Tess Aurore, QUILL Editor-in-Chief : This is just a conversation, but Laura, I would love to start with: how did you and Fluide start?
Laura Kraber, Fluide Founder: I had been working in e-commerce at a health and wellness startup and working on community building through blogging. I was inspired by content marketing and the seamlessness of that relationship between a mission-based and purpose-driven brand and the consumers and advocates of the brand values.
At the time, as a parent, I was deeply impressed with teenagers in my life — they were leading the way in creating a more expansive understanding of gender identity, and through their engagement and activism, creating a worldwide movement and paving the way for everyone who comes after them. The genesis of the Fluide brand is my personal admiration for the people who are putting their lives on the line to create this societal shift and create a more inclusive world.
So you weren’t in the beauty world.
No, I had been working in a niche-y e-commerce field, mostly targeting women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who wanted to be a little bit healthier, who had disposable income and who were interested in spending it on health and wellness — supplements, cleanse programs and healthy foods.
Then what inspired a switch?
Well, while I was doing that, which I really loved, I was also parenting teens in New York City, and I was shocked that there were no beauty brands that celebrated gender expansive identities. Although I knew very little about the beauty industry, in knowing young people, I felt strongly that there SHOULD be a a beauty brand on the market that modeled self acceptance and self confidence and that valorized gender fluidity and queer identities.
Makeup was a DIY thing that people were having a lot of fun with and experimenting with. And I thought it reflected some of these ideas around gender expression and that it’s changeable, it’s fluid, you can take it on, put it on, take off, every day can be different.
But again, it was the beauty industry – not exactly the health and wellness, supplements industry.
It was sort of a radical idea for me, and I was very naive. Like I said, I did not come from the beauty industry. I did not know what I was doing. So I teamed up with this incredible designer who became a co-founder, who created the brand identity and really helped shape what the brand would look and feel like, and we launched in January of 2018.
I mean, it was a radical idea to come up with in 2018. The gender binary was kind of set in stone.
Yes. The conversations were still so backward; it was four years ago, and yet Target was just shifting from blue and pink to yellow.
And since then, a lot of the retailers have kind of broken down that boy-girl marketing that they used to do, but it seemed unthinkable even five years ago.
We didn’t even touch upon this, but: why did you feel the need to do this? Again, not much beauty industry experience, and you ran with makeup.
Makeup may not have been the perfect vehicle or expression of the brand concept, but I felt like makeup played an important role in young teens’ lives and identities in a way that, when I was growing up in the eighties, was more likely to be bands and music and fashion.
For so long, makeup has been perceived as an instrument of an outdated and patriarchal beauty ideal—women wore makeup to improve themselves, to make themselves acceptable to a standard of, often white and cis, female beauty which few could achieve. To locate makeup outside of this paradigm of cis-female beauty is incredibly liberating and it opens up the potential for makeup to be empowering for all people, rather than a representation of all the ways you don’t measure up.
I was at that stage of life where I knew my time was limited, and I wanted to play a role in supporting young people in this understanding of gender as much more expansive and beauty as much more inclusive.
Some may wonder why cisgender people, like you and myself, take this so seriously.
I felt that, even as a cisgender person myself, patriarchal culture doesn’t serve anybody, and none of us really win. Sometimes an easier way to break all these inherited old-fashioned ideas of gender, is to break it down from the beginning and really question what gender is all about.
And that was what younger generations were really beginning to do – question and challenge the notion of gender’s status quo.
So, I was sitting there selling vitamins, but to me, focusing more on young people and supporting them in some way seemed more important. Starting a brand focused on gender expansive identities gave me the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the shift in our culture regarding gender expression, which felt more worthy and valuable.
So you teamed up with your co-founder, and then what?
We were both very passionate and moved quickly to develop the brand identity and create the launch line — which was tiny! We raised a small amount of money from friends and family to fund the initial product line and pay for our first photoshoot.
It was interesting that at the time, it was hard to convey the brand concept — everyone thought, ‘oh, this is a brand for trans people or a men’s makeup line,’ or, like, ‘what are you trying to do here?’ But to us, it was really clear what we were trying to build. Over time, we were able to get [our vision] out there through the simple act of representing people across a spectrum of gender expressions and identities in a beautiful and joyful way.
And your first product was your Universal Gloss, I believe? I’m a huge fan of it, especially the multi-use aspect. But a lot of brands would just call it “Lip Gloss.” Or “Unisex.”
One of our first Pride campaigns was dedicated to the idea of gender identity as a unique constellation for every person, the stars aligning in a night sky to express your ‘otherworldly self.’ Our use of galaxy imagery and nomenclature in our products and packaging emerged from this campaign and the belief that gender is your own personal self-expression.
My partner, who stepped down about a year into the business, came up with the Universal Gloss. We both really loved the idea of products that are multi-purpose, and we later developed the Universal Crayon, Universal Liner and Universal Balm, which are designed for lip-eye-face and can be used in myriad ways.
But multi-functional products can hurt the bottom line.
Yeah, but we didn’t think that way. We were just thinking, “oh, this is great value.”
Fluide was not about having that $30 lipstick that you save and save for. It was more of an impulse buy, something that everyone could access that would make them feel seen and appreciated, and that wasn’t a huge strain on the pocket.
