written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Be fabulous to eachother, the beauty industry is one of constant evolution… like that cute little Pikachu your exploring with, eventually you’ll think of evolving the little guy into a Raichu. And with geek culture becoming more prevalent in modern society, it’s no surprise that stylish and fashionable want to go geek. One such brand that we’ve had our eyes on is Espionage Cosmetics.
Ever since we first posted about their nail wraps kickstarter, we’ve been enamored with Jaimie and her vision for a geeky boutique. Just because you like to wear beautiful makeup, doesn’t mean you have to suppress the geek inside you that still sobs uncontrollably when Wash dies in Serenity.
I took a few moments out of Jaimie’s day to ask her a bit about Espionage and what’s next!
Justin Prince: Espionage has made waves in the commercial beauty industry since its inception, proving that geeky folks also want to be incredibly fabulous; looking back, did you ever imagine you’d come this far?
Jaimie: I have a tendency to dream big. It’s part of who I am… but even I had no idea what this would look like. I had no real clue how big it would grow and in which directions. It’s been an honor to see Espionage Cosmetics go from “The Little Company That Could” to “the Little Company That Does”.
JP: As far as us here at Lifted Geek, we first heard of you when we were signal boosting your nail wraps kickstarter, but tell us a little about how Espionage Cosmetics started.
J: Ah the memories! I believe you LG made our favorite meme of that KS… It’s hanging in our office somewhere we loved it so much.
As for Espionage’s origin story: I was a makeup artist at the time and I was already mixing some of my own makeup in order to utilize oneproduct in many ways on a set. I got it in my head that my own line of makeup would be magical and so I then spent 2+ years watching the market, doing research, creating recipes for the first “Everything Shadows”. My friend Sandra jumped on board as soon as she heard what I was doing and eventually became my partner. She wholeheartedly believed in me before I had any proof that what I was saying was right.
Since that time, in the last 4 years we have gone from a room in my house (smaller than most of the booths we have at conventions) to a beautiful office in Tacoma, WA and a storefront downtown. We employ and contract other nerds like us on a regular basis and we are creating more options for fandom based employment that allows people to take what they love and fuse it with how they make a living.
JP: Who were some of your biggest influences when developing your product line?
J: Funny enough, almost none of them were in the beauty industry. Don’t get me wrong I have a lot of companies and artists that I adore with their aesthetic and bad ass work ethic but I felt like most of what Espionage ended up being built on is a feeling of inclusion and sometimes the beauty industry isn’t so great at that if you aren’t at expert levels. For the two years of scheming what the company would look like I was inspired by the creativity of flourishing nerds like me who were taking their love of comics, video games, and nostalgic moments in pop culture and making a job out of it. People like Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Chris Hardwick, Ashley Eckstien to name a few. Podcasts, blogs, vlogs, webseries, ect were where I steeped my excitement. Video games I played with my brother regularly, comic books my friends got me into, shows that the geek world collectively mourned when they were cancelled all ended up adding their flavor to what Espionage developed into.
JP: You recently opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Tacoma, WA. When did you realize that Espionage needed to expand beyond the “matrix” of the world wide web?
J: There are two reasons behind the brick and mortar store: 1) to offer an IRL encounter for people who won’t get to experience “Nerd Makeup” at a convention. Additionally to provide a place where nerd companies like ours would be curated together in a fun space and introduced to a new audience that may never see them otherwise. Our team of nerd misfits gets to travel all over the country and spend time at conventions. We get to meet and discover companies and artists that most people won’t. So the Geek Boutique offers the option of discovering. 2) Our shipping and receiving regular/wholesale orders as well as our new Subscription Box (that just wrapped up Beta phase and will launch publicly in December) have caused our needs for production space to go through the roof. The new Geek Boutique offers both of those options to us and so we made it happen.
JP: What were some challenges you faced when preparing to open a physical storefront?
J: There are a ton of learning experiences that we have ahead of us and I look forward to seeing what the Geek Boutique morphs into over the next year. The benefit we came into this retail situation with was our convention experience. A lot of small businesses like ours that start out online and then go into retail have to make the transition into the differences in “selling a product between online flash sales” and “an in person exchange.” Our crew of nerd misfits has had the benefit of talking about and selling our product to tens of thousands of people IN PERSON. We have seen all of the possible issues. Heard and answered all of the questions. Understood the bullet points that people really care about while being able to remove the ones no one is really interested in. We know what makes people’s eyes light up about our products.
JP: Given the landscape of makeup, more companies big and small are realizing that the geek market is an incredible demographic to make products for; how does it feel seeing all these major companies embracing culture we love?
J: It makes me happy. Because progress is being made. It’s obvious when we were telling licensors “Hey you should totally pay attention to our market (nerd girls)” we were right. Companies like Cover Girl don’t invest resources like they did in Star Wars unless they have data to back that kind of move up. That means the data is strong with this one.
