Back in the mid 1990’s, the beauty industry played it safe when it came to colours. Pink, red, and beige dominated, while the only place to find quirkier shades was at the chemist, but with a compromise in quality. Then entered Urban Decay, with lipsticks and nail polishes in directional colours, product names like Acid Rain and Roach, and ad campaigns that queried “Does Pink Make You Puke?”
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the brand’s edgy, innovative attitude remains at it’s core - demonstrated most recently with the highly anticipated launch of Vice, a 100-colour lipstick collection which runs the spectrum of shades from powdery lavender to glittering green.
Lane Crawford takes a look back at how the brand’s journey began with Urban Decay’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Wende Zomnir.
How did Urban Decay get started?
“Having worked at the global advertising agency Leo Burnett in Chicago, I moved out to California to become a scuba instructor and travel the world. Instead, I met Sandy Lerner and only a few months later we had started a business together. Urban Decay was Sandy’s brainchild. She and her husband had invented the router and started Cisco Systems together and she was itching to start another company. It’s funny but, a mutual friend of ours knew the two of us would be unstoppable together. Sandy’s idea was to create a really alternative cosmetics company, but she didn’t have the pop culture-focused marketing background that I did, so I came up with the packaging ideas and brand messaging.”
What were the start-up challenges?
“In those early days, creating the products and selling them into stores was the easy part. Setting up our business structure so that we were a real functioning business was harder. Other challenges at the time included manually managing inventory on spreadsheets, getting suppliers to take us seriously, and ultimately, learning that what we didn’t know, we didn’t know.”
Looking back is there anything you wish you did differently?
“We knew video was going to play an important part in the industry. We’ve been making videos out of makeshift studios for years and looking back, I probably should have built a serious, dedicated Urban Decay studio earlier.”
What do you think the key to Urban Decay’s success has been?
“Although we continually evolve the product and the imagery, we’ve always been true to the essence of what Urban Decay is: Beauty with an edge.”