“The personal is political,” it’s long been said. A saying popularized during the second wave of feminism, this expresses the idea that personal circumstances are inextricably linked to larger social and political structures. With national calamities that have piled up on top of one another in recent weeks, the personal and political are intersecting for us locally at a glaringly obvious rate. In the middle of it all just happens to be makeup.
The hashtag #boycottCOLOURETTEcosmetics began trending after Colourette Cosmetics CEO Nina Cabrera expressed her anger regarding the national government’s response to typhoon Ulysses and the damage it wrought. She tweeted, “Will we always be left to fend for ourselves? Can someone please take accountability for the Filipino people?!!!!” The tweet was punctuated with the trending hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo. Her tweet was met with rabid responses, which quickly railroaded the political into the personal. Her appearance was attacked and vile comments on her nether regions were made in a nauseating display of sexually harassing rhetoric.
Will we always be left to fend for ourselves? Can someone please take accountability for the Filipino people?!!!! #NasaanAngPangulo— Nina (@theninaellaine) November 12, 2020
Cabrera, who’s known to be fully outspoken across all her social media platforms, fired back with ease. Disparagers, realizing she would not be rattled by their comments on her person, went after the brand instead. Many made comments that because Colourette has an affordable price point, it is likely made from toxic materials. Other lifestyle journalists who’ve admittedly never tried the brand hopped on board to say, “Cheap makeup ruins your skin.”
On this particular note, I feel it is important to say that I am someone who takes recommendations very seriously. Regardless of price point, I believe that any money made is hard-earned, and so there is a responsibility to run products through the gamut before saying something is worth all the toil and trouble. I have personally regularly used Colourette Cosmetics since at least 2018, and while I have some skin sensitivity, I have never once had a reaction to any of their products. I am also extremely particular and specific in my critique of beauty, but I have consistently reached for their products over others I have from international luxury brands or hyped local releases, for no other reason than their consistent high quality and pleasure of use. Whatever your feelings on Cabrera or the issue at hand, I will go to my grave screaming that quality and affordability are not mutually exclusive, and Colourette happens to deliver in both categories.
In any case, Cabrera fired back again, saying she would personally cancel online orders made during the 11.11 sales on platforms Shopee and Lazada for those who saw their purchases as free rein to insult her. She was told, “Tumulong ka na lang imbis na magreklamo ka.” Cabrera, much like the popular memes have said, proved she was a woman who could do both. Colourette restocked its best-selling Colourtints and noted that 100 percent of the sales would be donated to those stricken by Ulysses. The brand effectively hijacked the boycott hashtag, flooding it with both alternate resources to donate as well as updates from their own sales. Although Cabrera mentioned that there was no time limit on the sale and that it would run until stocks sold out, in two days, Colourette Cosmetics sold all but 26 of its stocked 5,810 units. The brand raised P1,623,456 in total for its intended beneficiaries. It seems that while the noise went one way, purchasing power told an entirely different story.
The backbone of customer retention has always been integrity. But pivot that concept into this age of information and the landscape of integrity viciously expands. For example, if you were someone who had subscribed to veganism, the beauty market was once so narrow that you either had to make peace with the fact that you were going to have to use a product tested on animals and that had animal byproducts or forego the use of makeup altogether. But advances in technology have allowed for smaller, independent brands to both exist and thrive, and to offer products that reflect customer values at a competitive price point. This empowers the buyer to make greater choices beyond physical and immediate necessity.
Today, when someone buys lipstick, the question isn’t just whether or not it looks good. The questions have grown to where is it from, who helped make it, was it fair to every person involved up until the point of sale, what impact will it have on the environment, what does the company that made this stand for — and that’s just to start. That, coupled with the ability of social media to hold brands to immediate account in real-time, has finally made room for consumers to have a greater voice and to drive the market accordingly.
Prior to Colourette’s fundraising drive, their following was already strong. Their 11.11 sales on Lazada had them in the top ranks of the cosmetics categories: first place in the Philippines and third all over South East Asia, beating out brands like Maybelline, MAC, Benefit and Laneige. When Colourette launched their Ulysses relief effort, however, hundreds of tweets came in response, saying they’d never heard of the brand and wanted to try it because of Cabrera’s passion and ethics. I personally have never received so many requests for recommendations from a single brand, saying they wanted to support an entity that had the courage to speak up amidst all the deafening diplomacy exercised in marketing. In one of the historically worst times of our lives since World War II, the interest in neutrality is fading fast.
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MAKEUP THAT STANDS UP
If there’s anything we’ve learned from this Colourette episode, it’s that it’s not enough for a brand to have a beautiful aesthetic or even a good product. While these things are obviously important, as financial constraints tighten in this pandemic and people have to work harder to be able to afford things, a vast number of consumers are no longer buying a product. They’re looking for a voice in a market full of pretty options. They’re looking for backbone alongside quality, and tenacity as much as color pay-off. Buyers are much more willing to pull support from brands that seem to stand for either nothing or the very opposite of their own values system because they’re paying for principle, and they’re taking the most active part possible in the conversation by literally funding those reflected beliefs.
The personal is political, and as those things inevitably intersect more closely, it won’t just be the makeup that’s in the middle. The fact of the matter is that markets have become so vast and competitive that choice is no longer a luxury, but a responsibility. The real question is then left to the brands: who are you, really, and what do you believe in?