A Rant About Common Criticisms of Indies

I’m gonna ramble about some things. Just a heads-up, I am not trying to say that any of the brands mentioned here are doing something wrong, or need to spend less/more money on marketing, packaging, and their aesthetic in general. Nor am I trying to criticize people who care about any of these things (because that’s me, I care about these things.) I AM criticizing people who complain about certain potential aspects of a brands identity, marketing and aesthetic.

My post on Fyrinnae’s Liquid Mattes just went up (which Fyrinnae read, and enjoyed, which makes me SUPER HAPPY) and I realized as I was writing it that I had a lot to say about how the online beauty community talks about companies, organizations, and other individuals that provide us with the face goop. I realized this so hard, in fact, that I left myself a little space where that post could link to THIS post and everyone could inform themselves of my completely inconsequential opinion, thus forcing myself to actually write this post, which I really do want to write because I care a lot about makeup for reasons I’ll eventually get into. I was going to write a post about how AWESOME Fyrinnae is, and how much they rock, but I got pretty sidetracked so that post will have to wait. (Also on the post waiting list: the “I will never buy from this company again because I am upset” situation, aka drama, and a whole host of other topics.)

Ahem.

As you can see in that review, and as I’m sure other members of the Beauty Internets (TM) have noticed if they’ve indie brands; indie brands can be kind of low-budget. Lower production value than a multi-million dollar brand owned by Estee Lauder (who owns a LOT of brands, y’all). “We are a small company and we are doing literally everything we can to get you the thing at the price that you want” sort of deal. Lately, however, I’ve been seeing a lot of brands that I’ve been immediately categorizing as indie due to their behaviors pop up with a much higher production budget. Small brands that use social media for marketing but actually don’t suck at it, brands that don’t sell in stores and don’t appear to be owned by any of the several huge corporations that control much of the US beauty industry. Brands priced competitively to mid- to high-end brands you’d see at Sephora.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pick on Fyrinnae in this piece. (I love Fyrinnae, most of their makeup is probably the best.) I just think that the cultural move within the beauty internet to fancier packaging and high production value photoshoots,etc. might have some side effects for brands who don’t focus on aesthetic, and I want to talk about that. This isn’t the only trend within the beauty internet that I want to discuss, either, so stay tuned motherfuckers.

Moving on, Necromancy Cosmetica is kind of on the cusp of this. Their website is nice, pretty easy to navigate with good, quirky and thematic pictures of the product. Their lipsticks are priced at $16, a good mid range price (and COMPLETELY REASONABLE for a handcrafted lipstick, even more so considering the quality) that reminds me of Lime Crime’s* $16 indie lipsticks, or how MAC priced their lipsticks when I was first getting into makeup for serious. However, they’re very transparent about their facilities (small), their production volume (“handmade”), and the owner has a strong personal social media presence.

Other brands that I’d consider high-budget indie would include Instagram stars like Black Moon, Jeffree Star, Sugarpill, Lime Crime. Interestingly, some of these brands are priced competitively when compared to quirkier, niche brands, while some compare better to higher end Sephora offerings. (Lime Crime makes THE MOST expensive indie liquid-to-matte lipstick, Jeffree Star makes one of the least expensive when compared across all brands, but is solidly in the middle of indie pricing, Sugarpill’s eyeshadow is priced cheaper per once than a smaller geek indie brand that I’m not going to name because I don’t want to be a jerk. Everyone prices things based on information I’m not privy to, I am not going to judge someone who offers what they can.) They also have offices, warehouses, and employ more people than some of the smaller indie brands. Smaller indie brands might sell on Etsy, or purport to make cosmetics “in [their] kitchen”, though a lot of the old standards I follow have started moving to their own domains due to recent growth (yay!).

The industry dynamics that lead to pricing patterns, aesthetic choices in lookbooks, and social media trends are absolutely fascinating to me, but this evening I’m really here to talk about some of the things I’ve seen people say about Fyrinnae, and what I think the implications of those opinions are.

I don’t like the packaging/the packaging looks cheap/when are you getting new packaging.
The consumer is entitled to their opinion about the presentation of the product in question, but riddle me this: If “nicer” packaging was accompanied by a twofold price increase, how do you think people would respond? Not well. Part of Fyrinnae’s brand identity is the inexpensive nature of their products. You can get a really lovely lipstick (liquid-to-matte or traditional bullet style) for $10, and a huge range of eyeshadow colors exists in the $6.75 category. They employ a number of cosmetic chemists, and a lot of their eyeshadow formulations involve complexities such as baking certain pigment combos to bring out unique finishes/colors/etc. in the eyeshadows. The eyeshadows come in little jars, similar to those one can find in bulk at a place like TBK Trading, and pale in comparison to Sugarpill’s lovingly designed pill bottles, or a brand like NARS’ signature sleek black packaging.

You can sacrifice one of three things for physical products like makeup. Quality, presentation, price. That is to say, high quality, pleasing presentation, and low price. Fyrinnae makes a high quality product and offers it at a low price. Sugarpill makes a high quality product with pleasing presentation at a higher price. NARS makes a high quality product with pleasing presentation at a high price, which is why they’re “luxury”, though sometimes the quality slips and that is why I don’t buy NARS eyeshadows anymore, it throws off the quality/presentation/price balance and makes the product worthless.

