Milk Makeup was born at the iconic Milk Studios in New York. The fashion photography studios in a trendy location in New York City has seen some of the world’s biggest models, photographers, make- up artists and celebrities pass through its doors.
The studio’s founders noticed a need for a cool cruelty-free make-up brand that would appeal to the woman of today and Milk Makeup was born as a result.
Husband and wife Zanna Roberts Rassi and Mazdack Rassi alongside their Co-Founders decided to launch a beauty brand that was not only cruelty-free but also paraben-free, and 100% vegan. That means they use the best-for-you formulations while also ensuring excellent performance. Many of the products have multiple uses so they are perfect for busy women who want a fast beauty fix. Their products are tried and tested by some of the world’s top make-up artists and celebrities and they are on a mission for global expansion. As part of this, Milk Makeup recently launched in the Middle East, available exclusively at Sephora.
Co-Founder Zanna Roberts Rassi is no stranger to the beauty world. She started off her career as a Beauty Editor and today can often be seen on the red carpet in Hollywood, interviewing celebrities for lifestyle channel E! She knows everyone in the industry and is the go-to person for the beauty tips and tricks used by celebrities. She lists Huda Kattan and Gwyneth Paltrow amongst her friends and has every top make-up artist in the world on her speed dial. So this lady knows what she’s talking about when it comes to beauty. Here we find out more about Milk Makeup and the decision to launch in the Middle East and why the brand is so appealing to women today.
You’ve worked as a journalist your whole life – how does running a beauty brand differ?
I actually started in beauty! My first job was as a Beauty Editor in the UK so through that, I was exposed to all sides of beauty. I would interview all the greats backstage at Fashion Week shows: Pat McGrath at Alexander McQueen McQueen, Val Garland at Dior… I also got a lot of facetime with founders like Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier. I would commission and create magical beauty imagery with the best photographers, models and artists in the world, think Alexi Lubomirski, Naomi Campbell, and Charlotte Tilbury! I would spend time touring labs and understating brand stories. Every product launch would cross my desk months before it launched and I would test and try and review them. I also knew how saturated the beauty market actually was, and because of that, we knew Milk Makeup had to have strong values and a reason to exist.
How do you think your experience and expertise has helped you to build the brand?
As a journalist I routinely have to put myself in the shoes of the reader or viewer. Empathy is key and the same is true when creating a brand. From product to creative, to marketing, it’s all about the customer experience.
Also, as a fashion and beauty journalist, I’m very much an insider. It’s my job to know about the latest trends, newest launches, best makeup artists, upcoming major celebs etc. I get to work with the early adopters and the best creatives on set. I’m part of it, rather than being in an office, relying on agencies and consultants to tell us what’s cool!
Are there any lessons you’ve learnt since venturing into the beauty business?
SO many! A recent example is how incredibly collaborative and supporting the industry is of each other. I have always been a big advocate of collaboration over competition and never more so than now have I appreciated my peers in the industry. I’m a founding member of Beauty United, a group of 45+ beauty and wellness founders ranging from Huda Kattan, to Victoria Beckham, to Drew Barrymore, to Gwyneth Paltrow, to Sharon Chuter. We came together at the beginning of the pandemic. What started as peers helping each other navigate turned into an incredible coalition of founders helping others in need. Our focus early into the pandemic was to come together and support our frontline heroes, today it’s shifted into mentorship for budding beauty entrepreneurs and aid and programs for freelance artists. I’m so grateful to learn and grow with our worldwide beauty community.
What’s the biggest challenge you face with Milk Makeup right now?
I’m a firm believer that we learn the most through the challenges in our lives and that real growth happens when pushed out of your comfort zone. The pandemic and physical lockdown means we are all working from home, but, in turn, has forced us to be more communicative, creative, and to think outside the box — to find new and smarter, more sustainable solutions and as a result, we are closer than ever. My personal goal is to get Milk Makeup into the hands of everyone! I wish I could just gift you all because once you try it, you will fall in love with it.
Do you think social media has changed the beauty industry and what are some pros and cons?
10000%!! Social media has completely reshaped the industry. When I think back to when I started in the 2000s, it was a time that we Beauty Editors were literally the only ones dispensing beauty news, advice and information. Magazines and in-store sales counters were the only touchpoints for information on products. Social media has thankfully democratised it for the consumer so they can discover and find personalised, non-prescriptive inspiration and education. Brands have a platform and space to tell their story, market, connect, and communicate with consumers locally and globally. (Some of my best conversations about beauty happen with customers in Europe or the Middle East over DM!) For all of us, it’s a platform for meaningful conversation. And of course e-commerce.
What do you think women are looking for from makeup products today?
I think women today have rightfully high standards and expectations from their makeup. Milk Makeup set out to be a combination of things that were considered contradictory and that didn’t yet exist in one line. To reframe old school concepts. I still believe this is what we want in a line…Our checklist:
- Good ingredients AND Epic Payoff.
- Clean AND cool.
- Low Maintenance AND High Concept.
- Quick to put on AND Long-lasting.
- Fresh one day AND Full face the next.
- Colour AND Skincare.
Why was it important for you to ensure that Milk’s products are cruelty-free and vegan?
It was a no-brainer. With such incredible alternatives to chemicals and testing — there is no excuse not to. They are friendlier to the earth; friendlier to your skin, and they offer major payoff without any compromise.
What are some of the challenges you faced in order to ensure all of the products are vegan?
