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Product Innovation to Make Makeup More Fun

Natalie Maxey is the CEO and co-founder of Winky Lux. From working in fashion, finance, and e-commerce, Natalie decide that the self-serious beauty business was ready for an overhaul and to bring fun to everyday beauty rituals. Winky Lux is a joyful clean makeup and skincare line that proves you can do really beautiful special stuff that is a lot less expensive and also has an award-winning formulation factor.

“In the world of merchandising, one product must die for another one to live so there’s so many different factors that go into it. All of it has to be agonized over, but in order to make those decisions quickly, we really go back to… our number one core value [which] is crown the customer.” - Natalie

Natalie MackeyCo-Founder of Winkylux


Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient, and navigate ever changing skies. 

 welcome to Building While Flying, and my guest today is Natalie Mackey, the co-founder of Winky Luxe and Globe concept. From working in fashion finance and e-commerce, Natalie decided that the Selfer beauty business was ready for an overhaul and needed to bring fun to everyday beauty rituals.

Natalie, thank you so much for being a guest. Thank you for having me. So great to be here. So great to have you. So let’s get started with some behind the scenes, some historical information about Winky Lux.

Tell us what it is and what’s the why behind it. 

Sure. Winky Lux is a joyful clean makeup and skincare line, and we started mostly out of a personal need, like most brands. But we had this. Theory that you could do really beautiful special stuff that was a lot less expensive and also had that award-winning formulation factor.

Yeah, it’s been eight years now almost, which is bananas. It flies right. Yeah. Yeah. Does that balance? Sometimes it flies and sometimes it’s really slow. 

I was gonna say it’s that balance of both. It’s odd how you can feel both tensions at the same time. Totally. 

It’s both a million years ago that we started this and yesterday, 

as we were getting ready to start recording, you mentioned that the lipstick you’re wearing right now is one that is in r and d and has been in development for over two years, and my mind was blown. And you mentioned you’re one of the fastest. In the industry. And so I’d love to talk about that a little bit.

My question was around like new product innovation and I had read a couple of interviews that you’ve done in the past where you mentioned ideas coming directly from customers. I had also read mention of these. Internal pitch meetings. And so I’d love for you to talk about what those are. The internal pitch meetings, are they still happening at this size of the company?

And really any other methods that take you to, that get you to these ideas that are touching into trends. So let’s start there. Yeah. 

For, to answer your question about the internal pitch meetings, yes. We still have lots of ideas come from our co, our staff and not just not just product development team members, but it’s really a testament to the product development team members that things are able to get executed with with speed and efficiency and also with quality.

But yeah, we do, people always ask the. This question of where do the products come from or where do the ideas for the products come from? And I think they’re looking for one single answer, which doesn’t exist. There are tons of the ideas that actually get executed come from our team. A big, some of ’em come from manufacturers who have new innovation.

So for instance, if there’s a really cool new raw ingredient that we might wanna play with or test, we just got back from the raw ingredient. Show, like the trade show in New York and it was so inspiring. There are so many cool new things you can do. New kinds of form factors, new new delivery systems for skincare.

There’s lots of really cool stuff going on. So even down to, the most exciting stuff is really in. Fragrance, including like food grade fragrances, we use a lot of valine in our products, which is vanilla. And the way that vanilla is extracted, where it comes from, some vanilla comes from.

The plant, the like flowers I think it’s in the orchid family. And then a lot, there’s actually Vann that exists in trees in the the Scandinavian region. So of it’s sourced from that. And then the most exciting stuff is really the stuff that’s bioidentical that’s created using fermentation because there’s no environmental destruction, right?

When you create a bioidentical. A cell that is exactly the same and it’s food grade and tastes delicious and is more pure than, harvesting the plant. So there’s so much cool stuff and I could nerd out about all that all day, but then, we’ll go to something like that and there’s all kinds of cool, new ideas that are sparked.

