UNT’s President’s Lecture Series: Wende Zomnir

UNT’s President’s Lecture Series: Wende Zomnir

October 21, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Well, good evening everyone. How are you? Good. It’s a packed house, I love it. We didn’t anticipate having this many people
but wow, what a great crowd, and we’re so glad that you’re here to spend an evening
with Wende Zomnir. We got to meet Wende last year and as I think
all of you know, we are so pleased to have one of our alumni come back. Now, what is this event? Well, this event is newish, it’s the President’s
Lecture Series, and we bring in people who are, in my humble opinion, superstars. So Wende prior to bringing her up on stage,
I want her to know that let’s see, we had a Nobel Prize winner, right? Putting her right in the ranks there. We had someone who is basically reinventing
space travel, and now we have someone who has disrupted an industry. So here at the University of North Texas we
like to say we prepare the creative leaders of tomorrow, and how can we do that if we
don’t introduce to you some of the people who are current creative leaders, people who
are really making a difference in their industry, in the world, and thought about how we do
things. So we hope that this lecture will inspire
some of you, whether you have budding hopes as entrepreneurs, whether you would really
like to build a company, whether you’d like to join a great outfit and bring your disruptive
ideas forward. I’m excited for you because I think tonight
you’re going to find yourself highly stimulated. The official title for Wende is she is the
founding partner of Urban Decay Cosmetics. Urban Decay being the second largest cosmetics
company in the United States and a groundbreaking company that has done so much to change our
understandings and perception of what makeup is and how it’s sold. They are known for an expansive array of colors,
and textures. Maybe I need some, sparkly over the eyes perhaps. We can figure those things out. She continues to lead the brand and its mission
to deliver beauty with an edge, and I emphasize an edge, simultaneously providing coveted
products and an unexpected point of view. Wow, that sounds like disruption, doesn’t
it? It sounds like the kind of creativity this
university is known for. Now, originally Wende is from Texas. She went to high school though in Belgium
and spent time traveling through Europe. She’s done gigs in the Soviet Union, a very
interesting and diverse life. After graduation she moved to Chicago to work
for the Leo Burnett company, a global advertising agency, but the beach beckoned, and so Wende
took her marketing skills out West to California. She cofounded Urban Decay with Sandy Lerner
to shake up a very old-school cosmetics industry. Think about this. Who would imagine going in and just saying,
“There’s going to be new rules. We’re going to do things different ways.” How exciting is that? She’s also an advocate for women’s empowerment,
and through her Urban Decay Cosmetics created The Ultraviolet Edge, a philanthropic initiative
to empower women around the world. Now, she lives in Newport Beach with her husband,
Doug, and her two sons, this is so California, Crash and Cruz, and Cruz is here tonight. Good to see you, Cruz. Thank you. Still surfing, playing volleyball, doing the
thing. Potential UNT student, don’t want to put you
on the spot but you know, hey, this is an awesome school to go to because we are the
creative leaders in the South and around Texas, but in her spare time Wende can be found doing
all kinds of wonderful things like extreme sports, surfing, diving, snowboarding, cross-country
skiing, CrossFitting, playing tennis, volleyball, mountain biking, practicing yoga, man, that
was like a workout just saying all that, running, and of course, knitting. Her secret ambitions are to become a painter
and to write a book. So without further ado, I introduce to you
one of UNT’s own, a great alumna, someone who I think is going to be fascinating for
all of you and a lesson in how we can free our minds, disrupt, do new things, have fun,
and oh by the way, make some money along the way. I welcome to the stage today Wende Zomnir,
and I know you’re going to enjoy this. Let’s give her a big Mean Green family welcome. Hi, you guys. I’m not sure that I’m up to the task of Nobel
Prize winner, but I’m going to try, I’m going to try. I am super honored to be back at UNT. This is a place that taught me to be resourceful,
a place that taught me to work hard, and it really inspired me to be fearless and try
new things. Of course as we talked about, I mean, UNT
grad, I’m the class of ’89 and one of the founding partners of Urban Decay Cosmetics,
and I am here tonight to talk to you about my alternative perspective on beauty, and
tonight this talk isn’t about how to get that perfect cat eye, or find that exact right
shade of red lip, but if you want to find me after and ask me that question, you can. I will do application tips, no problem, but
instead I really want to tell you the story of the American beauty revolution of the 2000s
and the part that Urban Decay played in it. So 23 years ago I cofounded and launched a
line of edgy cosmetics in wildly different highly pigmented colors, and I did this out
of my Laguna Beach bungalow. I had no prior experience in the cosmetics
industry, but I used what I had learned at UNT and at work to make it happen. Today, Urban Decay is sold in 60 countries,
and we did over a billion dollars in retail sales by 2016, and we were at that time the
number two makeup brand in the US, and I’m telling you this for perspective because while
many of you in this room can probably rattle off a list of beauty brands, some of you may
