Since Jessica Assaf pointed out in 2015 that the beauty industry is primarily run by cis het white men, not much has changed in the ranks of corporate beauty, even though companies pledged their “support” for #MeToo and posted black squares on social media to show their “commitment” to Black Lives Matter and diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging initiatives.
Our beauty rituals, including grooming and if and how we wear cosmetics, are at their best a vehicle to let our truest selves shine, giving us autonomy to style ourselves in self-love. However, the cosmetics and beauty industries at their worst are lethal. They are the perpetuation and propagation of harmful, unattainable beauty standards.
The LGBTQIA+ communities are at the forefront of revolutionizing the way in which we look at grooming and cosmetics by fearlessly breaking norms and creating a social movement that enables every member of our society to benefit from less restrictive, less oppressive ways of expressing ourselves.
Queer-owned brands like Fempower Beauty are at the core of change, healing the harms of the beauty industry with luxury products and services that affirm and uplift. I had the opportunity to chat with Fempower Beauty founders Christina and Alexis about their company’s values and the future of their brand.
Anita: Tell our readers about Fempower Beauty.
Alexis Androulakis, Co-founder: When I sat down in 2014, to get ready for my first ever date with a woman (spoiler alert: it was with Christina, my now fiancée and confounder of Fempower Beauty), I genuinely had no idea what makeup to put on my face. I sat there almost dumbfounded that I didn’t have the first clue as to how to present myself as a woman who liked women. Given that tiny window of opportunity that random Sunday night in April, post a few successful Tinder convos, I still had no idea how to present myself. I skipped lipstick entirely because I thought it was something “lesbians” didn’t do. In so many ways, this experience and conversation that it sparked on our first ever date was the impetus of Fempower Beauty before we even knew it. The soul and energy of changing the way society communicates with beauty, reclaiming and reshaping a beauty narrative which is FEMPOWER was born that very day.
At the time when I swiped right to Christina, my sexuality was shifting, and I thought that this meant my identity had to as well. I had ample training, both culturally and societally on how to impress a man, or follow the social cues that men find “attractive.” In case this needs to spelled out, bigger lips, bigger eyes, cat-like black eyeliner, contoured cheekbones, and every single blemish concealed to perfection. As if a pimple or wrinkle could make or break the relationship. Society grooms women heavily, almost trains them to please men and, historically, no one ever stops to think how much more useful it would be to teach all genders to impress themselves. Granting humanity the freedom to explore their identities and express themselves freely beyond heteronormative and Eurocentric beauty standards.
Christina Basias, Co-Founder: My name is Dr. Christina Basias, and my background is education and technology, specifically education and the way it pertains to digital spaces. This is what my doctorate is in as well. I’m formerly a high school English teacher, and I made sure the environment I set for my students was comfortable and safe for them to express their identities and ask curious questions. This is rooted into the ethos of Fempower Beauty, where we are for all people who wish to express themselves and heal from the harms of the beauty industry.
We don’t realize how much the media and what we consume conditions us to us feel bad about ourselves. We don’t realize how much companies monetize on manipulating us we are not enough, so we can give them more. Here at Fempower Beauty, we want to educate people that you are enough, and to rewire the way you perceive yourself and your own needs. It’s unfair that we are brought up in a society that makes us believe we need to “conceal” and hide who we are, just as unfair that we are brought up in a heteronormative society that lacks representation. Once a person truly learns this and understands it, you just can’t take it off anymore. It becomes a superpower you are so tuned into where you see through the bullshit being fed to you, and the ways we are being manipulated right in front of our noses. To me, the manipulative nature of society, as ran by the heteronormative patriarchy, is permeated in all industries, but truly shows itself worst for women, queer, and femme communities in the beauty industry. We have the opportunity to shape a new reality with Fempower together.
Fun fact: we are getting married July 27th 2022 in Crete Greece. We are both from the same island there (Crete), hence getting married there. And, we are actually both geographically from the same part of Crete from a city called Chania. Our tinder radius was set for 30 miles and we were both about 28 miles away from each other – me in Brooklyn and Alexis in Jersey. In Crete, however, our families live less than a mile from each other. We very much do consider ourselves twin flames, and Alexis is still in my phone as my Twin flame from the early days of us dating.
Anita: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of Fempower Beauty? What motivated you to start the brand?
Alexis: I guess we have the Tinder gods to thank for Fempower, or else Christina and I would have never met! On a more serious note, it wasn’t until the Women’s March in January post Trump election that we saw the collective power of women rise up and we were truly inspired. It was such a deeply rooted energy of fear that suddenly was exploding with the desire for change. And beauty is just as deeply rooted in the narratives and paramount in discussions that shape marginalized identities. Women were told how to act, think, talk, and most importantly LOOK for centuries. Fempower is about reclaiming every aspect of femininity and shatter outdated stigmas and standards.
