Powder Up! – An Interview with Geek Chic Cosmetics

When pretty is srs bsns, what does it take for a company to cater directly to keeping you gaming hard and looking good?
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Sometimes being a lady gamer isn't the easiest thing. Let even a hint of the fact that you have a thing for Candy Crush Saga while you ride the bus to class come out, and suddenly all the man-hours you log in League of Legends are just a fluke. It's just for show. You'd really rather be playing Nintendogs, right?

Makeup is another one of those things. If you try too hard to be pretty, you're not really a real gamer, are you? You're just a "fake girl gamer," only out to be drooled over by the sad, unwashed masses who have never seen a real woman before.


Indie makeup company Geek Chic Cosmetics doesn't believe it either. In fact, they've built a business around the fact that many of us will like what we like, game like a boss, and look damn good while we do it.

Pretty is srs bsns.

I caught up with Phil, one of the three faces of Geek Chic, over email regarding a recent order I made, and he was kind enough to answer some questions for me - about running a business like Geek Chic, and the kind of customer base it's taken to its 8-bit heart.

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To be clear, that customer base is an amalgamation of all corners of geekdom. Geek Chic does not limit themselves solely to game-inspired makeup, and since its launch in June 2010, there has definitely been a noticeable shift from the games-centric to something a little more all-encompassing.

According to Phil, this was a conscious decision:

"I think the plan was always to aim for a wider well of inspiration than just games, but it was a good place to start. Plus as ubiquitous as gaming is in geek culture, it's just the tip of the iceberg."

And that certainly makes sense. Why limit yourself when you have so material to draw from? We're nerds. It rarely stops at the controller. We're good at liking lots of things.

Unfortunately for Geek Chic, we can't like all their things. The most recent heart-wrench came for me when they went through a pretty big purging, and took out one of my absolute favorite colors from their inventory. ("Cupcakes!" you will be forever remembered...)

Obviously this happens because they aren't selling as well as well as they'd like, but what are some of their criteria for judging?

"We have a pretty small lab, and since its a dedicated part of our house it takes all of our might to keep it contained to that area. In over 3 years, we've done two purges like The Reckoning and they both happened at a point where we were running out of space and wanted to make new stuff but also have a place to put it.
As far as how we chose what was cut, you're right that the cuts were based on sales, but because we're nerds of course it involved spreadsheets. We add 20-30% more items than we started with each year on average, so for The Reckoning we wanted to cut the bottom 15% which ended up being 64 items. They all had sold to some degree, and we were proud of each of them."

And how have they fared?

Well, to put things in perspective, in their most recent Black Friday sale, the first 100 orders or so got free full size shadows... and they ran out of those within the first hour.

With that in mind, a burning question in my mind (with a marketing major under my belt) is whether or not it's been a more successful strategy marketing towards a more geeky audience versus the strictly makeup-obsessed?

"The market is so saturated with talented indies that we decided early on we were going to market toward the geeky audience and let the quality of our products speak for themselves which would hopefully attract the makeup-obsessed, and did. I talk to a lot of people that are interested in what we do but don't wear makeup at all, and that's a group that we want to engage more going forward.
I think the makeup-obsessed will find you and be into you or not, but there are a lot of people that haven't really dipped their toes in this world and we want to make it more accessible and have some cool ideas about how to do that."

Even so, we can be pretty skeptical of being taken advantage of. One too many "upcycled" pieces of trash on Etsy being hawked as a Mass Effect cosplay accessory have left us a little jaded and skeptical of being taken advantage of over the things we like. 

For Geek Chic, it's all a matter of educating.

"[B]uying indie is a different experience than ordering from Amazon and things like having a turnaround time which are part of our world are new to a some of our customers. We just try to be as transparent as possible at every step of the process, really responsive to emails, and as honest as possible about what we can and can't do and hope that's enough."

