Indie Beauty Brands Are All Over The Place, Even At MAC-Filled New York Fashion Week

If the backsides of the models strutting their stuff at size-inclusive swimwear label Chromat’s New York Fashion Week runway show today look extra firm, you can thank Bawdy Beauty. Marking its NYFW debut, the seat skincare specialist will be doling out butt masks backstage before the show starts.

“Chromat represents a lot of what Bawdy Beauty stands for—unapologetic beauty,” says Bawdy Beauty founder Sylwia Wiesenberg. “On a personal level, I am a Chromat woman: strong, confident, independent, a woman who owns and loves her body.”

Bawdy Beauty is among several indie brands breaking into the beauty ranks at NYFW, typically the territory of large beauty conglomerates forking over major bucks for sponsorships and famous makeup artists. In an era in which clicks are currency, the emerging brands regard the eight-day fashion whirlwind ending Wednesday as a platform for exposure that builds their beauty credibility and connects them with in-the-know customers who might not otherwise come across their products.

After participating in the House of Nonie and Tadashi Shoji shows in the fall, Tony Rechtman, CEO of Inika Organic, says the natural and organic makeup brand “saw an uplift in brand awareness and social followers throughout the week. We got to meet and develop numerous industry professional relationships, and we were able to position Inika Organic as the luxury natural brand it is as well as get the message out there about cruelty-free and vegan beauty.”

NYFW Bawdy Beauty
Bawdy Beauty will be backstage at swimwear label Chromat’s runway show today.

Like every endeavor for an indie brand, expense is an important factor in guiding Fashion Week deliberation. Dogged startups are experts at figuring out strategies to insert themselves on the cheap, and NYFW is no exception. Susie Wang, co-founder and chief creative officer at 100% Pure, a natural brand that’s participated in Miaou, Club Monaco, Collina Strada and Gauntlett Cheng shows, to name a few, estimates the cost for a rising makeup brand to partake in NYFW is $2,000 to $5,000. However, Wang believes indie brands can sidle up to shows for less, if they’re strategic about it.

“There’s always a way to get involved, no matter how small or big your budget,” she says. “The smallest way might be to partner with a NYC-based influencer who can attend shows on their own and capture content for the brand. Another consideration is reaching out to smaller or newer fashion brands for backstage sponsorship since their fees might be more negotiable.”

Dermelect Cosmeceuticals is savvy about building its runway record. The brand has partnered with Tracy Reese, Creatures Of The Wind, Czar by Cesar Galindo, Taoray Wang, Runa Ray and 5:31 Jérôme on shows. Amos Lavian, founder and CEO of Dermelect, says, “Since it’s such an undertaking to get involved in Fashion Week, designers try to sell off sponsorships. Usually, designers will look for these brands to provide talent, do a good job, do a sponsorship and to pay them for the opportunity to do that. I’ve never done that. I’ve never paid to be co-branded with the designer.”

“There’s always a way to get involved, no matter how small or big your budget.”

Indie beauty brands take a few paths to NYFW, including partnering with designers and securing deals with backstage makeup artists, hairstylists or manicurists, usually via an agency. Explaining Bawdy Beauty’s steps to the Chromat show, Weisenberg says, “At the end of 2018, I sat down with our PR firm to discuss goals for 2019, and I expressed my interest in collaborating with swimwear brands and, in particular, my favorite brand Chromat. One of the team members knew Chromat, so we approached the Chromat team, and they were like, ‘Yes!’”

Wang says her brand works directly with designers to flesh out sponsorships or joins forces with lead makeup artists hired for certain shows. She notes there’s potential for 100% Pure to cultivate a long-term relationship with a makeup artist after becoming familiar with his or her capabilities during Fashion Week. The brand has discovered makeup artists through agencies like The Wall Group and See Management. It has recently linked with makeup artists Deanna Melluso and Colleen Runne for shows.

Lavian emphasizes it’s wise to be selective and only do shows that make sense. “If a designer wants us to do just a plain white or nude nail look, we’ll probably pass on it,” he says. “There’s no skin in it for us. We want to give it an edge and a twist.” The process to create a look for a show is generally collaborative. For the Spring 2017 5:31 Jérôme show, Lavian recounts, “Our lead technician went in and discussed the look that the designer was trying to convey, and she came up with this idea to create nails in the shape of a surfboard.”

The natural cosmetics brand 100% handled makeup for a Miaou show during New York Fashion Week.
The natural cosmetics brand 100% Pure handled makeup for a Miaou show during New York Fashion Week.

