Jackie Aina Won't Hide The Beauty Industry's Ugly Side — Even If It Costs Her
“Brands have no choice but to step it up.”
You don't have to be a subscriber to know who Jackie Aina is. Even if you aren't one of her 2.4 million fans on YouTube, or her 333,000 Twitter followers, or possibly one of the 983,000 people who like her posts on Instagram, you've definitely seen her meme'd on the Internet. The professional makeup artist and U.S. army veteran, who started vlogging in 2008, made a name for herself by being refreshingly real in a world of unrealistic reviews and sponsored posts. And it's paid off.
"With beauty, people expect us to be mean and superficial. I like to be myself," Aina tells me, adjusting her Gucci fanny pack while sitting on the edge of a sofa in the greenroom of her Too Faced Born This Way Foundation launch party in Los Angeles. "I used to put on this 'customer service' Jackie persona because that's what I thought people wanted to see. Then, I started to do the dumb stuff I do off camera. I had to stop taking myself so seriously and just freaking relax, dude."
Once Aina stopped fronting, the big brands started noticing — including Too Faced. Which is why Jerrod Blandino, the brand's founder, tapped the beauty guru to help expand its Born This Way foundation range. Aside from her giant personality, Blandino and Aina's viewers also respect the vlogger for her honesty — good and bad — especially when it comes to makeup shades. When Tarte unveiled a disappointing line of foundations earlier this year, Aina called them out for an "erasure of a whole spectrum of people." The same went for KKW Beauty's "dismal" concealer range, and IT Cosmetics' lack of inclusive complexion products.
While some people might call it throwing shade, Aina insists her intention is never to bash brands; it's about holding them accountable and speaking up for the consumers who don't have her same platform. "I would hate it if someone turned on their camera and ripped me to shreds just because they could," Aina says. "At the same rate, I'm saying something that truly is a way to 100 percent better serve the needs of your customers... and when people take it personal, that still sucks."
Aina has also influenced some of her fellow influencers, including Alissa Ashley, to speak out even when the issues don't directly affect them. "Alissa is lighter than me, and the lack of representation isn't necessarily her problem," Aina says, referring to the Tarte Shape Tape foundation review they did together. "It shows that she's an ally to the conversation. To see someone like her, who does have a better time at makeup counters and has more opportunities afforded to her than I do, being vocal is super helpful for everyone."
When I am critical, I always think that it would really suck if the brand took it personal and if that ruined our relationship. Has it ever happened? Yeah, it has.
And while Aina's followers love her honesty, the same isn't always true of beauty brands, which can directly impact her income. "When I am critical, I always think that it would really suck if the brand took it personal and if that ruined our relationship. Has it ever happened? Yeah, it has." But for brands who can take Aina's critiques and learn from them, there's a major opportunity for collaboration — which is how the Too Faced partnership started.
Last September, when Aina voiced that the Peach Perfect Comfort Matte Foundation needed a shade expansion, Blandino listened and immediately brought her on board. "That type of criticism doesn't come from a place of having an agenda," Blandino says. "I knew she could do the Born This Way launch better than I could. She worked her ass off, did the research, and developed these shades with the full authority of my team."
With Aina's help, Too Faced launched 11 new shades of Born This Way foundation this month. The new hues, including nine designed by Aina, feature a variety of undertones suited for nearly everyone. And while some consumers might not bat an eye — especially with the new 30-and-up offerings from Fenty, Flesh, Dior, and Colourpop — for Aina, this expansion is one with heart and true intention. "Most of my audience comes to me as the authority for dark-skinned beauty. I didn't want to let anyone down," Aina says. "I didn't want to come out with shades just for the sake of coming out with them. I genuinely looked at everything that existed in the line, and I tried to identify where the gaps were."
It's safe to say that her fears were for nothing: As of now, Ganache (the darkest shade in the line) is already sold out — directly challenging the long-held lie that deeper foundations don't turn a profit. And with Aina's seat at the table, other brands have no choice but to step it up. "I think the Fenty effect impacted what brands do, and what we as consumers deem as acceptable," Aina says. "The best feedback I've received is from my viewers who say that I've been talking the talk. Now I'm walking the walk, and that's what feels so good."
Travel and accommodations were provided by Too Faced for the purpose of writing this story.