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The cosmetics industry puts on a brave face

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By Gillian M. Cortez, Reporter

HARD TIMES require most people to strip down to bare essentials. With work-from-home arrangements and mask mandates rendering make-up more or less superfluous, it’s hard to imagine how the cosmetics industry could possibly have survived. But contrary to expectations, it did, with the help of clever adaptations, like positioning the product as a small luxury, or a reassuring remnant of the user’s pre-pandemic life.

“Makeup enthusiasts don’t stop wearing even in the midst of compulsory face masks during this pandemic,” a representative of online brand Glamskin said in an e-mail exchange with BusinessWorld.

Thanks to masks, though, the playing field has shifted, from the face in general, to the eyes — just the right conditions for Glamskin’s eyeshadow products, some of which come in palettes the size of dinner plates.

“Consumers are raising their ‘eye game,’ emphasizing the appearance of their eyes. We have been trying to get our consumers to use more products for the upper part of the face, mainly brows, eyeshadow, liners, and lashes,” Glamskin said.

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Glamskin’s social media has been pushing hard for rainbow-colored single-pan eyeshadow and fluttery false eyelashes, which promise a touch of glamor just a few inches north of the ever-present face mask.

Another brand with a strong eyeshadow line, Filipinta, which has built a reputation for vibrant colors, has also had to raise its social media game. Filipinta Creative Director Hannah Kirchhoff said in an interview with BusinessWorld that without social media, the company might not have survived.

Business “decreased a lot because what’s the use of (makeup) when there’s face shields and face masks,” she said.

However, the brand is still hanging on via its social media platforms, which had steered attention to its products pre-COVID-19. Ms. Kirchoff said marketing has continued via this channel to get around the lockdown and occasional disruption to delivery services.

Filipinta also reduced time to launch from three months from the previous six, to get product out the door faster and be less of a drain on resources during development.

“We really had to adapt to the situation,” she added.

Ever Bilena, Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Denice Sy told BusinessWorld makeup was a hard sell during the most difficult months of the crisis, when businesses were closing and workers were losing their jobs.

“It was a very sensitive time. It was not okay to market makeup at all. Everyone is really more concerned about their well-being and their health,” she said.

The Ever Bilena stable of brands includes Careline, targeted at teens; Blackwater, a fragrance line for men and women; and EB Naturals, a skincare line featuring soap and lotion, all suddenly difficult to sell for various reasons, not the least among them the grounding of the entire school-age population and the confinement of nearly the entire workforce to working from home.

“We actually did not think (the crisis) would last this long… in general I think the whole colorful cosmetics industry is suffering,” Ms. Sy said. She added that when the shops opened again, business did not pick up immediately due to limitations on mall hours and public transportation.

“That’s the reason why we see a lot of color cosmetics brands really trying to generate consumer purchases via promotions and campaigns,” she said.

Glamskin found itself having to offer discounts, even for its professional products.

“In order for us to carry on with our business and continue to provide jobs for our employees, our objective is to have continuous income despite the challenges we are facing. Putting most of our items on sale on all selling platforms online keeps our business afloat,” it said.

The biggest victim of the mask mandate was undoubtedly lipstick, which used to be wielded to inject striking color accents to the wearer’s general look. But that didn’t mean products for the eye area were flying off the shelves.

Ms. Sy of Ever Bilena described the situation for eye products as “not declining as much as the other categories… all other categories are barely performing.”

Ms. Sy also said the crisis also forced a shift to products perceived as more convenient, like eyebrow pencils, mascara and liquid eyeliner, for users who still wanted to achieve a put-together look without the time-consuming effort of their pre-pandemic routines.

Going forward, it is beginning to dawn on the industry that health protocols imposed by the pandemic will be around for some time.

“We will continue (to work with) the safety guidelines; makeup is a sanitary thing… as much as possible, we will keep pushing out products people like. We just need keep our heads up and be smart with our choices,” Ms. Kirchoff of Filipinta said.

The choice has come down to two equally plausible business strategies: saving costs during the crisis or generating excitement with new offerings.

“It’s important to excite the category… because people are not buying color cosmetics that much now; it’s really a call to action for them to try something new… people (will be) looking into cosmetics again,” Ms. Sy said.

Glamskin, which is counting on its users to look at cosmetics as a pleasant reminder of their old normal, before life was upended by the pandemic, said: “We all learned that despite the crisis, people remain resilient” and continue to seek out things that may not be essential, but are “important for their well being.”

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