Passion for glamour spurs Alaska cosmetics startups

mgokey@adn.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Alaska might seem like a place where women are a little rough around the edges, where ladies prefer flannel to chiffon, Xtratufs to pumps, and a wilderness woman reputation earns a girl more street cred than a spot on "Alaska Women Looking for Love."

But the Last Frontier is home to a handful of female entrepreneurs who've started businesses focused on one thing: glamour.

The companies run the gamut of beauty operations: One is a locally made cosmetics line, another is an online makeup consultancy service. In between is a tightknit community of cosmetics artists who have been able to get Hollywood-style makeup experience right here in their home state.

On West Tudor Road there's a business that packs a little more hot pink and zebra stripes than any other: COR Cosmetics, both a traditional beauty salon and a line of cosmetics started by Anchorage native Amber Brophy-Mock.

The makeup COR produces is a far cry from products you'll find on the drugstore aisles.

Brophy-Mock had a hunch that chemicals in regular makeup contributed to her own acne. She was also horrified by the thought that a bride she was making up might experience the same thing: a breakout as she was heading off to her honeymoon.

So she started experimenting with mineral-based makeup.

For nonmakeup-savvy folks, Brophy-Mock describes mineral-based makeup as a slimmed down, simpler version of conventional products.

"Imagine your liquid foundation. If you took out all the liquid and the chemicals and maybe even some of the vitamins -- you're taking out the extras I consider junky," Brophy-Mock explained. "You're left with the pigment that creates the color for you."

Once she started learning more about makeup ingredients -- like a crimson dye called carmine made from crushed beetles -- her quest for a purer product began in earnest. And it doesn't stop with beetles -- lamb sweat and bat poop are also common "natural" ingredients, Brophy-Mock said. "The FDA is really loose on their regulations with cosmetics."

COR makeup, on the other hand, contains no animal products -- it's as vegan as celery -- and that's how Brophy-Mock wants it.

COR was one of the first companies to join what became an industry trend, though even today, a lot of mineral-based makeups aren't as pure as she's striving for.

From the beginning, she wanted to make a product for women with supersensitive skin, clients with rosacea, allergies, acne or those who have recently undergone chemotherapy, Brophy-Mock said. To date, COR hasn't seen a single adverse reaction to its products, she said.

Seven years after launching the COR Cosmetic line, Brophy-Mock still mixes all the pigment shades locally.

Foundations are named after cities: "Fairbanks" is the line's lightest color, followed by "Anchorage." Brophy-Mock described "Phoenix" as a "golden, warm tone."

And just as the cosmetics line has grown over the years, so has COR's customer base. Famed Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe is a loyal customer. "(DeeDee) wears our makeup on the trail," Brophy-Mock said.

As for the making-people-beautiful side of Brophy-Mock's work, she's come to rely almost exclusively on her own products for makeup gigs, which have come to include TV and film work in the years since the state's film subsidy went into effect.

"It's definitely improved our business," she said. "You wouldn't have those opportunities here (as a makeup artist) unless films came to Alaska."

Brophy-Mock and Wasilla-based makeup artist Melanie Camargo worked together on the set of "Big Miracle." Even though the movie came out almost two years ago, they stay in touch and sometimes refer jobs to one another.

Camargo got her start in professional makeup working on the "Godspeed" movie set in the Mat-Su valley with a different friend.

"The actors on set recommended that we continue our journey with makeup," Camargo said. She went to beauty school in Los Angeles and has pursued makeup ever since; she's currently a partner in a business called the Alaska Makeup Team.

Camargo has done makeup for celebrities like Sarah and Bristol Palin, ex-U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, actors and models, and on reality TV and motion picture sets.

"I love it. It's fun," she said. "It's a lot of work though. ... A lot of people think it's glamorous work," Camargo said, but there's also a lot of sitting around and waiting.

For budding makeup artists looking to break into the field, Camargo said, beauty school is the essential first step. Brophy-Mock agrees, noting that most film sets won't hire estheticians who aren't certified.

Flipping through Camargo's portfolio you see a spectrum of styles from edgy, high-fashion works of runway art to beautiful brides.

"I never thought you could make money making people feel better," Camargo said.

Making people feel better and seeing the opportunity in a girl's proclivity for a glamour is what got entrepreneur Hannah Wright, 23, into the industry.

From a log cabin in Delta Junction in the Interior, Wright was surprised to see herself catapulted into online fame after her startup, Makeoverly, an Internet makeup consultancy business, was featured on the website of Forbes, the business magazine. She saw an uptick in web traffic right away.

Visitors to Makeoverly.com can consult a professional on every beauty topic under the sun. The first question is free. Users then pay $5 for 10 minutes of consultation, or $9 for 20 minutes. Wright said she's still evolving the business model.

Makeoverly was born out of a niche Wright saw in a booming online beauty sector. She said other beauty websites, like Birchbox.com and Totalbeauty.com, are geared toward selling products. But the Internet doesn't have the online equivalent of a Nordstrom's beauty counter, Wright said.

So she got to work.

She launched her website last August. Makeoverly isn't the first online startup she's created but so far it's the most successful.

Makeoverly has three sources of revenue: users who pay for beauty consultation, makeup artist listings and beauty companies that give Makeoverly a commission on click-throughs that result in sales.

Wright said she's still tweaking her business plan. She hasn't left her day job working remotely for an online drugstore company but she hopes Makeoverly will warrant her full attention at some point.

She told Forbes her business model doesn't require her to be in a glitzy city, she can run everything remotely just fine from Delta Junction (with a good generator on standby, of course).

Makeoverly lists COR Cosmetics as one of its featured artists. Wright said she wanted to put an all-Alaska makeup team on the site.

Because there is glamour in Alaska.

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