Eco Inspirations: Greenista Chat with Rose-Marie Swift

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Clean cosmetics is the theme of my second inspiring Greenista Chat with Rose-Marie Swift, a New York-based make-up artist and prominent authority in the beauty industry for more than 20 years.  Featured in top publications (Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle), having her make-up skills appear in high fashion ads (Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany’s), making up the faces of celebrity clients (Gisele Bunchen, Gretchen Moll, Sheryl Crow) and working with some of the top fashion photographers in the world (Patrick Demarchelier, Annie Lebovitz, Peter Lindbergh) undoubtedly make Rose-Marie the go-to beauty expert.

Her rms beauty line is pure make-up heaven.  It’s the first truly organic color cosmetics brand in the world and, though us American girls are limited to online purchasing at the moment, it’s worth it.  I’ll be reviewing some of my favorite rms products soon, so keep an eye out for the post!

So whether you’re looking to play chemist and create your own line, or want to protect yourself from the toxic chemicals found in daily body care products (check out Rose-Marie’s website Beauty Truth for more information on beauty myths and truths), read on to get the insider scoop on what happens behind the scenes in the beauty lab and how to choose the best products to nourish your beautiful self.

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What inspired you to create rms beauty?

I ended up getting really sick and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.  So I had a really advanced blood and hair analysis done, and the actual lab technicians asked me, “Do you work in the cosmetics industry?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  And they replied, “Because you’ve got a lot of chemicals in your body that are found in cosmetics, hairsprays and similar products.”  It ends up I had high levels of mercury and lead in my system, so that got me thinking and I started studying and researching how this could have happened.  And what I realized was that everything I was studying was making a loop right back down to the cosmetics industry.

From there I started a website called Beauty Truth and I got so much press on it.  People began phoning me and asking what products they should be using.  So I started studying all the stuff that’s in cosmetics.  And while I was doing all that I was still working in the business. I started bringing in healthier stuff for the models to put on their skin, like jojoba oil.  I began to be known as “The Organic Girl.” I also started eating a lot of raw foods and realized a lot of the oils from the raw foods were really healthy for the skin. I thought, “What I’m going to do is take this whole concept of raw food and focus on the healthy ones – especially the ones that have a really long shelf life – and I’m going to mix it with minerals.”  You need a base with the minerals, since they alone are not good for the skin. When suspended in the oils, minerals don’t fly around in the air and cause lung damage and disease.

Can you describe the greater mission/purpose of rms beauty?

The mission of my company is to educate women and offer them a safer alternative to makeup that looks just as good as fashion makeup brands, such as YSL and Chanel.  I want to give women something that’s good and just as high quality as any of the other brands, while being healthy for them at the same time.

How do you research and source all the ingredients for your line?

From the beginning, I did all the research on my own and the lab I currently work with still isn’t allowed to source any of the ingredients.  Sourcing is my domain.  I’m in charge of complete purchases of all the raw ingredients.  I’m still running the whole show.

Your products are currently available online.  Do you have plans to expand to high-end department stores?

rms beauty products are already in over 30 stores – in places like Hong Kong, Colette’s in Paris, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Germany, England and quite a few stores in America.  But I’m very picky about who I go to.  A lot of smaller boutiques are opening up now and I’m favoring them because you avoid the corporate bureaucracy.

I do very well selling online.   The tremendous support I’ve received from the blogging community is also helpful.  For example, Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt who wrote the book “No More Dirty Looks” and have created a website of the same name, wrote about my products.  They did a great job of making clean cosmetics entertaining and easy to understand.  I just loved the way they wrote the book and was thrilled with the mention.  I’ve also been written up in “EcoSex,” as my luminizer gives you “that glow.”

And in the almost two years that my product line has been out (end of Nov 2008 for the website), I had no PR.  Just my friend Elaine and me running the whole thing – and we still are.  But we realized we don’t need all this stuff.  She and I have been doing everything and people are buying from the website, rather than just going to the big department stores and trusting the major brands.  So this is already a step in the right direction.

What is the profit margin on clean cosmetics and how does it compare to more typical cosmetic companies?

There is more of a loss on our end because the cosmetics industry uses the cheapest minerals.  If you look closely enough, the minerals are all clumped together and different sizes.  Varying sizes of sparkle and glitter particles are cheap, cheap, cheap.  I use the most expensive minerals you can buy in the industry, so the profit margin is not as fabulous.  But I’m also running my line differently where I’m not hiring all these people because I’m doing if from the heart rather than the corporation aspect.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle or hardship to starting a company like yours?

The hardest things are knowing and pinpointing what you’re doing, or you will be walked all over.  If you don’t have a goal and an idea of what it is you want, you’re going to put out another crappy product.  Everyone else in the cosmetics industry is going to the same few labs and they’re all copying each other because they don’t know what else to do.  Or labs are saying that being organic can’t be done. It can be done.  You just have to think outside of the box.

And these cosmetic labs can’t do that because they’ve been doing the same things for years – the same formulas over and over again. They aren’t hiring innovative molecular biologists or chemists.  They are hiring chemists out of school that are taught those same formulas.  They are not improving.  Unless you’re a big corporation like Chanel who has its own lab and can hire the best of the best, you’re going to get lost big time.

How long did it take before your line was ready for market?

It took six years for the line to be ready.  Packaging is a nightmare.  It’s so pricey.  The only reason I could do my line was because everything is in the same container. I picked nice frosted containers that people would like to carry around. Packaging is really expensive; they want a part of your company.

How have the fashion models you work with been responding to natural and clean make-up on set?

They’re loving the products.  In fact, some of the other big makeup artists are calling me up and saying, “You’re causing such a problem because models are wanting cleaner stuff!”  And they’ve even begun buying my stuff, which is the ultimate compliment – to have your peers and models saying great things and asking for your products.  Hopefully this will drive a change in the industry.

Have photographers noticed a difference when the models are wearing natural products?

Yes, photographers say “What is that on the eye?”  My eye shadows are phenomenal for photographing because the wetness of it catches the light and makes the eyes stand out.  My favorite two eye shadows are Seduce and Magnetic.

Do you have a good education tool or piece of advice to give to women to change their makeup purchasing habits?

Just that they have to realize there are good, healthy products out there.  A little research goes a long way, so they can know the repercussions of some of these chemicals on their bodies, which are mixing with all the other chemicals in their bodies, disrupting their hormones and endocrine systems.  The sooner women start becoming aware of all this, even if I just educate one woman at a time, I’ll be happy.

And do you have ay advice for entrepreneurs, such as securing investor interest or capital?

It’s hard.  You have to be an authority for people to pay attention to you. Labs always tell me they have fashion models phoning up and wanting to start their own lines, and they aren’t interested unless you’re a heavy hitter in some way or another.  And getting people to back you financially?  You might as well just give your whole company away. If you get an initial backer in the beginning, you’ll basically be left with nothing of your company because they want it all, otherwise they won’t give you the money.  And then you’ll lose control once that happens.  You won’t find backers that will say 50/50.

I have no backers.  If I did, they’d probably tell me to start using cheap coconut oil or cheap minerals to see more profit. I’m not interested in just profit; I’m interested in putting out a good line.

And, finally, how do you recommend dealing with critics?

You have to have optimism or you’ll never make it. You can’t listen to those people.  I’m so driven and I know that what I’m doing is amazing, and that keeps me going.

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