Back in 2016, when we were all a whole lot younger and slept a whole lot better at night, Katie Sones was a self-proclaimed directionless college junior working her way through a graphic communications major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Now, having graduated this summer, Sones is the founder of the socially-conscious viral makeup brand Lipslut, which has raised more than $200,000 for charities and organizations directly impacted by the Trump administration.
"I was watching Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and I noticed so many of my friends were sharing lists of places to donate to," Sones says. "I knew a lot of people my age weren’t donating because they didn’t feel like they could give their money away. But then, at the same time, they thought they could afford to buy makeup. So I decided to bridge that gap by creating a product that could give back."
Working after school in common areas across campus — and admittedly during class, too — Sones launched Lipslut's website and Instagram that same month. She did her homework to find a quality lipstick formula people would actually want to spend their cash on, met with manufacturers abroad who provided the materials she needed, and began designing the outer packaging. By January of 2017, Lipslut's very first product was born: a mauve-y pink liquid lipstick succinctly named "F*ck Trump" decorated with Warhol-esque images of President Trump with his lips coated in hot pink lipstick. Sones shipped it from her dorm room.
When shoppers checked out on the Lipslut website, they were asked to vote on which organization or charity they'd like 50% of the profits to go to — including Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women, and the Human Rights Campaign — with the winning organizations receiving the money on a rolling basis.
Within months, Lipslut had sold thousands of tubes, according to Sones, and positioned itself at the front of a new movement in beauty: Brands using their influence and accessibility to do some good. Shortly after Lipslut's launch, The Lipstick Lobby, which has a similar company ethos and donates 100% of net profits to causes like ending gun violence and Planned Parenthood, emerged on the scene.
It was a welcome disruption to the beauty industry, a place where political statements by brands are a rarity. "I know a lot of brands really don't take hard stances on political and social issues," Sones says. "But I think we’re showing the makeup industry that consumers want to support a brand that has an opinion. It feels pressing."
Since its launch, Lipslut has managed to stay painfully relevant through a wave of social and political tragedies. In August 2017, after a white nationalist gathering turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, Lipslut launched a new campaign that offered Charlottesville as a charity option for its F*ck Trump lipsticks. If selected at checkout, Lipslut would then donate 100% of proceeds from that sale to Charlottesville victims’ medical bills, BLM Charlottesville and the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP. It raised $40,000 in four days.
Then when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke late last year, and hundreds of women came forward with reports of systemic abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry and beyond, Lipslut launched a new liquid lipstick — F*ck Hollywood, a bright red with proceeds going to organizations working to end sexual assault. "It’s whatever we feel strongly about and what we see other people feeling strongly about," Sones said, when asked what missions her organization chooses to support.
In June, Lipslut again found another cause worthy of using the brand's massive reach. When Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policies called for family separations at the border, Lipslut announced that shoppers could now choose "Fight Zero Tolerance" upon checkout of its F*ck Trump lipstick, and 100% of earnings would go to helping migrant families.
The response was immediate, and after a few weeks, Sones says Lipslut raised $100,000 for families separated at the border. After the campaign finally ends on Thursday, Sones will begin talks with Las Americas, KIND, The Florence Center, ASAP, RAICES, and Al Otro Lado to strategize how her company can best allocate the resources.
Luckily for Lipslut fans and the charities it benefits, Sones sees a future in which Lipslut is far more than a handful of lipsticks, but an entire cosmetic line. "In the beginning I didn’t know if I could do it, but the hardest part was telling myself I could," Sones said. "I think the most important lesson I've learned is that if you want to make a difference and feel strongly about something, then you can make a difference."