You never realize how high the stakes of the beauty industry can be until you put 25 beauty influencers on an island and make them compete for a $10,000 prize and a chance to develop their own makeup collection. Sounds like something you'd want to watch unfold for yourself, right? Right, and luckily, I had a front-row seat.
Pulling competitive inspiration from the likes of American Idol, Project Runway, and Interior Design Masters, e.l.f. Cosmetics' Beautyscape 2019 contest demonstrated in real time just how complicated, stressful, and satisfying designing a makeup collection can be — not to mention, how wild it gets when you have to do so in under 24 hours.
In October 2019, e.l.f. put a call out to beauty influencers to submit a photo of their best tropical-inspired look in exchange for a chance to travel to the Bahamas with the brand and compete for $10,000 and the opportunity to help e.l.f. develop their summer 2020 collection. In the end, the brand settled on 25 up-and-comers in the beauty space — with followers ranging from 4,000 to 300,000 — all with a particular prowess for smizing into a camera so well, they'd snatch Tyra Banks' proverbial wig.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, the brand soft-launched the competition, Beautyscape, so to speak. Influencers turned contestants arrived to the Bahamas and were treated to hotel rooms filled with e.l.f. products and a welcome cocktail ceremony. Frankie J. Grande, the emcee of Beautyscape, greeted attendees with quip after quip and endless inspirational anecdotes. e.l.f. Vice President Gayitri Budhraja gave contestants a sense of what e.l.f. is all about — and what it looks for in its collections. Bahamian Junkanoo dancers then treated everyone to a traditional performance. The carefree nature of the first night felt like a far cry from the intense work and creativity that was coming.
The following day, dubbed the contestants' "Day of Inspiration," began with a keynote speech from celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin, in which she imparted her wise beauty entrepreneurial advice on contestants ("use your time wisely" was among the many expert one-liners she delivered). Then, contestants rode off on the streets of the Bahamas to take in the sights and observe firsthand the historic Bahamian art scene. Antonius Roberts, a famous Bahamian artist, treated the influencers to a walking tour of various Bahamian murals, which would later serve as the inspiration for many of the contestants' collection pitches.
After allowing contestants the chance to take in the sights, the art, and to spend time creating hurricane relief kits for those displaced by Hurricane Dorian, e.l.f. kicked off its first major competition-related event: dividing everyone into teams and laying out the rules of the competition, which, yes, were surprisingly intense.
The contestants were tasked working with their team to develop everything from a team name to a collection name to a full makeup collection with at least three products — an eye, a lip, and a face product, of course — while considering everything from colors to shade names to graphic design. The catch? They had less than 24 hours to do it all. Totally casual, no big deal, right? Just kidding, I can barely put my laundry away in that time.
Twenty-four hours later, each team needed to be ready to present their proposed collections to a panel of four critical judges: Kory Marchisotto, senior vice president, chief market officer of e.l.f.; Alison Conlin, buyer at Target; professional makeup artist Nam Vo; and Jason Wagenheim, chief revenue officer at Bustle Digital Group (of which Elite Daily is a property).
Following the team announcements, each group went to their respective "breakout rooms" to begin ideating their collections. And this is where the stakes got pretty damn high. After a packed day of excursions, sun, and rules, the contestants shoved aside fatigue, nerves, and distractions and got straight to work. I, on the other hand, thought about napping at least three times.
But I can confirm these powerhouse contestants were far from a nap. I went from team to team with e.l.f. to check in, answer any burning questions, offer advice, and generally ensure everyone was feeling as confident as possible just after the contest kicked off. Nearly every team had planned out the bulk of their collections after a couple hours.
While the e.l.f. representatives had critiques specific to everyone's progress, the core advice each team received was two-fold and, honestly, things I'd never really considered. First, beauty is emotional. Whatever collection you develop can be the cutest thing in the world, but it needs to tell a strong story so that it resonates with people. Second, you can't be everything to every single consumer. While you might think a collection that caters to as many people as possible would be more successful, the e.l.f. reps said this approach can cause a collection to lose direction. This advice seemingly set off a light bulb for many teams, and they spent the remainder of the night digging deeper into their ideas to pull out a winning concept.
Maybe it was the adrenaline, or maybe it was the fact that no one had slept at all, but somehow, every single contestant made it to breakfast the next morning at 7 a.m., and for that alone, e.l.f. should award each of them $10,000 by default. But that's not showbiz, baby. What is showbiz is the fact that the teams only had a couple hours of free time left before selling their collections to the judges.
But before they were free to finish off their collections, teams were treated a masterclass with makeup artist and sheer force in the beauty space, Nam Vo, followed by a keynote speech from Founder of Chillhouse Cyndi Ramirez.
After the last of the keynote speeches wrapped, contestants had about an hour to finalize their pitches. When it was time for presentations to begin, teams were randomly selected out of a hat. I was sweating with nerves enough for all of them, but it quickly became clear that none of these influencers came to play.
Where I had expected to be inundated with dozens of plain palm tree motifs, collection after collection boasted thoughtful consideration for the products chosen, for the consumer, and for the inspiring Bahamian art. Each team created a story for their collection, and an idea of who their ideal consumer was, and they did it all with overwhelming excitement.
With less than 24 hours and on practically zero sleep, each team crafted a damn good line — something most brands take months and sometimes years to do, and even then, struggle to see it succeed. When it came time to pick a winner, it was all about choosing the team that had put together a total package.
In the end, The Glam Gyals ("gyals" being Bahamian slang for "girls") — Elicia Aragon, Jessa Green, Alissa Holmes, Diana Curmei, and Valeria Loren — took home the win for making it clear to the judges that they'd taken every ounce of advice and guidance given to them to create an on-trend, exciting, and emotionally evocative collection — one that will grace the shelves of Target stores come summer 2020.
Unfortunately, the details of their collection are hush-hush until next year, but I can say with confidence that this collection is a good one. It draws on an emotional experience, speaks to 2020's color trends, includes a creative group of products, and has a clear vision. When you see it, it'll stop you in your tracks and transport you straight to paradise.
At the end of a whirlwind weekend, e.l.f.'s Beautyscape made a few things very clear to me. Most notably, I am not cut out for the utter intensity of product development. But I am cut out for watching it go down. Being a fly on the wall throughout the entire process felt invigorating — as if I had marathoned an entire season of Project Runway in the span of two days.
Even more, as heavily as I monitor, research, and immerse myself in the beauty industry, I learned more about the behind-the-scenes of product ideation than I ever expected to. I didn't want my Beautyscape experience to end, and I'm counting down the days until I can relive the experience — every laugh, every sweat drip, and every nail-biting moment — when e.l.f.'s summer 2020 collection drops next year.