Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Under-the-radar makeup brands

We are all familiar with the behemoths of the makeup industry, whether it be the drugstore brands like Revlon, Almay and L'Oreal, the mid-range brands such as MAC, Urban Decay, Tarte and Smashbox, or the luxury brands such as Dior, Chanel and Shiseido. However, it is the lesser known cosmetics counterparts to these brands that deserve their due face time in the spotlight.

Though some of these smaller, independent brands create and sell quality, high-pigmented products, it is their lack of shelf space in stores such as Sephora and Ulta or in major department and grocery stores like Walgreens and Wal-Mart that alienate them from many shoppers. A large percentage of these brands are sold via online retailers, through their own websites, or in stores abroad, which doesn't allow for potential customers to test out or swatch products. The lack of a tangible, "know for sure that it will work for me" guarantee makes many people pass on buying products that they can try out themselves. Add in the fact that a potential customer would have to not only research these brands to find products being offered, but they would also take a chance on buying makeup based solely on online pictures without being able to smell or touch the product itself. Because let's face it, nobody wants to buy something that looks beautiful in pixels, but may smell like an old shoe once it arrives in your possession.

But with the increasingly high premium placed on newness and finding the "next, new cool thing", consumers are casting their nets wide in order to find untapped reserves (aka new brands and products) that they haven't previously heard of or tried. Then add in how social media has greatly aided communication between makeup junkies and makeup brands because of the utilization of blog forums, review sites and picture-uploading sites such as Instagram, and you'll find that these brands and their products are gaining more exposure through word-of-mouth recommendations and user-generated content with little advertising dollars spent. It's the age of PR, baby.

A few of the brands that have been hard at work behind-the-scenes, so to speak:

1. Sugarpill Cosmetics - An eyeshadow/eyelash brand dedicated to providing vibrant color selections and whimsically named products, Sugarpill also hosts on its website links to video tutorials created by popular YouTube users and bloggers that incorporate the brand's products into their uploads. For example, popular user Nikki Tutorials created a look that used Sugarpill products, and considering she has more than 186,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, that is a lot of potential customers being targeted (and potential profits being made). And if you are tired of trying to decipher which color of a piece of makeup is based upon the hue dotted at the top of its plastic container (which is always 10 shades off, always), never fear, as Sugapill uploads true-to-color photo swatches of its pigments alongside a photo of its packaged product (though sometimes the photos don't expand even when clicked a few times).
Another plus is Sugarpill's Facebook page, where new photos of people trying out different looks using the brand's products are uploaded everyday for bright and off-the-beaten-path looks.

2. Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics (OCC) - I briefly mentioned OCC when I posted about my birthday beauty wishlist, and there was a reason I mentioned the brand. OCC takes a sparse approach to promoting its products, as its website has a minimalistic design, thereby allowing the photos of said products to take center stage. Not only are the OCC products incredibly pigmented and long-wearing, but the color selection is in a league of its own in the cosmetics industry. You can purchase one of the brand's Lip Tars not just in pretty, typical girly shades, but also in bright tangerines, swamp monster browns, seafoam greens - and more. Plus, you can mix as many shades together to create your own personal color hybrid. The packaging, too, gives off an unfussy approach without bells and whistles to distract from the products. Instead, chemistry lab-esque, translucent bottles emblazoned with simple black text house the goods. Also check out the brand's Facebook page to see photos uploaded from bloggers, TV shows and from upcoming collections.

3. Lush Cosmetics - What started out as a low-key, natural brand that gained recognition for the unique way it created and named its bath, hair and body products has now turned into a force to be reckoned as it keeps growing, launching an even more expansive line of products (including a newly minted makeup line) and updating its homemade-esque packaging for brighter duds. I actually wrote a letter to the brand eight years ago, asking them to open a store in Kansas, and provided them with a list of potential locations that they could scout for retail space. (Not that I was one to make or break Lush's decision, but a year after I wrote that letter, the brand set up shop in Oak Park Mall. Just saying.) 
Usually when new concepts and products create buzz, other brands come running to mimic said products in order to gain the success that the trailblazer enjoyed. But honestly, Lush has stayed largely unrivaled. 
Here are some of Lush's interesting and oh-so-fun products that are worth a peek:

*Shower Jellies - These jellies inject a sense of childish fun into the process of getting clean. Because face it, tried-and-true washing with shower gels never made anyone crack a smile. 

