As the perception of beauty becomes more diverse, two Amazon alumni have ventured into the beauty industry with their Singapore beauty startup 4meglam, filling a gap mainstream brands have failed to cater to.
Online beauty entrepreneur and Amazon alumni Yeeli Lee found the idea for her e-commerce store out of frustration. “I once visited a Sephora in Paris to shop for foundation and I ended up leaving with a very tanned face because it was the preferred look in France,” she laughs. Tired of both a lack of makeup options for the diverse group of women she identified with across Southeast Asia and a makeup industry governed by a narrowly defined notion of beauty, she felt bombarded by images centred on faces that were white, slim, and flawless. 4meglam, her socially conscious online beauty store launched last year, setting out to reshape the region’s mass-market beauty industry.
“There’s an underserved market in Southeast Asia, one of the most diverse regions in the world, especially for women with deeper, olive skin tones,” begins Yeeli, speaking from her observations learnt from studying millions of consumers during her stints as a director at Amazon (China) and at the shopper insights agency PRS In Vivo. “We saw brands talking down to consumers, telling them that they needed to be slimmer, paler and perfect to be beautiful. To me, it felt like they were selling ice to Eskimos,” she declares.
So she set out to change that. “I am done pretending that certain shades don’t exist or are not important enough to serve,” she states. Fueled by this fury, her natural entrepreneurial streak, and what she saw as a huge, untapped market, Yeelie launched Singapore-based 4meglam in September 2018. Together with her colleague at Amazon, Christopher Polzer, the idea was to upend the mass beauty market in Asia, blasting open it’s narrow definitions of beauty and bringing hitherto unavailable, cruelty-free brands to the market in a direct to consumer model that allowed for competitive pricing.
Born with an ambitious goal, 4meglam has recently been named one of the top 8 startups to watch by JUMPSTARTER. Nonetheless, growing the business hasn’t all been smooth – especially when it came to securing funding. “It’s a well-established fact that women get a small fraction of VC funding, only 10% of VC funds end up going towards startups with women in the founding team,” says Yeeli. “My tip is to be proactive, lean in, and to collaborate. A rising tide lifts all ships, so work closely with communities that are dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions, which includes WHub in Hong Kong, Lean in, and She1K, a newly set up women angel network,” she advises.
From its premise to its products, 4meglam’s identity is built around inclusivity. “It is the key driver for our brand,” says Yeeli. “From prices to shades, to being kinder to people of all shapes and sizes, as well as to our planet.” Riding a wave started by Rihanna, who launched her groundbreaking, 40-shade-strong foundation range with Fenty Beauty in 2017, the products they stock have been chosen for their wide representation of skin tones. With 9 brands so far, including millennial-adored American imports Milk and Glossier (currently not available anywhere else in Asia) Yeeli’s team personally curate an offering that is cruelty-free and toxin-free. They have also just launched their own range of products, debuting their first lipstick collection earlier this month that comes with all the hallmarks of the 4meglam ethos – in refillable and reusable packaging, with a minimalistic design that holds true to its promise of sustainable beauty.
Putting their focus firmly on their customers’ genuine experiences, 4meglam tests all its products on focus groups to check their effectiveness. “Even if people get the right shade, a formulation might not work in the heat and humidity in Southeast Asia,” explains Yeeli. “These products can turn 2 shades darker, or worse, more orange, by noon due to oxidation,” she says of the issues her consumers can face thanks to factors that global brands simply don’t consider. It’s just another way in which they want to put the realities of people’s lives at the heart of what they do. “We have to stop talking about inclusivity as a strategy or a trend,” she says. “Inclusiveness is not a trend but an expectation,” and an expectation worth meeting. “Millennials will soon outnumber baby boomers in a decade. They respond to relevance, authenticity, and diversity – which is what they see in their communities.” And this is what 4meglam wants to represent – not a trend, but real life, and the world the way that it is.