I started QUILL in November of 2021. I wanted to embrace my community, and I wanted to follow my passion for beauty.
Unisex makeup brands inspired me. I thought about the stigma attached to makeup and men and about non-binary people and their erasure from beauty’s marketing campaigns. So, gender-inclusive beauty site. Duh.
I reached out to many genderless beauty brands to be a part of a QUILL giveaway, not hearing back from most. And why would I? QUILL was new. We didn’t have hundreds of articles. We had dozens of Instagram followers, not thousands.
Then I received an email. “Best of luck to you with your endeavor, and yes, I’d be happy to donate a few products for your giveaway.”
Laura Kraber of genderless makeup brand Fluide was the only respondent. Fortunately for me, Laura’s support went far beyond sharing Fluide’s products.
Someone believed in QUILL and its birth, its small but dedicated number of Instagram followers, and my personal drive to make a change in the beauty industry.
I count my lucky stars every day that she responded to my email. And now, I’m looking at her on Zoom for an interview. Kismet.
It turns out that Kraber hasn’t been in the beauty industry for her entire life.
In fact, she says, she was a nutritionist. And while she did have her start in eCommerce, it was with a health and wellness startup – far from the glittery eyeliner and bright blue lipsticks Fluide sells today. But it sparked something within her.
“In my previous job, I fell in love with the way in which you could use content marketing to connect with a community,” she says. “And the seamlessness of that relationship—of sharing a way of life that had products that matched, that created a chance to build community and do interesting content.”
Kraber is a writer, like myself, and she was doing plenty of blog writing. And while she would write about health and wellness primarily – something she loved – watching her teenagers grow up in New York made her tilt her head and pause.
“Every day, I was just blown away by the changes that were going on in terms of understanding the gender binary,” Kraber explains, acknowledging the ways in which the youth were beginning to question gender identities and sexualities in ways she had yet to experience – even when growing up in the ‘80s.
“I think Gen X parents like myself, we think we’re so liberal compared to our parents, but then you look at kids today. I felt that it was a whole new world.”
It was 2017 when Kraber found herself becoming increasingly preoccupied with this new world. Donald Trump had taken office, officially removing all mentions of LGBTQ+ rights from the White House site and banning transgender people from serving in the US military (though this was struck down by a federal judge later in the year). The LGBTQ+ community was worried.
But progression was happening, too. In California, it was legally required that all single-occupancy bathrooms were gender-neutral. Many states banned conversion therapy, including New Mexico and Connecticut. And in New York City, school staff were required to use transgender students’ chosen pronouns.
“It just increasingly became clear to me that this was the future and that I wanted to be a part of it,” she expresses. “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.”
Kraber was still working with the health and wellness company, but she was beginning to feel disconnected from it as she watched a revolution.“I was targeting women like myself, women in their forties who wanted to be a little bit healthier,” she says. “We’re sitting here selling vitamins and to me, focusing more on young people and supporting them in some way seemed more important.”
She continued to debate her career path. “Starting a brand focused on gender expansive identities [would give] me the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the shift in our culture regarding gender expression, which felt more worthy and valuable.”
Kraber noticed that the younger generation was beginning to play with makeup and hair products, experimenting and using them as vehicles for self-expression. It was like the ‘80s, she explains, but rather than being a signifier for bands and music, it was a signifier for gender expression.
And that, she thought, “is changeable. It’s fluid.”
You can see where this is going.
It’s 2022, and we still have far to go.
In 2017, the idea of a genderless beauty brand seemed unheard of. Jeffree Star Cosmetics had just been founded and begun releasing products, though it was not openly called a “genderless brand.” And… well, that was about it.
“I looked around and I was kind of like, ‘there’s nothing like this.’ And I kept thinking, ‘there should be.’ … So it was sort of a radical idea. And I was very naive.”
Kraber had never been in the beauty industry, but in January of 2018, she partnered up with her co-founder (who is no longer with the company) to create products and the brand identity, raised a modest amount of money from friends and family, held the brand’s first photoshoot, and ran with it.
“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.”
And remember her use of the word “fluid?” Tweaking it a bit into Fluide, “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.”
Fluide just released their Otherworldly Eyeshadow Palette, a highly appropriate name, as the universe was at the foundation of the brand’s identity.
“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.”
It stuck. They also loved the idea of a multi-use product, as “We’ve always wanted to be an accessible company.” While she acknowledges that multi-use products can hurt the bottom line, it ultimately didn’t matter much, because they wanted “something that everyone could access that would make them feel seen and appreciated.”
On top of that, clean formulas were important to Kraber. “As a mother and a former nutritionist, I always wanted our products to be clean and non-toxic.” While that accessible price point didn’t allow for every wish to come true – “We weren’t going to be all organic, or only botanicals” – they made sure to cut parabens and phthalates right away, which are regularly found in many glitter glues.