Christina: Alexis’ background is in product development, and I remember her sharing her desire to start a beauty brand on our first date together. When we started Fempower, we took the best of both of our worlds: my English teacher brain and Alexis’ beauty experiences, and birthed Fempower Beauty. We played with the story of Genesis and wanted our brand to read like a critical piece of literature by asking larger questions meant to entice thought, all off of the story of Adam and Eve. Some of these questions read like “What if Adam took a bite out of the apple first? How would life be different?” We also launched art alongside each lipstick shade, and incorporating queer and trans identities. We saw some mega success with our journey at the time, but with COVID reframed our narrative towards mental health and affirmations. Alexis, who is also a former makeup artist, began providing beauty healing coaching services via our trademarked Affirmation Application. She took some of our top customers on a private session, and taught them how to put on their makeup in ways that made them feel good about themselves. This is now a framework vetted by diversity equity and inclusion experts and mental health experts, incorporating blends of breathing techniques and spirituality.
Anita: How are Fempower products different from other beauty brands?
Alexis: Every Fempower product comes with an educational story designed to encourage change of systemic oppression and spread awareness around self love and acceptance. The packaging and the website will come with the “lesson” and/or story in a way that is deeper than a shade name. It’s not a campaign for us, its a constant of the brand. We are here to educate on every level, including how to use your product, and why.
Christina: Our products are developed by Alexis, who is an expert product developer and also does this for big companies and celebrity clients as well. In many ways, she is the heartbeat of all the beauty brand and innovation. She has a team of Fempower interns from both FIT and NYU who she trains and teaches them how to evaluate product. Together, they create our beauty products, testing them on a variety of skin tones genders, and always the newest innovations from the best labs around the world (because this is what Alexis does for a living!)
Other than our formulas – which are cruelty free, gluten free, and vegan – we also have deeper purpose and intentionality behind each product. Since our launch, we have been a brand rooted in education. This motif continued when we partnered with Muslim and queer historian Blair Imani, known for teaching people how to get smarter in short periods of time.
Anita: I started off as a writer for dapperQ prior to becoming the owner and publisher. While there is a need for queer masculine style, as a femme who never saw myself in our work, I did not see shifting dapperQ’s focus to be inclusive of femme fashion as taking away space from queer masculine identities. However, I received a lot of backlash for expanding the spectrum of style we covered. We were accused of lacking any real agency to consciously decide to wear lipstick, heels, fake eyelashes, and skirts as a means of communicating power and authority. The argument is that we have been indoctrinated to wear these oppressive artifacts and that, try as we might, the meaning behind said artifacts cannot be transcended. Can you talk a bit about how you define queer femme style and beauty and what makes it transgressive?
Alexis and Christina: These artifacts are only oppressive if we let them be oppressive, and if we don’t reclaim them in a way that frees society from control in any facet of our identity–queer or otherwise. The very nature of queer masculine style celebrates self expression outside of gender norms. Stifling queer femmes from that same experience to reinvent the very norms that were once oppressive feels counterproductive. It is in these very confines and boxes that we lose the power to be anything beyond these archaic cultural beliefs. They place limitations on folx who see beyond the binary and definitions that were once provided to categorize queer folx and consequently stifle the very freedoms we fought for, and in many ways still fight for. There needs to be freedom of expression to destroy these stigmas as they are in themselves just as limiting to some as the very idea of heteronormativity. Fempower is about the very essence of this freedom and the reclaiming of every standard of beauty. Queer masculine styles can also freely express themselves and amplify their masculinity with makeup as well. We need to broaden every spectrum from identity to sexuality and beyond. Fempower is the cultural pillar that provides a place to start, and our community is welcomed to spread its wings and define evolution together.
Anita: How would you describe the Fempower aesthetic? What inspires your beauty products and marketing messages?
Alexis: The Fempower aesthetic is light and airy and emulates the freedom we crave to birth inside each of every person that stumbles on our brand. This freedom is about untying yourself from anything that does not serve you emotionally or spiritually in your life to allow you to evolve and grow beyond where you find yourself at that moment. We do this through beauty rituals and products that serve as daily reminders of this mission and message.
Fempower is a safe space.