only be able to name a few. So I get it because beauty is a subculture,
but it is a big one, and it was big enough that I was lucky enough to make a living doing
something I love. Just to kind of give you some perspective
on the something I love. When I was a kid my dream was to make things
that I could sell to other people. So my first product, and maybe my mom remembers
this, were necklaces made with beads I created by stringing pieces of burnt drinking straws,
I would burn the straw to melt it and make little beads, and they were ugly, and they
were weird, and they were hideous and no one wanted them, not even my mom. So it was a rough start, but today I am living
my dream creating products and selling them to people, and it took a long time to get
from straw and yarn necklaces to Naked palettes, but I was persistent. So a great source of inspiration to remind
you to keep working at whatever it is you guys decide you want to do and pursue in life,
there is this YouTube video I really recommend you watch and it’s called The Gap by Ira Glass,
and he essentially says there is a gap between the kind of work you want to do and what you
actually produce when you are starting out, but with practice that gap starts to shrink,
and shrink, and shrink. So definitely check that out, but I’m going
to go back to the beauty revolution. It’s like so many other uprisings in that
just a few people disrupted an industry that was about aspiration and transformed it into
a global movement about inclusion and empowerment. Because shaking up beauty has been my mission
for a long time, it’s exciting to tell you guys about my journey and hope that it inspires
you and dream about what you might do. There are no limits on what you’re capable
of and I can’t wait to see what that turns into, especially at a school like this, that
really pushes creativity. You are already learning so many of the skills
you need to be a disruptor and a change maker here at UNT, and I say to people who do not
maybe embrace disruption and change, I will be happy to take your smartphone off your
hands at the end of the talk. So definitely remember that those kinds of
things, those were disruptive ideas. So as we push forward into positive evolution,
remember that empathy and giving are underrated in our selfie-driven world and that those
attributes also will take you far in real life, especially as they become rarer. So the real magic is how do you combine disruption
and empathy. My personal story is part of that revolution
and it all started when I came to understand that makeup should be a form of self-expression. It’s not about covering your flaws, but it’s
really about showing the world who you are. How I came to this understanding really rattled
the notion of beauty and it ended up changing the beauty industry itself. It’s surreal to look back on this little project
that started in my Laguna Beach bungalow, I was hiring my neighbors who were unemployed
surfer girls to help me make displays, and realized that this is now a global brand. So I walk through cities and airports all
over the world, and there’s Urban Decay and it’s a little weird sometimes, but it’s pretty
cool. I like to tell people who are not in the beauty
business that in the mid ’90s I used what I call an ancient and powerful tool to do
this disruption, and really mix up a seemingly unshakeable and unchangeable industry, and
most people are surprised to learn that this ancient and powerful tool and agent of change
is lipstick. It may not seem like it, but lipstick is pretty
powerful stuff. It has the power to instantly transform people’s
perception of you, and it was first used 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians who made it out
of ground up gem stones and white lead, you can imagine that was not really good for you,
but. We don’t have lead in lipstick anymore, so
don’t worry. Cleopatra quickly got in on the action and
Egyptians wore lipstick made out of crushed bugs to create a crimson lip, and this is
very interesting, that was more about status than it was about gender. So today the lipstick effect is a known psychological
phenomenon, because wearing lipstick can give individuals a confidence boost by making them
feel empowered and more attractive and have greater feelings of self-esteem. The power and joy of personal transformation
speaks deeply to many people as a form of self-expression. Just to show you how deeply, in the U.S. alone
retail makeup sales in 2018 in the prestige segment, that’s in the segment that Urban
Decay plays in, not drugstore makeup, so just the prestige segment totaled over $8.1 billion
only in the U.S., and total prestige beauty including skin care and hair care was 19 billion,
so it’s a pretty big industry. While we clearly embrace the makeup business
with our wallets, the makeup business hasn’t really always embraced us and our uniqueness. Until recently, makeup was not about self-expression,
it was about unobtainable ideas, and few of us would’ve qualified as beautiful enough
according to the standards of the beauty industry. We weren’t pretty enough, we weren’t white
enough, skinny enough, or feminine enough, but I am proud to say that those days are
over because I and some other people had a different perspective on what beauty should
be, and this helped dramatically change the makeup business and the definition of beauty,
and although it took 20 years, the best part was that a bunch of renegades, weirdos, and
outsiders made the industry come along for the ride. Backing up to the beginning of my love affair
with makeup, it started when I was 12 and my mom bought me a giant Calvin Klein makeup
set for Christmas, and my guess is that it was probably so I would stay out of her makeup
