Canadian Business Spotlight: 19/99 Beauty
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Spence and Camille Katona, co-founders of the beauty brand 19/99 Beauty. We discussed the motivation behind the brand, how their career paths seemed to continue to intersect, the intricate details that went into product development and changes they’d like to see in the industry.
Despite launching 19/99 during COVID-19, they’re already making waves. 19/99’s brand messaging is powerful and the products – a high-shine gloss and two shades of the precision pencil – are high quality. I’ve known Camille since we were six, and I’ve watched her journey in the beauty space for a number of years. I knew that if she put out a product, it was going to be great, so I made sure to scoop up the gloss and precision pencil quickly. Coming from someone whose beauty cabinet is overflowing, I’m a huge fan! Through watching their tutorials, I’ve even learned how to use the pencil on my eyes and I’m obsessed with the quality, pigmentation and versatility.
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Stephanie grew up in Toronto and she started her career in beauty somewhat by accident. She took a year off school and got a job at Bite Beauty (Bite) as the Office Manager just before they launched. “As they launched and as the brand grew, I was able to grow with them. I ended up staying with Bite for about five years.”
Similarly, Camille grew up in Toronto and also fell into the beauty industry. She studied at U of T doing a minor in Fine Arts. Her mom, Diti Katona, was involved with Bite from the start, as her agency, Concrete, created Bite’s brand story, brand identity and strategic positioning. Bite’s founder, Susanne, was looking for someone to launch a blog and since Camille had been writing for College Fashionista – a college-aged fashion blog – her mom thought she would be a perfect fit and recommended her for the role. Camille’s role began prior to the days of Instagram and was all about managing Bite Beauty’s Facebook page and blog. Once Instagram rolled out, she took over that for the brand as well.
Over the next 10 years, camille and stephanie would find their careers overlapping several times
During their time at Bite, Camille and Stephanie went to New York together to launch the first Bite Beauty Lip Lab. After spending the summer together in NYC for the launch, Stephanie remained in New York and Camille went back to school to continue her masters in Strategic Design and Management at Parsons.
In her second year Parsons, Camille had to identify an area of focus. “At the time, I was working in beauty and was thinking a lot about beauty. I’m very close with my mom and noticed she was having trouble aging – she didn’t feel that her mind aligned with her age. She’s very youthful and wants to be doing everything I’m doing, but didn’t feel like there was a place for her. I felt that she wasn’t really represented. So, I started thinking about how to reframe this conversation around ageing in beauty.” Camille spent time researching how women are represented in the media over a certain age, comparing that to men and evaluating how advertising speaks to women. “At the same time, it wasn’t anything new to us. Stephanie and I always felt that as much as we love beauty and we love product and there are so many cool brands out there – we didn’t feel like there were many brands that were necessarily speaking to us.” Camille saw an opportunity to have a different perspective. “We felt there was room to be a bit more real, a bit less flaw focused.”
During this time, Stephanie was travelling back and forth between New York and Toronto and eventually went on to help launch Bite’s Toronto Lip Lab. After the launch, she joined Red Earth, a skincare brand that started in Australia and had since moved its headquarters to Shanghai.
Upon leaving Parsons, Camille came back to Bite, where she stayed for six more months before leaving to explore other opportunities where she could put her Parsons education into action. Stephanie reached out to Camille shortly after she left Bite, about a marketing and social media position at Red Earth. Their careers collided once again and together they launched the brand in the North American market. Suddenly, two more years had passed as the two of them led the expansion of Red Earth across the US.
Through their experience at Bite and Red Earth, Stephanie and Camille were able to get a tremendous amount of exposure. Their time at Red Earth provided them with experience dealing with International markets and supply chains, with only a small team in North America and the rest of the team based in Shanghai.
Camille reflected, “I’m really happy we got that experience. We learned about supply chains and we learned about how to launch a brand.”
The original idea that Camille developed at Parsons had been brewing in the back of her mind. She had originally planned on exploring this idea shortly after she left Bite, but she explained, “It’s something I put on hold and I’m really happy I did because I think that both the experience of launching a brand but also Stephanie and I working together – we really got to experience what it’s like to be just two people doing this. We found out we worked really well together.”
makeup is an extremely powerful tool you can use to express yourself. and Absolutely anybody can use makeup.