Christina: The Fempower aesthetic is self care via color cosmetics, namely lipstick (for now). We usually think of self care brands as minimalistic and skin care, but here at Fempower we encourage self expression in whatever makes you feel good and – most importantly – powerful. And, we help you associate Fempower with your most powerful self care affirmations. To heal the beauty industry, we are all about marrying makeup and modalities of healing, and reframing the way we talk to ourselves when we look in the mirror. We have our affirming mirror decals all over our apartment. Ideally, the Fempower lipstick is applied while repeating your favorite affirmations, or the affirming mirror decal, while you apply your lipstick. Throughout the day, the decals are meant to serve as a reminder to take a breath, pause, and center ourselves back into affirming and uplifting energy. If you are out and about, shuffling and finding your Fempower lipstick should remind you of the same thing, a symbol of your own power. Our brand is meant to allow you to reflect center back to the energy of your powerful self, the moment the lipstick is applied.
Anita: How would you describe your personal everyday beauty routine?
Alexis: Makeup has been a vehicle to express my mood for as long as I can remember. The earlier days of my artistry were heavily influenced by color and the expression of as much color. In many ways I now know that the color I was using was the best way I could respond to all the parts of myself I would systematically silence. Today that is a theme that stays alive, only the format of and medium of color has shifted slightly. A bold lip and liner is my signature. Fempower Beauty is the only lip color I will wear, along with the occasional lip liner from a strong color beauty brand. The eyeliner is as bright and bold as I can find, stepping away from the eyeshadow obsession of my youth and leaning into graphic eyeliner. My beauty routine serves as a daily supplement to my meditations. I have created a service we deliver called, the “I am Beautiful” coaching service where I walk clients through a feature by feature technique that teaches them how to apply their makeup, while affirming themselves. You will be bronzing and building your boundaries at the same time. And as you may imagine, I practice what I teach and preach daily.
Anita: Who or what has most influenced your beauty aesthetic style?
Alexis: My gen z advisory board! AKA my team. We are all warriors together exploring new frontiers and uncharted territory in our business and web3. We do TikTok trend reporting in house, and competitive launch analysis and honestly they have fempowered me to reconnect with my inner goddess and my alias, queen fire. For me it was never a person that drove my style as much as a feeling or many feelings, and now TikTok as whole ignites emotions in me and I have my team to thank for introducing me to trends and encouraging me to explore.
Anita: Who are your icons in the cosmetics/beauty verticals?
Alexis: There are iconic beauty brands, and iconic beauty moguls, that have shaped the industry. Present day the Donni Davy and the team behind Euphoria invited us to fall in love with expression and art again. We can’t talk about iconic beauty in the 2020’s and not talk about Euphoria. In general though, t I have grown up to dislike the way the industry exists in that it has perpetuated folx feeling really bad about themselves and their appearance. I want more for the icons and moguls. I started my career on the sales floor as a makeup artist and in almost eight years of service, never once had a person look in the mirror and naturally say something nice about themselves. That has entirely to do with every piece of media and marketing we have been subject to for decades. Hence why Christina and I started Fempower in the first place. The real heroes are the people I see walking around the farmers market in my neighborhood every Saturday, wearing exactly who they want to be on their bodies and faces. Exhibiting a sense of style and expression that is so beyond any beauty icon. They are their own icons. I see the same trendsetters working at Trader Joes, Sephora, or just walking the streets of New York. They are icons for taking risks in and exploring who they are beyond any standard, binary or norm. They are Fempower in their essence. We hope to cultivate so many more of them through community and change!
Anita: What is the one piece of makeup you cannot live without?
Alexis: A bold lip. It’s my voice, and reminds me every time I reapply that I can affirm myself and my power to change. My favorite affirmation when putting on my Fempower is I AM limitless. Try it for a week and see how you feel. We call it the Fempower Method. You’ll never apply without affirming again.
Christina: I’m with Alexis on this one – someone asked me the other day what is something that got you through this year and I said “lipstick and mindfulness!” And this is really the marriage that we teach people about through our Beauty Coaching service. Couple an affirmation with a bomb loud lip color, BOOM – I truly feel unstoppable.
Anita: What can we expect next from Fempower?
Christina: Alexis and I truly believe that the brands of the future will be the ones who provide true value to their community by involving them in utility and experiential offerings. This is a motif that is very much alive in the web 3 community (for readers who might be unfamiliar, this is the community that encompasses crypto, NFTs and the Metaverse). As we explore this new iteration of the internet with web 3, Fempower is actively working working with ISG in Somnium Space, building the future of beauty in the metaverse via 2D and 3D experiences. We see web 3 as the opportunity to build anew and not abide by the antiquated structures of the past that no longer serve us. As two lesbian women, we want to make sure that our presence in web 3 is built for identities like us and our queer community in mind, and anyone who has histpricaly been marginalized against. The truth is the physical current world we live in is flawed and layered in complex history of manipulating the masses (i.e. making us feel bad about ourselves to make money). In web 3, we have an opportunity to build a new reality together in web 3 with anyone who wants to join us for the ride. Truthfully, we can’t manifest our reality unless we visualize it – we will build the space where you can see it and experience it.