Ever tried a nude lip colour only to find it too pink or too brown for your skin tone? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone in this, but we might just have found the perfect nude shade for you!
Going through similar struggles, three Pakistani girls capitalised on the under and misrepresented beauty world, and founded CTZN Cosmetics, a genderless and inclusive makeup line solely focused on championing people of colour and filling in the diversity gap in the makeup world.
Reimagining people of colour, sister trio Aleena, Aleezeh and Naseeha Khan, co-founded the brand to acknowledge that all brown and black bodies are not the same and to denormalise a certain demographic struggle to find their products because of their skin colour.
In an interview with InStyle, the sisters spoke about how they went from scrolling mindlessly on makeup tutorial videos to selling a line of highly-inclusive lipsticks and more in under five years. “I felt that we were in a one-way relationship with the beauty world— passionately showing our support with our time and money and never getting the love back,” said Aleena, who leads the label’s branding and marketing department.
“As Pakistanis, we felt that the middle brown skin tone was rarely represented by the South Asian or Middle Eastern complexions seen on beauty campaigns. It started conversations between friends of colour sharing similar experiences and we set out to create a brand that empowers all citizens of the world to feel seen, guaranteeing a perfect shade for every skin tone with every collection we create.”
They became a sensational brand soon after a TikTok video by famous beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira raving about a lipstick from their 25 shades of their Nudiversal Lip Duo went viral. The dual-sided lip product, that features a matte lipstick on one end and matching lip gloss on the other, immediately became a “must-have” given its wide selection of shades and consequently, beauty lovers flocked to the CTZN Cosmetics website in hopes of finding their perfect shade of nude.
Ever since then, they’ve been featured by the who’s who of the lifestyle world from Bollywood actors such as Sonam Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri to Hollywood’s Amelia Gray and Tiffany Haddish. Pink, the American musician, also sported their lip colour Bali in the music video of One Too Many.
Upon why they chose lipsticks to start out with, Aleena shared that “2017 was the age of lip kits. Everyone was obsessed with liquid lipsticks and matte lip finishes, but they found the formulations dry.” They felt that lip category was an untapped territory, in the lens of inclusion, while foundations and concealers were still getting explored.
The Khan sisters ventured into business in May 2019 when the beauty industry was sorely ignorant of the fact that the nude is not one-size-fits-all. “It was defined as beige and that disregarded true nude shades for all other complexions and lip tones, which is why we created 25 shades of nude. While people may find their correct nude lipstick elsewhere, but other brands will call it a dark brown lipstick, whereas CTZN acknowledges it as a nude.”
However, designing 25 distinct shades was not an easy feat, since it was the first time they were developing a cosmetic range. Upon the process behind finding the right colours, they shared that the shades came after many surveys focus groups and testings.
“We started with a survey sent out to hundreds of beauty consumers around the world and held focus groups to ask what their favourite nude lipstick was and what they would tweak about their favourite shade or formulation. This was integral in starting with benchmark shades that people already loved, but we were still looking to adjust slightly. We did a lot of the field research ourselves, and spent them online reviewing nude lipsticks with high demand,” shared the sisters.
Reflecting on and considering their own skins, Aleena shared that “Pakistanis have a slightly purple lip colour," she continued, "So that definitely inspired us to create highly pigmented lipsticks that will have a strong colour payoff on people of colour, the way [other lipsticks] easily [appear] on customers with naturally pink lips."
After their thorough secondary research, they narrowed it down to 25 shades. “We worked with our manufacturer to ensure the formulations were cruelty-free, vegan-friendly, and had a high colour payoff. After receiving our samples, we tested the shades for months on friends and volunteers of different skin tones.”
Unfortunately, right when they peaked, Covid ruined the show for them. With the necessity of masks, people stopped wearing lipsticks. On a product level, they expanded into the eye category with a universally flattering eye shimmer.
Meanwhile, centring their focus on inclusivity and representation, they altered their marketing around building a community of trust and confidence to own skin tones with innovative social segments and marketing techniques such as CTZN Connect, Positive Reflections I Had During Quarantine and culture-torial that allowed celebrities and influencers and our CTZN family to engage in new cultural knowledge while watching makeup tutorials. “Our intention for all of this was to show our personalities and build a personal connection with our CTZN family, and we achieved an overwhelming response.”
The sisters look forward to inclusive ranges, in all categories, being the norm in the beauty industry and will not shy away from contributing and redefining ideas in the process.
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