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Makeup is more popular than ever right now, thanks in part to the meteoric rise of the beauty gurus on YouTube and Instagram. The phenomenon has spawned a culture that gushes over every new makeup launch — but not everyone can afford, say, a $42 Anastasia Beverly Hills palette.
To respond to younger consumers still experimenting and people who can’t or don’t want to spend a ton of money on makeup, several beauty e-commerce sites and apps have popped up to offer lower-priced makeup outside of the drugstore. There’s Hollar, Hush, Beauty Pie, and others, but pre-dating all of these is Miss A. This online dollar store started off selling accessories, made a pivot to beauty over the last few years, and has now launched its own (really inexpensive) beauty products. Like, $1 inexpensive.
Founded by Jean Baik, 31, and her husband in 2013, Miss A gained a word-of-mouth following after influencers started featuring its products in their videos, both in paid and unpaid capacities. About 20 to 30 new products are offered every day, and Miss A has many repeat customers who check the site daily.
“We talk to customers through social media, and they’re always looking for beauty products on a budget,” Baik says. So in the past two years, the site has shifted to selling mostly beauty products, though you can still find things like $1 chokers and thongs.
Miss A started off selling inexpensive makeup brands like Elf, NYX, LA Colors, and Kleancolor, but only the products that Baik could retail for $1 and still take a small profit on. In August of the first year, the site did $8,000 in monthly sales; the following year, it did close to $1 million in August. According to Baik, growth of the site has been “significant” since then.
“Last year, we saw that our volume was growing, we had more customers, we had more orders. So I’m sitting there like, ‘You know, I can make better things for a dollar if I cut out the middleman of the brand.’” The result was AOA Studio, which stands for “art of all.” At launch early last year, the line did not include makeup yet, but featured $1 beauty tools like a beveled Beautyblender-esque sponge, 24 brush styles, and a popular silicone brush cleaning “egg.” The success of that endeavor convinced Baik to develop makeup, especially because she felt the makeup assortment she offered on Miss A was incomplete since a lot of products from established cosmetics brands cost more than a dollar.
So Baik started two makeup lines simultaneously — an expansion of the AOA Studio tool line, which remains true to Miss A’s $1 price commitment, and a higher-end line called a2o Lab; its most expensive product, an empty large magnetic palette, tops out at $7.50. A2o Lab launched a few weeks ago, with makeup from AOA launching shortly afterwards; on the first day the a2o Lab products launched, Miss A broke its daily sales record.
Baik plans to eventually spin a2o Lab off on its own website, but at the moment you can shop both brands under the “Shop AOA” tab on Miss A’s site. In the $1 AOA line, you can still find the aforementioned brushes, whose quality is surprisingly good. They don’t feel as hefty in your hand as more expensive brushes do, but the bristles are soft and dense. A flat foundation brush functioned just as well for me as a much more expensive MAC version that I own.
Right now, makeup in this line is limited to liquid lipsticks (in matte and metallic finishes), lip liners, color correctors and concealers, two primers, and makeup wipes. The liquid lipsticks felt like any number of matte liquid lipsticks I’ve tried over the years, meaning they were pretty long-wearing but made my mouth feel dry after a few hours. They have a fairly subtle cherry lollipop smell that I actually liked.
The primers felt a little sticky at first, but dried down nicely and didn’t make my foundation pill. The concealer has pretty opaque coverage. I found it to be too much for my undereye area, but it did a nice job covering some healing blemishes and red spots. It’s all in pretty straightforward packaging — mostly doe foot applicator tubes adorned with silver lettering.
The pricier a2o Lab features more variety in products, including concealers ($3) with a wide shade range, individual eyeshadows ($2.50) that stick in a magnetic palette ($4) that you buy separately to customize, rainbow highlighters ($5) in three different increasingly concentrated washes of color (pearl, veil, and flash), liquid eyeshadows ($3.50), blushes ($3.50), and bronzers ($5). The packaging is decorated with whimsical drawings of eyes and lips, and it definitely reads young. The palettes are made of lightweight cardboard and don’t have the extras you’d find in more expensive brands, like built-in mirrors.
But what a2o Lab skimps on in packaging, it makes up for in pigmentation. If you spend any time on Makeup Instagram, you know that color payoff is the most important and sought-after quality. These products do not disappoint in that regard. The first time I used the individual blush and bronzer pans, I used way too much product on the brush and veered into clown contour territory. The powder eyeshadows were fantastic with one swipe, though the liquid ones creased pretty quickly. (They had better longevity when I used an eye primer underneath.)
The rainbow highlighter, which I received in the “veil” finish (the moderately pigmented version), was actually pretty subtle. I was kind of disappointed, honestly. I am by no means a unicorn makeup person, but if you’re going to do rainbow highlighter, I kind of think you should go big or go home — try the “flash” version instead. Again, the concealers in this line are really opaque, and you need just the tiniest dot to cover up redness.
Baik plans to continue to offer third-party brands on Miss A for variety, but will definitely continue to build out the two house brands. “The profit is tighter than if we were selling high-end products or Sephora brands, where they sell a $40 palette that only costs a few dollars to make,” Baik says. “But we really kind of are successful. It works for us because of high volume.” The new, cute brands and frequent product turnover should only help.
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