The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 hit cosmetics especially hard within the beauty industry. Yet, as the world swirled with uncertainty, a Puerto Rico-based makeup brand prevailed.
“The pandemic was beneficial for us because everybody was on their phones, and all of a sudden, online business was way more relevant,” Melodié Rodríguez, founder and owner of By Melolops, told Latino Rebels.
A collection in collaboration with Cutcreaser, a Salvadoran makeup artist based in New York, caught the attention of the makeup tutorial world on TikTok and Instagram. The collection dropped on November 6, 2020, and sold 500 units within the first hour–selling out completely in less than two weeks. The eyeliner brushes in the collection became a staple within the online beauty community, featured regularly in graphic eyeliner videos.
“I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is real.’ It was insane,” Cutcreaser recalled. “The one thing that really hit me was when NikkieTutorials used my brushes. I was like, ‘Girl that’s crazy.’”
Rodríguez doesn’t know the exact number of brush sets sold since the release, but she estimates the number around 5,000 and has had around 20 restocks.
Makeup is one of the fastest growing categories in prestige beauty, according to Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry advisor at NPD Group. Jensen tracks makeup sales globally in department and specialty stores like Sephora and Ulta. She found that cosmetics had the largest annual dollar volume of sales in 2021, at $7 billion, compared to $6 billion for skincare and fragrance.
“Our industry is super resilient, and consumers turn to us as an escape and as a way to satisfy that emotional need,” Jensen said.
Rodríguez, a high schooler at the time, launched her makeup brand about a year before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By Melolops stocked neon-colored water-activated eyeliners, but they didn’t sell. Rodríguez said it was like people didn’t know what to do with them.
“When the pandemic hit, the trend of doing graphic liners hit, so it was like a bomb exploded,” Rodríguez said.
Eye makeup remained a popular option while beauty sales slowed during the early days of the pandemic. “Eye makeup always performed the best in makeup categories like face, eye, and lip because of the fact that they were really the only things you could see under a mask,” Jensen explained.
Selling out the neon Water Ink eyeliner was just the beginning for Rodríguez. Her collaboration with Cutcreaser put By Melolops on the online makeup market radar.
“We thought, ‘Who would be perfect to do a collection that has to do with Water Inks? Well, it has to be the graphic liner queen herself: Vanessa,” Rodríguez said, referring to Cutcreaser by her real name. “She was the one that popularized the graphic liner trend. I feel like if it wasn’t for her and her videos, it wouldn’t have been as huge of an explosion as it was.”
Cutcreaser broke through the algorithm by sticking with bright colors and painting sharp, neat graphic liner looks beyond the classic cat eye. Her videos lasted no longer than 30 seconds, gliding through each step seamlessly.
Vanessa’s videos were amongst the bunch that established an unspoken standard on Instagram and TikTok. Illuminated by direct sunlight, each video consists of tight shots of the face interspersed between shots of makeup products.
Cutcreaser used eyeliner for the first time when she was 13. Her curiosity for makeup came from seeing pictures of her mom and aunts in the ‘80s. In the pictures, her mom had recently immigrated from El Salvador.
As much as she wanted to attempt the winged eyeliner look her mom and aunts wore in the photos, she hesitated. She felt too young to wear makeup.
“My mom was like, ‘No, try it,’ and so I did,” Cutcreaser recalled. “Ever since, I never stopped doing makeup. I never stopped doing eyeliner specifically. Eyeliner was like my safety net.”
Apart from researching beauty sales, Jensen also observes consumer attitudes towards and usage of beauty products. Latinas are more likely than any other ethnicity to say that makeup brings them joy, according to a consumer study conducted last month by NPD Group.
Jensen told Latino Rebels that Latinas generally over-index on the emotional benefits of makeup and like wearing it to feel feminine, sexy, or confident versus wearing it to even out skin tone. She has analyzed beauty consumer studies at NPD Group for almost two decades and has noticed that Latinas have a higher usage of eye makeup compared to other ethnicities.
Flicking a little black line on her eyelid awoke the dormant makeup artist within Cutcreaser. She taught herself by watching YouTube makeup tutorials. Most of the popular “beauty gurus,” as the community called them then, didn’t look like Cutcreaser, but that didn’t discourage her.
“I was still trying to be like them, but I never could be. So I just decided to be that person for myself, and I started creating makeup tutorials,” said Cutcreaser.
She never posted those early videos. After three years, she started posting pictures and videos of her makeup.
“I was so embarrassed because high school is so rough because people were like, ‘Oh my gosh she wants to be a YouTuber,’ like they’re mad annoying, and I just kept posting anyway,” Cutcreaser said.
Cutcreaser’s friends and family motivated her. They told her they could see her as a YouTuber.
“My sisters would be like, ‘Use hashtags.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that’s gonna do for me. I’m not gonna go viral guys, like, get over it,’” she recalled.
Cutcreaser has never stopped posting since 2018. From that point on, she took it seriously.
She went viral a little over a year later when she recreated a makeup look from HBO’s Euphoria. The teenage drama prompted a Gen Z makeup movement when it premiered in 2019—from glittery tears streaming down the cheeks of one of the main characters played by Zendaya, to glossy lips and iridescent eyeshadow. (The bold and unruly style created by Doniella Davy, the show’s makeup department head earned Euphoria an Emmy for outstanding contemporary makeup in 2020.)
Cutcreaser’s recreation of one of the rhinestone cheerleader looks, as seen on Alexa Demie’s character Maddy, caught attention on Instagram. The post went from a couple hundred likes to 50,000.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy.’ I didn’t know people actually looked at my work, and ever since that point, my following just skyrocketed,” Cutcreaser said.
While Cutcreaser committed to her work as a content creator, Rodríguez devoted herself to By Melolops and dropped out of her senior year of high school as her business took off.
To this day, Cutcreaser is amazed by how popular her collaboration with By Melolops became came.
“I was not expecting so many people to be interested in it because brand collabs happen every now and then,” she said. “But I was a small creator then, so I didn’t think it would reach that many people.”
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal