Affordable, Clean Cosmetics for all: Meet Solos

Whether you can't leave the house without a full face on or are more of a  ‘lip-balm-and-go’ kinda gal, the chances are you’re familiar with the world of make up. Every morning, most of us have at least a bit of a preen in front of the mirror before we face the day. Great makeup can be like armour — making us feel put together, confident and empowered. A swipe of lipstick alone can be enough to lift the spirits, wake up the face or complete an outfit.

But just as we like our skincare to be like our relationships (read: non toxic), do we pay attention to the ingredients in our cosmetics? That’s what drove Devonne Niam, co-founder of Solos Cosmetics, to create a cruelty-free, greener option for women that packs incredible quality at an affordable price point. Psst — they’re multi-use, too!

Group shot of Solos Cosmetics vegan and cruelty-free lipsticks

So Devonne: What inspired you to create a more natural makeup brand?
Solos really started by combining all the skill sets my partner and I have and coming together. I had bad skin growing up and had to buy specialised products for skincare and “better” cosmetics if I wanted to put on makeup. The ability to find affordable products for a fresh graduate or entry level executive that were good for your skin was— and still is — difficult, especially in Asia. This inspired us to figure out a way to bring affordable clean cosmetics for everyone. 

What’s the story behind the name ‘Solos’?
We wanted something fun and a little bit quirky. We also wanted to make sure the word was somewhat androgynous, as I have friends of all sexes and am a big believer in genderless beauty. Oh, and I’ve always had a weird obsession with Palindromes thinking that they’re super odd and interesting at the same time. Weird fact: I always thought you should have desserts when you’re stressed because it’s how the word is spelt backwards!

So yeah, we sort of made up our own meaning with Solos; being the plural of ‘Solo’, to symbolise a coming together of many individuals, true to our personal values of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. 

You describe yourself as a vegan beauty brand and your products are made without mineral oil, parabens, formaldehyde and other chemical nasties. How do you go about producing the line?
We knew what we wanted to create: keeping questionable chemicals at bay, choosing natural options when possible, having no animal derived ingredients and working with transparent partners. We have expert R&D partners that help us with sourcing and production as we don’t come from a strong cosmetic industry background. After samples are created, we test everything to ensure it’s suitable for sensitive skin and for Asia’s humid climate. Before launching, we tested the products with friends and family over several months to get feedback and ensure everything was working how we wanted it to be! 

We love your no muss, no fuss approach to “simplifying beauty.”
Beauty shouldn’t be complicated. We create all of our make-up with multi-use in mind. Each of our products have been tested on eyes, cheeks and lips. At the end of the day, a paint is a pigment and there’s no limit to wear you apply it, as long as you know how to use the texture. That’s something that has been instilled in me from Fine Arts training back at school! I think cosmetics are the same. Our products differ in texture and colour, but their application has no limits. In the future, we’re looking into how we can let our community determine the texture and colour they’re interested in first, and then decide on the product, as opposed to the traditional way of buying cosmetics.

There’s a lot of greenwashing out there right now in the beauty industry, with terms like cruelty-free and vegan-friendly being misused left right and centre. What do you wish people knew more about these terms?
I agree. The term cruelty-free is not at all regulated. Even with the accreditations that currently exist, there are so many grey areas. For example, a brand and their own manufacturing processes can be against animal testing, but that doesn’t mean their second tier manufacturers or suppliers they work with are too. You need to research the multiple layers in your supply chain to uncover the truth.

Yes. And if your cosmetics supply chain involves selling in China…
Well, there are ways to get around animal testing in order to obtain a license to sell there, however you have to approve or have someone else endorse the use of third-party testing of your products on animals. There may be ways around it, like using tax-free zones or shipping in from overseas, but by and large, doing beauty business there is not as transparent as it should be.

Our policy is to ask everyone involved in our supply chain — that’s manufacturing, suppliers and R&D partners — to check if they’re cruelty-free, and whether they’ve done these types of checks before. It took us over six months to find partners that said yes. However, we’ve also had suppliers that have said they’ve abided by cruelty-free values since 2008 however before that time, animal testing was the norm. It was then up to us to make a decision as to whether we’d work with a company that had legacy issues. As it had been a significant amount of time since they’d made the changes, to us that was ok. 

"The term cruelty-free is not at all regulated. Even with the accreditations that currently exist, there are so many grey areas. For example, a brand and their own manufacturing processes can be against animal testing, but that doesn’t mean their second tier manufacturers or suppliers they work with are too. You need to research the multiple layers in your supply chain to uncover the truth." 

Are there any other challenges you faced as a makeup entrepreneur?
My business partner and I aren’t chemists, so we had to work very closely with our manufacturing partners to get the product just right. Creating something with beautiful quality, that fits our brand ethos and works well in everyday women’s makeup collection - all of it was crucial. 

You’ve done an incredible job, ticked all the above boxes and at an affordable price!
It’s funny you say that as one of the challenges has been people thinking our cosmetics are too cheap. As a society we’re definitely accustomed to ‘getting what you pay for,’ so if you compare a $40 lipstick to a $20 one, you’ll feel like the more expensive is the better product. What many people don’t realise is that unlike fashion or skincare, the raw ingredients that go into cosmetics aren’t very expensive. The cost price of a $40 and $20 lipstick may only differ by a few cents. The rest of the mark up? You’re paying more for fancy packaging and big marketing budgets. 

What’s the one thing you would change about the beauty industry?
I really wish cosmetics were seen more like expressive products, like clothing, rather than corrective. You often hear someone say “Oh, I look so tired, I need more concealer” or the more traditional Asian point of view that makeup is like a public courtesy. So many of us use makeup to cover up who they are, or what they’re feeling. Cosmetics should be a powerful way to express yourself. If that means wearing purple lipstick in the middle of the day, going all bare for a night out or maintaining a full face look at the gym, anything goes. 

So far you’ve launched a liquid lipstick, solid lipstick and waterproof liner. What’s next?
We can reveal that coming up next is a lip tint! Lipmattic is a full pigment product while our SplitStix are more buildable and blendable, so we want to complement them with something more minimal; perhaps a little glossy too. I show up at my day job with almost no makeup, so I’d like to give women the option of something more understated. We’ve also had lots of requests for brow gels and mascaras — we’re working on it!

Shop & discover Solos Cosmetics here.

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