What Makes an Indie Brand Indie?
Hello beautiful creatures! Today I wanted to discuss What Makes an Indie Brand Indie? As a veteran blogger of over 13 years, I wanted to share my thoughts on this complex topic with you. This is a very long blog post, be aware!
(Trigger Warning: brief mention of suicide in this post.)
What is the Definition of Indie?
First, let’s look at the word indie. It’s short for Independent. Merriam-Webster defines independent as not subject to control by others, not affiliated with a larger controlling unit. It also gives the example of an independent bookstore.
By the literal definition of the word, an indie brand is a brand that is independently owned, not beholden to a parent company, much like the independent bookstore mentioned.
A brand like Colour Pop, who is owned by Seed Labs, is not an indie brand, because they are owned by someone else.
Rituel de Fille, which is a luxury beauty brand, is owned by three sisters. They aren’t owned by a parent-company, so they are an indie brand.
How Did You Get Into Indie?
As a long-time Goth, I gravitate towards indie brands because I love to find and use unique and custom items. If you’ve ever seen my gothic bedroom, you’ll know I designed my bed frame myself and found an indie furniture maker to bring it to life. For my Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Gothic Lookbook I hired my friend and indie fashion designer Spellbound Stitches (see my interview with Carlye) to create many of the looks. And just like I love to support artists in the Goth music and fashion scene, I love to support the same sort of beauty brands.
Additionally, for a long time, indie brands were the only one to cater to my skin tone for foundation. When my skin could tolerate it, I loved my mineral foundation from Meow Cosmetics. When I was searching for a foundation to match me back in 2008, I stumbled upon Meow Cosmetics and that led me down my indie makeup rabbit hole.
While I started blogging in 2008, I only went cruelty-free in 2012. At that time, I was delighted to learn that all of the indie brands I loved were cruelty-free. This is another reason I’ve continued to support the indie community.
From 2012-2014 I almost stopped shopping with indie brands after being harassed and sent death threats from some indie brand owners and their sycophants. I was told I was ugly, stupid, talentless, and that I should kill myself or stop blogging. These comments came in through my blog, email, Facebook, and reddit. That harassment did somewhat sour me on such brands for a while. Who wouldn’t want to avoid a community where you were harassed to the point that you almost commit suicide. Thank the Gods for therapy. And then there’s things like what happened with Evil Shades, GlitterSniffer, and Saucebox that just make me so upset.
Are There Different Types of Indies?
There are actually several different types of indie brands I’ve run across over the years. I’ll share them below to help explain. Believe it or not, where a brand is sold is NOT the only indicator of their status. You can find some indie brands at Ulta, Sephora, and Credo Beauty. This is because those retailers are trying to tap into the indie beauty market by showcasing such brands.
100% Handmade Beauty Brands
There are many 100% handmade indie beauty brands. What this means is that these brand owners come up with their own unique base formulas, mix in their micas, and create their products. Oftentimes, these brands focus on loose makeup products, but sometimes they will offer pressed or other formulas. Silk Naturals and Chiroptera Beauty are examples of 100% handmade brands. They have 100% unique formulas they create themselves. Aromaleigh is another example of a brand that handcrafts every product.
100% Unique Formulas and In-House Lab Beauty Brands
The next type of brand is a larger one. This is a brand that has 100% unique formulas and an in-house lab to press and manufactur their products. They may have nicer packaging than a strictly 100% handmade brand. Fyrinnae is a fantastic example of this type of brand, as they’ve had their own in-house lab and studio for years. They’re a great example of what makes an indie brand indie. Everything they make they formulate themselves and they don’t sell anything private label. I believe that Lethal Cosmetics, Baby Bat Beauty and Lunatick Cosmetic Labs are also in this category.
100% Unique Formulas + Private Labeling
There are some brands that create 100% unique formulas for their eyeshadows and staple product lines, but they also sell some private label products. BFTE Cosmetics is an example of this. They have gorgeous eyeshadows, but they also sell private label lashes and indelible gel eyeliners as extras. These items are clearly labeled as private label.
100% Unique Formulas + Outside Labs
The brands that I often see the most confusion over are the ones that have 100% unique formulas but use an outside lab to create and fill their products, rather than do it in house. Some examples of this would be Sugarpill, Black Moon Cosmetics, and Milk Makeup. They often have sleek packaging that looks very similar to their mainstream counterparts and they are sometimes sold at the same major retailers. Just read the interview I conducted with Amy (Shrinkle) of Sugarpill a decade ago to see how hard she works on her brand.
