A shade extension to Smashbox Cosmetics‘ iconic Be Legendary Lipstick has launched; the special thing about this lippy? The new hue, a shade of red named Be Seen, was developed and carefully curated “for women of colour, by people of colour,” further cementing equity and diversity as core values for both Smashbox and The Estée Lauder Companies. We chatted with one of the project collaborators, Canadian executive director of R&D lip product innovation and chemist Stella Niinoi to learn more. —Noa Nichol
Hello Stella! Today we’re talking about a very exciting new launch from Smashbox Canada: Be Seen lipstick. For those who haven’t heard, what’s this newly launched lippy all about?
It’s a collaboration between Smashbox, the Smashbox Make-up Advisory Board and NOBLE (Network of Black Leaders and Executives, an ERG at the Estee Lauder Companies). The objective of the collaboration is to further enhance relationships between the Company Members of NOBLE, Consumers and Strategic Partners, highlighting the importance of diverse representation in-front and behind the scenes. The Smashbox Be SEEN was created by three black women. Kia Ragland (Product Development) Lori Taylor (Pro Artist) & I the Chemist for people of colour, however this shade can be worn by everyone.
What role did you play in this launch? What was the process of creating this shade like? How does the lipstick “work,” in terms of being a shade that was intentionally created for melanin-rich skin? What makes it different?
Smashbox has an amazing lineup of lipstick shades in their Be Legendary collection, and our Noble Canada Team saw an opportunity to take a step further to extend the shade offering and create a lipstick specifically for people of colour. We chose the colour red as it’s a challenging shade for darker skin tones to find the perfect match. Recognizing the positive impact this could have on our black community I put together the pitch and approached Jill Tomandl, Vice President of Product Development, Innovation and Brand Sustainability, during one of our status update meetings. I was the chemist who created the shade in the lab, so it’s my job to help turn science into beauty. In doing so, I have to consider everything from skin texture to the way a skin tone will absorb light and reflect color. My focus is to ensure key attributes desired by the consumer are taken into consideration when creating a shade or formula of relevance. As a consumer and professional chemist, I can identify with the black consumer. A red shade can be tricky when it comes to melanin rich skin. The right hue of red is important to the black consumer who has shied away from this shade for many years due to various reasons. The Be Legendary Be Seen lipstick formula was the perfect base in creating the shade as it has a high pigment load for a brilliant payoff, creamy, peptide-infused, cruelty free lipstick with primer built in for smooth color & moisture-boosting ceramides to give you plush, supple lips. We wanted a clean red shade with depth that would complement melanin rich skin. This passion project was conceived during the peak of COVID and involved many restrictions including travel, so Kia Ragland, Director of Global Product Development at Smashbox Cosmetics, Lori Taylor Davis, Global Pro Lead Artist for Smashbox Cosmetics, and me communicated via Zoom. After creating different versions of various colour combinations, we all agreed without a doubt that the sixth version was the shade. BE SEEN was born! This shade is to remind Black consumers who don’t think they can’t rock a red lip, that they can BE SEEN!
How did participating in the creation of this lipstick, and in this launch, help you to personally be a voice for change?
Being an Executive Director of R&D and the Executive Lead for NOBLE Canada, I used this opportunity to change the narrative. In a world where the impact of social media has heightened the awareness of the black consumer being underrepresented in the beauty industry, it’s imperative to address consumer phasing representation. This Lipstick launch is also to further spotlight the ERG NOBLE @ The Estee Lauder Companies, Representation which is a key pillar in the ELC commitment to racial equity and to attract young STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) talent, For the younger generation to see someone they can identify with in another field aside from the medical field.
In the same vein, how can makeup, a lipstick, help champion equity and diversity
It’s the authenticity of this lipstick. It was intentionally created by 3 women of colour for people of colour! Making the black consumer the priority and not an afterthought, it was created by us for us! Representation is important to the black consumer. This lipstick or make-up created for the black consumer in mind genuinely fosters Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity via the importance of diverse representation in-front and behind the scenes and an important pillar priority for the Estee Lauder Companies.
There’s a give-back component here, too. Can you tell us about that?
In North America, With the purchase of BE SEEN Lipstick, proceeds will be donated to Black Girl Ventures to directly benefit the lives of women of colour by improving health, education, and business opportunities across North America.
Final, personal question: what does a red lip mean to you?
A red lip, in this case BE SEEN Be Legendary Lipstick means to me, Power, Elegance, Self Confidence, In Control and being Unapologetically Black!