If you’ve ever seen the movie Fifth Element, staring Mila Jovovich and Bruce Willis, it is based in the future. It included a small clip of Mila applying makeup for the first time. The device used in that clip was a completely innovative and a dream of mine to possibly own one in the future, should they invent one. It seems someone has heard my prayers and invented a gadget close to it.
Forget makeup counters. Women may soon start buying cosmetics in an entirely new way thanks to one woman’s invention that sounds straight out of the future: printable makeup.
On Monday, Harvard Business School grad Grace Choi hit the stage at Disrupt New York, a conference for startups and entrepreneurs hosted by TechCrunch, to present her new invention. The 3D printing device, called Mink, could potentially turn the cosmetics industry upside down. In her presentation, Choi said, “The makeup industry makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of b——-, and they do this by charging a huge premium on one thing that technology provides for free. And that one thing is color.”
Choi says the goal of Mink is to combine the selection of prestige with the convenience of a mass product and bring it right into the consumer’s own home. The printer works by pulling the color of your choice — from anywhere including a Pinterest inspiration board, a fabric, even a flower you see in a garden — and obtaining the official hex code associated with that hue using an app. (There are many free ones like ColorPicker on iTunes or Google’s Picklor.) Next the user inserts the desired color into any photo program, like Paint or Photoshop, and simply press print. Within minutes you’ll end up with a gorgeous usable eye shadow, blush, foundation, or lipstick in a little makeup pot. All you’ll need is ink and substrates (aka the paper or textile you’re printing to) as you would for any inkjet printer. “Mink enables the Web to become the biggest beauty store in the world,” Choi said at Disrupt. “We’re going to live in a world where you can take a picture of your friend’s lipstick and print it out.” The all-inclusive device is set to launch later this year for around $300 on GraceMink.com.
Choi points out that only a limited amount of the colors available at mass retailers like CVS and Walmart because they need to sell in large quantities. As a result, those shades are going to be the very popular, and perhaps safe or boring, colors. For the more fashion-forward or edgy colored cosmetics you’ll have to head to a prestige store like Sephora and shell out a lot more money. But it’s clear that consumers are willing to pay. According to a report from IBISWorld, consumers spent $433.4 billion on beauty products in 2012, and $932 million on makeup alone. As a result, the beauty industry spends billions on research and development, advertising, and marketing to create the most innovative products as consumer demands continue to grow.
Consumers are all about customization, and it’s easy to imagine that the product (assuming it works as it’s supposed to) could be a hit with Choi’s target demographic of 13- to 21-year-old women — or any female who seeks instant gratification or a fun DIY project. But there are a few evident drawbacks. For starters, though the device may become cost-effective in the long run, a $300 is a large investment for most people, and especially young people, to make upfront. And while Choi says her materials are FDA-compliant and come from the same sources as those of trusted cosmetics brands, it’s hard to say until trying the printer whether the final quality of the makeup will rival that of leading companies’ products. Every brand offers its own unique formulas — some for sensitive skin, some more or less pigmented than others. So while an infinite amount of color possibilities would be available to Mink users, there isn’t the same amount of variety there in terms of the texture, level of shine, or content of sparkle or shimmer, to name a few examples. Not to mention the strength of brand loyalty or the desire to seek out the same exact shade that a favorite celebrity wears.
At the end of the day, all innovation in the makeup category is a good thing, and Choi’s message is strong. “This is going to finally train our girls to understand that the definition of beauty is something that they should be able to control,” she said at the conference, “not our corporations.”
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