WORKING VEGAN & CRUELTY-FREE - A CHAT WITH MAKE-UP ARTIST BILLIE McKENZIE
Vegan and Cruelty-Free - Those are the number one priorities Billie McKenzie sets when it comes to the products she uses at work - as well as privately.
The Make-Up Artist creates beautiful, natural, glowing looks for fashion, film, and music productions; having worked with companies such as Nike, Vogue Italia and many more.
We have been lucky enough to have had a little chat with her about her work and her developing process of becoming more sustainable.
How did you become a make-up artist? What made you go in that direction?
I think I have always been creative and at school, I enjoyed doing art and things like that, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so when I was fifteen I just started doing as many different creative internships as I could. I worked in the V&A, in Topshop, I assisted stylists and did loads of different things.
By the time I was twenty-one I had done at least one internship every year in a different creative field, and then just before I graduated university, I happened to assist a hair and make-up artist on a job. Just within one hour of being there, I knew this was what I wanted to do. So, it was quite a long process of doing loads of voluntary work to figure out what I was interested in, and then suddenly it just clicked.
How did you get into organic and cruelty-free make-up? Was that something you did from the beginning, or did you get into it later?
The first artist I assisted worked cruelty-free, a make-up artist called Justine Jenkins. Before I met Justine I had never heard the term 'cruelty-free' before, even though I had been vegetarian for a long time, and then vegan. Animal testing wasn't something that had occurred to me, I didn't think it still happened.
So, I learned a lot about it through Justine, and then I assisted two other artists who are interested in natural products. It just became something I adopted straight away because it was already a part of my life and it was just a way of informing myself more.
Was this a challenging process?
I think at first it was hard because where I studied at London College of Fashion, they would give you Mac products, so that's what you learn with. All the notes you are making about all the looks are like 'If you're asked to do this kind of look, you use this kind of product. If you get this kind of finish, use this Mac product'. So when I first left that course it was difficult. I was like 'okay, got some mineral foundations and I don't know, I'm going to have to play a lot with textures and try experimenting and mixing stuff to get the same finish'. But I found over the last few years skincare has come really, really far.
Organic skincare is so much better, just in the past five years of getting active ingredients and things that are fully recyclable and more sustainable. Make-up, it seems, has just got better as well. It's been a journey. Hopefully, there's still a way to go of getting products that are long-lasting but until then you just have to find ways of layering and experimenting to get products to last and get the finish you want.
On your social media, you show that you have started incorporating plastic-free and zero-waste products. Is that something you're trying to develop? How are you dealing with these aspects of sustainability?
I guess in my lifestyle I try to be completely zero-waste and plastic-free, which is easier said than done. Obviously, there are some things you cannot replace; credit cards and medication packaging, for example, can't be avoided. All my clothes are either second-hand or bought from sustainable brands, so they don't come with plastic. All the cosmetics I use on myself are zero-waste and refillable, as well as all the food that I buy.
I don't mind the cosmetics I use on myself not being super long-lasting but in terms of finding plastic-free, vegan, and organic things to use in my kit is more challenging.
In my professional kit the priorities are:
First that it's cruelty-free, then that it's organic. Obviously, if it works well and then if it's also plastic-free, that's a bonus. I look for brands that have refillable products because that is something that make-up artists do anyway, they decant things all the time. I found that lots of great brands are doing refillable products now.
I've managed to build quite a good relationship with the PRs of lots of these smaller brands and I feel comfortable enough that I can email them and say 'I love your products but would you ever think of making this blush refillable, have you got any plans to make your company more sustainable?' It's really great that I can talk to them about that.
Would you say you have three favourite brands that you could tell us about?
I have. For skincare, my number one has to be Weleda. I have been using it for so long. It's easily accessible, pretty affordable, their products I just think I cannot live without. I think they're amazing. I visited one of their biodynamic farms, just everything about them, they're the most transparent and amazing company.
I also really like Haeckels, which is a brand based in Margate who are really at the forefront of sustainability. They use mycelium packaging and seed paper, so you can plant some of their boxes and they will grow into wildflowers. They are just a great brand.
Bybi I really like, which is another British based brand. They have started a thing where you can now send back some of their products for them to reuse the packaging. They have packaging which is made from sugar, like bioplastic, and the products are all really effective and lovely.
For make-up, I think RMS should be number one. I've used them probably for about seven years, that's when I started using living luminizer. At that point, their packaging was all cardboard, metal and glass, there was no plastic at all. The quality of their ingredients is amazing and they create such a lovely finish, so they're definitely number one.
I also like Ere Perez, which is an Australian brand. They have a cheek & lip tint that I use on pretty much every job I do. Their foundations are beautiful and they are getting easier to buy in the UK.
And then probably Lush. I know that they're a hit and miss, lots of people do not like the fragrance but I feel like their commitment to zero-waste, especially in the last two years has been amazing. I love their concealer, I use it in my kit now and just decant it into different trays. Their lipsticks are also amazing. I think because they're such a big brand, they have a massive voice and they use it well.
Do you ever feel like your choice of product affects your clientele? Do people come to you because of the way you work?
I think in the past six months that has happened but before, no. I think people came to me or hired me because they like my style; very minimal, healthy skin, working with lots of different skin tones. I have noticed there is more of a shift recently, my first three jobs in January were all for sustainable websites. They all had found me through stylists and photographers who were sustainable.
I started working with photographers that only shoot e-commerce for sustainable brands, it's amazing to have that partnership with them. I found people come to me because of that now. I'd say probably 70% of the production companies and directors still hire me because they like my work in general, not because of my principles, it's an interesting balance.
How is the feedback on set when other creatives see the way you work?
I had a lot of people come up to me and ask me questions, including people you wouldn't really expect. I have had a lot of straight men who never even wear make-up and barely use cosmetics come up and say "I've heard you use all organic or cruelty-free, that's really cool", and ask me questions about it. I feel like there's quite a wide demographic of people who are interested. Lots of models have asked me because if there's a product they haven't seen before, they're interested and ask for recommendations.
I ended up writing up a little PDF with general recommendations because I was getting asked so much about just the best basic skincare, best foundations, eyeshadows, and stuff like that. People do seem pretty engaged and interested.
Is there any advice you would like to give to other make-up artists who might want to try and change something in their practice? How or where to start?
The best way to do it would be to replace. Please do not go out and buy a whole new kit and throw away what you have got because that would completely defeat the purpose of being low-waste.
As soon as you run out of a product, even if you have just run out of mascara, talk to other green make-up artists or go to green make-up brands and they will be ready to give you advice on the best mascara. Just start with that and then continue with the next product you run out of. Try natural make-up remover or a natural lip-balm. Just do it slowly and build from there.
Talk to lots of people, I feel like everyone in the green industry is so lovely. I have met so many other amazing make-up artists who are always asking each other questions like 'have you tried this new liner yet?' or 'what's the best way of being zero-waste?', 'do you still use cotton buds?'
Ask around and do it slowly, I don't think you need to put pressure on yourself to be cruelty-free or organic straight away.
Just use what you can and whatever is within your means, and the same goes for the general make-up consumer. Just when you run out of something, try and get something that is natural instead. Don't go and replace everything and throw things away!
model//Cornelia Geolas @ New York Model Management
images 2,3,4//Provided by Billie McKenzie
article//Edited by Chloe Payne
model//Camille Munn @ Select Model London