The Trader Joe’s of Cosmetics


Every woman has an “I Got Screwed by Overpriced Cosmetics” tale, and here’s ours: While on vacation in Paris last year, by virtue of either our poor math skills and even poorer French, we unwittingly succumbed to a $60 jar of face moisturizer. Later, we rationalized the purchase by telling ourselves that this exorbitantly-priced face grease would take our pores places never before imagined, even provide us with that coveted Julie Delpy/French milkmaid glow that makes Ethan Hawke-types remember our pretentious ass nine years later. For months, we massaged that lotion into our skin, waiting for the magical transformation to take place.

It was utterly amazing. Our skin looked and felt . . . exactly the same.

It is for routinely cheated consumers like us—and how many, many of us there are here in New York—that Korean cosmetics company Míssha
exists. Founded with the philosophy that cosmetics don’t have to cost a week’s rent to be of excellent quality, Míssha cuts out the middleman and sells its own line of cosmetics and skin-care products at prices equivalent to or less than drugstore brands. Welcome to the $5 facial cleanser, the under-$6 foundation. Over five hundred of the products Míssha actually offers, from lipstick to cleansing masks to nail polish, cost less than $5. “Consumers are misled that they have to spend a lot of money to buy foundation and cosmetics,” says Michael Fong, Míssha’s director of retail development. “As far as raw-material costs for all these products, it’s quite low.”

Fong claims that Míssha—which opened stateside branches in Midtown and Queens last year and one in Soho last month—is able to keep its prices so low by spending comparatively little on advertising or bottling, what luxury cosmetics brands pay out millions of dollars for each year. Virtually none of Míssha’s products come in glass containers; from the shampoo to the eye shadow to the foundation, everything is packaged in a no-frills plastic tube. And Míssha devotes so little to advertising, we wonder if it’s actually to their detriment—most New Yorkers don’t seem to know of the company’s existence.

We hope they will soon. We’re looking at the Trader Joe’s of cosmetics here: While the presentation might not be fancy, deals abound. Despite pricing in at a modest $5 a pop, the fruit-scented scrubs, lotions, cleansers and masks don’t suffer from the classic Bath & Body Works conundrum—in other words, the ones at Míssha actually smell like real fruit. At the Soho location, we purchased a $6 blush that seemed to be quite similar to a $30 one we once bought at Fresh, and we picked up a water–based makeup primer that we’re convinced should be sold next to all pressed-powder foundations. The $1.50 mini bottles of nail polish last as long as they need to—it’s one summer’s worth. While the makeup counters here won’t impress—the testers have seen better days—you can probably go crazy and splurge on the $6 blush and $5 lipstick sans any elaborate in-store makeover. And though it’s a little alarming how the facial cleansers and scrubs are purportedly suitable for all skin types, it’s worth a $6 drop to see what actually will and won’t work on you.

Ironically enough, Míssha’s success here will depend on how comfortable consumers feel paying so little for cosmetics and skincare. After years of successful marketing indoctrination from the beauty industry, most of us don’t just hope that an expensive face cleanser will be better—we trust that it will. We really want to believe that if we pay more we’ll get more. But are the colors really that much more appealing? The consistencies and textures so much smoother? The chemicals truly less harsh? Let’s face it: It’s no huge secret that you’re paying out because Scarlett Johansson has been hired to promote the brand and a top industrial designer brought in to re-envision the packaging.

Strange how the company’s big sell—over 500 products for under $5—could deter as much as intrigue.

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