Milk Cosmetics Addresses Foundation Shades Controversy

Fans had questions about the range of shades offered. (Photo: Trunk Archive)
Fans had questions about the range of shades offered. (Photo: Trunk Archive)

Everything about the Milk brand — from the studios to the art galleries to the lifestyle site — has always screamed cool kids. When it launched its 60% vegan, paraben-free beauty line in early 2016, fans of all things Milk and beauty lovers alike praised the chic, minimalist packaging, innovative products, and creative new take on beauty.

This summer, with the launch of its first foundation product, Sunshine Skin Tint ($42), Milk suddenly had to face some tough questions from its fans about the limited range of shades it offered.

“Let’s make those DARK SHADES for the women of color that already have been neglected time and time again!” proclaimed @angeneris on the brand’s Instagram account. “There are dark skinned men/women in this world…” said @confusedbrowngirl, while @vaxeen added, “You need at least three darker and two lighter shades.”

It’s not just Milk, however — the lack of range in available shades has plagued the whole beauty industry, with bareMinerals and Almay getting the same feedback for their foundation lines. Women of color justifiably want to know why it’s so hard to find their shades in 2016. Are brands listening?

We talked to Dianna Ruth, the COO of Milk Makeup, and Mazdack Rassi, its co-founder and creative director, to find out what they’ve learned since launching Milk Makeup, where they plan to expand their line going forward, and how they work with their customers to build shades for the Milk devotee.

Milk co-founder Rassi Mazdack (Photo: Rex Features)
Milk co-founder Rassi Mazdack (Photo: Rex Features)

Who did you have in mind when you developed the eight colors for Milk’s initial Skin Tint offering? Do you plan to extend the range of shades available?

Dianna Ruth, COO, Milk Makeup: “We launched with two different concealer ranges. There were six shades in our stick concealer ($24) and six shades in our liquid concealer. After watching the sales and how those shades were received, including the comments given to us by customers on those shades about what was working and wasn’t working, we used that as a guide to develop eight shades of skin tint. We actually increased our shade range.

“Whenever someone writes in or leaves us a comment that we’re missing their skin shade, we then reach out to them specifically to ask for a photo and which shades they wear. I keep a huge file on my computer with photos of all these girls and guys.”

Who did Milk have in mind when developing the initial colors, and who do you have in mind as you plan your expansion?

Mazdack Rassi, co-founder and creative director of Milk: “When we set out to create this line and as Dianna started to format the ideas, it was based on reaching girls and guys, white and black and mixed-race people.

“One of the things that’s really important to consider is resources. For a new company, working almost as a startup, it’s difficult financially and resource-wise to launch with a large range of shades.”

Do you see yourselves as a niche brand, catering to the Milk woman/man who attends your events in coastal markets, or do you see yourself as a countrywide brand that is in Sephora?

Rassi: “That girl that comes to Milk, she’s from Ohio and Detroit and elsewhere. We see the Milk girl everywhere. I think there’s a cultural shift that’s happened.”

How does the brand deal with getting so much passionate customer feedback? How do you manage all the requests and input that comes in?

Ruth: “We’re very organized! We also have a full-time customer service person at Milk Makeup who helps compile pictures, notes, emails — whenever someone sends us a photo of themselves we drop it into buckets. They’ll also share with us sometimes other brands they use or if they mix one of Milk’s shades with another brand to get their shade — I have them tell me their recipe and what they like.

“Skin Tint’s sheer nature means you apply it by sheering it out over your whole face, and it’s pretty flexible. A couple of skin tones can share within one product because it is so sheer, whereas if Milk did a full-coverage foundation, we would need to have more shades because it’s opaque.”

Is it safe to say that going forward with new products, the development of the product is the same level of importance as expanding the range of available shades?

Ruth: “Skin Tint just launched a month ago and we’re still getting comments and feedback for the formula. Leaving the shade issue aside, we’re trying to find out if they love this formula. If they do and it’s something people love because it’s sheer and the SPF, then yes, we’re going to expand that shade range.”

What have been your takeaways from the feedback on Skin Tint?

Ruth: “Some of my takeaways are that people love the application, they love the texture, they love the SPF in it, and they love that it’s preservative free — there are definitely key things that constantly are coming through. There is room, I think, for lighter and darker shades.”

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