Cult Nails (RIP) was a great example of an indie brand with 100% unique formulas that utilized an outside lab to fill their nail polish bottles. The owner would then get those bottles, pack them herself, and mail them out to customers.
What Are Some Non-Indie Brands?
Urban Decay, one of my longtime favorite mainstream brands, is owned by L’Oreal, so not indie. Eyeko, my favorite mascara brand, is owned by the Hut Group, who also owns Illamasqua. Milani, one of my favorite drugstore brands because of their Afterglow Strobe Light Liquid Highlighter and Baked Blushes, is owned by Gryphon Investors. CoverGirl, the largest drugstore brand to ever acquire Leaping Bunny certification, is owned by Coty.
You can often see a change in the quality of products as well as the lack of innovation of products when an indie brand is sold to a parent company. This may not happen every time, but it does seem to happen often enough to mention.
What About Private Label?
Unfortunately, it appears that a ton of brands claiming to be indie that are actually just selling private label formulas that they don’t customize are popping up. So while they may be independent brand, as in not controlled by a parent company, it’s also very likely you could buy the same product for a vastly different price from another seller.
As an example, I’m obsessed with teals. I bought what was supposed to be 4 different teal gel eyeliners from 4 different indie brands, for vastly different prices ranging from $4.99 to $19.99. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I found out they were all the exact same gel eyeliner from a private label company. I was furious.
I genuinely feel that if brands are selling a non-unique private label formula from a manufacturer like Ladyburd or Aliexpress, they need to be very clear about it. Many people who buy indie are doing so to support independent artists and do not want to buy private label that lacks creativity and may lack quality.
Some individuals feel that indie brands should always be inexpensive. Many indie brands use very high quality ingredients, along with no-frills cheap packaging, which makes them the same price or less than drugstore makeup brands. Other indies choose to invest in higher quality packaging and are at a more luxury price point. This infuriates some indie makeup lovers as they expect everything to be cheap. I’ve actually had people tell me that Rituel de Fille can’t possibly be indie because they’re too expensive.
Other people gripe if there are no samples available. Some indies don’t do samples because it’s not cost-effective. I’ve seen many indie brands go out of business because they sold very generous samples, so people never felt inclined to buy the full size.
I’m often dismayed by the virtue signaling I see in the indie beauty community. Some people feel the need to put down fellow makeup lovers or brands because they don’t fit into the tiny purist box of their definition of indie. In other words, these people put down brands if they’re not 100% handmade. If they move to using a lab because they’ve become more successful, suddenly they fail the Purity Test, they’re no longer indie, and they don’t belong where indie beauty is discussed. Is Sydney Grace no longer an indie brand because they made a high-quality pressed palette? No, I don’t think so; they’re still indie.
I disagree with dumping an indie brand just because they’re more successful or popular. It feels like some of the annoying people I’ve met in the music scene who say ‘oh I liked that band before they were popular.’ Well, that’s great, but don’t put others down for liking them.
I do agree that brands that strictly sell non-unique private label need to be clearly marked as such. They don’t fit the ‘Spirit’ of indie, even if they do sort of fit the literal definition of the word. Sally Sue down the street could decide to open up her own indie makeup company called Pinkie Pie and then pick eyeshadows out of a catalogue on a site like Aliexpress to create her perfect pink eyeshadow palette, have it put together and sell it, but it isn’t something I want to buy because the eyeshadow formula is going to be lackluster. It also feels dishonest to market this as indie.
What are your thoughts on this nuanced topic?
I fell down the indie rabbit hole with indie nail polish brands. It’s embarrassing how many I have! If you haven’t already, check them out. There are thousands, but some that come to mind are: Tonic Polish, Colores de Carol, KBShimmer, Girly Bits, Polished for Days, Bee’s Knees Lacquer, Noodles Nail Polish, Danglefoot, Wikkid Polish, Different Dimension, Dollish Polish, Emily de Molly…and I could go on and on! And of course, they’re cruelty free, and most are 5-free.
This whole article is so well done and I really feel clarified the cloudy world of what “indie” is. Thank you so much for putting this together and to be able to share this resource with others. 💖
Madelyn Pryor says
This is a great, informative post.
Great post! How can you tell when something is private label?
That is an excellent question! Part of it is knowing about private label manufacturers, which I learned about at big beauty conventions like Premiere and CosmoProf. Part of it is looking at sites like Ladyburd and knowing they make products for brands. It’s definitely not an easy thing.