So yes, Fyrinnae could invest in a heavily branded packaging aesthetic, but prices would have to go up and they’ve found the prices that work for them.

Sometimes their website is closed/orders take so long to ship/why does shipping COST MONEY.
Yeah, company shut downs when you want to buy the thing can be really frustrating. Fyrinnae is really transparent about this practice, though, which alleviates a lot of any of the issues I could personally have with their shutdowns. We, as consumers, have to remember that small companies can get overwhelmed when lots of people want the thing, and that there are two options here. Expand, and make more of the thing, or slow down and get the thing to all of the people who’ve bought it (re: “orders take so long to ship”), and make more of the thing. Fyrinnae has stated publicly that they (the owners) are comfortable with their current size because it allows them a good balance of control and creative freedom, and they can afford their overhead.

It’s not always fun, but if you WANT to support small business it’s far easier to accept these seemingly weird realities. I’ve worked for several independent brick-and-mortars, and there can be a lot of pushback if the business closes for several weeks to take a much needed vacation (sometimes this means doing inventory and not actually taking a vacation). The art supply store that I currently work at gives people non-traditional days off (my days off are Thursday and Tuesday) to keep the store open six days a week, and the customer entitlement when their favorite salesperson is off can be appalling. People need to take breaks, sometimes just to keep the business going.

A wonderful thing about the internet is that we can buy things from ANYWHERE! Businesses aren’t limited to their immediate surroundings, and frequently don’t have to have physical storefronts, which allows for lower prices and greater variety (especially if the product isn’t being sold wholesale to a boutique). However, this means that the money you save because you’re not also supporting a physical store goes back, in part, to paying to get the thing to you. When you buy something in a store, you’re paying for shipping in a more subtle way. Companies could build shipping into the cost, but shipping varies so greatly by location that a worldwide average shipping cost would be a fantastic deal to some (Australia) and a horrible deal to others (Fyrinnae shipping to somewhere in Seattle).

One of the most common reactions to Necromancy Cosmetica that I’ve seen (besides “these are the best and I nEED THEM ALL”) is “omg shipping though” “why is shipping so expensive” “if you offered free shipping, maybe I’d buy one lipstick”. This actually put me off of the brand for a little while, but I finally gave in and did the shipping estimate to find that shipping for me was $4. Whomp whomp, I felt dumb. Always do your brand homework! In contrast, shipping for Illamasqua (based in England) is more like $20. I have purchased things from both companies, and I have to say that if I want the thing, the shipping is worth. Shipping is relative, people, and “free” shipping will get built into the cost of the product.

Shipping costs money. Deal with it, or do not buy things online. We can’t force small business owners to eat the cost, don’t even try that shit with me.

The website is meh/slow/crashes.
Websites are expensive, and this is frustrating, and you should also check your internet connection because it might be a you problem. This happens with all websites, not just indie. Sephora crashed when they announced the scandalous high point rewards last year.

There aren’t good product pictures/swatches/diverse swatches.
This is a really common complaint for basically all brands. I think the problem is twofold; models and product shots are expensive, and many companies, especially large ones, aren’t super awesome at listening to customers and haven’t gotten with the program yet. Diversity is a problem in general in the beauty industry, and activism and education are always good tools on the path to addressing these issues.

Supporting brands that show product on a greater range of skintones that pale pink white person (ColourPop immediately springs to mind with their light/medium/dark swatch arms for each product), and supporting brands founded and maintained by people of color are also good ways to further diversity. Here’s are some lists of makeup brands recommended for people of color. I’ve tried some of these brands, but not all (and there is overlap between the lists).

As someone who’s tried to take pictures that accurately show how complex and beautiful Fyrinnae products are: Good Fucking Luck.

Part of why I actually started using this blog (instead of just thinking about using this blog but never producing content) is because I want to more swatches of less-represented brands out into circulation. I touched on this in the Necromancy Cosmetica review, and will probably talk about it again, but I rely on online, personalized blog reviews and swatches for a majority of my makeup buying decisions. If you feel that a brand doesn’t have enough swatches, start swatching their stuff and getting it on to the internet, ESPECIALLY if they offer samples, like Fyrinnae.

Because this post has been rather negative, I’m going to end it with a brief list of some of my favorite things about indie brands, Fyrinnae in particular; interesting and innovative products, the standard of free samples being included in every order, the ability to purchase samples, “non-traditional” colors, brands that cater to minority identity groups or interest groups (queer makeup, like Fyrinnae, or geek-themed makeup, or Sugarpill’s drag inspired aesthetic), brands that ACTUALLY TELL YOU WHEN PRODUCT IS LIMITED EDITION AND HAVE A BAR ON THE WEBSITE THAT GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF HOW MUCH PRODUCT IS LEFT (Necromancy Cosmetica does this and I LOVE IT), transparency about shipping costs, transparency in general, and my favorite thing about indies is the knowledge that, when I buy from them, I’m supporting people like me who are doing what they love on their own terms.

 

 

*Yes, I know everyone hates Lime Crime. I don’t hate Lime Crime. I have a fuckton of their Velvetines and I have to admit, they’re worth the money. They’re the most expensive for a variety of reasons. You don’t have to agree with me but you do have to not be a dick about not agreeing with me.

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