Whatever Happened To Makeup Geek?

Beloved affordable beauty brand Makeup Geek — founded by OG YouTube beauty influencer Marlena Stell — took over the world shortly after its release in 2011, going on to make a reported $22 million in annual sales and be featured in select Target stores. Known for its single eyeshadow pans, Makeup Geek's cult classic shades like "Creme Brulee" were touted by many as the ultimate affordable MAC dupes. When Stell suddenly announced that the brand would shut down in 2022, fans were left confused and disappointed.

Today, you can still find a few heavily discounted products left for sale on Makeup Geek's website, but there is no restock on the horizon. Instead, the brand is slated to remain active without actually selling any makeup products. What does this mean for Marlena Stell and the company she built? Join us on a deep dive into Makeup Geek's past, present, and future as an online indie beauty brand. 

Makeup Geek's rise to fame

Marlena Stell — a music teacher at the time — began posting beauty tutorial videos on YouTube way before it was cool (in 2008, to be exact). The platform itself had just launched in early 2005, and only a handful of content creators were using it in a way that is now widely known as influencer marketing. After a few years of faithfully posting valuable makeup tutorials and product reviews, Stell realized she had an uncompensated role in accelerating the success of beauty companies.

"I noticed I was making sales for them, but I wasn't getting any commission—nothing from them but free products," she told Allure in 2016. "And I was like, 'OK, well, free products aren't paying my bills.'" This led her to monetize her own brand by launching Makeup Geek products. By selling single eyeshadow shades for around $6 — when other brands were offering comparable products for double the price — Makeup Geek quickly snatched up a loyal fan base and sold millions of dollars worth of products. 

The first public sign of trouble came in 2018 when Stell posted a YouTube video titled "My Truth Regarding the Beauty Community," in which she shared that Makeup Geek was struggling to stay afloat due to the rising monetary expectations of modern beauty industry influencers. Claiming that her company had been quoted the price of $60,000 for one influencer video featuring its products, she begged the beauty community to return to its roots and focus more on makeup and less on money and fame. 

The COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted Makeup Geek

After Marlena Stell revealed Makeup Geek's struggle with marketing, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, changing the economic landscape in unprecedented ways. This global event coincided with an attempted rebranding of Makeup Geek centered around what Stell had titled the "matrix system." This system consisted of an eyeshadow palette made of a customized grouping of Makeup Geek's eyeshadow colors. The colors chosen by the customer were to be arranged in a way that made creating a new eyeshadow look as easy as combining colors from certain columns and rows.

Unfortunately, supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic made it difficult for the small business to fulfill orders, especially on the on-demand basis required by the new customized palette system. In early 2022, Stell announced in a now-privatized YouTube video and on Instagram that Makeup Geek was set to close its doors once its inventory was liquidized. In a December 2022 YouTube video, Stell says, "The final nail in the coffin was just honestly brutal effects from Covid ... It was a hard decision to make, you guys know Makeup Geek is my baby." She goes on to say there were other "brutal" things going on "behind the scenes" that nobody knew about.

Currently, a selection of products is still available on the brand's website, priced at 75% off. The website reads: "We are heartbroken to announce the closure of Makeup Geek in April 2022. Thank you to all our Makeup Geeks! Sending Hugs and Much Love, The Makeup Geek Team." 

Marlena Stell suffered a miscarriage during Makeup Geek's decline

In the midst of Makeup Geek's decline, Marlena Stell found herself morphing into somewhat of a spokesperson for women's reproductive rights when she tragically experienced a miscarriage. Sadly, this was not the first time Stell had suffered the loss of a pregnancy, and she knew that her body had a history of requiring a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure, which is used to "clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage or abortion," per the Mayo Clinic.

However, when she asked her doctor to perform the procedure, she was denied due to Texas' strict anti-abortion laws. After being forced to secure multiple ultrasound appointments by third-party providers, Stell was still denied the procedure she required. She was left no choice but to seek a D&C to complete the miscarriage process at an abortion clinic, where she was subjected to harassment by anti-choice protesters and barred from bringing her husband inside for emotional support.

After the ordeal was over, Stell went public via interviews with PBS and other news outlets, sharing her experience to bring awareness to the fact that even women experiencing planned pregnancies can be affected by anti-abortion legislation in frightening ways. Whether her outspoken public opposition to such laws had a hand in the demise of Makeup Geek remains unclear, but — in today's political climate — the possibility must be considered. 

Marlena Stell's 'three brutal health diagnoses'

Marlena Stell's miscarriage and refusal of appropriate aftercare wasn't the only health crisis the Makeup Geek founder faced around the time of the brand's demise. In a late 2022 YouTube video, Stell revealed that she had "three brutal health diagnoses" involving stroke-like episodes during which she experienced terrifying symptoms like temporary blindness, slurred speech, and numbness of her limbs. After initially being dismissed as panic attacks, the episodes were finally diagnosed as symptoms of intracranial hypertension, which causes excess pressure on the optic nerve and skull (per the Cleveland Clinic).

During the process of being diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, it was revealed that Stell had also been living with Lyme disease. As she strives to liquidate Makeup Geek's remaining inventory, Stell appears to be focusing on finding ways to manage the symptoms of both of her chronic illnesses. Toward the end of her update video, she announced her plans to launch a new brand, a podcast, and an educational beauty platform and promised to document the entire process for her audience. 

What's next for Marlena Stell?

According to Marlena Stell's December 2022 YouTube video, the Makeup Geek website will be turned into an educational "makeup academy" after the last of its inventory is sold. The makeup guru plans to fill the site with tutorials, Zoom classes, and even behind-the-scenes tips on how to build your own beauty brand. As for her next business venture, Stell has been rather hush-hush on the details. In the summer of 2023, she shared on Threads that she plans to launch two new businesses in 2023: One in September and one "hopefully" in November.

As for her social media presence, the YouTube queen plans to branch out with a new video series titled "Mornings with Marlena," in which Stell will apply her makeup for the day while discussing "real life" topics. This turn toward the serious will extend to her upcoming podcast, on which she pledges to tackle discussions on various women's issues. While we're sad to see Makeup Geek go, we're certainly excited to see what else CEO Marlena Stell has up her luxurious sleeve.