drawer, and it was the best gift I think I’ve ever gotten. I taped pictures of Brooke Shields on my mirror
and I would try recreating her look, and I did this all without the help of YouTube,
if you can imagine. By the time I was 13 I got sent home from
school for wearing too much makeup and here in Texas that is really saying something,
but there was a darker side. In the 1980s I felt like I had to choose between
being one of the cute girls or one of the smart girls, and having to make that choice
felt wrong. By the time I was 16 my perspective on beauty
was starting to shift. My outlook on why I wore makeup changed for
a couple of reasons. First, I really questioned why was I beholden
to a beauty standard? Why should I have to look a certain way to
please people? I was conflicted because I really loved putting
on makeup and still wore it with abandon. Second thing that happened was an older man,
an authority figure confronted me and said, “I was hiding behind a mask of makeup.” Now, you can imagine how this went over with
a high school junior, but I should thank the guy, because at that moment I realized I wasn’t
hiding at all. I was doing the exact opposite. I was telling my story and revealing something
about myself to the world. It became all about the power of self-expression. So from the beginning my vision for Urban
Decay was all about being original and fueling that self-expression. It wasn’t about covering your flaws or trying
to achieve a media-driven standard of beauty. So this idea had been marinating inside my
head from when I was 16 for over 10 years, and it shows that all of you already have
so many life experiences and memories, both positive and negative, that you will draw
on in your future, and it is your choice whether to use them as fuel for your success or to
file them away. Back in the ’80s and the ’90s the beauty industry
wasn’t about self-expression, it was based on trying to achieve someone else’s ideal
of what and who is beautiful, like my pictures of Brooke. So it wasn’t exactly diverse or different
looking, and the standard of perfection was decided by male executives at big beauty corporations
and editors at magazines. The models in images were unattainable and
aspirational, and it was an elitists’ club and what you look like determined whether
you fit in. Now, the irony here is that an industry that
was all about transformation had not transformed itself at all, until a group of beauty brand
startups, innovative retailers like Sephora, and social media arrived and caused complete
and total chaos for them. Urban Decay was one of those small brands
with an alternative perspective on what beauty should be. We started in 1996 with 12 nail polish colors
and 10 of those were basically a version of black, and we also had 10 lipsticks and they
were very unusual colors with very provocative names. The name Urban Decay came from the idea that
there is beauty in everything, even in a crumbling brick wall, or a rusting fire escape, or in
any of us, you just have to look a little deeper. We touched a cultural nerve in the mid ’90s
with Gen Xers coming of age and challenging the status quo, much like you guys as Gen
Zers are doing today. We made posters and ran ads in music magazines
with lines like, “Does pink make you puke?” And, “Burn, Barbie, burn.” This was definitely not standard fare for
a makeup brand in 1996, and yes, beauty industry executives thought we were completely crazy,
but everyone else really loved it, and I always felt like I had a cheerleading section kind
of goading me on to do more, and more, and more. I think it’s interesting in today’s sort of
gender fluid world that our original stated mission was to create makeup for girls and
boys who want to rattle the notion of what beauty is and show the world who they are. In 1996 this was groundbreaking, and I remember
putting it into action by setting up free nail polish stations at trade shows and I’d
recruit these he-man teamsters to sit down and get their nails painted. I knew we were onto something when I wore
this iridescent blue lipstick called UV-B to the airport in the early days of Urban
Decay. I’m checking in, the skycap takes my bag and
he looks at me and he goes, “What is on your lips?” And I said, “It’s Urban Decay.” And all you Texans will appreciate this, he
goes, “Well, it’s not Mary Kay, that’s for sure.” So that’s when I knew I was onto something. So Sandy Lerner and I started making that
blue lipstick and putting nail polish into medicine bottles because we saw an opening
in the sugary sweet world of makeup. In the mid 1990s makeup was not today’s technicolor
dream of texture and color. I always like to say it was dark days. There was no Ulta, no Sephora. If you wanted high quality products your choices
were pink, beige, or red, purchased at a traditional makeup department store counter. If you wanted color the drugstore was your
other option, but back in the ’90s the pigments were cheap and chalky. I personally loved high quality, high pigment
makeup and I wanted to embrace the kind of edgier rebellious side of myself, but there
were no options to do that, so Sandy and I made them. We didn’t create products or shades because
some marketing report told us that’s what we should do. We made the products in the shades that we
wanted, and I think that authenticity really resonated with people. I’ve always been a believer that people would
rather buy things from other people versus a corporation, I think that’s why Etsy is
so huge, but a beauty product you love is a unique thing. It isn’t like fashion. You use it up and then you buy more if it
worked for you, kind of like laundry detergent in a way, but not. It’s definitely not soap, and it’s not just
