Last week the makeup company MAC released its new "Juarez" collection in collaboration with the high-fashion label Rodarte, with lipglosses named "del Norte," bloodstreaked eyeshadows in a shade of "Bordertown" and a pale nail polish called "Factory." The Rodarte designers said they were inspired by Juarez and the lines of women workers who'd make their way to factory jobs in the middle of the night. Sleepwalking, they called it. It was this collection that spawned their makeup line with MAC.
When the MAC/Rordarte collaboration hit the blogosphere last week, the outcry didn't come first from border activists and women's rights groups. It came from beauty and fashion bloggers who were sent the press kits and preview photos of the makeup line, which will be available in stores in September.
A group of cosmetics experts and self-professed makeup lovers, some of them industry insiders, blogged aggressively till Friday when Rodarte and MAC released profuse apologies with promises to donate part of the proceeds from the collection to charity. On Monday, MAC announced it plans to change the names of the offending products and send $100,000 to a still-unnamed charity that benefits Juarez.
We gathered three key players in the blogosphere for a virtual panel to discuss how they brought two multi-million dollar companies to their knees in less than a week.
Jessica Wakeman, a news blogger at the women's interest news site The Frisky, is widely credited as one of the first voices to point out the relationship between the Juarez of real life and the Juarez that had inspired Rodarte's ghostly makeup collection.
Liloo Grunewald of the beauty blog Le Petit Jardin de Liloo began compiling a list of bloggers who rose up in outrage against the collection after blogging about the MAC/Rodarte collection last week. Her list stands at over a 100 bloggers now.
What was your first reaction when you heard about the MAC line of Juarez-inspired makeup? And were you already aware of the issues in Juarez?
Jessica: Initially I was excited that Rodarte and MAC were teaming up together, because I love MAC makeup and I'm interested in the Rodarte designers as artists. But I was pretty shocked that some of the names of their products, particularly the nail polishes named "Juarez" and "Factory." I first learned about Juarez about eight years ago when I took an Intro to Gender & Sexuality Studies class my sophomore year of college. I've been following news stories about Juarez since that time. I was a little surprised and dismayed that [the companies] were so uninformed (or insensitive) about it.
Liloo: I am ashamed to say I didn't know anything about Juarez before. I was distraught when I was learning about what has been going in Juarez, and angered that this could ever inspire anyone to create such frivolous things like makeup & fashion. How could have this line ever pass the first stages of production? I've got no idea and I can't get my head round it.
Have there been other similar political miscalculations from beauty companies in the past?
Yinka: This is the first scandal, for want for a better word that I've come across that has caused such a widespread reaction and shaken the beauty industry to the core. I'm proud that both beauty bloggers and cosmetic fans alike have spoken out and caused influential decision makers in the beauty industry to sit up and take notice - after all it's us, the consumers who buy the products.
Has the reaction from the blogging community and from the company surprised you? Did you expect this response from MAC and Rodarte?
Yinka: To be honest the response from the blogging community didn't surprise me. We're all vocal and expressive on our blogs anyway and appreciate how wide an audience each and every one of us has the potential to reach. When necessary, the beauty blogging community is quick to come together and rally support for one another. MAC and Rodarte's initial statements came fairly quickly so I was hopeful that they'd respond on Monday (which they did) as the backlash took a turn for the worse over the weekend.
Jessica: Honestly, I thought the blogging community would be more negative and dismissive. I guess I am used to offering a feminist analysis of something and having other people say, "Oh, that's not important! You're making a big deal out of nothing." The fact that other bloggers agreed that calling nail polishes "Juarez" and "Factory" was in poor taste was a pleasant surprise.
I'm so pleased MAC responded as quickly and as positively as they did. MAC has always seemed to me like a socially conscious, progressive company and they proved that with their actions. I know they give proceeds from their Viva Glam products to AIDS charities and things like that. I would imagine that when bloggers started talking about the insensitively and distastefully named products in the Rodarte collaboration, MAC realized they had a problem. They responded quickly, which is commendable, and they responded in a completely appropriate way.
What do you think we owe their quick response to?
Yinka: Without a doubt in my opinion, the Internet--which has allowed us to air our disapproval with no fear of censorship. Bad news travels fast and the backlash against both MAC and Rodarte has gained momentum at an incredible pace. Blogs, forums and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have all contributed to spreading the word and has informed thousands of people of a situation, many knew nothing about. The women in Juarez are now in the spotlight once more and I hope good can continue to come out of this.
Are you satisfied with their efforts to make amends? What would you like to see from MAC and Rodarte going forward?
Jessica: Yes, I'm very satisfied with the response. What more could we ask for (other than it not happening in the first place)? At first MAC was not going to change the product names, but I'm glad that they eventually changed their minds on that one. Going forward, I hope they stick to their promise of donating some of the proceeds to a charity, too.
Liloo: Although Mac and Rodarte responses came very quickly, I cannot help but feeling disappointed. I found their recent statements contradictory and shocking: It has never been at any stage the companies' original intent to address violence against women and the issues in Juarez as a priority.
I would love if Mac and Rodarte were to pull out of the line of makeup totally and cancel the launch altogether. Changing the names is good but it will never change the distasteful inspiration. I also find the amount of money they've pledged to donate disproportionate to the amount of money they could give. If they don't pull out the collection (the naive in me thinks it would still be possible at this stage) then they should do the sensible thing to give all their profits to help and make amends.
Have you bought MAC products in the past? And do you think what's happened will impact your future shopping decisions?
Jessica: Oh, yes, I buy MAC products all the time -- they are my #1 store for makeup! A few years ago I had a big shopping spree there and spent about $300 on foundation, blush, bronzer, eyeshadow, lipstick, etc. I always thought they seemed like a hip, fun company and I've enjoyed their products and their stores' atmospheres so much that I've kept going back for more. I will definitely still keep shopping at MAC. This latest MAC/Rodarte brouhaha won't change that.
Liloo: Yes, I have bought MAC products in the past. I never had any strong feeling against MAC other than being bored with them constantly releasing so many collections so often. This has definitely changed my opinion of the company. I firmly believe that MAC knew what they were doing in releasing this controversial line and I find that shocking. New names or not, I shall not be purchasing from this line and I am even less likely to purchase anything from their future collections.
Yinka: I've been a fan of MAC Cosmetics for most of my make-up wearing life! Seventy percent of my make up collection stems from MAC purchases.
They are still going to make a profit from the Rodarte collection despite having the chance to put things right by announcing that ALL proceeds from the Rodarte collection will go to non-profit charities to aid the women in Juarez. I was never going to purchase from the Rodarte collection anyway, as nothing appealed to me, but had it done, I'd still be boycotting this collection regardless. My plan has never been to outright boycott MAC altogether, but I'll certainly be paying closer attention to the "inspiration" of all future collections from now on.
There's absolutely no way that this can be condoned or passed off as being artistic. I find it insulting that MAC thought they could pass this off without one of its customers making a connection.
Photo: Models on the runway at the Rodarte Fall 2010 Fashion show in New York. (Getty Images/Nellson Barnard)