The cosmetics industry has been flipped on its head, thanks to rising and now permanent fixture YouTube stars who, once famous for testing out mainstay makeup lines, have makeup lines of their own.
Most recently, a long-time-coming feud between Tati Westbrook and James Charles blew up in a way that put these two on the non-YouTube-subscribing map. Many people were shocked that this usually online-only world of YouTube beauty influencers made their way to the New York Times with a full-length feature detailing their fight. Others, though, felt it was about time, as they have 10s of millions of followers and are the biggest names in the game at the moment.
These beauty influencers are some of the most powerful people in their industry and play by their own set of rules. Case and point: they no longer have to go through the traditional marketing and press channels of the past to achieve sales, thanks to swipe-ups, direct links and millions of loyal followers. And instead of getting a cut or commission sales for promoting someone else’s brand, (like when Benefit Cosmetics released 5 of their hero products with new packaging designed by celebrity beauty YouTubers Jeffree Star, Manny Gutierrez, Laura Lee, Nicole Guerriero and Iluvsarahii), these days many YouTubers have proven that they have enough clout to start their own profitable lines.
On a related note, is this another sign that points to the end of the magazine world’s former reign? We think so. Especially since the traditional cosmetics industry used to cough up the most dollars when it came to buying print media ad space. Today, a YouTuber would have no reason at all to put money into print media because their reach is bigger as it stands, and far more lucrative.
So who exactly are these people who have single-handedly (kind of, because you know, retail is changing) and forever altered the way we consume makeup? And how did they get so big? For starters, you can easily draw comparisons between the rise of beauty influencers and the rise of fashion influencers, but there are some key differences. The biggest, we find, is the fact that the beauty world has a significantly less expensive startup cost. You can buy one single eyeshadow palette for just a few dollars and use it every day for the entire year. This helped democratize the beauty industry, opening the floodgates for YouTube to be filled with people all over the globe testing, trying and playing with makeup. Additionally, stars like Jaclyn Hill, Jeffree Star, James Charles, Huda Kattan, PatrickStarrr, Desi Perkins and Tati Westbrook are extremely talented and provided a behind-the-scenes service to their fans by way of makeup lessons. They launched their own careers giving informative tutorials to whoever was around to watch, showing the rest of the world how to do makeup, from everyday contouring to bold, crazy styles. They were open and honest with their growing fans, who were able to watch their rise from the start. They preached authenticity above all else, adding to their relatability.
These YouTubers are also credited with creating the now-standard method of testing new makeup called swatching. Swatching is where you try on different makeup colors and shades from a palette on the inside of your arm to see how it feels, blends and goes with your skin. This technique requires video footage to see the shimmer and consistency, killing off any hopes of print media reclaiming their stake in the beauty marketing sector. Notably, there are right and wrong ways to swatch. When Kim Kardashian launched her KKW makeup line, she was highly criticized for swatching “wrong.” She has learned from her mistakes and since changed her ways.
Additionally, the launch of Kim Kardashian’s makeup line signified the importance of YouTube in the beauty world. Most notably, Kim who could very well get herself on any media platform she wanted, chose to do a big part of her very own press tour all over YouTube, appearing on various stars’ channels to hawk her new products. Kim has a sizable following on social media herself, to say the least, and even still, she recognized the power of the new regime in beauty and made a point of including them in her initial launch and subsequent launches too. Makeup personality Jeffree Star has publicly “had beef” with Kim, but despite their personal drama, he’s still on the list to receive all of her press boxes. All beef aside, his presence is too powerful to ignore, even by Kim Kardashian herself.
Those who are quick to point out and criticize the fact that the beauty industry is full of drama, perhaps are not looking at the bigger picture. James Charles and Tati Westbrook’s very public feud is something traditional publicists fear (an all-hands-on-deck crisis is typically viewed as a PR nightmare), but the real winners here are Tati and James’ pockets. This particular fight, made public through carefully edited, emotionally charged YouTube videos, led to hundreds of millions of views, increased brand awareness and most importantly, millions of dollars worth of sales.
It can be hard to keep up with the inner workings of the new beauty industry, especially if you have a full time job and also happen to not be a teenager. We get it. It’s a lot! But the YouTube beauty landscape feeds into the greater media world more than ever before. It’s estimated that the US spends over $12 billion dollars a year on makeup, and last year it was said that people collectively watch over 1 million beauty videos on YouTube each day. With both figures steadily on the rise, we are confident YouTube’s fate in the world of cosmetics is permanent… or at least until the next big thing!