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 makeup. 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 is like armour — it makes 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 like our relationships (read: non-toxic), we want our skincare to be the same, which means we have to pay attention to the ingredients in our cosmetics. That’s what drove Devonne Niam, co-founder of Solos Cosmetics, to create a greener and cruelty-free makeup brand that packs incredible quality at an affordable price point. Psst — they’re multi-use, too!
So Devonne: What inspired you to create a more cruelty-free 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 sampling, 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 isn’t complicated. We create all of our make-up with multi-use in mind. We test each of our products on eyes, cheeks and lips. At the end of the day, paint is a pigment and there’s no limit to where you apply it, as long as you know how to use the texture. That’s what my Fine Arts training back at school instilled in me! 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. Cruelty-free makeup 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.”
Did you face any other challenges you have 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 with Solos, that too 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 markup? You’re paying more for fancy packaging and big marketing budgets.
What’s the one thing you would change about the beauty industry?
I wish cosmetics were marketed as expressive products like clothing, rather than as corrective. So many of us use makeup to cover up who we 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 for Solos Cosmetics?
We can reveal that coming up next is a lip tint! Lipmattic is a full pigment product while the SplitStix is more buildable and blendable, so we want to compliment 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 Solos Cosmetics online.
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.