For Stephanie, the idea for 19/99 strongly resonated with her. Although ending up in beauty was surprising to her at the time she said, “looking back, it makes sense. I always had a bit of a problem where I can look at beauty somewhat cynically and say it’s essentially an industry that’s based on exploiting women’s insecurities. And a lot of the framing of those insecurities are from a male perspective. And then on the other hand, I also think that makeup is an extremely powerful tool that you can use to express yourself. And absolutely anybody can use makeup. There’s a complete art to it.” So, when Camille told her about the concept for 19/99, she felt like it was a way for her to be involved with beauty that was aligned with her views.
She continued, “There’s an undeniable, amazing beauty to youth, for sure, but I think the majority of the brands out there, and as a society, we’re so obsessed with youth in a way that’s a bit confusing.”
Camille added, “I also think that working in social media and constantly being on Instagram both personally and for research, I follow every big media influencer just to see what they are doing. And I’ve seen this kind of normalization. For example, the normalization of cosmetic procedures. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with it – if there’s something you can do to change yourself that makes you feel good, no problem. But I think both of us were starting to question what was behind the cosmetic procedure trends and a lot of the time we felt that it was coming from the ‘male gaze perspective’. Like ‘how can I be more attractive to the opposite sex’ versus ‘is this something I’m doing for myself?’”
“The way the beauty industry was framing any kind of “flaw”, from a wrinkle to under eye bags, we started to notice that early on; I had people in my office in their 20s getting all these procedures done. That’s okay but what’s the ‘why’ and how can we reframe this conversation to have beauty be less about flaws and more about having fun?”
How can we reframe this conversation to have beauty be less about flaws and more about having fun?
In terms of how they work together now, the co-founders identified that Stephanie is in charge of operations, finance and more administrative tasks – like projections and planning. Camille focuses more on the brand, including the creative and social aspects. And they collaborate on product development and shade selection.
They also work with makeup artist, Simone Otis, who helps the brand with product development, shades and undertones. Simone’s expertise, coming from working with so many different faces and skin tones, has been tremendously valuable especially as, “a big part of what we’re trying to do is cut back on the number of products we carry. So, they have to be good for everybody.”
Reflecting on their experience at Bite, Stephanie also highlighted, “I don’t know if we fully appreciate how much exposure we got from so early on in our careers, with being able to go into a lab where they’re developing products and play around for a bit.”
“During the early days of the Lip Lab, before we had a proper system, we would essentially just make lipstick in front of people. But then they started asking, ‘I want more red’ or ‘I want it more purple’ and we kind of just started melting different lipsticks together to make new colours”, Camille added.
This experience helped the cofounders to see in real time what people liked and didn’t like, and they began to understand what colours worked with different skin tones.
Product Creation: The Precision Pencil
In launching 19/99, it took them the longest to decide what products to offer. Camille and Stephanie knew they wanted colour and something that was versatile enough to apply anywhere to the face either by precise or diffused application. And so, they proceeded to experiment – testing out different applicators, various pencil tips, and so on.
“We knew we wanted a pencil and we knew we wanted to have high quality products”, Stephanie explained. They went on to find a small, specialized, family-owned Italian manufacturer for their pencil. “They’ve done an amazing job – both with our product but also in developing their process. We know exactly where its coming from, which was really important to us.”
So how do you actually get a specific shade of pencil or lipstick produced? Once you’ve found a manufacturer, you can provide them with a Pantone colour or shade references from anything: fabrics, art, books. A good manufacturer will match it and you can build off from there. You can also send a blacklist of ingredients that you don’t want to be included in the products. The manufacturer takes all of those inputs and produces samples.
Since Camille and Stephanie knew exactly what they wanted in terms of shades and undertones, it made the process of providing feedback to the manufacturer easier. Their previously acquired industry knowledge also helped them understand elements like – adding more silica makes the formula more matte or adding titanium dioxide gives it a whiteness.
In addition to shade selection, they were extremely thoughtful about the make-up of their product. Camille explained, “a big thing that was a challenge with the pencil is that we wanted it to not be too drying on the lips. But if it was too creamy, it wouldn’t work well as an eyeliner. So, we had to find a middle ground that worked well for both so that we could get the versatility we wanted.”
Product Creation: The Gloss
Their gloss formula was developed in Toronto by some chemist friends; they were able to coordinate a swap with them: Camille and Stephanie developed a brand launch plan for the lab in return for product development for 19/99. Stephanie highlighted how valuable this was: “they were able to make a formula for us that we probably would never have had access to unless we had our own lab.” After several iterations, Stephanie and Camille were able to get the gloss exactly as they wanted.