JP: You and your team are some of the chicest geeks I know, how important was it that your people shared your initial vision for Espionage?
J: It was required. Because when Espionage started growing we didn’t have the option of paying anyone. We were living on hopes, dreams, and glitter at that point, but we did what we could with what we had. Only in the last 18 months has this become an actual job that pays bills. So passion and a love for the company out of the gate was required because it’s what kept us all going. Now our team is a small, but focused band of dreamers that have particular sets of skills they are polishing as we push forward. We get mistaken frequently for a company that is a lot larger than we really are that is because our team has learned to be hugely effective with very little. It’s something I am very proud of.
JP: So rando-dando… the name… Espionage… why did you decide that this has to be the name of your passion project?
J: Remember that 2 years of research, digging for information on products, and just generally lurking we did to create the company… Yeah. That J
JP: When did you think was your “we did it” moment? Any particular stories come to mind?
J: So many that I would feel like an ungrateful, a-hole, if I listed only one. Here are currently some of the best
Signing the licensing deal with Gearbox for Borderlands (one of my favorite games)
Getting the email from Kelly Sue Deconnick to collaborate for Bitch Planet nail wraps
When we more than tripled our first Kickstarter goal and more than doubled our second.
When we shipped more than 4k packages during a 9 month period from the company I only shipped 30 in the first year from.
When I got to write sign the first pay checks and commission checks to the nerd misfits that had believed me when I promised that eventually the late nights and craziness would pay.
When my mom calls me to tell me that her co-workers have been talking about Espionage in Nashville, TN J
Watching the constant flow of people that showed up for our Geek Boutique opening. It was a humbling and simultaneously pride inducing moment.
JP: Back to your physical are front, how do you feel the initial launch went? Did everything go according to plan or did you have to “adjust” a few things here and there?
J: It went spectacularly. I am so blown away by how well it has all gone. And nothing ever goes according to plan perfectly, but it always works out in the end. At Espionage we make it work. No matter how tired we are. No matter how discouraged. No matter what a massive undertaking something looks to be. We will always get up and make it work.
We have another event coming up on October 18th for Halloween and I am stoked to not only host more of the customers and glitter army at the Geek Boutique, but I am also excited about introducing brand new product like our Clive Barker approved Cenobite Collection. We are also adding around 10 different, new, nerdy, brands to our store front during that time.
JP: Any plans to open up more locations in the PNW?
J: Stay tuned J!
JP: While it’s evidently how clear being a geek influences your identity as well as Espionage Cosmetics… how does being from the great PNW factor into it?
J: I feel like being in the PNW has been a very large portion of how successful EC has been thus far. This part of the country is VERY big on supporting small business. On inclusion of all cultures, sexes, ideas, and creativity levels. I feel very lucky to have begun my journey with Espionage in a place that is so so so so supportive of people like me with crazy ideas always at the ready.
JP: Would you ever consider opening up shops in other cities across the US?
J: Hopefully one day!
JP: Some exciting things coming in the pipeline… tell us a bit about Geek Fuel…
J: We met the crew of Geek Fuel at Denver Comic Con. They are a rad, new, nerd subscription box that was mostly geared towards the guys in the geek realm. We had a talk about them being willing to add some items to the subscription that is specifically created for lady nerds. They were completely on board and even came up with great way to introduce the wraps in a fun to subscribers that it might not be their jam.
JP: Where do you see Espionage heading in the future? Perhaps seeing your product offerings side by side in department stores with big name brands like Smashbox and Shiseido?
J: That would be amazing and I hope one day the market acceptance of nerd culture is so accepted that an espionage line up next to Smashbox can happen. However, I think that what Espionage will end up being is not something I currently can define. It’s not going to end up in a place that I can put my finger on it right now and say “Oh yeah totally that”. Like I said earlier, I am excited to see what Espionage morphs into. How our market and plans form it.
JP: Aside from your own makeup, what other beauty brands do you adore at the moment?
J: Jeferee star’s liquid lipsticks are bad ass. Colour Pop is killing it with their price point and product. And Julep is brilliant with their creativity and product quality! Ko gen doh has THE MOST beautifully created skin care and HD products on the market. I have a lot of beauty crushes right now, but those are a few.
JP: Who in this industry have you not worked with yet that you’d love to work with?
J: Joss Whedon, Morena Bacaran, Illidan, and so many more.
JP: And finally, before we clear out… what would you like to say to our friends as a closing statement?
J: In the words of two very wise individuals: Be Excellent To Each Other!
JP: Wise words indeed! Thanks Jaimie! You rock my socks!
I love it when local companies can grow like this company has. Espionage Cosmetics continues to impress me every time I see them hit a new milestone! I feel blessed and privileged to have been there from its humble beginnings to becoming the shining star they are today! Make sure to follow these fabulous folks on social media and check out their main website! If you are in the PNW or find yourself in the area, I urge you to visit their physical location sometime!