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EP 7: COLOR COSMETICS, PRIDE MONTH, & THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY DURING A PANDEMIC

Julianna chats with Laura Kraber of We Are Fluide about how COVID-19 is impacting her business, how color cosmetics can stay relevant when everyone is social distancing, and Fluide's plans for Pride Month when in-person events aren't possible.

[JD]: Hey, thanks for listening to The Highlight, a podcast about the beauty and wellness industry posted by myself, Julianna of Deco Miami, and soon to launch Souki. Whenever I have conversations with other founders in the beauty industry, I think, wow, I wish we could have recorded that. And that’s exactly what The Highlight is.

Everyone has COVID-19 on the brain all day, every day right now. That’s probably not going to change for a while, especially for indie beauty brands as we navigate these totally unprecedented times. In this minisode, I talk to Laura Kraber, founder of We Are Fluide, on her takes on COVID-19 and how it’s been affecting her brand. Thank you for finding the time to chat with me about this, Laura.

[LK]: You’re so welcome, Julianna. I’m so excited to be here.

[JD 0:00:50]: To start, can you give us a brief summary of We Are Fluide and the brand’s platform?

[LK]: Sure. We’re a mission-driven brand that creates highly pigmented beauty products designed for all skin shades and gender expressions. Our whole mission is to celebrate and showcase people of all gender expressions and to promote broad definitions of beauty and inspire everyone to create their identities on their own terms. So, since we’re primarily an online direct to consumer company, I think the COVID-19 crisis has really, led us to sort of double down on our online strategy and just expanding our engagement with our audience.

In the two years since we’ve launched, we’ve really just been focused on building that audience and developing products based on feedback from our consumers and our fans and followers on social media. So, we’re really trying to use this time to find new ways to engage with our community, especially since people are spending so much time online. Content and community have always been really central to our mission and our business overall. We have spent a lot of time creating, whether it’s our photo-shoots or our video content. We have a blog that we’ve always had.

Just the thing that’s really missing is those in-person events. Experiential marketing was also a key driver for our growth. We’re based in New York City, so we were always trying to be a part of LGBTQ events in the community and be at parties. We host what’s called a beauty bar where we have a sampling station and bring a makeup artist to all sorts of panels and performances and events. Just to spread the word, give out samples, and sort of share the good news about We Are Fluide.

So, that’s all over, and that’s been sad. But good news is we are able to kind of keep up with the online engagement, and we’re, as we speak, currently thinking through what are new things we can do? What are some new ways, whether that’s a GTV or live shows or more just kind of DM’s and talking to people?

[JD]: And another one, one that you told me that my brand needed to get on… TikTok!

[LK]: That’s right. That’s right. We just launched our TikTok channels. Everyone says, “Oh, TikTok, everything takes off immediately.” But it’s been a fun thing to focus on. That’s actually, I guess probably the last thing that we did together as a team.

We’re based in Brooklyn. We have a lot of interns and young people that work for the brand that help us create content, and we always have just so much fun together. Every photoshoot or video shoot is ends up being a party, and I always like to feed people. I’m a mom, so I always have like food and drink, and it turns into sort of an all-day into the evening affair.

We had a big party to create a bunch of TikTok content together with a bunch of different people. You know, I look back on that. Shoot, I’m trying to remember what day it was, but it must’ve been late February, and yeah. It is. Being together is a huge part of our brand and just working together. Like remembering that what we’re doing is important because sometimes it can feel sort of unimportant at a time like now.

[JD 0:04:00]: We Are Fluide is a color cosmetics brand, and I’ve seen a lot of articles on how color cosmetics is taking a bit of a backseat right now as consumers shift their focus to self-care products and skincare. What’s your hot take on this, and how can color cosmetic brands stay relevant to consumers who aren’t doing a full face of makeup and leaving their homes?

[LK]: Yeah, great question. I mean, I think there are so many challenges that we’re all going through. This time, it’s so surreal, and we’re all I think, trying just to find some kind of stability in the unstable. Find our strengths during this what feels like an incredibly vulnerable time for each of us and for our country, really, and for the world.

So much has changed. There are so many unknowns about the future, and I think most of us are re-examining our lives in light of all that uncertainty. So, for some of us, makeup is really just not relevant anymore, at least not right now.

I was talking to my sister, who’s an attorney, and she was describing work from home. She’s on the Zoom conferences, but she’s feeling much less of an impetus to get dressed up to put on her face and makeup. You know, she’s not going out. It’s just a conference call most of the time. Whereas in, I talked to a friend who’s a teacher who went out and bought a bunch of makeup online because she was like on Zoom all day, every day with her high school students, and wanted to look good.

 

So I think everybody’s approaching it differently, but yes, it’s not necessarily the most important thing right now. Though I would say that if we talk about skincare or self-care, I think for a lot of people, color cosmetics play that role, and that makeup is a happy place for so many people because it’s all about self-expression. So, for creating looks and coming up with new ideas in your makeup routine is like a form of self-care and can be really fun for people.

Also, just in terms of what We Are Fluide is all about, we’re really about celebrating the queer community and helping to promote and showcase gender-expansive identities. And I think for so many people in the LGBTQ plus community makeup can really be transformative, and it helps us create and present our authentic self. Whether you’re presenting yourself in person or IRL or on social media or online, makeup can still play a real role in how you’re living your life. So, there is that.

There is also the fact that so many people are struggling financially and looking forward to a time with huge insecurity. So, buying non-necessities just really may not be that important, you know? All of those things come together, and I think we’re just going to have to see how it plays out.

[JD]: Yeah. I agree that some people don’t care about putting on makeup for Zoom, or they put on very minimal. Others, it’s like a return to normalcy for a moment to get ready in the morning. So I think it seems like everyone is going through stages of adaptation in their personal lives to this new normal. Where a few weeks ago, when this started, I think the general feeling from everyone was just confusion and panic. You weren’t necessarily thinking about, or you were thinking a little bit about self-care, but you weren’t necessarily thinking about, okay, how can I make this normal again? But now that we’ve all sort of accepted our lives, we’re looking for those little things that make it feel like everything is okay again.

[LK]: I mean, I definitely think that’s true, and I also think that it’s as small treats you can get for yourself. So, your vacation may be canceled. Your date night is canceled. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job where you still have some kind of income, there’s not a lot of ways to spend money right now. So, shopping is one of those things you can do online that gives you a little adrenaline rush or that oxytocin or all those kinds of feel-good hormones that emerge when we shop.

[JD]: Absolutely!

[LK]: There is that, and I think that’s something that’s been said again and again. That even during recessions, that’s the thing you can do. You get a haircut, you get a new lipstick. You don’t buy a new fur coat or expensive clothes. You’re not getting a new car, but you can still buy these small luxuries that are kind of all you have left.

I mean, we’re a new business. I’m a new business owner. We’ve been around for two years, and this was the year that we were really hoping to make a push into retail. We’ve been building our online community and growing our sales online. But as you know, it is expensive to grow an audience online with the sort of monopoly that Amazon, Facebook, Google have in terms of how customers find things. So, we were hoping that retail would be a channel for us that could just kind of give us a little more stability in our business. A lot of those dreams have been dashed to some degree. Just because a lot of the orders that we thought were coming in are now all postponed indefinitely.

And then right, as we keep saying, just the economic climate has changed so much and will continue to change. It’s just sort of a scary time for any business owner.

[JD]: Sure. Commenting on what you’re going through with retail; I totally understand because I had similar aspirations this year for Deco. I sat down at the beginning of the year and drafted up all of my goals. A lot of those goals involved creating products and pitching to retailers for not only their online selections, but also for brick-and-mortar. I was designing products with brick-and-mortar in mind.  Now, I’m thinking, well, what’s the point? What am I going to spend money on creating those products when I don’t know if we’re going to have a brick-and-mortar retail in fall?

But at the same time, I’m very curious how long this will, as everyone is, how long this will go on because Christmas can’t be canceled. There’s still going to be holiday, but how will holiday look if families aren’t gathering in big numbers and exchanging gifts. It’s just so different. It’s going to be very different. But the sentiment of purchasing things still can’t just not happen unless something horrible happens to the economy.

[LK]: Right, right. I think it is. It’s all really interesting, and I don’t have any great insights or industry-specific knowledge. I wish I did. But I mean, obviously, they are coming out with some of these top seller lists every week, kind of what’s selling. In addition to sort of those. I’m sort of fascinated by because, of course, the soaps, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, wipes, and all that stuff. But then there’s also like… tops. You know, in terms of fashion. The people who have income who are working online are presenting on Zoom and want to have a new shirt. Things like that. So, I find that pretty interesting.

Once again, it’s kind of like the people who can move online are moving online. Whether that’s a holiday. I mean, we saw last night for the first night of Passover just like, Oh, Wednesday night, just how many people were doing these long-distance Seders over Zoom. I’m sure for Easter on Sunday we’ll have a similar kind of thing. It’s like what can you move online? Then things like a vacation on the beach in which you might buy a bathing suit. Like, no, you can’t move that online. You know, there’s no reason to buy a bathing suit to sit in your house even if you wear a self-tanner, you can decide to buy a self-tanner.

So, I guess I just feel like I see in the next few weeks and months, it’s kind of like the things that can be moved online will be moved online and the people who have income will continue to spend. Then over time, all the people who don’t, as the recession grows and affects more and more people, we’re going to have a whole different type of problem.

[JD 0:11:43]: Speaking of things being able to go online or mobile, Pride Month is coming up in June. Do you have any insight on how it will be different from previous years? Are you forecasting a big mobile push with that?

[LK]: Well, I really should be forecasting a big mobile push. I’ve been kind of, I think putting it off really planning or thinking it through because it just makes me so sad. Pride is usually a really great time of the year for us. I mean, in our two years of existence. Last year was World Pride. It was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. It was just an incredible time to be in New York, and we were really fortunate. I mean, we participated in so many events, activities, and they were all really great.

It’s a time that helps us raise visibility of the brand and also partner with like bigger organizations, larger companies. It’s a chance where we can sometimes garner some funds from big companies who want to partner with us so that we can actually pay some of our partners. Whether that’s the models, actors, photographers, or the people who participate in a shoot or an event.

It’s a shame that I kind of assume that nothing’s really going to be happening in the physical world. We are going to have to start thinking about what it would look like online. I think for us, as an online store, we can certainly do packages, and we can raise money. We always like to kind of raise money for LGBTQ businesses during that time of year, and so, that’s something we can still do. There is a lot we can do online. I think it’s more the collabs and the partnerships and the visibility that we usually gain from the events that we won’t be able to garner this year.

[JD]: Yeah, and TikTok. I’m so obsessed with TikTok now. I’m so interested to see how platforms like TikTok and IGTV will influence and effect events like Pride because you can absolutely connect with people through mobile platforms. It’s just a matter of a little bit of coordination, I guess, on everyone’s part.

[LK]: Yeah. You have to make the effort to do it, and I think I’ve been a little slow. I have a great team that helps with our social media. I’m not a huge social media user in my personal life. So for me, I’ve been admittedly a bit slower than I should have been in terms of really rethinking all the opportunities that we have to move more engagement online.

I am excited that we are doing a live show with three or four drag artists in our community in Brooklyn. Yeah. It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this, and we’re launching a new line of glitter that is very popular with performers especially. So, we gifted a few of our favorite drag artists. We’re going to use the launch as an opportunity to showcase their work, do a live show with them, and then collect tips that we donate to them. Then going forward, every sale of this product, we will tip the drag artist who helped us promote it. So, that’s kind of our plan to do something fun and to give back to the community.

There are so many people whose livelihoods depend on a live audience. For us, at least we can still sell our products even though our audience may be diminished or obviously spending power is diminished. But we can still sort of do what we do, whereas so many people really just can’t.

[JD 0:15:07]: The beauty and retail landscape could look drastically different when we come out on the other side of this. Do you have any predictions or thoughts on what will change and what will be the same?

[LK]: We were saying earlier, I do think that these little luxuries in life can help get you through a hard time when so much is out of reach, but that being said, it’s just really hard to say. I think that living through a time like this inevitably changes you and it makes you reconsider everything, including where and how you spend your money if you have any. It does seem that people are going to be hurting financially, so that’s scary.

On the flip side, if there was ever a time for conscious consumerism and rethinking our spending, now is certainly that time. For us as a small kind of mission-driven business that is focused on building a community and giving back to our community, I’m hoping there is a world in which people start saying, “I want to make sure that the money I spend is going towards brands I believe in.” Certainly, that is one positive side, but yeah, it’s really hard to predict.

[JD]: That’s actually a really interesting point that I’ve sort of seen others make. That there will be a life after COVID. People are going to remember how brands acted during the crisis, and they are going to decide if they want to continue to support that brand. Whether it’s a small brand that did some stupid marketing thing or a big brand that didn’t do anything or did something tasteless. If not, just thinking about how will the literal beauty landscape look? I mean, how will brands reputations be after this if they did something that consumers don’t agree with?

[LK]: Right. It’s more about your messaging. When I get an email from a brand just like promoting itself or some kind of non-essential product without any kind of recognition of the situation we’re all living through, it feels a little tone-deaf to me. That being said, I think living in New York and being so connected to the kind of death and destruction that this pandemic is wreaking, I’m more sensitive than somebody in a different place, who’s really just thinking about the quarantine.

So, I think that’s another part of what’s going on with this pandemic, it underlines how so many of us are experiencing very different realities. You know, for some people, it’s truly just about, Oh, shoot. I can’t go out, but I still have my paycheck, and I’m still working from home, and I’m safe. My family is safe, and nobody’s sick.

Then for other people, especially healthcare workers and frontline workers, they’re really experiencing like wartime in terms of witnessing illness and death. The sort of feeling of life or death situation. So, it’s hard to have the kind of messaging and communicate appropriately to people who are having such different experiences that we’re all living together.

[JD]: Absolutely, and this seems to be a common theme: acknowledging what’s happening and acknowledging the fact that people are having different experiences is key here. You can’t pretend nothing is happening, but as a brand, it’s like you need to offer a moment to escape from the reality, but you’re still doing it in a way that is acknowledging that this is an escape.

[LK]: Yeah, I mean, I totally agree. Exactly. It’s like we’re all experiencing this pandemic in different ways, but we’ve all had our lives appended. Life events are all impacted by this, regardless of where we’re coming from.

[JD]: Everyone’s plans are messed up right now.

[LK]: Right. Exactly, and you know, in some ways, it’s not a bad thing to be reminded as painful as it is. But when we’re reminded that we are not in control, that’s kind of at the heart of the human experience. Like we all want to think we’re in control, and in our day to day life, we are making our plans, and doing everything with this sort of assumption that we get to make all the decisions. When whenever tragedy strikes, whether that’s illness or death or something like this, it just, all of a sudden we’re like, Oh, yeah, right. Like, humans, we don’t.

Man plans, God laughs. That’s an aphorism for a reason. I think there is something powerful about the fact that everyone has to question our lives and what we’re doing. We have to learn and grow from this moment in history that we’re living through.

[JD]: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Laura. It was so great talking with you.

[LK]: It was such a pleasure. Thank you.

[JD]: I hope that you stay safe where you are and we can have an episode recorded in the future that is not about this pandemic.

[LK]: I would love that. Thanks again. Thanks for having me.

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