Rana Good is the founder of Naïra NYC. A writer for publications such as Forbes, Travel + Leisure, Coveteur, Mens Journal and others, she created her own platform celebrating women of color.
Sisters Aleena, Aleezah, and Naseeha Khan founded CTZN Cosmetics to revolutionize nude lipstick and create an inclusive beauty shopping experience. CTZN currently holds the widest nude shade range on the market with 25 colors, and their matching tool ensures that you will definitely get the right hue. Not an easy feat in the oftentimes challenging search for nude lipstick! Their brand also champions cultural awareness through and followers get to know women from around the world, learning about everything from local beauty practices to what’s the best thing to eat there.
We spoke to the Khan sisters about their award-winning brand and what’s next for CTZN Cosmetics.
You launched CTZN because you felt there was something missing in the market, can you tell me more about that?
We’re Pakistani; born in Los Angeles and raised in Dubai. We’ve always struggled with the question “Where are you from?” and our grandma told us, “Just say you’re a citizen of the world.” We loved what she was saying and it stuck with us when we developed our brand.
Being South Asian, we noticed that we didn’t see a lot of people that looked like us in beauty campaigns. On top of that, we were constantly mixing makeup shades to find the right match for us because brands weren’t getting our undertones correct. We thought it shouldn’t be this hard to find the correct shade. The ethos of the brand was built through our experiences. It became this moment in which we wanted to empower all citizens of the world in the beauty industry, no matter what you look like.
Can you tell me about your shade matching tool and how consumers can use it?
It’s called ‘Get Matched’ and it’s on our website, ctzncosmetics.com. It’s a tool where you pick a skin tone that’s similar to your own, then after that, you get a few questions that are really tailored to finding your perfect nude match. In the end, we’ll match you to one of our 25 universal shades with the perfect lip liner that pairs with that lipstick. A lot of research and testing has gone into this shade matching tool.
We ask questions like “What’s your natural lip color?” or “What’s your undertone?” so we’re able to give that one strong suggestion at the end. Once we match you to your shade, we have a virtual try-on feature where you can see the shade on yourself. We guarantee you’ll find your perfect shade!
What challenges did you face as a lipstick brand during the pandemic?
It was definitely hard, people were wearing masks and not that interested in buying lip products. However, at the same time, people were spending more time at home and still wanted to find the perfect shade. Our matching tool really helped with that since it’s something that’s not that easy to find. It also gave us a chance to work on our community since we couldn’t do things like popups or meet people in person. We focused on ways to be more digital-friendly and pushed us forward in ways we might not have thought of if there wasn’t a pandemic. On Instagram, we have a function where you can DM us a selfie with no makeup and we respond with the perfect shade and liner. The pandemic also pushed us to do schedule 15-minute Zoom consultations to help us suggest your shade. We did Instagram Lives with makeup artists and really got to know our CTZN family. There were blessings that came from the innovation we had during the pandemic.
You create ‘Culture-Torials’ on Instagram, what are those exactly?
We really want to enhance cultural awareness through beauty. The Culture-Torial is one way to bring that to life. While someone does their makeup, they teach you about their culture. We’ve had one about Nigeria, Algeria, France, Egypt, Pakistan and more. It’s one minute on Reels without traveling somewhere or meeting someone, we make sure you still have access to learning about cultures around the world.
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How has your brand since recovered and grown? What are some of your favorite milestones to date?
The big one is CTZN being in Nordstrom — it’s a department store we grew up going to so being there is huge for us. Another great moment is a viral TikTok we had, you don’t understand how powerful the platform is until you experience this first-hand. Mikayla Nogueira posted a review of our lipstick and we had such a huge increase in traffic to our site. We got coverage from WWD and E! Online after that.
We’ve also won two major beauty awards in Allure, one in 2019 for ‘neutral lipstick for dark skin tones’ and in 2020 for ‘neutral lipstick for medium skin tones’. It was amazing for us to get recognition for medium and dark shades and we’re hoping to win for fair skin tones soon too.
You have a big celebrity following, can you tell me who loves your brand?
Hillary Duff followed us and told us she wore our shade on her wedding day. She’s a fan of the shade Barbados. We gifted her more of our collection and she posted it, which was so exciting for us because she was basically our entire childhood. SZA wore our lipstick in two of her music videos; she has a go-to combo, Los Angeles mixed with Cinco. It’s cool that she has her clear favorites. Ciara, who’s so amazing, loves Cinco and Demi Lovato has worn Dubrovnik.
What’s next for you product-wise?
We’re going into color and working with an influencer. There will also be a give-back aspect with a tie to India and Pakistan. Stay tuned for more in February!
What advice do you have for women of color looking to launch a beauty brand?
Do not lose sight of your mission, as you grow and people get involved or your team expands, it’s easy to lose sight of the mission you had. Make sure everything is still aligned with your initial idea. Also, if you create something for women of color make sure to consult with women from various demographics because there’s so much to learn. There are so many stories to be shared and so much feedback to receive when developing products.