants that, we support your exploration.
NYLP: And all ages?
Arianna: Yeah, all ages, and I don’t mean just skewing younger…I know that in founding the brand, we were really looking at a psychographic, you know, people who would be inspired by a brand speaking to self-expression, individuality. And you can be 70, you can be 50, you can be 30, you can be 18. And I think that our aesthetic and our sensibility will relate to a certain aesthetic and a certain type of human.
We are very aesthetically-driven. We believe in artful collaborations. So I definitely think that we have a certain audience. But that said, I also know just as a line, that we will still also, I think, probably appeal to a lot of younger people who are also kind of finding their voice and figuring out what their tone is.
NYLP: And your sales, are they mostly online or in stores?
Ariana: Yeah, right now, they’re largely online, which honestly is great because that’s the way that we are able as a business to give most to the foundation, when we’re selling direct through our website. So that is best for the bottom line there. But it’s also encouraging because traditionally it’s very difficult for beauty brands or cosmetics to sell online because people do tend to want to try the color firsthand.
We do have a lot of products that, again, are very approachable because they’re multifunctional and they will shift or help transform existing products. So we’re able to be tested and tried in that way, and then get people hooked, because we’re just really…were great. But most beauty businesses, I believe something like 30% of their transactions are done for replenishment, which are done online. But we’re growing a really loyal online customer, which I think once we go more fully into retail, it’ll just grow.
NYLP: You talked a little bit about this, but it must be hard for someone, it could be a guy or a girl, going onto your site and saying, “Okay, this is something that I want,” without the ability to try it out. How do you overcome that obstacle?
Ariana: Well, I guess we have different strategies. We do a very robust gift with purchase marketing initiative. So let’s say you try something that maybe you wouldn’t need to try so much in person like, I don’t know, you want a really great makeup remover. Ours has gotten wonderful reviews, it’s yeah, a really bestselling product. It’s not something you necessarily need to try and already end purchasing that, you’re probably eligible for a gift of purchase, which might be a matte lipstick for the month, so then you’re able to test the formula, and if you like it, then you can come on and try another color.
We also do sampling. We’ve partnered with some really great businesses that have cropped up around the same time as us like Birchbox, and that’s really allowed us to do robust sampling to hundreds of thousands of people. So people have been, again, exposed to various, different formulas and textures of ours. So that’s been really, really successful for us, both from a marketing standpoint, but also for sales, because they’ll also sell certain SKUs of ours, which is great. And we’ve been able to do that sampling approach with various, different people in the industry, and then directly as well.
And now, we also have opened up our MAKE Showroom in SoHo, in New York. So, we’re open a couple of times a week, and people can come and try the full line, and buy directly there as well. So that’s another way.
NYLP: Where in SoHo?
Ariana: It’s just above Dean & DeLuca. I believe it’s 560 Broadway. So just off Prince Street. Very central.
NYLP: And on your website, you also have a Lifestyle tab?
Ariana: Yeah, that’s my fault. That’s probably coming off. Initially we have launched as a wider platform, and we’re also planning on commissioning and bringing on more design objects and things like that. We’ve scaled that back right now, but we still are looking to bring in specific products that will relate to new initiatives. So that’s kind of where that came from. So, you could find like bubbles and a really amazing pillow made by an ethical Greek company and stuff like that. So looking at beauty, again, from a slightly wider lens.
NYLP: What goes into making cosmetics and testing out the various products?
Ariana: Basically we work with our own internal labs. So that’s the powder labs, skincare lab, the color lab. And we also have a really, really great product development team, which basically means, whether we’re working with a collaborator, or if it’s just myself kind of going on a whim and saying, I don’t know, for example with our Moonlight Primer, which launched in September.
I was having an issue with vitamin D. I did my blood test and my vitamin D was low. And living between New York and London, there’s not that much light in the winter. I was like, “Okay.” So I went to our product development team and I was like, “What are we going to do about vitamin D?” I wear sunscreen because I want to protect my skin, but I want the good benefits. I don’t want to totally block my ability to absorb the little vitamin D I’m exposed to. I’m like, “What can we do about that?”
And so it’s relying or starting a conversation, and then relying on the expertise and all the research that’s being done all the time in-house, for people to come back and say, “Oh, well, actually there’s a natural extract, which is chicory root, and it’s been shown to help vitamin D absorption. It opens up skin receptors. And so you can use this with an SPF as a booster, and you’ll be able to absorb the vitamin D.
So, it’s just a very fluid, creative back and forth basically to then be able to have an idea, figure out if there is a product that can come out of it, and then really start testing it.
So, making the formulas, testing it, do you like the finish, is it too tacky, is the pigment load distributing evenly? And then going through all the packaging, funny packaging that we think looks cool and relevant and we want in our bathrooms or in our bags, and testing with formula in it, and various other kind of boring things like volatility testing and stuff. And yeah, packaging, getting it out the door.
NYLP: How long does it take to develop a new product?
Ariana: For us, quicker than most people because, again, everything’s in-house, luckily. But I would say that’s part of the benefit of having a manufacturer as our parent company. It means that we can turn around a product in…I mean six months is fast, but we can do it. It’d be great if I we’re developing like a year in advance, but my mind doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re a little under the gun. But it does mean that we can turn around things really quickly and have ideas and get them to market first which is exciting.
