When most of us go on a Tinder date, we're looking for a survivable conversation, and maybe, if things go well, a second date. For Alexis Androulakis and Christina Basias, a Tinder date turned into not only a forthcoming marriage, but a business, too. The two women — partners in work and in life — founded Fempower Beauty last year with four lipsticks, each named after one of the figures in the story of Adam & Eve. Alexis worked in beauty and Christina was a teacher, and together they built a beauty brand founded on giving back. For every lipstick purchased, another (of the same product) is donated to a woman in need. We chatted with these co-founders about lipstick as a tool for confidence and (f)empowerment, the age-old patriarchal structure that even pervades the beauty industry, and what their fledgling brand is doing to change things up.
Tell us about yourselves! What were you both doing before creating Fempower Beauty?
AA: Most recently, I was part of the team that developed Shiseido’s award-winning Synchro Skin Self-Refreshing Foundation. I learned a tremendous amount doing product development for a global cosmetics company, but I had a burning desire to start my own brand. Having spent almost eight years selling beauty products on the sales floors as a former Nars regional makeup artist, I noticed that no woman (in that entire time!) ever approached a mirror and said anything positive about themselves. Eventually, I started to twist these negative words into positive affirmations for these clients, and even then, they would often turn beet red from embarrassment. I knew I wanted to create a brand that made women walk up to those same mirrors and only say positive things.
CB: I am an educator, and I am passionate about changing perspectives and opening minds. As a former high school English teacher, I strived to do this through the literature I taught. This was the same motivator that inspired me to pursue my PhD in education, to work to change complex systems. Now, I get to synthesize these worlds with Alexis in an entirely new way as we build Fempower Beauty.
What is Fempower Beauty?
AA: Fempower Beauty an activist beauty brand. We make giving back look as good as it feels. We are a community of badass femmes, using empowerment and healing to transform the beauty industry in major ways. We wanted to make giving back as easy as putting on your favorite luxury makeup. With the beauty industry so focused on profits and perfection, we are creating the change we want to see by centering our brand around activism. For us, giving back is much more than a campaign, but rather it is woven into the DNA of our brand. For every product purchased, we donate the same product to a femme in need. Fempower products are activism in makeup form.
Was there a specific moment the idea for Fempower was born?
AA: Six years ago, Christina and I swiped right on each other on Tinder. Today, we are (recently engaged) partners in business and life. The start of Fempower Beauty can be traced back to our very first date at a bar in TriBeCa. We talked about what beauty meant to me, and how it rescued me during my coming out — a time I like to call my 'beauty renaissance.' Christina, an educator at the time, shared her desire to do social impact work. Fast forward four years, and we realized that if we fused our two passions together, we could work to fix a broken industry and bring activism to life in the form of a beauty brand. We couldn't find our values and beliefs represented in the beauty industry, so we decided to build a brand that would speak to those things.
Obviously, there’s a lot of lipstick out there — what makes Fempower different?
AA: Lipstick was always a symbol of womanhood to me, so we were inspired by this idea of starting where femininity begins but also where womanhood begins. Christina and I were looking for the perfect matte lip, so we set out to develop a lipstick that would be love at first swipe. We were looking for the marriage of comfort and explosive vitality in color built into a lasting formula. We created a trifecta of waxes and conditioning agents to go on smoothly and added coconut oil to hydrate and nourish lips. It’s makeup that heals in more than one way. We wanted the formula to be ultra-balmy, full of vitamins, and, of course, rich in pigment. These were the asks we shared with our Italian partner. Finally, we sprinkled in exotic berries so sweet they could transport you to the garden of Eve. We wanted our lipstick to be a symbol of strength.
The first collection is inspired by the story of Adam & Eve. How so exactly?
CB: I found it crazy that a multi-billion dollar industry dictates what it means to be beautiful and is still predominantly controlled by men. With a background in education and almost a decade of experience in teaching high school English, Fempower Beauty became the most intense and creative lesson plan I’ve ever worked on. As we dug deeper, as I like to do, we realized that it’s been this way in many aspects of our lives that we are blind to — from the pink tax on feminine products to the history of the technology we purchase (look it up, there is such a thing as technofeminism). Many of the stories we know have been told through a primarily male lens.
To challenge this, we felt we needed to go back to the beginning of time to the story of Adam and Eve, the ultimate archetypal story of the patriarchy. The more research we did, the more we realized we needed to bring this story to light in a new way, and re-negotiate the emotions of these characters through a Fempowered and matriarchal lens. We want to reclaim the narrative. And most importantly, we wanted our community to reclaim their narrative in the process. These products are the physical embodiment of the affirmations Alexis would spin into positivity on the sales floor -- they are meant to dismantle the negative perceptions that we feel women have been inherently taught to feel as a result of the twisted beauty standards in our world.
What does Fempower exist to provide that other brands are not providing?
CB: It is important to us that Fempower Beauty gives back to the very same people who make up our community or are in need of fempowerment. That’s why we have partnered with organizations that share our core ethos. Since we have launched, we have worked with Dignity not Despair, a non-profit organization that provides unused beauty and hygiene products to female refugees all over the world.
What does self-care mean to you?
AA: I find that self-care comes in many shapes and sizes, and for me personally it means aligning whatever I am doing with my values and beliefs. The biggest lesson I have learned as a founder is how time becomes so scarce and thus precious. As a result, no matter what I'm doing, even if I'm just buying groceries, I like to look for ways to maximize my time and overall experience. I ask myself this question at least five times every day, “Does this align with my values/and beliefs? Is this worth my time?"
CB: I like to research! Whether it’s related to Fempower or something as basic as new hot boot trends, it's cathartic for me to investigate a topic thoroughly enough that I feel well versed in it. This often manifests in binge-watching documentaries on Netflix.
What's your work mantra?
AA: Do work that sets your soul on fire. I personally spent too much time earlier on in my career surrounded by people that tried to put me in a box and learned very quickly: I’m not built to stay in one lane.
CB: Do everything to the best of your ability, and always strive to be better than yesterday (personally and professionally)!
What are the beauty products that make you feel empowered?
Did you know that Lilith was Adam’s first wife? And when she refused to lay beneath him, she was banished to hell. At Fempower, Lilith is no longer silenced-- she was designed to be invincible. Every time an important meeting comes along, I reach for our Lilith lipstick, it is the most radically bold red I own, and it makes me feel empowered the second it touches my lips. I think of Lilith rewriting the script—owning her desire and power.
This makes me feel like I have control of my life and that my hair washing schedule doesn’t own me. I reach for my First Class, and not only does it make my scalp feel clean, but it gives me the most perfect amount of volume without looking white or grey on my dark brown roots. What more can we ask of our dry shampoo? I even find myself sneaking it on my scalp on fresh hair days to give me the volume and texture I crave.
I find Sandalwood so utterly sexy that no matter the season I fall right back in love for the few minutes in the shower that are mine. I worked in fragrance development for a few years, so I know how hard it is to nail a scent in a body wash base, and Necessaire killed it! This is definitely a self-care ritual I enjoy, and most importantly, my skin doesn’t feel tight when I am done with my shower. It feels gently nourished and has the perfect trace amount of scent that blends beautifully with whatever fragrance I put on that day.
This is my favorite category to develop for, so I generally approach my complexion product with the most critical eye. I have always valued a product that looks like skin. This product makes me feel like my skin can breathe, and it has some SPF protection. Even if I start with a primer, and use powder to build coverage, the radiance still peaks through. I just wish the shade range was bigger for this incredible formula as currently, too many humans will not be able to enjoy this!
I could write a love poem for this applicator. When it comes to liquid eyeliner, tip-quality is key. This eyeliner lets me get the perfect wing every time. I know the Japanese brush tip will never pill and disrupt my line. In Japanese beauty, craftsmanship is of the utmost importance — I know, I worked for Shiseido after all! It also makes me feel good, from a sustainability perspective, because you can buy refills!
Nars Cosmetics raised me as a makeup artist, so it would just be wrong to have a list of my hero products without giving them a shout. I have a giant Nars artistry tray of about 30 blushes that I typically mix and match from, depending on my mood — the pigment load is divine.
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