MAC Trades Ugly Mistake For Beautiful Solution

By Selicia Kennedy-Ross

The night before my wedding three years ago, I learned the professional makeup artist I hired had canceled. Most brides know that the decision about what makeup to use for the big day is one of the most important of the event. I was in full panic mode when someone suggested that I go to the MAC counter in the morning and have one of the professional make-up artists apply my face. I was so happy with the results that I became a loyal customer to the brand.

MAC Cosmetics

Then late last month, I learned something that made me toss all of the MAC products I owned into the trash. The upscale cosmetics company came under fire for its controversial fall makeup line created by the fashion house, Rodarte, and inspired by the people and landscapes of Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.  The blogosphere exploded after beauty bloggers and journalists got a glimpse of the new line set to debut in September and its accompanying ad campaign, which appeared to cruelly exploit the region and its people. I too, wrote about my outrage at the Juarez-inspired line. MAC’S BEAUTIFUL MISTAKE Public pressure prompted both the Estee Lauder-owned MAC and Rodarte to issue dual public apologies and rebrand the new fall line by making changes to some of the names in the palette.  MAC has gone even farther since. Stylite.com and Temptalia.com both reported last week that the fashion house and the cosmetics giant have announced they will donate all proceeds from the product line to help the impoverished women of the region. http://www.styleite.com/beauty/mac-rodarte-charity/

Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy contend the line was inspired by the beauty of the desert landscapes and the women who work factory jobs in the area. It wasn’t the landscapes, however, that set off the firestorm of  controversy.  Many felt the cosmetics line made light of the poverty and violence that has plagued Juarez in recent years.  The area in and around Juarez has been the setting for more than 5,700 slayings since 2008 and the violence has escalated recently, largely due to the cartels and the drug wars.  Since 1993, the troubled region has also been the site of the brutal murders of at least 500 women, many of whom were raped, mutilated and tortured, their bodies often dumped in shallow graves in the desert.  Poverty is prevalent in Juarez and few employment opportunities are offered aside from the maquiladoras, factories that are fueled by cheap labor. Each year, these maquiladoras lure thousands of young women with the promise of work but in reality, offer low-paying jobs with long hours and little to no security for employees.  These women toil day and night under poor working conditions, often traveling alone through deserted areas to work, sometimes in the dark.   Many of the Juarez murder victims were women who worked these factory jobs.

In light of all this, the cosmetics line which is made up of pale shades including one with a grayish hue, streaked with red that resembled streaks of blood, appeared inappropriate. To make things worse, some of the products also carried such monikers as “Bordertown,” “Factory,” “Ghost Town,” “Sleepwalker” and “Juarez.”  But for many, it was the creepy ad accompanying the line that was the final straw. It featured models dressed like ghosts with dead eyes and a pale, deathly-looking pallor which reminded me of a corpse.  Given the violence that the women of this region face every day, along with their impoverished state which leaves them vulnerable to attack, such names seem tacky and awkward at best, condescending and exploitative at worst.

Sisters Kate & Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte

As a Latina of Mexican descent myself, to say I was upset at the line is an understatement.  I was furious. And filled with regret. As bloggers across the Web called for a boycott, I trashed all of the MAC products I owned, which was not the best economical decision but it was the most satisfying. Still, I wished I could go back in time to the morning of my wedding and use another product for the most important day of my life.

I was not alone in my outrage, however.  MAC and Rodarte both drew fire not just from the Latino community but from the general public, especially among bloggers. According to the beauty blog Colorlines.com, it wasn’t even Latino groups who were initially appalled by the line, it was the beauty and fashion bloggers and journalists who received the press kits. In fact, the popular mainstream beauty blog, The Frisky, was among the first to publicly question the appropriateness of it. There was even a list https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1knTaNYIB8xZvOisopRfMpn18AyFXgF_Eh2OAfKqwC88 of more than 100 bloggers who noted their concerns about the line.
Following the firestorm of bad press, both MAC and Rodarte initially issued statements of apology and announced that $100,000 from the line would be donated to charities to benefit the women of Juarez. http://www.hispaniclifestyle.com/articles/special-to-hispanic-lifestyle-m-a-c-%e2%80%99s-beautiful-mistake/
Then last week, MAC made another announcement – that ALL proceeds from the line would be used to create a charity initiative to benefit women in Juarez. Temptalia.com reported that representatives from both Rodarte and MAC met with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CONAVIM (Comisión Nacional Para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres), also known as the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women. http://www.temptalia.com/mac-to-donate-its-global-profits-from-the-mac-rodarte-makeup The purpose of the meeting was to solidify the details of the charity donations.
I don’t know whether this new charity initiative will truly make a major difference in these women’s lives and I do not expect it to magically transform the situation in Juarez. But I do believe that if these proceeds can help make even a few women’s lives a little bit easier, then something positive has happened. I also acknowledge that a cosmetics giant actually listened and responded to a public outcry as MAC executives no doubt realized the company’s image was tarnished enough by this colossal PR blunder to disturb its shareholders.
What I don’t know is whether or not I will ever buy MAC products again, from this line or any other because I’m unsure of how much of the “donated proceeds” will go toward “administrative costs” and how much will actually reach these women.  And MAC hasn’t exactly inspired my trust.  So instead, I will make a donation directly to an established charity I trust to use it for the right purposes.
Still, I know now that when someone buys a lip color or a nail polish from this line, perhaps some small good may come of it. I also know this controversy has raised awareness of the dangers facing the brave working women in Juarez and that bloggers, journalists and concerned women from all over the globe stood together to bring attention to this issue. I know that together they made a difference – and brought about a change for the better.

MAC / RODARTE AD

In the end, something ugly created something good.
And I know that there is beauty to be found in that.

Selicia Kennedy-Ross is a freelance writer and a journalist from Southern California.