I love that I’m sitting here wearing Winky lux lipstick and smelling it. Oh, you so happy. I’m like, oh, I can smell vanilla in it. Yes it’s, yeah. Now you’ve got me into the equivalent of wine tasting and looking for notes and now looking for notes in my cosmetics. 

No, I it’s really, the flavor stuff is really fun.

And again, look, that’s the most, one of the most fun parts of my job I always say is, Being in the lab and being on the floor. Those are the two best parts of my job when I get to be in the lab or when I get to be on the floor at an ALTA or a Target selling the product that cuz meeting customers is my fa my all time favorite thing to do.

But The second favorite thing is being in a lab. But again, these are, they’re just small parts of the job. Once the team has really nailed a concept, there’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes to figure out is the concept viable? Can it pass compatibility? Can it pass stability? Can it pass micro testing?

Can will it work in the component that we’ve decided for it? We won’t make any product unless we can have a very. Beautiful visual perspective on it because that’s part of our purpose for being is to be very visually appealing. And and so if our team can’t figure out a way to do that, then we just won’t make the product.

So there’s lots of ideas that get thrown into the funnel. And then after boatloads of work, there are three or four really great ones that come out of the other side. 

So I wanna piece this together some because. I think the fact that ideas come from so many different places is certainly part of your success, right?

There’s creating in a vacuum and assuming there’s gonna be demand, and then there’s creating based on what as demand and something that’s needed in the market. But then you’ve gotta balance that with the fact that getting something to market takes time. So what does that balancing act look like in terms of wanting to get it out?

Quickly, but also wanting to get it done right and in a way that is true to the brand and the values that you’ve established. 

Oh, we, I think the way that we make decisions fast in our company, and I’m not like circumventing your question here. I’m not answering your question with a question I promise.

But there’s so many factors that go into deciding to make one product. The new innovation, the holes in the market, the ability to create something really special and beautiful that the customer will look at and then will visually be appealing, which is a different type of purpose filter than most brands have.

It’s one of our purpose filters. So for us, we have to make something that is as beautiful to look at as it is to use, and then it also has to fit into our sustainability initiative There. That all starts set aside the relationship with the factory. We have, we work with. Probably about 15 co-manufacturers, actually, maybe even more than that now.

And we have a few that are incredibly nimble and we have very special relationships with, and we have some that make one or two things really well. And and it’s a less nimble relationship, let’s call it. Like for instance, mascara is typically made by, there are a few companies out there that really make top, top mascara.

And I think most people who’ve investigated the beauty industry know that. Those 10 companies make like all the mascara particularly all the luxury mascara and of course each formulation is different and is highly agonized over, but it is you really don’t have as much competitive choice in that category as you do in another category.

There’s there’s retailer, retailer need, A huge part of our business is wholesale, so Target, Ulta, shoppers, those are our biggest core parts of the company. Shoppers Drug Mart is a company in Canada for all the Canadians. Listening. They’re like, no, of course, no duck shoppers. But for Americans, for some reason, a lot of people don’t know about shoppers.

But we have to think through how we’ll present the product at retail. And it is a zero sum game. In the world of retail merchandising. One product must die for another product to live. So there’s so many different factors that go into it. All of it has to be. Really agonized over. But in order to make those decisions quickly, we really go back to our purpose filter and our frame and our values framework.

And then our number one core value is crown the customer. So what will her experience be like when touching it, feeling it, even when she throws it away, what will that entire life cycle look like for her is really the guiding principle so that the team can make a lot of decisions without me.

Without necessarily having to agonize over it with me or have to have too many inputs. Yeah. Because that can really kill creativity. Thank you. And even now, it, because, creativity becomes harder and harder. The bigger you get, the more difficult it is. But right now we’re in this really great, I’d say we’re, we are hitting like a high velocity state where you know, where the team is, just they really know the questions to ask.