Formulating an epic mascara. Mascara is notoriously hard to create and we have very high standards. This one took years! To be a vegan mascara we had to remove beeswax, a common binding agent. This is when Dianna Ruth (our Co-Founder and COO) and her Product Development team had the genius idea of using hemp-derived seed oil instead. She and the team found that hemp-derived seed oil was not only the perfect alternative but was conditioning and easy to remove yet had no fallout. This mascara is like a daily hair mask for your lashes.
Can you tell us a little about the process of finding vegan ingredients and solutions to the products?
Dianna Ruth, Co-founder and COO: To help with the sourcing process we utilise suppliers that have expertise in natural and vegan materials, and we as a team do our own research to discover new and exciting alternatives.
What would you say to other brands who aren’t there yet when it comes to being cruelty-free?
Dianna Ruth, Co-founder and COO: It’s about progress, not perfection when you’re starting out! Focus on making small steps towards your brand’s ethical and sustainable goals.
Your brand is based in the US – what can you tell us about the beauty market there?
Tim Coolican, CEO: The market in the US is very dynamic. The business model is evolving quickly to meet the new realities of how people are living and shopping. There is a lot of emphasis on wellness and self-care from a product standpoint and on providing a seamless Omni-channel experience.
Milk Studios has been iconic for many years – what was the thought process behind diversifying into a beauty brand?
Milk Studios is a cultural hub at the crossroads of creativity. It’s home to creatives who are the best in the business alongside the next generation — a place they work and hang. We wanted to provide a makeup line for these fast-paced, ambitious, smart, cool creative beginnings.
In a highly saturated market how do you make sure your brand stands out from others and what is the USP of Milk Makeup?
Milk Makeup isn’t just a makeup brand. We approach every aspect (from packaging to formulations to creative to marketing) in a unique way which has manifested in a brand that’s more than just beauty. Our community and culture have always been our inspiration. When it comes to tangible products, our team is constantly finding inspiration from other industries: architecture for design, food for ingredients, medical dispensers for components, and so much more.
The thing that really sets our products apart from others is the quality — Our products are conscious (non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free ingredients), user-friendly, and deliver instant results. We believe in good ingredients, epic payoff.
What is your Milk Makeup hero product?
KUSH Mascara! It’s the Holy Grail of mascaras. The best in the business for volume, impact, and conditioning in one product. I’ve just come off a long run of wearing lash extensions (for TV it was easier), but I have seen how destroyed my lashes are so I’m using KUSH to give me back some lashes.
You’ve worked with and interviewed many celebrities – who’s make-up look is your favourite?
What a hard question!! So many… Rihanna is always a GREAT interview and I love it when she pushes beauty boundaries creatively with her make-up. (Think Met Gala 2018) Gwyneth Paltrow also. She is a walking advert for the wellness lifestyle.
Kim Kardashian. She loves to wear makeup and Mario Dedivanovic does an impeccable job. She even taught me how to contour. She’s stunning up close and always so sweet. I also love Jameela Jamil. Her red carpet beauty is immaculate and when she told me on the Emmys red carpet that she did her own because she hated sitting still in the chair for an hour, I was thoroughly impressed!
What can you tell us about the decision to bring Milk Makeup to The Middle East and why did you decide to partner with Sephora?
Expanding into the Middle East was always a dream of ours, but especially for my husband and Milk Makeup Co-Founder, Rassi. He is from Iran and to him it feels like coming home.
Tim Coolican, CEO: Sephora have been our partners at Milk Makeup since the beginning and have always been fantastic partners and brand builders. We have always wanted to come to the Middle East because there is an incredible creative community and we wanted to be able to connect with them directly.
What are your thoughts on beauty in the Middle Eastern region and can we expect to see you here any time soon?
I’m floored by how very beautiful Middle Eastern women are. I’m fascinated by the beauty traditions in the Middle East. The importance of rich, ancient, natural-based rituals which have withstood the test of time. With that said, it’s great to see how the millennials in the region are embracing natural science-driven brands. I’m so excited to come and learn so much more about the Middle East! Very soon, hopefully.
Tim Coolican, CEO: The Middle East is an inspiring place for beauty globally. We don’t know when we will be travelling again but it will be at the top of the list once we are.
You work with your husband of course, how do you divide the business activities between you and how do you balance work/ home life?
Like any co-founders, we each hone in on our strengths. He is talented and driven towards the design and cultural aspects, as well as branding. I, on the other hand, am really focused on the consumer side of the business. How is the customer using this product? How are we educating them on it? The overall user experience etc. We’re luckily a great balance! Balancing work and home life can be challenging, especially at the beginning of Milk Makeup. However, we find it’s best to leave work at work. We both wear many hats but know that nothing is more important than being present and family time is for family.
Of course, we see you on the red carpet, but as a mum when you’re at home – what is your 5-minute beauty regime?
I love a 5-minute routine! I’m a great multi-tasker – as are lots of our products! I would recommend the following for an easy five-minute routine:
- Use a Matcha Purifying Face Mask in the shower. (Brushing teeth simultaneously).
- KUSH Lip Scrub followed directly by KUSH lip balm for the softest lips.
- Flex Foundation Stick in Light Medium – Swipe it on, buff it in!
- Matte Bronzer – Contour and tan in one, without brushes and
- Brows – Gel Brow in which shapes and fills.
- Lip + Cheek for you lips, apples of your cheeks, and eyelids.
- Finish with lashings of KUSH on your top and bottom lashes.
In your own words – who is the woman that wears Milk Make- up today?
She is conscious, smart, creative, cool and she cares. She is someone who cares immensely about what she puts on her face, where that makeup comes from and its backstory. She cares that it’s made with great intentions and 100% love. On the flip side, she leads a fast-paced life and wants to simplify without sacrificing on ingredients.