Although people may default to using the gloss on their lips, it can also be used on cheeks and eyes. As for what inspired the eyelid application, Camille explained how it was reminiscent of a Vaseline trick their moms used to do. “Both our moms used to use Vaseline on their eyelids before they had makeup to make their eyes shiny. So, I used to do that before I had any makeup – just put Vaseline on my eyelids as eye gloss.” The cheek application was also well-thought through: “We wanted something that you could wear on top of makeup.” Camille illuminated, “You know when you do your skincare routine and your skin looks all dewy, and then you’ll put some foundation on, or maybe powder, and that dewiness is gone? We wanted something where you could bring back that shine that doesn’t add any colour or sparkle. But instead, it’s just that dewy glow.”
They noted that one of the biggest challenges in developing the high-gloss product formulation was around minimum order quantities. They fell in love with an ingredient that shipped in large drums, with one drum being enough to make 50,000 units. Typically, a manufacturer would require all 50,000 units to be made as a minimum order, but luckily, due to Stephanie and Camille’s strong relationship with their manufacturer, they were able to purchase the ingredient on their own and have the manufacturer make smaller batches. Camille outlined, “Since we’re just starting out, we want to keep our orders small to test the market. It’s a big investment to create something completely new based on minimum orders. And without retail orders, it doesn’t make sense to just buy 50,000 units.”
Experimentation & Inspiration
When asked how she started experimenting with products and application, Camille emphasized how she’s always loved makeup. “I remember my mom took me to Shoppers Drug Mart in grade seven to buy me makeup because she didn’t want me to go on my own and purchase something terrible. So, she took me to the Guerlain counter and bought me a set.” Despite this, Camille found herself experimenting anyway. She continued, “I remember being in summer camp in grade eight wearing full purple shadow. And I remember my camp councillor – an older man – asking me if I always wear that much makeup. I said – ‘yeah!’.”
Rather than watching YouTube tutorials, Camille would follow the industry closely, reading trends in Vogue and exploring runway beauty looks, and she continued to play around with products. She remembers seeing red eyeliner for the first time on Pinterest and explained, “I looked for a red eyeliner but couldn’t find a good one. So, I just bought a drugstore lip liner and used it on my eyes for a long time.” Despite always playing around with different looks, her curiosity for beauty products isn’t something she’s “consciously thought of”.
Stephanie described her own approach as “gentler”. “I’ll put red on my cheeks and eyelids, but I‘ll do it with my finger. I’ve always been more bare-faced, but it’s fun to try different looks if I’m going out.”
While the founders play around with product in their own ways, it’s clear that they both love experimenting. Camille gave a good reminder that “experimentation doesn’t have to be crazy” and Stephanie followed with, “For us, it’s kind of intuitive to play with product in a weird way. I’ve been putting a circle of the pencil on my cheeks and then blush over top and blending it in to see how it reacts with different textures.”
19/99 first launched with a red precision pencil (Voros) and the clear gloss. The cofounders curated the precision pencil collection with six colours, but are releasing them one by one so that they can tell a story with each launch. “We started with red because we felt that red really told the story of ageless, timeless beauty.” Camille continued, “It’s one of the earliest shades of lipstick known – I think Cleopatra wore it. It’s traditional but also a statement.”
A common element that came up as the cofounders interviewed women over the months prior to launch was “women felt that after a certain age, they were invisible.” In response to this, Camille and Stephanie thought “red really is a colour that says, ‘I’m not invisible’. It’s also around your mouth, so it makes people pay attention to what you’re saying.”
Red really is a colour that says, ‘I’m not invisible’.
I asked them for their thoughts on the idea that red is sometimes viewed as sexy. Camille shared, “My mom loves red and wears red lipstick almost every day. But she won’t wear red clothes because she feels like it’s not appropriate. It’s weird because she doesn’t really believe in that but somehow, she still falls into it. We create all these boxes on how to look and act in different situations, but who decided that? Why is red inappropriate in certain circumstances but okay for a dinner? There’s nothing offensive about a red lipstick. It’s a colour.
“Try it, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to wear it. So, I think again with the brand, we didn’t want to just break down the idea of ‘age should not define how you present yourself’ but also, we wanted to break down this idea of appropriate and we just don’t understand why some colours have a certain connotation.”
