Grace Choi, a Harvard buisiness-school grad who describes herself as a "serial inventor", is the brainpower behind Mink, a makeup concept that's about as disruptive as it gets. She explains in her TechCrunch presentation, "Mink is a desktop printer that prints makeup. It can take any image and instantly transform it into a wearable color cosmetic."
|An imagination of how the printer might look.|
All photos are screenshots from the TechCrunch presentation.
Choi says, "I wanted to make a makeup product and what I found out was the makeup industry makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bullshit. And they do this by charging a huge premium on one thing that technology provides for free. And that one thing... is color!"
She cites sale volumes as the principle reason that drugstores offer such limited selection for color products. She claims that Mink can offer the selection of prestige color cosmetics with the convenience of mass-produced drugstore colors. "As a matter of fact," she says, "I'm beating the selection of Prestige because I'm giving you the selection of the internet and I'm beating the convenience of mass because I'm giving you the convenience of your own freaking house." She adds, "We're going to live in a world where you can just take a picture of your friend's lipstick and just print it out."
For her presentation, Choi whipped up a 'proof of concept prototype' to demonstrate that her ideas are more than theoretical.
She pulls up a Michelle Phan tutorial and grabs the hex code for a pink eyeshadow that the beauty guru was displaying. Choi explains that no fancy software is needed for the product to work: "All you need is a color picker to copy the hex code and any software to print." (She does her presentation using photoshop.)
She presses print and, after a few moments of delay, out pops a vibrant pink shadow.
She swatches it on her hand...
…and shows that it can easily be popped into a portable compact.
Choi says that the initial retail price for the Mink printer will be about $300, and the "substrates" (the non-colorful part of the makeup) and the ink will be "commodity-priced, so they are very accessible", adding, "per unit, the pricing is going to be much lower [than Sephora]."
Because it's based on the "mature technology" of the inkjet printer, Choi feels confident that manufacturing will be feasible.
Choi claims her target market is girls aged 13-21, since their makeup habits are as-of-yet unformed. She feels her product will be empowering to this audience, as it will show that "the definition of beauty is something [girls] should be able to control, not our corporations."
Although her presentation is undeniably snazzy, I'd be lying if I said I don't have significant reservations, and I definitely don't believe that the product will replace anyone's Sephora pilgrimage.
A hex code is well and good, but it's fundamentally misleading to pretend that makeup is exclusively about a single matte shade. A hex code sure as hell won't give you eyeshadow with shimmer, glitter, or duochromes. She claims her product will ultimately be able to print products like cream foundations, but there's so much variety in texture there it's borderline absurd. Foundations range from from thick, full coverage paints that are as matte as hell to dewey, sheer finishes… and that's not even touching extra fancy shit like cream-to-powder finishes. I don't understand how she thinks she will be able to pull off the range available at Sephora using mere hex codes.
She also misses on the demonstration of quality. She seems to believe that all cosmetics are identical save for the color used as inspiration, which is a clear falsehood. Her swatched product has super weak pigmentation and isn't even close to the hex code color she selected! People don't buy neutral palettes at Sephora because they can't find the color "brown" in the drugstore. They buy them because there is a noticeable and meaningful difference in quality. If she does not understand that, I don't see how she can make cosmetics that are objectively good. There's something to be said for having had a testing process before the cosmetics end up in your hands.
Additionally, I am confused about the nature of the inks she is using. She is suggesting that all her color additives are FDA-approved, but it is not clarified whether or not she is separating out eye- and lip-approved color additives. It's also not clear how she expects to offer every color imaginable, since some colors are not really producible using only FDA-approved pigments. (E.g. Urban Decay didn't choose to use non-eye-approved color additives in their recent Electric Palette just to bug you.)
Finally, I think she misunderstands who her audience really is. No 13-year-old is buying a $300 machine. If she is selling to 13-year-olds, she is selling to parents. Really, though, she should be looking at ladies in their 20s as a primary marketplace. It's an audience with (at least some) money. It's an audience who probably has $300 to their name, anyways. It's also an audience who wants to experiment and have fun with the shit they put on their faces. A 13-year-old's parents would likely have some degree of restriction on what makeup they allow. I'm adult and I can wear green lipstick and eat ice cream for breakfast if I want.
These are all points a makeup-savy person would have been able to ask about during the Q&A following Choi's presentation. Sadly, the all-male panel ended up using that time to clarify if there were different types of makeup that exist (e.g. foundation vs. eyeshadow), and whether or not those products need to be mixed.
|Not the right people to be asking questions.|
I was surprised (and impressed) to see that Choi is already using existing media structures to create buzz for her product by using referral links to grant early access to the product. So: If you want to be notified when the Mink printer is released, you are welcome to use my referral link by clicking here.