You Smell Like Burning! An Interview with AFK Cosmetics

Indie makeup. One woman's answer to: "Wouldn't it be funny to have a purple and green League of Legends eyeshadow called 'F***in' Shrooms'?"

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And as for AFK’s long-term intentions?

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“I know that most small business owners dream of becoming the next big thing, but I have simple dreams for AFK Cosmetics. I would prefer to stay a small business because I do not want to lose my connection to my customers. I love having the time to answer emails and to chat on Reddit’s IMAM with customers and fellow brand owners alike. Having a small brick and mortar store would be my dream, a place where I can have a large enough studio to create as I see fit, with enough freedom to stay exactly the type of business that I want to be.”

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Best luck for the future, AFK!

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For those of you interested in rocking some League or Fallout colors while you game, you can find AFK Cosmetics’ Etsy store here. For updates and occasional sale notifications, you can keep up with the goings-on on Facebook

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(UPDATE: AFK has moved! You can now find Dena’s products at her own website store.)

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Thanks again, Dena!

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While it’s nice to keep to a theme, how much does it help or hinder as a business if you consider the long run? Indies walk a fine line when it comes to the legalities of producing fandom-inspired pretties. 

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While I don’t believe that keeping to a theme necessarily hinders my business, I feel that it can stifle creativity at times. For example, I have been working on my Christmas/Winter collection and at first I had wanted to do a collection inspired by the traditional Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation movie.

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I ended up asking myself “Does this REALLY belong in AFK Cosmetics?” and the answer was “No.” I had to scrap a fun idea that I was really excited about because it didn’t fit my niche. Don’t worry though, I have since come up with an equally fun Yule collection idea that is festive and geeky in the best of ways.”

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While Etsy is known for providing sellers just starting out with greater exposure and decent seller’s tools, many indie makeup sellers like The Chequered Lily are looking for alternative platforms/their own websites (those inclined towards monthly flat charges vs. Etsy’s higher seller fees, etc.). 

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But is that in the cards for AFK?

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“I love being a part of Etsy. It allows me to connect with customers I might never see otherwise but I would definitely like to create my own website. Customization options and ways for customers to provide feedback are things that Etsy limits to a certain degree.

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In the future, I would love to have a forum where I could hold discussions about new or existing products or even take requests. I would also love for my customers to have the ability to submit photos and blog reviews.  While a website is in the cards for me, I feel it’s in the back of the deck at the moment.”

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Respecting the community is important. Word of mouth is important when it comes to selling any product – and it goes double when it comes to indie. 

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I strive to create high quality products, with pretty packaging, and provide the best customer service I possibly can. In the indie world, any Reddit rant/rave, and every blog post, has the ability to make or break your business. Indie owners like myself are solely responsible for our products and are rightly held accountable for any mistakes.

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For example, if a major cosmetics company sends out a lipstick with a hair in it, they apologize and explain that it was a factory mishap, and send you some free goodies. If an indie shop does the same, it calls into question all of their sanitation practices and that one hair could put you out of business.

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While it may take a lot to reach Glittersniffer levels of public blacklisting, any lost customer hits harder than you’d expect for the typical indie store like AFK.

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And how easy is it to differentiate and stand out as an indie seller? Not very. New shops keep opening up on the daily, and like-minded shop owners are always creating great new geeky-themed products.

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More than once have I been brainstorming for a new set of eye shadows only to see a shop release that very collection. I try very hard to stay away from collections that have been done by other shops because I would like certain things to become synonymous with AFK Cosmetics. For example, I am the only shop with a League of Legends or Fallout inspired collection.”

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Being part of a community has definitely been one way in which AFK has expanded as much as it has – especially through Reddit and other social media. 

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I try to be respectful and make sure people don’t feel like I’m only there to promote myself and my business. In September I was actually a part of two different indie subscription services and look forward to being a part of them in the future. Not only is it a phenomenal experience to work with other brand owners, it is an amazing way to promote one’s shop in a way that is fun without becoming ‘in your face advertising.'”

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There are plenty of girl gamers with an interest in gaming and have had absolutely no experience putting pretty colors on their faces – game-themed makeup is often the one thing that will tip the scales. But how do you get to this point? 

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“Typically I don’t encourage people to try my own products because self promotion is something that I’m not exactly comfortable with. Maybe I’m just too shy. Because my shop is featured on Etsy, I do however get messages from people who are searching for items associated with a game and are amazed that an eye shadow exists based on their fandom.

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I tend to get a lot of “How the heck do I do this?” questions, but I honestly love it. I’m always so thrilled to see that these women get so excited about a product simply due to a shared passion and it allows me to connect with like minded ladies.” 

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As it stands, going indie is not the worst choice a makeup newbie can make – provided they find a good, trustworthy, transparent seller who lists their ingredients and can back up their products without a great deal of prevarication.

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Most indies typically sell their products in loose powder form, which, while intimidating, can actually be easier to work with compared to pressed since most pigments are incredibly easy to blend.

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(Note: In the slideshow images, these colors are not blended into the skin and are instead patted on over a clear base to show up shinier and more colorfully.)

