When novelist and perfumer Tanwi Nandini Islam decided to expand her Brooklyn-based botanical beauty line, Hi Wildflower, into cosmetics, she had a specific goal in mind: Make it work for women of color. Accustomed to the fruitless search for shades that suited her own brown skin and seeing how limited options were for women like her while traveling, Islam set out to create vibrant lipsticks and nail polishes that work for women of color.

“There’s a lot of high pigment color inspired by skin tones that are often not represented in any sort of campaign,” Islam describes the nine matte lipstick shades and 12 nail lacquers launched this month.

“It used to be that you’d see an advertising campaign or a television show and white characters or white models would be the way that everyone could ubiquitously identify with that person, and I think that that is changing now,” she tells ELLE.com, “So in terms of what makeup looks appealing to people, I think there is much more of a lean towards these darker hues, mauve, purples, pinks, that are a little bit more pigmented.”

The lipsticks are long-lasting, all natural, and formulated with moisturizing ingredients like sunflower seed oil, shea butter, and bees wax, so you won’t get the dryness that some mattes give. The line features every hue you’d ever need from the super deep, vampy purple “Black Datura,” to “Gulabi Gang,” a hot pink inspired by the saris worn by an Indian women activist group of the same name, to “Hawaii Sun,” a rich orange-red. “Mexican Malva” and “Amber Dusk,” are true standouts for getting the ever-elusive “nude” lipstick shades spot-on.

“It’s kind of a traumatic struggle, I think, for women of color,” Islam mused over other “nude” shades and how they’d either wash her out or look ashy or “ghostly.” “When I was creating the palette for these lipsticks, I was really interested in a nude that had this pink-ish brown undertone that would match a variety of dark skin types,” she said.

Islam also wanted to make sure her campaign for the new lipsticks and campaigns, “Beauty and Brains,” spoke to women of color. Instead of models, she cast artists including Deva Mahal, a soul singer, Divya Anantharaman, taxidermist behind Friends Forever Taxidermy, Desiree Godsell, an international salsa dancer, and Alexandra Kleeman, an author.

“I wanted to highlight the fact that this is really for us. Adorning oneself is not just something you do for another person or for a boyfriend or a lover,” Islam said, “It’s about highlighting the makeup and how it makes you feel. How you get this sense of beauty and empowerment from adorning yourself. And it’s not only to cover up—obviously we’re covering things up—but it’s to be noticed and be seen and not to be afraid of being seen. It’s just real women looking really badass and beautiful.”


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