Before going global it is not uncommon for brands of all kinds — and particularly beauty brands, in the age of the Instagram influencer — to try to build up a bit of buzz abroad before leaving the safe confines of their home market.
New York-based brand Milk Makeup is much like its fellows in this regard, and as it plans its leap across the pond into the U.K. market it has started hosting pop-up shops in the greater London area. But what sets Milk apart is just how successful it has been at building up buzz. Its pop-up shop in Covent Garden a few weeks ago surprised even its organizers when 4,500 people showed up to get a two-day early sneak peak at the makeup line's debut in England on exclusive makeup marketplace Cult Beauty.
In the run-up to that launch, notably, Milk Makeup picked up a 17,000 member waiting list — the biggest ever in the history of the Cult Beauty marketplace.
So why all the excitement bordering on obsession with a niche beauty brand that few have ever even heard of?
Milk Makeup is, for one, on trend — across a variety of metrics. Despite its name, there is no actual milk in the product, as Milk’s products are all vegan. The brand also checks the “cruelty-free” and “no paraben” boxes that in recent years have become increasingly meaningful to consumers.
And those ethical commitments, Co-Founder Zanna Roberts Rassi noted in an interview, are about more than just offering an ethical product, though she noted that Milk is highly committed to doing so. The time and design that has gone into creating vegan products, on the other hand, has pushed the firm to build products that are just better across the board.
“Kush mascara is our number one best-seller and the first mascara to use hemp derived cannabis oil. Being 100% vegan, we don’t use beeswax as a binding agent, therefore cannabis oil is the best alternative as it not only helps the mascara to go on smoothly, giving the desired tug-free application, it also nourishes lashes. Since then, we’ve continued to include hemp derived cannabis oil in many of our hero products, for its caring benefits,” Roberts Rassi said.
Milk customers, she noted, insist on cruelty-free — it is a non-negotiable proposition and a standard the firm is unlikely to deviate from. Ditto, she said, on parabens and animal testing. That centers the production process for Milk and in many ways gives them a “north star” to guide the ship by.
But to capture customers and their spend, it isn’t enough to just not be things they don’t like or don’t want. No one has ever bought any product because it is not something — people buy products for what they are.
And what Milk Makeup products are designed to be, according to Roberts Rassi, is a method of self-expression and individuality for wearers.
Admittedly, Milk products aren’t the only brand trying to make that match. Axiology, Pacifica and INIKA are all startups pursuing a similar line — and larger bigger name players are noticing the emerging niche and trying to build it out, like Hourglass and BECCA.
But Milk is unique in some regards. The two-year-old brand was founded by Roberts Rassi and her husband Mazdack Rassi, who together had previously founded Milk Studios, which has locations in Los Angeles and NYC. Milk Studios works with players in fashion, art, and other generally creative types — which means it has a better than average inside track on trends and what “cool kids” are into these days. Zanna Roberts Rassi is also an editor with Marie Claire.
And, according to the reviews across sources, Milk’s makeup actually lives up to its marketing, from the packaging to the product itself. And as those review have spread, so has the brands market. What started as a makeup brand for Gen Z consumers, according to Georgie Greville, the creative director of Milk’s in-house production company, has now become a brand with appeal across the market.
“What we’ve realized is that the people who are attracted to Milk are a very broad group of people. It’s not just the 18 to 24 [demographic], although we’re definitely resonating with that group,” she said. “It’s also moms and women in their 50s and 60s and a lot of boys. It’s been amazing to see the breadth of how it’s resonating.”
And, with customers lining up 17,000 deep in the U.K. for a chance to buy their own Milk makeup, it is fair to say that resonating across wider geographies every day.