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Can’t we all just get along?

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In the end, it’s hard to find an easy answer completely unburdened by prejudice when it comes down to each individual player, but that does not stop AFK from joining the general consensus: gamers need to stick together, regardless of gender.

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When I was growing up, being a geek or gamer was a negative thing and you would be teased or picked on because of it, and this wasn’t such a long time ago. I feel very lucky to be an adult in a time where gaming is so widely accepted. We’re all gamers, we all love the same thing, and behind my computer screen it shouldn’t matter whether I have an epic beard or fierce red lipstick on while I destroy you! :D”

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(for another voice in the great geek girl/gamer girl debate, see: Can Cosplay and Feminism Mix? An Interview with Geek Goddess)

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Keeping on the game theme, it is important to note that the internet is a complicated place – especially if you want to be taken seriously as a female geek and gamer. Admitting you like games makes you instantly suspect – and for some reason, admitting that you like traditionally girly things or actively want to be beautiful can throw any credibility you have out the door. 

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This is not an unfamiliar issue for Dena: 

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I recently stumbled upon the twitch channel of a very popular female League of Legends streamer and it stirred up a lot of emotions for me, both positive and negative. I feel that even though video gaming’s rising popularity and social acceptance is amazing for female and male gamers alike, it’s still difficult to be taken seriously as a female gamer on a professional level.

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I’m not sure that liking traditionally girly things will help or hinder your average gamer, but it seems that once you get into competitive or professional gaming, being a beautiful woman can certainly get you places, but at a cost. I believe many people perceive these women as gimmicky and do not take their gaming skills seriously. While this can and may be true in some cases, I feel that it definitely hinders those who only want to be seen solely for their talent.”

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An avid player, streamer, and watcher of LoL, Dena has made trips to watch LCS at PAX for the last two years in a row – even spending her honeymoon there. 

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It’s no wonder then that her first collection was League-inspired, and that her entire store was spawned from a single idea: how funny would a purple and green eyeshadow called “F***in’ Shrooms” be?

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Though the original intention was to keep the company gamer-oriented, AFK has branched out to release the anime-inspired Attack on Titan collection. Now the goal has been amended somewhat: video games as a main theme with some anime thrown in on the side. 

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“At any given moment during the day I have about a hundred ideas for makeup colors floating around in my head. One idea I have is to create a classic collection inspired by games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger which are some of my all-time favorite games. I grew up gaming in the shadow of my older brother and I don’t even think I can count the times we have beaten SoM together. The artwork, animation style, and color scheme of those games is a cosmetics maker’s dream come true!”

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And why “/AFK?”

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“The name AFK Cosmetics was chosen because I wanted something simple and to the point that could accurately portray what I wanted to achieve. A cosmetic company that I ran while ‘away from keyboard’.

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While Dena took to Reddit to canvas fellow gaming makeup addicts (primarily on subreddit DPS Dolls) for suggestions, AFK was the one that really stuck from the beginning. 

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“It illustrated my gaming theme beautifully and since my launch collection was based on a PC game, it made perfect sense.”

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Her origin story?

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There was this terrible incident in a cosmetics factory involving mutated makeup artists…

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In all seriousness, Dena’s superhuman cosmetics-making ability was born of latent interests formed from her former work as a tattoo artist, and a lot of Googling. Not that the Googling appeared to have helped much.

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“Creating AFK Cosmetics was very much a trial and error process. … Once I started creating my own formulas, my experience as a professional tattoo artist helped immensely, as I already knew a lot about color theory and sanitary work practices.”

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Originally created for personal use, her eyeshadows quickly spread to friends. From there, Dena gained enough positive feedback (and choruses of “Make an Etsy store!”) to, well, make an Etsy store.

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“The best path between two points is upside-down, between, then inside-out and round again.”
― Lulu, ‘the Fae Sorceress’

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While the AFK Cosmetics Etsy store has only been open since earlier this year in March, it has already garnered dozens of positive reviews, hundreds of admirers, and hundreds of sales.

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Its main exports are several different collections of nerd-themed loose eyeshadows: an ever-expanding LoL-inspired Summoner’s Collection, a newly-released Fallout-inspired Wastelander Collection, and just-released Attack on Titan-inspired AoT Collection. Recently, she has expanded into a small collection of League-inspired tinted lip balms as well.

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When you think of showing off your League of Legends geek cred, you’re probably not thinking of something you wear on your face.

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Not so for Washington-based indie cosmetics company, /AFK Cosmetics.

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In defiance of the pervasive girl gamer stereotype du jour, company owner Dena is determined to work this nerd niche to the best of her abilities – and hopefully build up a community of like-minded ladies with similar interests. 

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Professional tattoo artist, mother, wife, makeup addict, and gamer extraordinaire, Dena is the one-woman powerhouse behind AFK Cosmetics, and a huge RPG fan. While Final Fantasy (IX especially), Chrono Cross, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and Pokemon rank high on list of top favorites, it’s her current addiction to League of Legends that garnered her first claim to fame.

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(All photos were taken by beauty blogger Luna @ ToxidLotus.net)

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Author
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.