There's certainly more to buying indie than you'd think. These are a handful of people running labs, often out of their homes. It's a sphere that requires a great deal of reliance on transparency, trust, and word-of-mouth. There can be discrepancies. Often in eyeshadows (yes, even Geek Chic's), there will be a noticeable difference in the amount of product in them - one nearly full while another will contain closer to half.

This can be due to the different weights of different ingredients (it matters more than you'd think!), and since everything is done by hand (or scoop, as the case may be) there is always the possibility of mistakes... but how often does a company receive complaints about that from customers?

"In the end, each jar should meet the 1 gram weight printed on them. We occasionally get reports of underfilled jars, and I'm pretty sure we've sent replacements every time. It's not as pervasive as you'd think given that we probably ship a few hundred jars a week."

This is a question I've often wondered about most makeup companies, not simply with Geek Chic. As a collection grows, you're going to run into similar looking colors... how often does a company run into a problem where certain shades start to look pretty much the same?

"That's something we control when formulating. We look at the shade, swatch it, and compare it to other shades we have that are anywhere close to it. There's so much nuance to color, shift, interference, and shimmer that none of our colors look the same and we intend to keep it that way."

For Geek Chic, it's all about quality over quantity.

If you happen to take a look at Geek Chic's catalog of colors, you'll notice a few have been reformulated. What would affect the decision to do this rather than to consign it to a purge like the Reckoning and to try again?

"We've only done reformulations once, and that was because we had stuff we formulated in the first few months of being open and a couple of years in we had gotten far better at doing it, wanted to keep the color concept but weren't happy with the color itself. At this point, we won't release something we're not happy with and when it's time to move colors on we will just do that and bring in something new."

If you'd discovered Geek Chic earlier last year, you might have gotten a good look at the gallery, full of pretty pictures, with models in Geek Chic's makeup. Alas, it's gone now, and doesn't look like it's coming back - at least not in the same form.

"[Y]ou're the first to ask! The pictures were gorgeous and the models that submitted them are extremely talented, but they were highly editorial and only a few were really helpful I think in seeing products in action in the application most people would use them in.

The models and photographers we were working with to develop the gallery also became more popular and busy so it got difficult to add new shots so instead of letting it go stale we decided to pull it entirely, at least for now. In our first year we had a customer submissions gallery but we didn't get many shots because we were doing 1/20th the business we are now. I think it would be more successful now, just need to find the time."

In this age of #selfies and Instagram, that doesn't sound like a bad idea in the least.

On the subject of photos, many of Geek Chic's have jumped up a notch. Their new swatches for their Joystick lippies are gorgeous, and they've reached out to the blogger for Accio Lacquer for product photos of their Button Masher Lacquers.

Too bad for those of living outside of the the United States!

"The United States Postal Service prohibits shipment of nail polish in international packages because they are classified as hazardous material. We could offer much more expensive shipping through a different company as an option for international but that also makes our process more complex and expensive on the production and shipping side of things since we are only set up to use USPS right now. I have no doubt a solution is coming, we're just not quite there yet."

At the rate they've been churning out new collections (Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, The Fellowship of the Ring, etc.), I simply had to ask: what was coming next? What kind of collection inspiration did they have?

Whatever it is, they'd rather keep that to themselves - at least for now:

"We have a ton of ideas, even some artwork, but nothing is set in stone just yet. We are still recovering from Black Friday and the 3 weeks of complete insanity that ensued. The Christmas season was about 4 days long for us and most of those days we spent sleeping :D"

Guess we'll just have to wait. If you're interested in checking out Geek Chic Cosmetics without the hectic mess of a sale, you can find them here. Be warned, you may well find yourself spending a whole lot more than you intended to - even if you won't ever actually regret it.

Many thanks to the Geek Chic team! 

If you're interested in some other great indie makeup companies, check out Gamer Girl Makeup for Cosplay, LAN Parties, and Rockin' Out!

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Image of Stephanie Tang
Stephanie Tang
Avid PC gamer, long-time console lover. I enjoy shooting things in the face and am dangerously addicted to pretty. I'm also a cat.