another consumable good. It has to inspire, and it has to feel good
in your hand, and it has to be an object of beauty itself. You’re putting it on your face. It is your tool of self-expression, so it
is way more than packaged goods and it has to have an extremely deep connection with
its owner. So it’s this very strange place that beauty
is in, in that it’s a use up product but it’s also a fashion, an inspiration, and artistic
product. The beauty business is interesting because
we are always walking that fine line. I always say it’s the fine line between art
and commerce with our products. We have to deliver performance and results,
but we must also create personal connection with the product and the brand, and everything
has to resonate. To create the connection with our customers
we told stories through our products and invited people into our world, and back in the ’90s
this whole idea of storytelling and beauty was completely new, and you may have heard
of color stories like from heritage brands, things like winter beach collection, right? It was like they went off on a whim and did
some mobs, but we told real stories about how the products were made, what we stood
for, and used the package, we used the box, we used everything to tell our narrative and
let our fans peak right into our UD kitchen. The 1990s were also the first wave of girl
power. It was the precursor to today’s empowerment
movements. For the first time, women were a force in
the music industry through festivals like Lilith Fair, and there were actually lead
singers in rock bands and they wore makeup. So I used this crazy vintage thing called
a phone book to track down groundbreaking makeup-loving rising stars like Gwen Stefani
and Shirley Manson from Garbage so I could send them nail polish and lipstick. I actually went to a library, found the Minneapolis
phone book because I had seen that Shirley Manson was recording in Minneapolis in Spin
magazine and called every recording studio, and got her on the phone, and got her to wear
my nail polish. So do you guys remember those pictures of
Gwen, those famous, famous pictures, the blue hair, bindis and that fuzzy bikini? That was an Urban Decay temporary hair color
we made called UD40 and the media coverage really helped put us on the map. So I was always really grateful to all of
my rockstar fans because they helped launch the brand. Now, I also sent boxes of makeup and a little
cash on top to a couple of New York party scene it girls. They would keep the cash and then pass out
the makeup to their friends and all the cool kids in the city, and it was kind of like
low tech form of early social media, but then real social media happened. We always had a strong connection to our customers
through our highly engaged team of in-store makeup artists, but now our makeup junkie
fans had a direct line to us and they wanted to talk. We make an eyeshadow primer with a cult following
and it’s called Eyeshadow Primer Potion, and this was definitely something they wanted
to talk about. Now, the original container was this genie
bottle shaped vial. We picked it because we didn’t have any money
to tool our own special container in a shape we wanted, and we wanted to project that this
formula worked like magic, and the vial was something I just found at a vendor, so I was
like, “This works.” And I always said, “There’s a genie in this
bottle and she grants three wishes, more vibrant color, no creasing, and long-lasting shadow.” See, there’s the storytelling. Now, the bottle was really cool but it was
hard to get all of the product out. So in 2007, this is where they start talking. In 2007 people start making videos and posting
them on YouTube on how to cut the container open with power tools. Then they created conspiracy theories about
how we designed the packaging, which you guys now know I didn’t do, designed the packaging
to force customers to buy more because you couldn’t get it all out, and this was just
a fun unique bottle that told a story, but the new difference with social media and YouTube
was we were able to listen to our customers. We switched it to a squeeze tube, and I think
that was kind of your first real social media case study where the whole dialogue of videos,
comments, and response was a brand having a 360 degree connection with its customers
like that. This was really the beginning of something
big for us and every other brand that’s out there in the world. A year after this in 2008 I met Kandee Johnson
and I knew she was onto something. Now, Kandee was just an aspiring, struggling
makeup artist with four kids at the time, but if you don’t know who she is today, you’re
probably not part of the beauty subculture. She is a very, very famous YouTube star. When I travel with Kandee we get stopped by
her fans waiting to say hi and take photos, and people line up for hours in advance for
a meet and greet with her. So YouTube tutorials on beauty are second
only to gaming in terms of popularity, and the rise of social media beauty influencers
like Kandee increased our unfiltered communication and interaction with our audience. So YouTubers also introduced a broader audience
to new and different beauty brands and taught people how to take their execution to another
level. It became socially acceptable to love wearing
makeup, to know how to do your makeup, and we were one of the first brands to really
embrace social media. So we had a pretty big following on our Myspace
page in 2008, and I remember saying to my business partner at the time, “I found this
person that I want to employ to do Facebook for us and we need to hire her.” And he looks at me and he says, “We’re actually
