The trendy tribes of beauty, fashion and tech media on the web creamed their collective panties last week over video of Grace Choi's presentation at the TechCrunch conference in NYC. Choi's concept, presented to a panel of 4 men, is a printer that uses 4-color inkjet inks to create cosmetic products that can be matched to any web image or digital photo.
TechCrunch Disrupt, held May 5-7, sought contestants who were startup companies "live for less than three months", with heavy preference for companies launching at the event.
Choi's printer, called Mink, aims to disrupt both mass market and luxury beauty sales, by offering the color selection of Sephora at Walmart per-unit prices. While the printer itself is not even in beta testing yet (and, let's remember, may never reach market in its current iteration) the pink world of fashion and beauty and the blue world of tech and DIY united for one shining moment of open-mouthed enthusiasm.
Mink proceeded to be one of 6 finalists at the NYC tech startup contest.
Choi, who is Korean American, is a Harvard MBA, who has previous product development creds in medical technology and a BB cream, as well as a stint on Home Shopping Network with a modular jewelry line.
Among my own circle of acquaintances, the response to Choi's presentation was gung ho, with a feminist flavor. One Facebook friend raved, in all caps, "I love girls […] I am totally buying this!"
It's like we're living in the future. Illustration via Whitelight.
There are technical questions as to how Mink will actually perform. A makeup artist friend pointed out that the swatch of eyeshadow Choi showed on her hand did not match the vibrant pink of the digital image she selected to print. One commenter on a news site that picked up the story pointed out that by using Hex code vs. CMYK for the digital swatch, the printed outcome will be less faithful. Another commenter pointed out just how tricky it is in general to get a good inkjet printer to print colors faithful to what is shown on an RGB screen.
In her presentation, Choi explained that as the product goes forward, she will seek partnerships with an established printer manufacturer to refine the process. As a product that relies entirely on the presentation and performance of color, I'm sure she knows that if Mink can't get this right, it will fail.
Other commenters (ladies) questioned the quality of the product– there is a widely held perception that products from luxury brands are of better quality, with a better hand texture, performance, and wear-time. Again, this is something that will have to be developed from the constraints of price point and technology.
One commenter had a great idea, related to the question of price. Not every family will be willing to drop $300 on a printer, plus periodically replenishing the substrates. Perhaps Mink could adopt a drugstore photo printing model, where a customer could order her color and product online and pick it up in store. I think this is fucking brilliant.
A few commenters inevitably chastised Choi for her bravado and brash language. I, myself, couldn't give a shit. If she were a male, or even if she were a white female, those few comments would have been fewer. I actually found it charming, and even entertaining, that Choi seemed to be putting on a bit of an edgy act. But with so little time to introduce yourself and your product, I can see that she felt she had to be impactful to a mostly male audience– and a panel of 4 white dudes assessing her– by persuading them of her credibility and the viability of her product, while also showing how it would be disruptive to an established industry. Nothing summarizes the luxury beauty industry like "bullshit".
My reservations are from the health and safety standpoint. I myself would not be a potential customer until and unless she offers a food-grade, certified organic (preferably certified fair trade) substrate AND pigment medium. The FDA does not regulate cosmetics, and even if inkjet ink is "non-toxic", or even, as Choi claims, FDA-approved (?), that does not mean it should be going on your sensitive facial skin.
But she doesn't need me to buy her shit. I don't even wear that much makeup. I definitely have a skeptical eye for the 3D printing "revolution" as it has manifested so far. I actually think critically about the products going on my skin as much as the food that goes in my mouth. And I'm old.
She's strategically targeting young girls who learn how to do makeup by watching Youtube videos (her presentation cites phenom Michelle Phan) and try new looks based on Instagram selfies, who are hungry for non-traditional colors and effects, and are not buying cosmetics in traditional ways. Hence the disruption.
But I'm excited for this product, and I'll be eagerly watching the development of Mink as it makes its way to market.