*Bath Bombs - Solid shower salts that break down once in a bathtub aren't a a new idea, but the crazy colors, names and interesting ingredient additions do make Lush stand out more than anything else on the market. 

How about Sex Bomb? It's a ylang-ylang-scented bath bomb made with swirling rosy hues replete with a tiny, creamy pink rose embedded in the middle.

Take a look at Phoenix Rising, a bright purple mound with pieces of electric-colored ingredients molded together with gold dust and spicy apple scents that is topped off with a cinnamon stick placed in the center. 

I used to own a bath bomb that was baby pink and was jam-packed with hot pink glitter so that when it was dropped into a bath and luxuriated in, I'd be able to come out glimmering and glitzy. And oh, did I. Loved it the first day, but a week later when I would find the odd piece of glitter on my nose or stuck to a kneecap, I decided to forego overtly glitter-filled bombs. 

*Solid Shampoos - Sure, Lush has liquid shampoos, but can you recall having ever seen - much less used - a solid shampoo? Much like the Bath Bombs, the solid shampoos are hard to the touch until run under water, thereby becoming more malleable. And these macaron-shaped hair revver-uppers come in trouble shooting formats, such as the olive green Squeaky Clean, an oily scalp remedy that uses rosemary as a main ingredient, or Soft, a volumizing shampoo that incorporates Irish moss seawood to invigorate and enliven dull hair. 

There are many more fun, intriguing and never-before-seen products in the online store, so jump in and take a peek around.

4. Medusa's Makeup - If Urban Decay, MAC and Sugar Pill had a love child (just roll with me here),  it would be Medusa's Makeup. The price points are low ($8 pressed eyeshadows), the product names are cheeky (Xanadu, Pegasus, Wasabe), there are pressed powders AND loose pigments and the colors are loud.
Similar to Lush's unique product offerings, I find that Medusa's Makeup has a few one-of-a-kind products that stand out from the rapidly expanding cosmetics market. The first, Eyeliner Seal, is an inexpensive liquid that turns loose or pressed powder eyeshadows and/or pigments into liquid eyeliner or paint with a simple mix. Though this type of product isn't completely unknown (Too Faced has a similar, yet smaller product), for the price and ability to mix with other brands, it is in a league of its own. The second product is a hot pink artist's palette that holds up to 12 eyeshadows at the same time. Once more, an inexpensive product that fulfills a market need, and in this case, looks really, really cool. And the third product that I haven't been able to get out of my head since I discovered Medusa's Makeup a few years ago is the brand's signature electric pink-tipped kabuki makeup brush. I generally like black brushes as I can see the powder on the bristles and decide whether to apply or tap, but the neon pink of this brush


5. Models Own - Though this London-based company isn't necessarily "indie", it hasn't received a ton of press stateside, and that should change STAT. Aside from its brilliant website, Twitter and Facebook accounts that feature colorful and eye-catching pics along with information on new product launches, Models Own has done a marvelous job at positioning itself as the cool, hip brand that can back up its "let the good times roll" USP with products that are as high-quality as they are fun to look at. It should be obvious by now that bright colors and glitter stop me in my tracks similar to a hound hot on the trail, so it makes complete sense that I managed to scroll around the Models Own site for the better part of an hour to eventually buy the Beetlejuice Mini Set for nails. 

So by all means, explore outside the realms of the known and discover some of the amazing international or up-and-coming brands that aren't found in every shopping mall or drugstore.

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