“Designed by a redhead, just for redheads”

30 Apr

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All the makeup that I use comes from a company called Just For Redheads. It’s a small, relatively new company whose products are aimed at a niche market, so I decided to assess its standing as a “modern” cosmetics company through a Peissian lens.

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Peiss writes that “claiming authority through shared experience created a powerful link between producers and customers”[1] and that is certainly part of the marketing strategy of JFR, who slogan is “Finally! Beauty products designed by a redhead, just for redheads!”[2]. Like many of the female entrepreneurs who started cosmetics companies in the early 1900s and “often cited their own bodily trials and tribulations as the reason they had become manufacturers”[3], JFR uses its origin story to establish legitimacy with its customers: after losing a mayoral race in the early 1990s, a redheaded woman named Paula Pennypacker realized that she hated how she looked wearing makeup made for the mass market of blondes and brunettes. She then began to develop her own line of cosmetics to suit redheads like herself.[4] I know this story well, as do many other consumers, and our shared frustration with mass-market makeup products makes us eager to turn to this company that seems to understand our problems.

Once that initial connection has been established, JFR relies on word-of-mouth advertising for new customers, as it’s a mail-order company without a presence in any brick-and-mortar stores. It also doesn’t run any prominent ad campaigns, and unlike with most contemporary cosmetics companies, JFR’s corporate awards and (outdated) celebrity endorsements are tucked away. Many of the newly modern cosmetics companies of the 1920s and 1930s featured celebrities and upper-class women in their advertisements, but Peiss notes that most women relied on the recommendations of friends, neighbors, and saleswomen more than anything else. One Pond’s customer expressed the prevalent sentiment when she said that is was all fine and dandy for a queen to endorse the product, but that she “would be more interested if my next-door neighbor told me what good results she had had.[5]  Decades later, JFR seems to be taking that consumer perspective to heart: all of its “models” are actually just regular customers who submitted photos, and a series of customer testimonials is visible on every page of the website.

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Like practically everyone else, JFR emphasizes “natural” beauty through natural ingredients (the sub-slogan is even “Inspired by the natural beauty of Sedona, AZ”), yet they downplay any difference between redheads “by birth” and redheads “by bottle” (or “by choice”, depending on who’s talking). Further showing how “natural” beauty is based on natural-looking cosmetics as least as much as on natural features, JFR’s henna (i.e. hair dye) is marketed as a product that will “Safely Restore, Color and Condition Your Beautiful Hair”.[6] This description doesn’t line up with the early stance that there is a distinction between paints, which “[mask] Nature’s handiwork”, and cosmetics, which “assist Nature, and make amends for her defects”.[7] Instead, the same product is used for both purposes here: some blondes and brunettes use the henna to become new redheads, and some redheads use it to bring back their “natural” color as it fades—one customer wrote “I came into this world a redhead and vow to go out as one!”[8] Although the women themselves will always know what products they use, there is the sense, also prevalent in Peiss, that no one else needs to know how she gives herself that “natural” look (if that’s what she chooses to do).

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Even though JFR doesn’t match all the qualities Peiss identified in successful, early modern cosmetics companies (hello, internet age), a closer look at this contemporary company shows that customers still appreciate certain traits, like the idea of “natural” beauty, a sense that the company understands its customers, and the advice of their peers. When I was younger, I didn’t pay much attention to makeup and neither did my mom, but we are discovering it together through this sense of a JFR community; I wonder if people who use makeup from larger, mass-market brands feel any connection to others who use that same makeup.

[1] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 78.

[2] Just For Redheads Beauty Products, Inc.

[3] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 78.

[5] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 175.

[7] Peiss, Hope in a Jar, 12.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


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One response to ““Designed by a redhead, just for redheads”

  1. Nikki

    May 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    I can’t say I have this association with any beauty product company, but what it makes me think about is the fandom a lot of people have around products like the Diva Cup – you can’t read anything about it without a bunch of comments about how great it is, specific tips for use, etc. And honestly, my reaction is mostly to think that is great. I think it’s really valuable to be able to communicate about the products we use, and it’s one thing that makes the internet really wonderful for those with access to it. The comments I read about it online were just like the comments that people make whenever it comes up in person. But that’s a really interesting comparison for you to draw – I’m not sure I’d thought about it that way before.


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