That’s great. I would imagine Yes. Over time you’ll absolutely continue. They’ll, the length of time working together, the length of time going through the process, both as a company, as teams will also add to that speed. I also have to tell you that coming out of that question I have in my head, this vision of a cosmetics like graveyard, that really stuck with me.

In order for something new to come to market something else must die. You can’t, right? Like we can’t do it all. 

Nope. And also, I mean that’s something we talk, I talk to the team about a lot. Winky Lux is not everything to everyone. It is a very specific brand. It really sits on a very differentiated aesthetic foundation and purpose foundation.

You can see my aesthetic in the background. It’s very maximalist, I would say. It’s girly core if you, you know that vibe. And Winky is even more into that than even I am personally. So that means that we are a lot to some people, we are kind of everything to some people, but we are not everything to everyone.

So we sometimes don’t. Jump on a trend, even if it is really cool and it’s got a lot of and it’s sometimes you just say there are other brands that really solve that for the customer, and we need to let them have that moment. Okay. Without trying to like, dabble in every single category.

So let’s talk a little bit about trends. One of the things that we would consider a trend that we just see so much of these days is brand collaborations. And there’s a collaboration that Winky Ls had last year with Applebee’s. So we’re gonna talk a little bit about barbecue scented lip glasses.

Yeah. So you, you launched some lip glosses called Saucy Gloss In collaboration with Applebee’s. Where in the world did that idea come from? Why did you do it? What did you 

learn from it? I know, by the way, you can’t even get them anymore. They’re like collectors items. They’re, I have, I think I have, I think I have 10 and I’m down now down.

I had 10 that I kept for myself. Like 10 cases or 10 sets of them. Yeah. I should have kept more because now I’m down to five. We’ve had press requests, we’ve had all these like things post that That were around. They were a huge novelty product. Yeah, they were. We I have to always get that out of the way cuz people are like, did you feel like barbecue flavored lip gloss is going to be the future?

And we’re like, no.

Applebee’s reached out to us because we won an innovation award and they said, we love that you guys are so good at product innovation. Are you, could you potentially this is just wacky, feel free to say no, but are you able to make lip gloss that tastes like barbecue sauce? And we were like, I don’t know.

F it. Let’s try. So our team. It’s really a testament to how fun the team is and how much they love a challenge. And so we worked on it for about a year, and this was in the middle of Covid, so we had to ship. Mason jars full of product back and forth. We did a lot of the r and d in a food lab. Wow. Because we were working with food ingredients like oregano and garlic, and this is just some weird stuff.

And if you were a food scientist, you would say oh, this is normal. But for our cosmetic chemists, they were this is wild. And we were shipping stuff and the entire lab smelled Applebee’s. And my house would smell like Applebees every time I would get, cuz you, you can’t make a batch in a small kettle, right?

You can’t make a batch that’s like really tiny. So you make a batch that’s would equate to a hundred lip glosses or something. So it was coming in mason jars and being shipped all over New York and we have product developers all over. The country, so we were shipping a marketing team. Were pretty distributed, so you know, things were just, it was wacky, pouring it into smaller mason jars so we could ship it out.

It was Very scrappy, very fun. We launched it, we sold out really quickly. Applebee’s created like a whole gray agency that, that oversaw the, some of the marketing for It created this amazing music video and it got 2 billion impressions. So billion with B, so there were, it was definitely like 60 40.

Love hate. There were 60% of people loved it and 40% of people were like, oh, gross. But here’s the thing, like we, man, we. We ended up on Jimmy Kimmel. We ended up on the Today Show. There were so many things that Martha Stewart, who actually was a big fan there were all these different things you could never get by just doing like a cupcake collaboration.

You have to do something once in a while. You have to take a really wild swing if you want to have a share of the head space. And so that’s what we did, and it was pretty wacky and pretty wild. But yeah, so that’s how the saucy glasses existed and they actually do taste. Like barbecue sauce and buffalo sauce and to the point where when I would wear them, I really liked the buffalo one.