Rechtman is careful to associate Inika Organic with fashion labels sticking to cruelty-free fabrics. Wang is equally cautious about a designer’s stance on animal products. “We wanted to work with a designer that supported our commitment to natural beauty and cruelty-free products. No fur or leather in the show,” she says. “We then considered which makeup artists the designers had hired. We specifically wanted to work with makeup artists that were passionate about and supportive of clean, cruelty-free and vegan beauty. This was very important to us since they were a huge part of not only developing the looks using our products, but also helping with our content development.”

A match between a designer’s and a beauty brand’s customers is a must. Reflecting on the memorable Miaou show, Wang says, “We look for designers that will appeal to our core demographic in terms of style, design and inclusivity. Not only were [Miaou designer] Alexia Elkaim and her team extremely welcome and supportive of the brand, their overall aesthetic from last season’s presentation aligned with what we think interests our fans.” She continues that partnering with a number of distinct designers can be impactful. Wang says, “We also look for variety and try to find designers that have different perspectives so that our content doesn’t feel stagnant.”

The amount of time allotted for show preparation can be incredibly limited. Lavian says, “The show could be held on a Monday, and we would be meeting with the designer Friday afternoon, and the whole weekend they’re prepping.” For Bawdy, preparation for the Chromat show encompasses press outreach, photographer coordination and interview research. “I’m just making the show a priority. We cannot fail,” says Weisenberg. “I think I treat everything I do with the same level of responsibility and commitment, so this is another project that has to be done perfectly from start to finish.”

“It’s fun! We’re a cosmetics company, and we get to do fashion. It’s something different for us and further sets us apart.”

Brands located outside New York face greater preparation challenges than their New York counterparts. San Francisco-based 100% Pure has to account for shipping products across the country and bringing staff to the shows. Rechtman of Melbourne-based Inika Organic says, “We were quick to reach out to artists in New York to put an amazing team together. We ensured that our entire range was at the disposal of the artistry team, so they could practice and get to know new products.”

To capitalize on NYFW, paid and unpaid media placements are critical. Rechtman says, “We had a team of fashion and lifestyle influencers with us on the two days [of the shows], creating content and getting the message out about our artistry and cruelty-free, vegan products.” At 100% Pure, the brand’s show presence is promoted across its digital platforms. Wang shares, “This included live and post-show social content, blog write-ups that detailed how each look was created and with which products, and inclusion in our newsletters. We have also partnered with influencers in the past to create branded content and always pitched the final looks to press. Lastly, the designers and makeup artists posted about us on their social channels as well, which we were then able repurpose.”

Inika Organic garnered significant press coverage from its NYFW run. Rechtman says, “Not only did we experience great interest in the beauty looks for the shows we supported, including features in Elle, Professional Beauty and The Daily Front Row, we also saw a huge spike in global brand awareness, which culminated in us opening new accounts, a result that was completely unexpected from what we had viewed as an exploratory activity.”

Dermelect New York Fashion Week
Dermelect Cosmeceuticals has been present at many New York Fashion Week shows, including those by Tracy Reese, Creatures Of The Wind, Czar by Cesar Galindo, Taoray Wang, Runa Ray and 5:31 Jérôme.

Not every brand will leave NYFW with amazing coverage. Wang says, “We’ve noticed recently that beauty press seems to have cut down their NYFW coverage a bit. We’ve also heard from a few beauty editors we have close relationships with. The focus is more on one to two big designers or general roundups.”

Lavian concludes NYFW has been worth the investment for Dermelect. However, he warns indie brand founders to “go into it without setting any expectations and, then, be pleasantly surprised after that. You shouldn’t come in with this premonition that you’re going to do Fashion Week, and your business is going to go off the charts. You should just go in it with minimal expectations and just enjoy it.” Lavian adds, “It’s fun! We’re a cosmetics company, and we get to do fashion. It’s something different for us and further sets us apart.”


  • Indie beauty brands are muscling their way into NYFW, the apparel showcase that’s traditionally been dominated by big brands like MAC, Nars and Maybelline.
  • Susie Wang, co-founder and chief creative officer of 100% Pure, estimates runway show participation sets a makeup brand back $2,000 to $5,000. However, she comments brands can get involved without paying that much by working with an influencer on NYFW-related content or linking with a very small label.
  • A partnership with a makeup artist or hairstylist at a runway show can lead to a long-term relationship with a brand.
  • Emerging beauty brands are careful to associate with designers that stick to their values, command audiences that are relevant to their target demographics and share their aesthetic preferences.
  • Beauty brands turn to NYFW primarily to raise awareness. They can garner substantial press attention from the shows, but it can be difficult to break through the noise and cuts to traditional media outlets have affected coverage.