going to hire someone to be on Facebook all day?” And that was just the beginning of how the
beauty landscape would change dramatically. Today we have over 18 people in our social
media department alone and we are definitely not even overly staffed compared to some beauty
brands. So beauty was no longer fueled by big ad budgets
and home grown beauty influencers with a personal opinion, not just a big committee at some
big company, these were the people driving the beauty trends. Of course now that normal that I’m talking
about has morphed into something else in the following years, but we could have a whole
other talk on the evolution of social media and beauty, so I’ll have to come back for
that. Beauty editors at magazines back in the day
had always been supportive, but in the early days I didn’t have those advertising dollars,
so our press coverage was limited to small mentions in magazines that bestowed editorial
coverage based on friendships I had built. Beauty editors also famously do not wear much
makeup, and to them I was that nice Urban Decay lady that just wore a lot of aqua eyeshadow. But when YouTube and Instagram became forces
of influence, the people reporting, evaluating, and talking about makeup fully understood
my sparkly purple eyelids. Gone were the days of customers not understanding
artistry products because social media taught women to use complicated complexion products
like color correctors in a way that beauty consultants in a store never could. Before people like Kandee, I couldn’t make
professional level products because people didn’t understand them, and this was just
another factor that allowed the makeup business to completely explode, because there was a
whole other level of products we could create for our customers that they wanted. Now, ideas, principles, and disruption get
everyone excited, but we had to back up what we stood for with product that fulfilled the
Urban Decay vision. No one parts with their money unless that
disruptive product works and earns a spot in her makeup drawer, or his makeup drawer. From the beginning we push boundaries to match
our brand philosophy to our product. Unlike most beauty brands, Urban Decay has
never ever made a brush with animal hair. We’ve been cruelty-free since the beginning
and we’ve completely stood behind that. Every single brush has been synthetic, but
back when we started synthetic fibers weren’t where they are today and animal hair definitely
worked better for makeup brushes, but we just knew it wasn’t right. So we tried something new, we cramped some
of those subpar synthetic fibers to create a unique product that was almost on par with
real animal hair and we called them Good Karma brushes. Our London distributor yelled at us, he was
like, “You’re never going to sell any of these.” And he was equally incensed when we put a
skull on an eyeshadow palette, and then everything completely sold out and then he called and
yelled at me again because I didn’t have any more to ship to him. But the moment that really helped explode
Urban Decay was the Naked Palette in 2010, and the top selling makeup product in all
history started because I asked myself and two other of my fellow makeup junkies in the
office what four eyeshadows would you bring with you if you were stranded on a desert
island, and when we all put our picks on the table and saw all of those shades lined up,
everyone had a different point of view, yet they were all so perfect and beautiful together. I had originally envisioned making like a
little quad palette, little mini shades of neutrals to carry along with my brightly colored
shadows, but my desert island question turned into the original 12 shade Naked Palette,
and like Naked, most of the most successful products we sell have a personal touch, a
story, and a reason for being. I hope that Urban Decay fans still see my
point of view coming through in all the products and they feel the connection we have with
them. I try to make it feel like we’re still cooking
things up for them on the kitchen table in the back of the office because that is still
what really happens. In 1996 we said our goal wasn’t just to knock
politely on the door of the cosmetics department, it was to knock it down, but we never imagined
we would really challenge a big established industry and set in motion a new and better
reality. The fallout of what we started in the ’90s
is a more beautiful world driven by a community of makeup enthusiasts. In the US, six out of the top 10 makeup brands
in 2018 were originally entrepreneurial brands like Urban Decay, that’s really incredible
that the tide has turned that much. This shift of top makeup brands shows that
together we have started a beauty revolution that expands the definition of beauty. The beauty revolution celebrates inclusion,
and community, and encourages entrepreneurship in an industry dominated by big companies. Through sharing and education it promotes
creativity and artistry in everyone and unleashes the power of anyone to be a creator. It cultivates confidence, empowerment, and
self-esteem. So the new reality of beauty is here and I
am proud to be behind the upheaval. In 2019, we have evolved from autocracy to
democracy in the makeup world. I call it the democratization of beauty and
it has done an amazing shift that expands the definition of who is beautiful and who
will define what the makeup trends will be, and 2019 is a really exciting time for us
at Urban Decay because we’ve actually achieved so many of the many things we’ve only dreamed
we could affect when we started, and now we have a team of ambassadors that reflect our
inclusive vision of beauty, including Lizzo, who is a body positive Texas flutist with