And when I would wear it, people in the elevator thought I was I live in New York, so I’m you’re in the elevator all the time. And people thought I was carrying takeout. My neighbors were like, who did you get buffalo wings? I’m like, no, it’s my lip gloss. Don’t ask. I’m on my way somewhere.

I don’t even know how to explain this. 

I’m so sad that I didn’t get my hands on any, but who knows, maybe there will be demand at some point and it will make a comeback. 

I think we are probably never gonna do barbecue flavor again, but we will definitely always be up for something really wild and unexpected.

Love it. Let’s shift gears a little bit to talk about really building on this, right? Because I think this was phenomenal for you in terms of a pr like creating conversation. And Dialogue, right? It doesn’t always have to be something that is loved a hundred percent across the board.

It’s nice to have both sides of it and to also have fans of the brand speak up on your behalf, which I’m sure is a lot of what happened there. But continuing on this like marketing and communications lens my understanding is last year you launched live shopping on Instagram. Can you talk about what prompted that decision and how it’s working out for you?

Yeah, we love, look, we love a new channel. We’re always down to try a new channel and it’s my, I’ve been quoted as saying I truly believe that social shopping is QVC for millennials and Gen Z. That’s just much more the way that they wanna interact and engage with a brand. That said, there’s still tons of kinks to work out as far as format.

Formats are concerned. Our most loyal customers love live shopping and I love talking to them and our team loves talking to them. So we have we’re pretty happy with how it has, I. Fleshed out and we do it pretty frequently. That said, I wouldn’t say it’s like a silver, if I’m being intellectually honest.

I wouldn’t say it’s a silver bullet. I think it’s one of, for us it has become a really great retention and loyalty tool. It has been less of a brand expansion tool. Okay. I think that can really work. If you’re see a celebrity and people are dying to hear from you directly, then I think you can really.

Gain new customers through live shopping. We do gain new customers. I don’t wanna make it sound like we don’t, but I’d say that the real value in it for us is walking our customers directly through, this is a new product. This is. Everything. It’s about, it’s just very hard to tell a story on Instagram in a photo and a caption or even a video and a caption.

Even a TikTok video sometimes is not enough to have that back and forth conversation. 

Yeah. Cuz for folks who haven’t tried it yet, you’re getting live questions that you’re able to address over the course of the broadcast. So there really is this two way conversation that you’re able to have in this live shopping format that you can’t have just in a video.

Totally. Totally. Absolutely. 

You’ve dropped so many gems in this conversation. I was going through it saying that’s gonna be a standalone quote, and that’s gonna be a standalone quote. It’s been wonderful speaking with you, Natalie, getting to know you a little bit. I feel like I’ve gotta go expand my winky lux holdings.

There’s a visit to a store coming in soon for me. Yes. But thank you so much for taking time out to have this conversation 

with us. I’m so happy. Thank you for having me. And if you’re gonna go try something, try the pee Perfect. Under eye concealer, it will change. Perfect your life.

Thank you. Thank you having me.

Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Product Innovation to Make Makeup More Fun

Natalie Maxey is the CEO and co-founder of Winky Lux. From working in fashion, finance, and e-commerce, Natalie decide that the self-serious beauty business was ready for an overhaul and to bring fun to everyday beauty rituals. Winky Lux is a joyful clean makeup and skincare line that proves you can do really beautiful special stuff that is a lot less expensive and also has an award-winning formulation factor.

In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Natalie joins Maribel Lara to talk about how Winky Lux is making makeup more fun. She gives insight into product innovation, the balance between making great new products and getting them out as quickly as possible, and saucy gloss.

In-flight topics:

  • Getting product ideas from everywhere
  • The balance between making great new products and getting them out quickly
  • How AI is changing how we do business
  • Partnership with Applebees (BBQ Lip Gloss!)
  • Instagram Live Shopping
  • …and more!
Connect with Natalie:

Natalie’s LinkedIn:

Natalie’s Instagram:

Winky Lux Website:

Winky Lux Instagram:

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA