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The Woman Who Is Turning the Beauty Industry on Its Head

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Welcome to the Racked Awards, our annual celebration of the best in fashion, beauty, shopping, and health. Below, meet Grace Choi, who we've dubbed Beauty Gamechanger of the Year.


Photo: Getty Images

Dragon Girl by Nars, Pink Adobe by Tom Ford, Vamp by Chanel—beauty brands churn out cult classic shades every season, and every season, consumers go wild for the must-have hues. The $55 billion cosmetic industry is clearly doing something right, and while clever marketing strategies like celebrity partnerships and limited-edition collections certainly contribute to its success, its foundation is unquestionably the allure of those coveted colors.

Harvard Business School grad Grace Choi doesn't see why beauty execs should have all the fun, though. Choi is here to empower women to decide for themselves what the "it" color is, based on their own idea of what's beautiful. But beyond simply deciding, she's giving us the power to actually create those products ourselves.

Meet Mink, a 3D printer for makeup. Choi introduced the world to Mink in May at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, explaining that it could "take any image and instantly transform it into a wearable color cosmetic, turning any phone, laptop, or camera into an endless beauty aisle."

While at HBS, Choi created her own line of BB cream specifically designed to match any skin tone in an effort to address the lack of diverse hues available at accessible price points. During the development process, she came to understand the makeup industry's fundamental flaw: an overreliance on mass manufacturing.

As Choi learned, colors are manufactured in kettles that can only produce one color at a time. In the interest of cost-effectiveness, you have to pick a single (or at most, a handful of) colors, which inevitably forces you to go with the shades that will be most profitable. And—you guessed it—corporations consider hues that complement fair skin tones to be the most lucrative.

Choi started to think of ways to eschew the mass-manufacturing system. The flashbulb moment came when she realized a source for free color does exist: the internet. Not only are the colors free, but the options are infinite.

With Mink, no additional software is required—all you need is a color picker tool, which can be easily downloaded online (there are several free ones in the Chrome store, for instance). Every color has a unique numerical identifier known as a hex code, so once a certain hue in a photo catches your eye, just use the color picker to grab its code. Then open your go-to photo-editing program, paste the code into a new doc, click print, and let Mink work its magic.

Similar to a traditional inkjet printer, Mink uses substrates (the base material) and ink (the dye). Mink prints a cosmetic-grade dye onto a colorless substrate (which differs according to whether you're making a lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish, etc.) to create the final product. Choi sources the same raw materials and substrates that high-end and mass beauty brands use, and they're all FDA-compliant. The main distinction? You're the one calling the shots on exactly what color your next lipstick will be.

Choi observed consumers are motivated by two factors when purchasing makeup: convenience and selection. Mink delivers on both counts. It's ultra-convenient since it's in your own home, and the near-limitless selection truly can't be beat. The final version of the printer is expected to be roughly the size of a Mac Mini, retailing for approximately $300.

With Mink, Choi seeks to spark a revolution in the makeup industry by establishing a more democratic take on beauty standards. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Choi is a self-described "serial inventor." Growing up, she felt alienated by the beauty industry, not only because she had trouble finding products to match her skin tone, but also because the more offbeat shades she wanted simply didn't exist. Choi became self-conscious, wondering if maybe her taste was just too weird.

That's part of the true beauty of Mink. Its target demo is between the ages of 13 and 21, the period when beauty habits are formed and, more importantly, confidence is built. Choi hopes that Mink will encourage young women to experiment with whatever shades they personally find appealing, rather than be restricted to the colors major corporations deem desirable.

Though she's clearly business-savvy, Choi's immediate goal isn't to launch a highly profitable business. First, and above all else, she wants to start a revolution by encouraging people to rethink their traditional perceptions of beauty. As Choi told Business Insider, "One person alone can't disrupt this entire beauty market. Together, as a community, we can disrupt it...I think of Mink as an educational tool for kids, and one that can get girls interested in technology. I don't need to be on some billionaires list."