a big voice, and Ezra Miller, a man who wears makeup and looks so good doing it. I helped create Urban Decay in 1996 because
in those days the prestige makeup world was pretty boring, and we wanted to let you know
it was okay to be beautiful but unusual, and I think that idea still holds true, and one
of our guiding principles at Urban Decay is constant evolution. So we’re always changing, always evolving. So in 2019 I like to talk about that beautiful
but unusual in a slightly different way and I’d like it to be even more inclusive than
it was before. So now I like to say Urban Decay is pretty
different, which means you can be pretty weird, pretty colorful, pretty outspoken, pretty
much anything you want to be. I’m excited that today people are openly addressing
beauty and empowerment and demonstrating that choosing or not choosing to wear lipstick
is mutually exclusive with being bold, brave, smart, and outspoken. We’ve always stood for the empowerment of
women and so we started a fund called The Ultraviolet Edge. We’ve supported a variety of organizations
that are doing incredible things to empower women like microloans, literacy programs,
shelters, and legal services, but our most important work through The Ultraviolet Edge
is done with the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, which has made dramatic changes to women’s
lives in Gulu, Uganda. Through economic empowerment of community
resources and microloans, the women of Gulu who are part of the WGEF program have gone
from feeding their children one meal a day to three meals a day. Over 1,200 women have learned to read. They own restaurants, they start schools,
and they even are now running for parliament. We even purchased a machine that they use
to run a business making sanitary supplies because those items were not previously available
to them before and they had to miss work or school each month. So to me it’s really exciting when beauty
can transform more than what’s on the surface and go deeper to help transform lives. So whether you start a revolution or just
do something you love, my advice is to follow your convictions, your passions, and your
beliefs. Education at a place like UNT gets you ready
for what you’re going to face out in the world, it gets you ready professionally, and it teaches
you how to be. You will get out of it what you put into it,
so take control of your own experience. Learn to be resourceful, try to be flexible. You possess a unique point of view because
no one else is you. Take your time and be patient figuring out
your journey and then commit to it. Know that it will probably not meet your expectations
in some ways, but in other ways it will exceed them. When things get tough, return to the things
you’re passionate about and the people who love you to refocus and find your way. I always say beware of fast friends, remember
that it’s okay to say no to bad things, and don’t post anything on social media that you
don’t want your grandmother to see, because it can end up on a billboard in Time Square. Really importantly, take care of your mental
and physical health because with that everything is possible, and most importantly, nurture
your own revolutionary point of view because even if you don’t realize it yet, you are
going to change the world. Thank you. Do you have a favorite chair? It was great. Oh, thank you. Do you have a favorite chair? No, you pick. Okay. I just want to say wow, what an inspirational
talk. If any of you are out there and you didn’t
feel that, then you shouldn’t be at UNT because we’re the place that creates that kind of
magic, and it really inspires like you inspired us today. Fantastic and a big round of applause for
Wende. Let’s see. Hello. Hello. We’re on, we’re live. We’re good. And so we’re going to ask a few questions
and then later we’ll open it up to the audience, and wow, this is one of the biggest audiences
I’ve ever seen in this room. Let me just say you outdrew the Nobel Prize
winner by about eight to one. Yes. Your talk was a tad more accessible than the
chemistry of I don’t know, alkanes or something like that. But we talked about this, maybe the chemistry
of alkanes can figure out how to keep lipstick off my teeth. We’re going to work on that. Okay. I’ve got some of our top people who are going
to be right on it. We’ll make a product. You know what? I’m going to go in on it with you because
pretty sure it’s going to be successful. It’ll probably work, yeah. Yeah. So I have a few questions, but I actually
want to start off with one that’s a little more personal. You started this company up in the ’90s and
you started it from humble origins, but I got to tell you, my wife’s daughter, my wife
and I have a daughter, her name is Kristen, she’s … It actually turns out she had the
baby, but anyhow, back in the ’90s, late ’90s, she was a young teenager and she thought your
stuff was so cool, and I’m trying to remember. I think she said, “Yeah, I remember Urban
Decay. They made something like I think it was called
Acid Rain.” Yes, we did. Is that really a thing? That’s really a thing, yeah. So why did it, I mean, we’re talking about
the people who would move a market a decade from then. Right. But you captured their imagination. How did you figure that out? I don’t think we figured it out, I think it
was what I was talking about, passions and convictions, and really following what you
believe. I think you have to be smart about running
the business, but I think sometimes you have to go, you know what? I’m really wanting something edgier. We were talking about this whole idea of why
does beauty have to be so perfect, and why does it have to, why do you have to fit in
a box? Why do I have to look like back in the ’90s
