Whip Hand Cosmetics can be found in their online store, as well as in fashion blogs and magazines, but the upscale makeup is actually made locally in Plymouth, Mich. After cultivating a rabid virtual following for her independent line of makeup and skincare products, founder Riese Lauriat, a veteran of the makeup industry, and her business partners want to move production from the suburbs to the city and open a retail space in downtown Detroit.
Whip Hand is one of the semifinalists in the Comerica Hatch Detroit contest, which will award one business $50,000 and support services to open up a brick-and-mortar shop in Detroit. Public voting through Sept. 18 will narrow the 10 competitors down to four finalists, who will then have to pitch their ideas at a "Hatch Off!" on Sept. 26.
HuffPost Detroit caught up with Lauriat to hear about her idea for a combination retail, studio and manufacturing space, why the city needs its growing fashion scene, how her hometown in Hawaii is like Detroit and -- because we couldn't resist -- the best makeup trends for fall.
Why did you open Whip Hand Cosmetics in Michigan, rather than relocating to a more established fashion industry city like LA or NYC?
I grew up in Wai'anae, Hawaii and spent the first half of my life on O'ahu. I moved to the Grand Rapids area in the '90s for career opportunities. When I first started developing Whip Hand Cosmetics two years ago, my original plan was to move to NYC. My daughter was getting ready to attend the American Music and Dance Academy in New York and I was at a cross roads in my life and career. New York did seem like the natural next stop.
But as I started to work more with people in Metro Detroit, especially some of the up-and-coming photographers and fashion designers, I became really excited about what was happening in the city. When we made the decision to manufacture our own cosmetics, rather than private labeling or outsourcing production, Detroit just made all the more sense.
Technology, mobile and social media have also really changed the game in terms of where you set up shop. We've managed to build a lot of relationships around the world right here from Michigan.
Why are you interested in committing your time and energy to a retail operation, when a large part of your clientele is online?
Our business model is built around creating a national cosmetics brand that's made in Detroit and marketed primarily online and through trade shows, which has kept overhead down and is very scaleable. It also lets us pull dollars into the state from other areas, versus continually dipping into our own backyard.
The decision to open retail in Detroit is really about supporting the retail revival in this city. Also, we are combining the retail with the manufacturing of the product. We can take one space and make it multi-purpose -- a small retail and studio space at street level and then a production facility in the "back." It's a pretty unique combination, since we're creating both manufacturing jobs, as well as retail, in one facility.
Which neighborhoods are you considering for opening your storefront? How do you envision the design of the space?
We're very open. We like the Woodward Corridor downtown near the former Hudson site because it has great street level presence. It was also Detroit's retail core historically, and we'd like to see that come back. We've also discussed the Capital Park area, which many of us would like to see developed into a fashion/garment district. Midtown is always an option as well.
We want the space to be very open and transparent. Because cosmetics are small, compact items, you can do a lot with a fairly small retail space. The makeup production facility would be partitioned off from the retail space. One idea is is to glass it in, so that people could actually watch the production happening.
How can Detroit become a more glam, fashion-centric city? Why is it important?
We actually think Detroit is already a pretty exciting city in terms of style and fashion. It's just early in its development. You have some incredibly talented designers already here. Take Fotoula Lambros. She's averaging three new collections a year, all hand-sewn by her out of a loft over on Gratiot. Her designs are amazing, multi-functional apparel that is made out of eco-friendly fibers.
The challenge right now is that the fashion and style community here is still very fragmented. Bringing all of the related businesses together, whether apparel, hair, cosmetics, accessories or garment manufacturing, in a dense retail zone would help all of the businesses, tie things together better and create a unique environment that would give people a reason to shop downtown again.
We know some people think fashion is a very surface, superficial industry. And in many ways, at its worse, it can be. But it's also a very creative industry that people find exciting. So it can create energy in the city. If successful, it also creates diversity in the local economy and jobs, which Detroit needs to be viable long-term.
How would your store contribute to growing Detroit's reputation and highlighting local talent in fashion and retail?
We've been able to tap all of this local talent and start showcasing it to a national audience. We feature the work of local photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists and designers on our packaging and in our ad campaigns.
We'd like to see the Whip Hand Cosmetics retail and production space in Detroit become an anchor for other related businesses around us, since we all need similar services like photography and makeup. By pulling that all together, we think we can create some critical mass. Also, producing our product is labor-intensive. So we ultimately want to see Whip Hand create more jobs. And we want those jobs to be in the city.
Who is your ideal customer -- a city resident, tourist or suburban customer? Your products are upscale, and Detroit isn't a wealthy city.
Our ideal customer is anyone who loves makeup. Period. I know that would make the marketing people go crazy, but the fact is, we view ourselves as a company that's about inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.
From a customer perspective, we create colors and products that allow people to express themselves, regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, where they come from or their personal sense of style. Makeup can be very transformative for a person. I learned that doing makeup for drag queens early in my career. So we're about helping people find the right product and color for them to achieve whatever look they are going for.
Our product is not cheap, but we also wouldn't characterize it as "expensive" -- especially considering the value you get. All of our color cosmetics are highly pigmented, which means that a small container of our lip creme lasts a long time.
Also, we've found that people are as attracted to the ideals behind the Whip Hand brand just as much as the makeup. We're made in Michigan, we try to mentor and support up-and-coming makeup artists, our core team is diverse and we encourage confidence and empowerment. And we're real. That's very appealing to people, not just here, but nationally.
And now for some expert advice: what's your favorite makeup trend for fall and winter?
That's is a tough one. I think it is an even tie between the deep orchid lip and the navy/gray version of the smokey eye. The orchid lip to me says class. It's the current "power red." No matter what your skin tone, you could wear it sheer to opaque. It pulls any look together with polish.
The blue smokey eye, however, is a great twist on the classic smokey eye. Because I have brown eyes, navy blue works well for me. I have been wearing deep blue mixed in with my traditional black smokey eye for years. I'm glad it's taken a brighter, bolder edge for fall. Anyone can wear blue, it just depends on the shade. I'm glad the fashion community is back to embracing blue.
Would you open this business in Detroit even if you don't win Hatch? How would winning the contest change your business plan?
The plan we presented to Hatch has actually been our plan for the better part of a year. We have always wanted to have a strong retail and manufacturing presence in Detroit. It's core to our mission. We've just been trying to figure out where and when. Our timeline on the Detroit facility has been dictated by the availability of capital to do the build-out. Winning the Hatch grant would just let us accelerate that timeline. If we don't win, we'll still be in Detroit. It may just take a little longer.
Are there any other reasons you want to locate your business in Detroit?
I personally have a soft spot for underdogs. Wai'anae, where I grew up, has faced many of the same challenges that people who live in Detroit have struggled with. Almost 20 percent of its population lives under the poverty line, and drugs and gang violence have ravaged the community. So I've tried very hard my entire adult life to not be judgmental of others, because I know what it feels like to have stereotypes attached to you based on where you are from.
When I look at Detroit, I see my hometown. But more importantly, I see a transformation happening here that I wish was happening in Wai'anae. We really felt like we have an opportunity to come in on the ground floor of what we believe is going to be one of the major urban core revival success stories of this century. Maybe eventually it will happen in Wai'anae too, and maybe Whip Hand can be part of that.
Check out this slideshow of all 10 Hatch Detroit 2012 semifinalists. Vote for Whip Hand Cosmetics here.
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