Getting the hottest look without harming animals or your skin is all in a day’s work for Amy Kauler and Phil Rasmussen, Brisbane owners of the vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics Sugar Venom.
Words: Jas Rawlinson
While many cosmetic companies still test on animals, this husband-and-wife team won’t be having any of that. Sitting down one afternoon at Kettle & Tin in Paddington, Amy and I chatted about Sugar Venom, her thoughts on ethical business, and how her husband feels about being the test model for their products.
Tell us a little about how Sugar Venom came to be?
Well it all started about a year ago now. I’ve always been an animal lover myself, so I’ve always tried to find products that aren’t tested on animals, and that are vegan friendly as well. Another facet to wearing makeup is that I’ve always wanted to try and make better choices for my skin. It’s something that I’m wearing for eight to 10 hours a day, every day, so I’ve always leant towards the mineral makeup.
Putting those two things together, I found that there was a gap in the market for a brand that was geared towards a younger demographic, but also encompassed those virtues of being compassionate, and promoting eco-friendly products as well. I find that so many mineral companies in Australia are geared towards an older demographic – like Nude by Nature and other such companies. It wasn’t fun and funky and edgy. That’s basically where we thought there was a very specific niche, a gap, and we wanted to make something; so we did! We started chipping away at a brand, coming up with ideas and formulating products in Australia with a chemist.
When we started our search [for a chemist] we were looking up all these really silly terms (laughs). We had no idea what we were doing. If we were to have gone down the route of selling Chinese makeup it would have cost us peanuts, nothing, but there’s the ethics side of it. Being able to find companies that are reputable, that make sure they maintain high standards of social responsibility – and to their workers – is very important to us.
Can you share a little of the creation process for your products?
The biggest thing with making your own [makeup] is that it’s a long frigging process! When I originally started, I thought, “Oh, what’s involved? You just go to a chemist, you say what colours you want, what you want in it, and bang! You’ve got a product”. It does not work like that. It takes months and months of development, testing, back and forth waiting, trialling; it’s such a long process. When you put your name to something you want it to be 110% correct.
Definitely. You want to be proud of it.
Exactly. We also wanted to make sure we had that balance between function and being mineral and eco-friendly. We trialled pretty much every mineral product on the market in Australia and we found that so many of them just didn’t have the functions that we wanted. Such as, they would come off after two seconds, or they would be too grainy. We knew what we wanted, and to achieve what we wanted took a while, but we’re finally there and we’re really happy with the product.
A lot of brands often use toxic ingredients or animal products to achieve a glossy or longer-lasting look. How do you achieve the same results without taking that approach?
Our chemist works with us to try and find natural alternatives, but also alternatives that don’t have beeswax or animal products. So [for example], instead of using beeswax we try and find plant-based waxes. We try and find whatever organic and natural oils we can as well.
Before starting Sugar Venom, what were some of the most toxic and common ingredients you would see in mainstream makeup – in particular, lip products?
OK, so number one would be parabens; they’re in so many products. Number two would be, surprisingly, formaldehyde. BHA is another concerning ingredient that’s in a lot of lip products. And another other one, which is huge in a lot of traditional makeup and also mineral products, is FD&C colours. That’s basically the colour that allows lip products and their colour to last longer in mineral makeup; it’s something that’s really been a battle to avoid. We’ve been very interested in releasing a Matte lip paint – which is obviously a really hot thing in the market – but we’ve searched high and low and tried all sorts of avenues testing with our chemist, and we just can’t develop [one] that doesn’t a) contain chemicals, and b) contain FD&C colours to make it last.
It’s quite a lengthy process by the sound of it?
Yes, but when you choose to go natural there are always huge limitations. That’s why as a brand, we’re not against traditional makeup – I just think you need to treat it as if it’s junk food. It’s not something that you’ll eat every day, but you can have it every now and then. If you put it into your body every day, eventually that cocktail of chemicals is going to affect you.
You certainly have a beautiful makeup range. What are your favourite products are so far?
[One of] our newest line of products is our eyeshadows – we’re really excited about those. They’re really gorgeous and they contain completely pure, natural ingredients. We’ve tried to find colours that are really fun and funky. You can put them on and they shimmer at different angles. I also really like our lip balms; they’re completely natural and contain only eight ingredients. We also have a mascara that is really fabulous; it’s water resistant and has incredible volume as well.
Your husband is also a big part of Sugar Venom. Have you ever used him as a test model for your eyeshadows?
If you need photos of my husband in various makeup and poses, I have many. Yes, he is my guinea pig with all my makeup (laughs). Phil has been hilarious. He knows absolutely nothing about makeup – he didn’t even know what lip gloss or lipstick was – he still barely knows, but he’s been crucial to the business. Because of his background in e-commerce he has been really paramount to making this happen. He manages all of our stock, the back end e-commerce, the website and everything to do with the technical side. I focus on the front end; making the products work, the product development and the marketing.