In managing through COVID-19, Camille noted that “mask wearing will be a challenge for deciding what products we focus on.” She’s been wearing red lipstick a lot at home, for Zoom calls and for filming tutorials, but she acknowledged how the prevalence of mask-wearing in the short-term may result in an increase in people “focusing more on playing up their eyes”.
As for how they want to see the brand in five or 10 years, Stephanie highlighted, “I think for us, we essentially want the conversation to get to a place where age is no longer an interesting thing to talk about. Because it’s just not relevant. One’s age doesn’t create any sort of definition or boundary for how you’re represented.”
20 Questions with the Co-Founders
How do you start your typical day?
Stephanie: With coffee.
Camille: Workout, usually.
When doing your makeup, primer or no primer?
Stephanie: Moisturizer, but no traditional primer.
Camille: I only wear primer on days where I’m going from morning to late night, or if I have an event or something in the evening and I won’t have time to go home in between.
Do you have a favourite makeup remover?
Camille: I use Bioderma Micellar Water. You can buy a large version at Shoppers.
Should people clean their makeup products (eg. the pencil)?
Stephanie: I think if you sharpen the pencil, it’s fine. But definitely clean your brushes. And don’t share mascara or you can get sties.
Any advice for your younger self?
Camille: I was always very quiet and think I’m less quiet than I used to be. It wasn’t because I was self-conscious, that’s just the way I am. But I think I would have pushed myself to speak up more.
Is there anything you recommend that might be a common makeup ingredient that people should avoid?
Camille: Anything with fragrance oils or essential oils for skincare – they’re really irritating. It depends how sensitive you are but I think there’s a misconception between natural cosmetics and skincare versus synthetic ingredients. Synthetic ingredients can actually be okay for your skin and better for people that have sensitive skin. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean better. And essential oils are a big reason why people have reactions with natural skincare.
Stephanie: I cannot use all-natural skincare. I don’t even bother anymore. I’ve tried everything and it just doesn’t work for me.
Wine, beer, cocktails or other?
Stephanie: My cottage
Best beauty advice you’d want to give people?
Stephanie: The thinking that makeup comes off. Just have fun.
Camille: Drink water!
Anything that you wish you were good at?
Do you feel like you had to compromise on anything in your product development?
Stephanie: I kind of felt like we found a good mix.
Camille: Our point of view on beauty is also that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I mean we obviously want performance and for the products to be versatile, but we also believe makeup should be touched up. It should be lived in, not tattooed on.
Do you have a favourite outfit or piece of clothing?
Camille: I have a pair of boots that I have three pairs of and they’re exactly the same. They’re expensive but they’re my boots for life. So, I’ve worn one pair and resoled them like five times. Then I bought a backup, but my backups aren’t looking as crisp as I want them to. So, then I bought a third pair and I haven’t worn those ones yet.
Stephanie: Camille loved them so much that I got them! I have this jacket that I actually convinced one of my sisters to buy, since I had no money at the time. I made her buy it because it was so beautiful. And then she had a baby and said it was so impractical – it’s an embroidered jacket. So, I was like ‘oh, I’ll buy it from you!’ It’s my favourite thing.
Anything that you’ve learned the hard way?
Stephanie: Oh my gosh, everything!
If you could make a documentary about anything, what would it be?
Camille: It would be something I want people to know more about, but I don’t have a topic yet!
When do you feel most inspired?
Camille: When travelling and immersed in an unfamiliar culture or place.
How do you feel like going to all-girls high schools that didn’t allow makeup impacted you & your views on beauty?
Camille: I definitely think it played a role in me wanting to wear make up outside of school. And I also think that with any private girls’ school, there’s a bit of conflict between empowering women to be leaders of tomorrow but then also keeping tradition through things like making the students wear white dresses at graduation.
Stephanie: I get the point that it’s supposed to make you more focused on what you’re doing rather than focusing on your looks, but then it’s also squashing any sort of creative individual expression through how you present yourself. One of my good friends felt that our school didn’t prepare us well for what it’s actually like in the real world – it isn’t equal, women do not get ahead and she felt the school should have told us that we’re going to have to work 100X harder than any male.
Lipstick or eyeliner?
Lipstick or mascara?
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Name a beauty product or brand that you love, other than yours.
Camille: We’re both obsessed with Surratt. Everything is made in Japan and it could be so much bigger than it is if people knew about it, but they’re very quiet.
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