So Universal Gloss was born, meant for your lips, eyes, and cheeks. Then there was their Universal Liner, because “everyone loves glitter.” Though lesser-known, the OG product was their loose glitter, which they continue to sell to this day.
The formulas are clean, as Kraber envisioned. “The liquid liners, yes, if you’re into graphic looks, you can do like a line across your cheekbone or something. But most people use them either as lip liners or eyeliners.” she tells me (I quickly note this as something to try out when I do my next Fluide review). The multi-functioning capabilities of the products are crucial to the brand.
Community is also huge for Fluide, especially as they have loyal, repeat customers. “We’re still a really small brand” – with a team of three – “[and] we’ve had very historically low marketing budgets, if any budgets at all. So, it is mostly word of mouth, and those repeat customers, I’m fascinated by [them], because our brand resonates with certain people.”
It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest – after all, there was a reason I reached out to Fluide as one of the first brands to collaborate with, and there’s a reason it’s been the longest relationship I’ve had so far. What does surprise me: it’s not necessarily the makeup that drives people to Fluide.
“Many of our customers buy from us because they like our brand values and what we stand for,” Kraber explains. “So that’s an interesting juxtaposition with cosmetics-oriented consumers, whom I learned about through our partnership with IPSY, the subscription box company.”
She’s still talking when my cat, Ebi, walks across the screen. I feel crushingly embarrassed – I know it’s COVID, but come on, in the middle of this interview? But Kraber isn’t fazed. “Oh, what a cutie. Oh my God. I love her,” she exclaims; then, flowing into her next thought as if a cat never appeared: “So we’re always asking, ‘what does our community want?’ And that’s a challenge for sure.”
So, two things were just confirmed. One: Fluide is doing something right to continuously bring back customers who don’t necessarily use makeup in the first place, and two: Kraber’s focus on Fluide never wavers – even when there’s a cute cat around.
I’m nearing the end of my interview with Kraber.
I’m fascinated to hear her thoughts on the beauty industry’s future. I’m also very interested to learn her thoughts on authenticity when it comes to the beauty industry, as opposed to performative activism.
“We’re trying to showcase and celebrate the kind of people who have never been in a beauty campaign before, and show young people today, kids who are growing up, ‘yes, you can be front and center,’” she expresses, mentioning shows like Euphoria and Pose that have opened doors for people of color and varying gender expressions.
“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 of how the hired hands on a photo shoot have their own gender bias, as do those who approve the ad campaigns, and that men are far more likely to be at the helm of companies – including those selling beauty products. But Kraber is hopeful. “I think the beauty industry is a very interesting kind of 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.”
Diversity is important to Kraber, who is frustrated by the “rainbow-washing” and token LGBTQ+ models, which therefore give companies the chance to put a “check mark” next to their diversity and inclusion activities. Kraber does applaud companies like Milk Makeup for doing more than simply putting one LGBTQ+ model on Instagram and calling it “progressive.”
I then ask Kraber what’s next for Fluide in its fourth year of business, and, yes, this is where she’s supposed to brag. But she doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t. It comes back to the mission: providing subtle but impactful support during a revolution.
“We’re not going to compete with L’Oreal and Estee Lauder,” she says point-blank, and internally, I’m disagreeing. “We are going to change the game in a small way that actually can have a lasting impact, because we’re part of the way the culture is going,” she continues.
On top of this, they’re receiving more recognition. They partnered with Walmart a few months ago, and they’re generating broad interest as the company and its visibility grows – and, therefore, funding to spread the word about the brand.
There’s more they want to accomplish, and it’s on the horizon… once it can be executed fully, because Kraber refuses to do anything halfway. “Everyone generally asks for complexion products, which we haven’t been able to afford yet, because to do a concealer or a foundation, you want to have the 40 shades[. … But] that’s something that we’re working towards, which I think could really be a game changer for us.”
As the clock hits 11:15, I point out one thing about Kraber that I’d noticed from the beginning, in our initial emails and in reading about the brand. She never asked “why should” – why should I help? It was never to benefit her. Kraber asked “how can” – how can I help?
I say this to her, and I ask: how can I help Fluide? How can I help a brand that’s supported my little startup from day one?
“You are supporting us,” she says, as if I’ve asked what color the sky is. And as we close out our interview, she asks:
“I’m always interested in that: How can we grow? How can we expand? How can we serve our community?”
And I think that’s the magic behind Fluide: the spirit of Kraber. She’s grateful. She’s in awe. She wants to benefit others, not herself. And it comes back to her core: how can rather than why should.
It’s something I think about when I end the conversation. I text my Content Strategist: “how can we do better with this next feature? How can we make this next month’s articles more gender-inclusive?”
It’s not Laura-Kraber-level “How Can?” yet. But it’s a start.