Paulina Porizkova, right? Or why can’t I just be beautiful on my own? And so we really took the whole idea of beauty
and we just turned it on its head and naming things like Smog and Acid Rain. If you look at the color. It worked so well because they all thought
that was just the coolest thing and it captured I think the imagination of an entire generation. And the moms didn’t really like it, and that
was a part. Yeah, that was bonus, right? Yeah. So you were part of a startup and you did
so many different things. Sometimes the most elucidating moments are
when you fail, when something doesn’t go right and when you’re really challenged. Yes. What was the biggest challenge you had? What was the greatest failure that you had
and how did you overcome it? I think in our industry we have a lot of failures
because not every product is a hit. It may seem like it, you see a brand that’s
accelerating but there is a lot of things that just, we call them the dogs, right? They’re dogs, and I have 30 dogs in my office,
so I feel like I can call them the dogs. I don’t know, I think there were opportunities
we missed, I think probably one of the biggest mistakes we made was selling to a strategic
too early. I think if we had sat and just been a little
more patient and waited we could’ve turned it one more time with a bigger private equity
investment. So I think that was probably one of the biggest. That was pretty recent, right? That was pretty recent, yeah. Well, timing is everything, but you never
know when the rollercoaster ride is going to go up and when it’s going to go down. You never know, right. And it’s not like you’ve done poorly. You’ve done amazingly. No. So learning from mistakes. Yeah, and I think the other mistake I would
say from the beginning I would do better is when you are a creative person and you want
to be in a creative business, you’re fueled by that vision and one of the things I wish
I had done was spend more time finding like a great ops person, a great super intense
numbers-oriented sales person, people that, a finance guy or girl. I think spending time really setting up the
infrastructure of the business is something you sometimes lose sight of because you’re
busy creating, and we had such great ramp-up and response right away, but we didn’t have
as much infrastructure as we probably should’ve had at the beginning. Well it’s funny you say that. Finance is one of the strong programs here,
in fact our students regularly win finance competitions on a national level, probably
didn’t know that. You take someone like the Toyota corporation. Now I do, yeah. And they have more UNT students than any other
university in the country. So finance here, strong, just a little plug. I believe it, and I have to say the best finance
people are also incredibly creative. My favorite CFO ever is a man named Craig
Sawin and I would go to Craig and say, “This is what I want to do.” And he’d be like, “That’s crazy.” And then we’d sit down and we’d figure out
how to do it. So I just feel like the best finance people
have the vision with you. Well, and the other thing, I know as you said. But they put you in the crate when you need
to be put in the crate, speaking, back to the dog analogy. Is Bob Brown here tonight? Not he is not. So our CFO can be creative at times, but you’re
right, sometimes you have to push them and lean on them, right? Yeah. The other thing you said was about data and
analytics, and just another little note that we’re producing great data and analytics people,
people who are into data, not just the analysis part, but kind of an on-ramp for people who
are in things like our great digital merchandising programs and other things who are now learning
data analytics and applying them to how you market in sales. Is that a growing trend across your industry? Everything, it’s everything. So when I mentioned we could do a whole other
talk on the evolution of social media and all of that, using those analytics is so important. When we first started the brand, if we were
going to run a little ad somewhere I would figure out the CPM, the cost per thousand,
and just did my basic media training analysis on is this a good buy or a bad buy, does the
demographic profile fit? The magazines would come and pitch you. Now it has nothing to do with any of that. It’s all about the data and I can’t even do
a quick on the back of a napkin media plan like I used to. It’s a full six spreadsheets kind of exercise,
yeah. And by the way, these are questions that I
just invented, they’re not on any script and Wende is killing it. Oh, thanks. Artificial intelligence, machine learning,
is there going to be a next phase in how customers choose products that’s going to be guided
by those things? Well, there’s already things like the smart
mirrors where you can obviously try on makeup, and the first few generations of those were
pretty scary, if any of you used them, the apps or whatever, but I have a really good
shot of my son Cruz trying the lipstick app, I didn’t show it to anyone. But I think the magic mirrors is what they’re
called, and I think they’re just getting better, and better, and better. So that’s sort of the biggest non-manufacturing,
biggest customer piece with AI, and then obviously on the manufacturing end it could go all kinds
of places. Yeah, I imagine on the sales end also. Yes. Yeah, I need a kind of a whole body magic
mirror for myself that. I’ve always said, people say, “What product
would you invent if you could?” And see, I have my eagle on that you gave
me. Yes, it looks great. And wouldn’t it be great if you pushed this
eagle and then a Photoshop filter making you perfect just illuminated around your face? I’d buy that. That’s my idea. Yeah, I’d buy it too. That or I don’t know, macho green fingernails