NYLP: And since I know very little about cosmetics, what makes a high-quality product versus a low-quality product?
Ariana: It really has to do with the ingredients that you put in, the pigments, the bases, that’s really the biggest thing. And you can always tell in terms of the product’s longevity, whether it’s how long it lasts, or for example, if you see something that’s very high pigment but then you put it on, it’s very sheer, but it’s supposed to be…I feel like most beauty buyers out there, they know when they get something when they try it, what the quality level is.
NYLP: And you’re creative director, the brand itself is very interesting. Can you talk about how you came up with the idea and the positioning for MAKE itself?
Ariana: Again, I think that this just goes back to the fact that all my professional life prior to MAKE was outside of the beauty industry. I grew up running around my dad’s factory, which was wonderful and loving all those stuff that came out of lab. I always was passionate about that part of the process. But I didn’t identify really as like a beauty girl, so to speak. I didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but I definitely love product, and I love the development.
And the things that I did really enjoy, whether it was playing dress up when I was younger, or like going to as my staples as I get older, I felt like there were different skincare brands that I thought were really inspiring and aspirational, and that resonated with me like Aesop, which was again kind of looking at beauty, but being very much inspired by design. Having that as kind of a founding principle, and something that they did really well, and also having a brand like that, that spoke to me as a, I don’t know, as a human, as an individual, as an intelligent person, I’d like to think.
And the newsletters they would send would be talking about books to read and places to visit, and culture to see. And I really appreciated that and I thought that that was really refreshing. And that was definitely the kind of approach that I wanted to bring to a color cosmetics line. So, I hope that we were doing that.
NYLP: What’s been the most difficult part about being in the cosmetics or the beauty industry?
Ariana: I think that right now, what’s happening is that a lot of smaller independent brands are being bought up, and the larger conglomerates and the larger brands have become these really massive houses, really. They just have a lot of buying power behind them, so that basically means that you’re bought out of a lot of the media. Unfortunately, most magazines have their very loyal advertisers, which means that they also have their very loyal placements for those advertisers even in their more editorial sections. So, we’re kind of lucky to get credit in different places and get the exposure just purely from, I guess, a financial standpoint.
But that said, I think that the people that really get us and that appreciate what we’re doing really championed the brand. And that’s been really, really nice from where I’m sitting because people I think see our site, or understand our vision or talk to us, and try the product, they’re really impressed, and they like what we have to say and how we’re doing our business. And I think that ultimately feels good.
NYLP: One thing that I think is great is also your collaboration with our guest from episode seven, a little cross-promotion, Dear Kate. Can you talk about that?
Ariana: Sure. Dear Kate is such a great, great brand and idea, and a very dear friend is the CEO over there. And so we were approached by them to help support their third anniversary, I believe it was. And it was a red theme and so I thought, “Okay, well, we could do reds. Let’s do a red bar for their red theme.”
And I really appreciate their irreverent approach to active sportswear and women’s issues, and the way that they highlight everyday beautiful individuals regardless of their shape, background, fields. It’s really refreshing and inspiring. And also, how they look back at heritage, I’ll call like heritage female figures, and cast them in a new light and bring them to the fore. Yeah, I think they’re great and they’re so in line and relevant to today’s woman.
So, yeah it’s an honor to be able to do stuff with them. And we actually, in our SoHo showroom this evening, are doing an event with them. So, it’s probably almost over, but I hope it’s going well. And if anybody’s around and wants to go, 560 Broadway, 5th floor.
NYLP: So you spoke a lot about your company, the public benefit, and also your individuality approach to it. What ultimately would you see as success for your company?
Ariana: Sure. I would say success for our company would be when we’re a $10 million business, a $20 million business. And if it’s $10 million, that would mean $1 million a year would be going to the foundation, We See Beauty Foundation. And really supporting, promoting, incubating women-led business, cooperative business, that would be a really wonderful thing, because that’s the point at which we’re not just doing good by being a charitable company using, let’s say, a capitalist business, a profit-making business, to give to charity, to do something, but actually the charitable monies that we’re giving would really be able to be shifting people’s lives in a real scalable way at that kind of a stage.
So, what that looks like for us would be finding really, robust strong partnerships with retailers, both nationally and internationally, and starting to scale. We right now are still an independent business. We’re a very small team. And I think we’re doing well, but when we start to be able to actually maximize our productivity. Again we have a manufacturing arm, if we can be running hundreds of thousands of a shade as opposed to hundreds, I think it’s really going to start singing its own tune.
NYLP: And how many products do you have right now?
Ariana: We have over 250 SKUs, so over 250 products across skincare and beauty, like regular makeup and skincare. So we came to market with a very robust offering, probably more so than smaller brands usually do. But hopefully that’s showed our intention and our commitment to sticking around.
NYLP: Ariana, even though you’re an outsider, it’s good that you know a lot about the beauty industry and that you’re very passionate about what you’re doing. Thank you for stepping on to the New York Launch Pod, and sharing your time with us.
Ariana: That you, Hal.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can follow us on social media, @NYLaunchpod, or visit NYLaunchPod.com.SHARE THIS: