Beauty enthusiasts in the region can rejoice because modern makeup brand CTZN Cosmetics heard the widespread frustration about finding a nude lipstick that suits the diverse skin tones found around the world and created a 25-shade collection that is universally inclusive. Co-founded by three Pakistani sisters—Aleena, Aleezeh, and Naseeha Khan—in May 2019, CTZN Cosmetics touts 100% cruelty-free makeup that is also either vegan or vegetarian for the sustainable makeup aficionado. Ahead of their Spring 2020 collection launch, we spoke to the trio of beauty experts about how they’re transforming industry standards and what it’s like to work with siblings in a professional environment for an intimate look behind glam’s newest changemakers who recognize inclusivity “is so much more than just having a wide shade range”.
When and how you got into the beauty business?
Naseeha: As a certified makeup artist, I always discussed with my sisters that I wanted to do something in the beauty world. We then realized with our different niches and skillsets, we could complement each other really nicely and start a business together. Aleena used to work in the content team at Snapchat, so she felt confident that she could lead our branding & social media. Aleezeh studied management and now handles our operations & logistics. We all have our different departments, which allow us to delegate and divide tasks efficiently as co-founders.
What drove to launch your brand?
Aleena: As Pakistani women of color shopping in major beauty retailers, I remember feeling like hardly anyone resembled my sisters and me in brand campaigns. If a middle-brown skin tone was represented, the model still never seemed to be Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern. More importantly, we noticed a lack of inclusivity with shade ranges—particularly in regards to our correct undertones. The underrepresentation prevalent in the beauty industry makes some customers feel less valued and less important than others—why is their shade not as important? We realized people simply want to feel seen, to feel acknowledged.
We then found the inspiration to create a makeup brand with a mission that anyone who looks at any of our product collections should feel they were considered in the development process, that we actually thought of them while creating the range. We also realized that brands were only associating inclusivity with ‘women of color’, whereas we recognized that to be truly inclusive, you have to consider all genders, ages, skin types, races–it is so much more than just having a wide shade range!
What is the change that you want to make in the beauty industry?
Aleena: First and foremost, we are here to change industry standards. Our darkest nude lipstick, NUDIVERSAL 25: Stockholm, won an Allure Best of Beauty award for ‘Best Neutral Lipstick for Dark Skin Tone’. We often explain that a customer with a darker skin tone might be able to find their nude shade at another brand, but it will be called a ‘dark brown lipstick’. We recognize it as a nude shade – we recognize all 25 shades as nudes. Some beauty consumers have been conditioned to think ‘nude is beige’ – so this collection is just our first step towards changing that notion.
We also want to inspire others to use their beauty platforms as opportunities for education. We launched a segment on our website called the CULTUTORIAL—essentially a makeup tutorial where someone teaches you about their culture while doing their makeup routine. Our aim is to proactively enhance cultural awareness through beauty.
How would you define your products?
Aleezeh: We create premium products that are all cruelty-free, paraben-free, and either vegan or vegetarian. All of our products are manufactured in Europe, under strict EU regulations. We launched the industry’s most inclusive nude lip collection, with a groundbreaking 25 shades of nude. The Nudiversal Lip Duos are double-ended, with both matte lipstick and hydrating lip gloss in one product…We also created a no-rules product called Globalm. It’s a multi-purpose face gloss for achieving a wet, dewy glow. You can finally try the glossy eyelid trend at home!
What is the hardest thing in developing the 25 shades of nude?
Aleezeh: Testing and tweaking each shade until you get it right takes a long time! If we’re claiming that we have a perfect nude for everyone, then we are taking on a huge responsibility to ensure each shade is tested to perfection on a range of skin tones. The longest part of our process was product development – it took way longer than we envisioned and we constantly had to make adjustments to each shade, which is also difficult when you live in a different country than your manufacturers. In order to make sure we tested on all skin tones, we constantly had to ask people beyond our peer groups to participate in focus groups and allow us to swatch multiple shades on them!
What feedback do you get from people using your products?
Naseeha: People are obsessed with how soft our matte lipsticks are on the Nudiversal Lip Duo! Matte lipsticks are known to be very drying, so our CTZNs love that our formula is ‘so comfortable on the lips’. We attribute that to our hero ingredient: wild mango butter, which helps repair lips from climatic stress.
The best moment for us is actually when a customer starts off skeptical and discouraged because they are used to not finding their shades with other brands. But then we tell them they’re not leaving until we match them to their perfect nude – and they always ended up finding a shade from the collection! It is the simple recognition that is reflected in our collection, and customers truly appreciate that more than anything. We get a lot of people saying that that they finally don’t have to mix shades anymore.
You founded this brand as three sisters working together, talk to us about your experience in working with family and how you make that work.
Aleezeh: Having our own departments gives each of us authority in different fields, which is really healthy and fulfilling for our work relationships. The best part about working with your sisters is that there is no one you trust more than your family, so it’s a sacred space and we’re all here to help each other out and purely focus on the business’s growth and success. The challenge is separating work from personal – speaking to each other as colleagues when we are in an office, and not as sisters. The main piece of advice is removing emotions from the workplace – keeping it professional and taking constructive criticism from one another for the betterment of the business.
CTZN Cosmetics plans on debuting a new collection in Spring 2020 but current product lines are available on ctzncosmetics.com