To most people, the natural cosmetics movement seems like a recent phenomenon — something spurned by the celebrity minds of Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop) and Jessica Alba (Honest Company). But to makeup artist Shirley Pinkson, nontoxic products are old hat.
Pinkson (shown below with cofounder James Walker) worked for NARS Cosmetic before starting toxin-free cosmetic brand W3LL People in 2008. It was, and continues to be, a line that fought its way through the recession to put naturals on the map and bring good-for-you products to women everywhere.
That’s why the brand consciously decided to lower prices on all of their products by 30% last year and why they retail at Target and Whole Foods, as opposed to Neiman Marcus. They genuinely want as many people using nontoxic cosmetics as possible.
Forbes caught up with Pinkson to see how they’re doing nine years into the brand.
When did you start thinking about natural makeup?
“I was working as makeup artist and educator for NARS at the time—which I still think is an amazing brand on the conventional end of makeup—but my customers and also beauty editors had started demanding a little bit more out of their cosmetics. They’d begun asking me a lot of questions that, frankly, I didn’t have the answers to. I’d spent 14 years with the company, but had never been trained to speak to ingredients. I’d been trained to speak to performance and artistry, but not ingredients. That seemed like something that needed to change.”
What was the biggest problem facing W3LL PEOPLE when it launched?
“This was a little over a decade ago, and our biggest problem was there was really nothing good in the naturals category. Performance simply wasn’t aligned with naturals. So, there was this huge misconception amongst women that in order to get a good-for-you product, you had to sacrifice performance. Lucky for us, that was also an opportunity. I made it my mission to prove natural cosmetics could perform just as well as the conventional stuff.”
Clearly, you have more competitors now than you did in 2008—brands like RMS Cosmetics. How do you feel about that?
“I think it’s freaking incredible. I really, really do. At W3LL People, we started a brand to offer a positive choice for women. If we were suddenly upset that other brands shared our mission, A: that’s pretty selfish; B: that’s really not going to do anything for the movement we’re trying to lead. We’re focused on the bigger picture, and that means getting natural products to as many people as possible. So, we think it’s great.”