Although we have always been committed to non-toxic ingredients, we also knew we weren’t going to be a brand that featured only organic or botanical ingredients. We wanted to be accessible and have a long shelf life and not have to refrigerate our products or require extra steps, so our products do include a non-paraben preservative. But parabens and phthalates were two classes of ingredients that we knew from the beginning we wanted to exclude.
Accessibility is so important. And one thing Jayla Roxx mentioned was that accessibility also had to do with building community and a base.
I’m always eager to learn from our customers and discover what people are interested in. I’m always interested in how they think we should grow or expand. and how we can best serve our community.
I think a lot of people ask the question, why should I help? What is going to benefit me by helping this person out? And you asked the question how.
We are a community-driven company that’s more about the ideas of our brand and what we stand for and the campaigns we do. And the light that we shine on underrepresented faces and voices in the beauty industry. We’re trying to showcase and celebrate the kind of people who have never been in a beauty campaign before and to show young people today, kids who are growing up. Yes, you can be front and center.
It can also help to foster community in person, but COVID sort of put a wrench in that.
Pre-COVID, we did a lot of events in New York, which is where we’re based. And you can often go in and do a beauty day or some kind of giveaway or tutorial with the makeup artist at retailers that carry your brand. So it would be really nice now that the world is opening back up to pick top cities where there’s a great LGBTQ community, whether that’s San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Chicago.
It’s just so fun to actually meet people, because when you’re running a digital business… I mean, right now, we’re sitting in our room with our cats on our laptops and it is easy to feel disconnected.
I do feel that way a lot. And, you know, you have Kylie Jenner pop ups and what not, and people get in line for 24 hours to get a lip gloss. But that doesn’t really build community. It builds, “I got the new Kylie Jenner lip gloss.” I love that your events are for building community.
It’s interesting. When I was working in health and wellness, the community that we were targeting, they came together. You could say, “yes, these are people who want to lose little weight or be healthier, or optimize their health, whether it’s a cleanse program or taking probiotics.” But it related to the product, whereas talking about the LGBTQ+ community or the gender expansive community, there’s no real relationship with makeup there. It’s a relationship that we’re imposing.
Many of our customers buy from us because they like our brand values and what we stand for. So that’s an interesting juxtaposition with cosmetics-oriented consumers, whom I learned about through our partnership with IPSY, the subscription box company, whose subscribers are generally cosmetics fanatics. So we’re always asking, ‘what does our community want?’
You must feel lucky to have LGBTQ+ community members who love makeup on your team of three.
I feel very lucky. Our team is our Chief Creative Officer, Dev Doee, who is a beauty influencer, who is a drag artist, who’s a performer and dancer and also runs our product development because they’re genius at makeup and know and love makeup. And that has been a huge benefit, because that’s not my specialty at all.
Also on our team is our Director of Marketing, Alec, who is just incredibly talented and creative and hard-working and manages all our marketing, from social media to ads to email and more. Alec also does a little bit of everything and is also a photographer and poet and creative. So we do bring a lot of different talents to the table.
In some ways I’m sure having a small team can be beneficial. You have close-knit relationships.
It’s amazing what you can achieve with two or three people using today’s tools. We’re on Shopify. We have a third-party logistics warehouse that ships all the orders out. It all seamlessly connects. We can do drop shipping, so we’re on a few other platforms.
There’s just so many ways in which digital media and digital marketing can help with getting a message out there, selling a product, starting a small business from nothing, keeping your business running. It is pretty wonderful, and I don’t take that for granted at all. That’s what’s made this all possible, really.
Alright, I know I have to let you go, but I have two more questions. First and foremost: what do you hope to see in terms of gender norms and gender identities in the beauty industry in 2022?
From my perspective, one of the big guiding lights of the brand is the quote from Marian Wright Edelman, who was the Children’s Defense Fund founder: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
In simple terms, we want to make sure our community feels seen — as well as appreciated and beautiful. There is a lot of power in an image. I think we are seeing change in the way other companies are representing different gender identities. Milk Makeup has always consistently featured diverse models in their campaigns and we’re seeing increasing diversity in representation across the beauty industry.
One thing I think is that it stems from who’s behind the camera, behind the campaigns.
When people ask me, “what do you recommend that brands do to be authentic, in terms of their efforts with diversity?” I think it’s a lot of what happens behind the camera — not just hiring diverse models. Who are the people behind the scenes? Who are the people being paid? Who are the people designing the photoshoots and coming up with the product?”
I think the beauty industry is an interesting case study in and of itself around some of these issues, and the calls for diversification and the calls for more equity have changed the industry in the last couple years.
Finally, what are you most excited about for Fluide in 2022? You, as Laura.
This is our fourth year in business, so I feel really excited about how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned. We just launched on Walmart’s site a couple months ago. We’re beginning to get a lot of interest from more traditional retailers that I wouldn’t have expected. They’re focusing on indie beauty and representing new faces and voices, which offers us an opportunity to get out there.
I feel like we’re at a place where we can come into our own and continue to create the beautiful imagery and videos and products that we love to make, but have a little bit of a bigger stage and not have to work so hard in getting the word out.
Is there anything you’re hoping to eventually add to the Fluide lineup?
Everyone generally asks for complexion products, which we haven’t been able to afford yet, given the shade range that we would want to offer and the costs associated with that. I think complexion products could really be a game changer for us, so yes, there’s a lot to look forward to this year!
Laura, you answered with “we” and “how can” again. This is why you’re great. Thank you so much.