Finding the perfect lip color should be simple. With countless shades and brands to choose from, the biggest hurdle should be stopping yourself from buying them all. Still, many people of color leave their favorite beauty retailer deflated and empty-handed. This is partly due to a lack of representation of skin tones in campaigns, swatches, and makeup influencers, which causes many buyers to hesitate when trying new lip products. Even though more brands are showcasing women of color in their ads, they rarely offer the consumer a wide array of undertones within their swatches. For people of color, knowing what a shade looks like on a cool tone versus a warm tone model is the difference between looking bomb or looking ashy.
Though there’s a lot of work to be done within the beauty space, there are those trying to create an inclusive environment for a more diverse audience. Since 2019, Anisha Matharu, 24, and Sabrina Moin, 26, have met that challenge head-on with the creation of swatchcandy. Giving brands an opportunity to advertise their lip products on a richer group of models, the digital, photo-based platform is single-handedly helping to streamline the consumer experience for minority shoppers, while providing brands with a much-needed service. After meeting at Georgia Tech, Matharu and Moin admit they never intended to create this business, yet what started out as a class project, eventually became something much bigger.
“swatchcandy started out as a class project in a mobile app development course at Georgia Tech, where Sabrina and I met,” Matharu says. “The original idea for the project was to create an app that helps makeup shoppers find dupes of high-end products. After further research, we discovered that people had more trouble finding products that suit their skin tone more than they had finding dupes, which is why we decided to develop an app that shows makeup users which color products would look good on their skin tones.”
So after committing to taking this idea further, both women, during an impromptu brainstorming session, ideated on the company name. “I remember this conversation really clearly. In Summer 2019, we wanted to pivot from ‘myshadow’ because of its reference to eyeshadow,” Moin recalls. “We were working out of the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Georgia Tech’s campus and throwing out words we could pair with ‘swatch.’ swatchcandy was the one that stuck.”
Dabbling in makeup can be exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking. To bring attention to the myriad of lipstick firsts, several of Complex’s women of color spoke candidly about their history with lipsticks. They offered insight into their in-store experiences, spoke about their favorite brands, and gave advice on what some retailers can do to make the lipstick shopping experience more fun for everyone.
Director of Brand Partnerships
“My introduction to lipstick happened early on. My grandmother wouldn’t leave the house without her red lipstick. Growing up, I used to be self-conscious about the size and dark color of my lips until I wore lipstick to prom. The experience boosted my confidence and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, I’ve experimented with different brands, but my most trusted brand is Milani. My favorite lip color is their ‘Sangria’ color. It’s long-lasting, remains vibrant, and it smells amazing! When I’m shopping for lipsticks, I don’t like to try them on in-store. I usually just buy a lot of colors and hope for the best—hence why swatchcandy and having swatches of people who are my color would save me time and money.
I noticed that people with my skin tone were second thoughts in the beauty industry because of my difficulty finding colors that cater to darker skin, purples, deep red. When I am shopping in-store, the photos displayed are never dark skin tones.”
“When I’m shopping for lipsticks, I don’t like to try them on in-store. I usually just buy a lot of colors and hope for the best.”
Branded Content Fellow
“Since I was able to walk, I’ve watched my mother dabble in Mac lipsticks. Growing up, she would let me play in her makeup and try on all her lipstick shades. My mother is a gorgeous woman, and I wanted to be just like her. I tried lipstick because I wanted to mimic her confidence and beauty.
When I reached my pre-teens, I was only allowed to wear lip glosses to school. That’s kinda stuck with me even now because that’s all I will wear on my lips. The first time I found my perfect shade was my sophomore year in college. The gloss was called ‘Cheeky,’ a Fenty Beauty New Years’ limited-edition gloss. I felt so pretty! It was the perfect neutral shade that complimented my skin tone and I could wear it every day. Unfortunately, it was my roommate’s and a limited-edition release, so I haven’t seen it since.
Fenty is one of my favorite beauty brands because they talk to their consumers rather than at them. I also like that they have a wide range of models with different complexions that have different lip shapes. This is really helpful when I’m shopping because it gives me a better idea of what a product will look like on me. I do not have the time or funds to experiment with lip products that do not flatter me, so more representation is necessary.
I’m loyal to Fenty Beauty because not only do they understand the consumer, their inclusion of people of color in their campaigns and product creation is evident. As a Black woman, it’s honestly nice to be considered and marketed to rather than just being a second thought.
“I do not have the time or funds to experiment with lip products that do not flatter me, so more representation is necessary.”
“My first introduction to lipstick happened when I was about five or six years old. I was taking ballet classes and we had to wear lipstick during our recital. When I put it on, I felt mature and adult-like. I always watched my mother apply her lip colors before going to work or special events, so wearing lipstick before my recital made me feel like what I was doing was something mature and important people do.
When I need to re-up, ‘Film Noir’ by Mac is my go-to. This lipstick is durable and doesn’t crack when you put it on your lips or cake up after multiple uses, which is something I look for in all my lip products. I also look for lipsticks that stay put! I like not having to worry if the color only exists around the edges of my lips because that looks foolish.
When it comes to buying bright-colored lipsticks, I do have some reservations. People love to say: ‘Oh, you’re dark-skinned, a bright color would look so good on you.’ It’s quite the opposite. People always lump dark-skinned people into the same group, but our undertones and complexions are all different. A lot of bright colors don’t suit me, so I’m hesitant. I’m also extremely cautious about picking the perfect red and I don’t buy nudes anymore. I stick to browns. This is why I really appreciate brands like Black Opal because they cater to more than three skin tones of brown people. They also offer a decent variety of makeup for darker skin tones.”
“People always lump dark-skinned people into the same group, but our undertones and complexions are all different.”
Shenequa A. Golding
Branded Content Lifestyle Editor
“I was well into my twenties when I bought my first lipstick. It was a glossy, fire-engine red from a popular high-end brand. I wanted to venture into my own femininity, so I figured lipstick was a good place to start.
At first, I mainly wore pink lipsticks because they were safe and looked good on me. Light pink, muted pink, hot pink… if it was pink I wore it. It was only after trying a red lip that I found my go-to color. Red lipstick made me feel grown and accomplished! Even if I had bags under my eyes, a red lip complimented me in ways a pink lipstick did not.
Finding your perfect shade of red can be tricky, but I’ve come to realize that the Lip Bar’s ‘Bawse Lady’ is top tier and looks good on literally everyone. As for product hunting, I don’t hate anything about the actual process. I have a makeup bag that weighs at least a pound or two and it’s full to the brim with lipsticks and I will probably buy more.
"One thing that does bother me about the makeup industry is the lack of representation, which is why swatchcandy is so important.”
One thing that does bother me about the makeup industry is the lack of representation, which is why swatchcandy is so important. As a light-skinned/brown-skinned Black woman, I’ve never felt excluded because my complexion of beauty products was usually available, even in drugstores. Of course, I understand this is a huge privilege.
I have dark-skinned friends who would’ve loved to play with inexpensive makeup to get a feel for things before spending big bucks on more higher-end brands. Unfortunately, a lot of brands did not cater and still don’t cater to dark-skinned Black women, which, if you think about it, is dumb. Dark-skinned women have just as much buying power as any other demographic. So it makes you wonder, why are beauty brands leaving all that money on the table?”
To learn more about swatchcandy and its founders, visit swatchcandy.com.