Can you remember the last time you walked into a branch of Boots, wandered round and chose a lipstick shade on a whim? The last time you learnt of a new shampoo launch by seeing it physically in store, rather than recalling it's inclusion in a YouTube favourites round up? The last time you bought a face powder without furiously Googling MakeupAlley reviews in the aisle first? Me neither.
But rooting through my mother’s old makeup case to find three identical nubs of Revlon’s Black Cherry (and not much else) confirms that this used to be the case. That is to say, that ten years ago, if a beauty brand wasn't available locally, and wasn't a household name, you probably wouldn't own it. Or even know of its existence (and that's if it existed at all, outside of the highly limited stock that the Revlon, L'Oreal and Estée Lauder counters offered). And if you were a woman of colour outside of the five foundation colours likely provided by these brands? You drew an even shorter straw. Women knew what was available, and bought the item that matched their needs best. And when they ran out, they simply repurchased it. No shopping around, no options. Nothing ever being quite right.
This is no longer the case. Department and 'drug' stores, as well as dedicated beauty shops, are now filled with literally hundreds of brands, many of which with a high product turnover. Nowadays, some of the larger brands put out a new product launch weekly, and there are even online networks and social media pages dedicated to predicting them. The Internet's affect on the beauty world doesn't just stop at Instagram pages, beauty products are now cashing in on online marketing. 'Indie' brands from smaller companies (or even just individual people) are selling their niche products online, through sites like Etsy; but the 'Indie' category encompasses everything up to Kylie Jenner's half a billion dollar valued company, Kylie Cosmetics. Rather than the aforementioned lack of choice, there's now almost too much.
At first, I thought the rapid expansion and availability of beauty products was purely down to social media. Ten years ago, Instagram didn't exist; the only way to figure out if a lipgloss suited you was to buy it and try it on. But with the rise of social media, (and Instagram in particular) makeup artists were able to display their work through a previously unavailable visual medium. Makeup artists showed off their skillsets, which in turn inspired their fans to try their own hand at the craft. From here, it snowballed.
Beauty companies quickly pinpointed the trend, and began marketing products to help consumers achieve the desired look. Whether the 'Instagram face' (a term coined to describe heavy 'celebrity inspired' makeup looks) came first, or the products aiding it becoming mainstream (think Anastasia Beverly Hills' revolutionary contour kits, first launched in 2014), is a chicken/egg situation, but for the last few years product launches have certainly been geared towards achieving this specific 'look'. You only need to scan popular YouTube videos quickly to see what beauty gurus look for in a product; the words 'most pigmented', 'most blinding', 'most coverage' are amongst the most popular titles luring viewers into believing this product is the best one yet, the one product to stop you needing any others.
The beauty industry plays on the consumer's desire for a 'capsule' makeup bag, similarly to how the fashion industry insists we need a 'capsule' wardrobe. Whilst it's purposefully obtuse to deny social media's, and it's 'stars', roles in the recent boom in the beauty industry, it's also down to the marketing techniques of the brands themselves. The technique of sending product to influencers, having them take photos of (or with) it, create demand for said product, then make sure the supply of the product is super limited is something we've been seeing across the beauty industry for the last few years. Although it follows the classic 'supply/demand' model, taking the model to its extremes was originally implemented by fashion brands (remember when J Lo's green dress was responsible for the creation of Google images?). Fashion houses sent their latest designs to 'it girls' and celebrities before social media existed, and far before being an 'influencer' was a viable job title. And whilst it continues to do so, it's the 'younger' fashion brands that are moving with the times and are taking advantage of the groundwork laid by their predecessors; influencer discount codes and collaborations have flooded our Instagram feeds for years from brands such as 'Pretty Little Thing' and 'Missguided', but classic designer brands are more apprehensive about using creators in their marketing campaigns.
This is where the beauty industry swooped in, stealing classic fashion marketing techniques and applying them to makeup products, making the lust for high-cost designer fashion items applicable to face powders and lipsticks, and in turn making beauty more relatable, accessible and affordable than fashion for a generation obsessed with social media influencers.
As a case study of sorts, in late 2015 Kylie Jenner's infamous lipkits sold out in thirty seconds. As they're sold online only, there's no guarantee the lipstick will suit the person purchasing it, but it's the name brand (in this case, Kylie Jenner) they're buying into that allows them to take this risk. The covetability of owning such an in demand product for a relatively low price allows the consumer to be more open to letting things such as manufacturing faults, or colour choices, 'slide' (and it would seem that Jenner knows this, allowing her company to have such notoriously bad customer service). Those that didn't manage to snag one had to sign up to a waiting list for the next batch. This type of marketing is reminiscent of the almost mythical Hermes Birkin bag waiting list. Priced from roughly £6,000 upwards to nearer £100,000, The Internet is full of stories of women telling their tales of Birkin purchases, which more often than not end in failure, "We do not take orders. It is not possible to order a colour". Some even claim the famous waiting list is "a hoax - to make it seem more exclusive than it is" (this theory may sound wild, but a company that only takes orders twice a year, and sometimes even just refuses to sell their products, doesn't seem like the best business model).
But this level of exclusivity, employed as the marketing trick of choice by the fashion industry, has trickled down to the beauty market. Women are both realising that spending an inheritance on a bag is neither advisable or attainable, and cooler, newer celebrities (and the things pictured on them) are replacing the old - and are in turn replacing the things we lust for today (Hermes' Birkins and Kellys are named after Jane Birkin and Grace Kelly, whereas the Kylie Shop, another business venture named after Jenner, sells merchandise for a far more reasonable $15-$80 price tag).
Is it the cost of a lipgloss that makes it more appealing than leather goods the price of a house, or is it whose lips you've seen it on? Is it the compulsion to own desirable products without conforming to the fashion industry's 'one size fits none' policy? Or is it simply that women are finally being listened to, and a gap in the beauty market is well and truly being filled? Maybe it's a mixture of all of them. Literally who knows. Marketing is wild.