At the age of just 20, makeup artist Mata Marielle’s work can be spotted in British Vogue, Paper and The Guardian to name a few big publications. On her very first beauty shoot, she realised that the industry’s lack of diversity behind the scenes was problematic. Mata was expected to create nude, glowy looks on black models for a commercial campaign but when the brand provided her with makeup shades in pink and beige, she was perplexed – and she spoke out.
"I said, I can't create nude looks on black models using this product because pink isn't our nude," Mata told Refinery29. "It's going to look super ashy. You would think people would know by now that pink isn't a nude for everyone. So, I went back to my kit. I had a clear tube of gloss from a black hair shop and foundations in all the models' skin tones. I mixed clear gloss with foundation to make a lip gloss in their nude, put them on the models and they looked amazing. Then I was like, cool, I want glowy skin now. I found a gold shadow and scraped a bit of it off. I mixed this in with Vaseline and gloss and then I started dabbing it on the models' faces, focussing on their high points, and they looked incredible. Everyone was very impressed and when they asked what I used, I simply said, 'Just a little something I made'."
The lack of nude makeup for people of colour led to the creation of Mata Labs. Launching this week and stationed at WAH London, alongside Keash Braids and BAMBROWS, it's a cruelty-free unisex makeup line of glosses, highlighter and pigments suited to darker skin tones. We got in touch with Mata to find out what we can expect from her debut brand and exactly how she plans to change the game for people of colour.
How did you go from mixing glosses on set to launching Mata Labs?
I was so determined to make the brand mine. It's all well and good mixing products but they were never really mine, so I did some research into how to make makeup. I tested it on myself, friends and clients, and when people started asking where it was from, that’s when I knew I was doing something right. The first products I made were the nude glosses in three shades. They span from a very dark brown to medium and light – they're called Muva's Trio. The one thing I can't stand is sticky gloss, so they are made with a lot of shea butter and oils.
The Rouge Crème is a cream blush that you can apply to your cheeks, lips and eyes. I mixed the red with a darker pigment so it doesn't look too harsh on dark skin. I’m also launching the Skin Glow Highlight, which is a liquid highlighter that you dab onto your skin, and the final product is the Viscosity Tar collection inspired by Grace Jones. This consists of three creams in glittery, navy blue, a jet black and a gold that you can use on your cheeks, lips and eyes.
Your makeup range spans genders, why is this important to you?
It's very important for me to create something where everyone is included and accepted, where everyone is allowed to utilise the products and look the way they want to. I have amazing drag friends in London and my friend Sussi is so good at painting his own face. Everyone loves to do their face. I love doing my face. Men also appreciate makeup. I like that they're not afraid of what anyone else thinks. I feature a man in my campaign wearing the highlighter and he looks absolutely incredible. He's masculine, but he loves the highlight because it makes him look poppin'! Guys want to look poppin' too, let them glow, let them look cute, let them have their time to shine!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I've been quite artsy for most of my life but when it comes to makeup, I would say the only person that really inspires me is Pat McGrath. I absolutely adore the way she works. She has honestly paved the way and everything that she creates is iconic. We've both had a very similar upbringing, so I feel like the fact that she's so creative now comes from the fact that she wasn't back then, if that makes sense. She's just able to fashion the craziest looks ever and completely smash it.
As a young black woman in the beauty industry, what are some of the challenges you've encountered?
I’ve learned that I have to go into most situations with complete confidence. I have to own my shit. I’ve been on shoots where I'm literally the only black person there and I'm the youngest person, too. Once, I remember being on set and everyone was talking about age. When I told them I was 20, the mood in the room completely changed. Some people are very threatened that I'm doing so much at such a young age, while others praise it. But as women of colour, there's always someone trying to tell us about ourselves. People will assume that I'm angry or antisocial, when that's not me. I love having conversations with people, I love meeting people because it's literally my entire job.
As soon as I walk on a shoot, I look at the models and they look so relieved. They come up to me and say, "We're so glad that you're here," and I'm like, "Don't worry because I've got you." It's so sad that these models, these young girls, have their confidence knocked so easily when a hairstylist or a makeup artist doesn't know how to work with black skin or black hair. They end up thinking something is wrong with them, when it's actually the makeup artist or the hairstylist that needs to be able to work across all skin tones and all hair types. A lot has changed in the industry but I find it hard to appreciate these changes because it's happening too slowly.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
There should be a lot more opportunity at school for kids to pursue things in creative industries. There need to be more workshops and more internships, more opportunities for people of colour. In this industry, white people are privileged. They're able to get into places like Vogue because they know people. I am literally the only creative person in my family and the only way I was able to get to where I am was by going out every single day, trekking along to all these events, meeting people who were often very rude to me, trying to network. I'm not after any sympathy because at the end of the day I'm very happy – I'm able to work really hard and show results. I don't need to depend on anyone else. I believe that as black people, we have to work really hard at such a young age in order to just get to a good position.
What goes in to creating a beauty brand from scratch?
I failed science at school so this was very hard for me. I had no idea what all the words meant. I didn't know why brands put this and that inside lipstick – I had no idea. So I had to do my own research and then figure out what's good, what goes into what and how to mix certain ingredients. I basically had to teach myself and I was so determined to make it mine. The formulas changed quite a few times. As I went along, I tried them on myself and my friends – Mata Labs is cruelty-free! Yes, there were a few hiccups when I first started, but for someone who failed chemistry, I've done pretty well. I've nailed this formula. When people started to pick up on the products, they kept asking, "What is that? How do I use that? Where do I get that from?" That's when I knew I was doing something right.
How does it feel being stationed at WAH, alongside Sharmadean, Keash and BAMBROWS?
It's so inspiring working alongside them because they are such incredible women. They're also so funny. It's motivating being around so many women who are doing so much good. This is how it's supposed to be. These women have businesses and they're able to come together and literally transform people with their skills. That's amazing, I'm like, yes, you do your thing with your talented self. You go make this person look amazing. They absolutely adore my work, too, so I'm happy to be able to work with them.
After the launch, do you have plans to expand the line even further?
Absolutely. My thing is skincare. Foundation is on the cards somewhere, but that's not my priority, because at the end of the day everyone always brings out foundation and they bring out 50 colours and only give three colours to black people. What I'm going to bring out next is skincare for everyone. I'm making a formula but I'm not trying to cure your skin and get rid of your acne. It's all about healthy skin. I love makeup but I really feel we need to look after our skin, so the makeup that we apply looks great, too.
Catch Mata alongside Keash and BAMBROWS at the Mata Labs pop-up, hosted at WAH Nails every Saturday until 13th October.