Meet three siblings who are bringing cultural awareness and diversity to the beauty biz—one nude lipstick shade at a time.
In an era of makeup collections with 40+ foundation colours, representation within the beauty industry shouldn’t be a “nice to have”—it should be a must. And while many brands have started investing in a much-needed spotlight on diversity when it comes to their product offerings and shade ranges, some seem to completely miss the mark when dealing with inclusive campaigns.
The feeling that accompanies not seeing your own reflection in mainstream media and beauty—especially when society has already labelled you a minority—can have a powerful impact to say the least. Just take it from Pakistani-American sisters Aleena, Aleezeh and Naseeha Khan. After all, their U.K.-based cosmetics line, CTZN Cosmetics, was born out of how they felt about being excluded from big-name beauty ads time and again. “That’s when you actually realize ‘I’m not there,’” recalls Aleena. “Brands were aiming to be inclusive, but they didn’t have a Southeast Asian model. There was a middle-brown skin tone, yes, but it was never Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian—never our demographic.” And the repercussions can be, well, downright soul-crushing. “You then feel like you’re less important than another person,” she adds.
Fuelled by frustration and an urge to push for greater inclusion and cultural understanding, the trio set out to start their own direct-to-consumer cosmetics label, even if they didn’t necessarily have a hero product at the get-go to put them on the makeup map. “At first, we were just thinking of our own experiences,” says Aleena. “We knew for sure how we felt as women of colour within the beauty industry, and we knew we wanted to be inclusive.”
This was all back in 2017—a banner year for positive strides toward diversity thanks to the successful launches of wide foundation ranges. (Hello, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna.) It was also a time when the matte lip (liquid in particular) was still going strong. (Cue Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kits.)
Soon it all clicked for the sisters: a diverse range of modern matte nude lip colours that encompassed everything from warm peach to deep terracotta, from rich plum to fudge brown and plenty of other complexion-enhancing hues. Reminder: The colour “nude” isn’t just a single shade of beige. “We saw inclusivity with foundations but not really with nude lipsticks,” says Naseeha.
Launched in May 2019 and recently available in Canada, CTZN Cosmetics’s cruelty-free lip collection, dubbed Nudiversal Lip Duo, consists of 25 double-ended sticks featuring a wild mango butter-infused matte lipstick on one end and a pigmented lipgloss in an identical nude hue on the other. The shades are organized alphabetically on the company website, and each is randomly named after a beloved city the globe-trotting Khan sisters have visited. The trio really put their all into getting the Nudiversal Lip Duo shade range on point: They surveyed over 200 people on SurveyMonkey, asked beauty counter staff about top-selling lipstick shades, spent hours on YouTube watching vloggers and beauty tutorials and vetted multiple test samples at their manufacturer. And since the collection’s debut, the Khan sisters have gone on to expand CTZN’s range to include five vegan nude lip liners and a “no rules” multi-purpose balm (available in clear and iridescent pearl) that plays a variety of roles including lip balm, highlighter and eye gloss. “Anywhere you want to add shine, our Globalm is for that,” says Naseeha.
Establishing a strong name (CTZN) and an even stronger tag line (“For every CTZN of the world”) during the brand-building stage was also key for the California-born, Dubai-raised and ethnically Pakistani sisters. “The name came from us feeling like we don’t just identify with one part of our culture or identity,” says Aleena. “I have never felt Pakistani enough to just be Pakistani, and I’m not just American. I feel like other people, in their own way, can relate to not just feeling like one label or word. We wanted to create this community where we’re embracing one another.”
That “all together now” spirit has been translated into a blog on the CTZN site—a platform to help educate customers about other cultures around the world, like the Philippines, Tanzania and Egypt, to name a few, through video tutorials cleverly named “Cultutorials.” “Someone tells you about their culture while doing their whole makeup routine,” explains Naseeha. “It’s just a fun way to learn through beauty.”
Makeup isn’t just tied to females, and neither is CTZN: The brand actively aims to serve all gender identities and expressions through its muted blackand- white packaging. Having Kyle De’Volle, a London-based fashion stylist and LGBTQ activist, as a member of the squad also helps this trio execute their gender-inclusive agenda. “Keeping our team diverse keeps us in check,” explains Aleena. “Running things by Kyle is really helpful.”
So, what’s next for this refreshing cosmetics brand on the come up? “We’re actually developing red and berry lip colours for all skin tones; we’re ‘nuded’ out, but it’s the same brand ethos,” laughs Aleena.