or something like that, but I’m not quite ready for that yet, but you got me thinking
about it. So if you have a characteristic for your sales
team, or for your team. What are the things that people who work with
you absolutely have to have in order to be successful at your company? Well, I can’t answer it one way, I have to
answer it two ways. So I have to answer it pre strategic acquisition
and post strategic acquisition. If you are joining an entrepreneurial company,
a startup or a mid size company that is run independently, I think the most important
attribute is to be a resourceful person that knows how to get things done and solve problems. I think if you are joining a big strategic
company you still have to be a great problem solver, so that’s the common denominator,
but you have to be laser focused on your piece and really be able to work cross-functionally
across teams. It’s a little bit different skill set. One is a more independent kind of person and
the other one is more a cross-functional person, and everybody that I’ve encountered on sort
of both sides of that line, they’re great, it’s just different people succeed in different
environments. Yes. So you used the word teams and being part
of a collaborative team, that’s something I think we all, we recognize as an important
part of the future. We have a new program that we just started
out in our Frisco campus, it’s a project-based curriculum. So here’s a really weird one for you. How would you like to help us develop the
next project-based curriculum about how you become an entrepreneur in the creative industry? Yeah, that sounds amazing. Does it sound cool? Yeah, it sounds really cool. We can get a team on it. Okay, so I don’t know if Wesley is here today. Wesley, no? But yeah, we’re going to work on that. Jennifer is out there, that’s our provost,
and she’s like going, “Yes, we’ll do that.” Right away. Finally, we have a lot of budding entrepreneurs
in the audience. I suspect, how many of you would hope to do
something this bold and brave? Raise your hands. Wow, that’s a whole lot. What’s your advice for if you want to do something
amazing and disruptive, and how you just get going at it? Well, my advice to you is to have a really
clear vision and believe in what you’re doing, and don’t let up. I think there’s a couple things happening
in the world right now. When I started doing this the barriers to
entry were really, really high in the beauty industry, but there wasn’t many people doing
what I was doing, and it’s flipped. Now the barriers to entry are really, really
low but there’s a lot of people getting into beauty. So I think you just have to look at whatever
industry you’re interested in disrupting and getting into and say sort of what’s the dynamic
at that point, and so how would you enter in? Would you need to, if it was the barriers
to entry are low but there’s a lot of people getting into it, maybe as you do your business
plan you need to pour in a lot more in terms of marketing dollars, right? Versus the other thing where if the barriers
to entry are super high, you might have to put more into R&D or something like that. Yeah, I’m just going to say, and my big tip
for anybody who is going to start a makeup company out there, my six-year-old granddaughter
really likes the colors pink, purple, and unicorns. Just saying. So those are … I think you got to follow
that trend a little bit and see where it goes. Look, we probably got to take a few comments
from the audience, and I know we’re going a little bit over time and I hope that’s okay,
but what I’d love to do is see who has questions for you and I’m going to make a little statement
here. First, ask a question, don’t make a statement. Second, you get one question, not three or
four, and let’s try to get as many people cycled through as we can because we’ve got
a very special guest here who can really share some valuable insights with you. So there’ll be microphone stands here and
there and eagle ambassadors who can potentially guide you up to them. If you’re going to ask a question, come line
up at the microphones, and we’ll start with you, young man. Introduce yourself too. Hi, my name is [indistinguishable]. I’d like to say welcome back to North Texas. Thank you. I just had a quick question. I consider myself to be an entrepreneur and
I’m really interested, how do you find a balance between making ethical decisions in business
while also turning a profit in the free competitive market? It’s a really, you are often faced with that
dilemma and it’s a really tough one, and there’s no one answer to how to solve it. You just have to look at every situation,
and I will admit, I’ve definitely crossed over into gray areas at point where I like,
maybe there is my line about what’s ethical and what’s not, but it got fuzzy. I don’t think I’ve ever completely made a
decision that was anti ethical to what I really believed in, but I think it’s a case by case
basis, and sometimes you’ll be faced with something and it’s great because the ethical
choice is the choice that’s going to make you the most money, so that happens too. Thank you. All right, how about one from this side of
the room. Hello my name is Sonny Card and I’m a nonprofit
leadership skills major and a part of PLP. I have a question for how you anticipate Urban
Decay influencing not just individualism and ethical manufacturing but as that moves into
empathy and how we can be a community and have shared identities and still be unique? That is a very complex question, I’m going
to try to do the best I can to answer it. I think one of those whole social media things,
I talked about a lot of the benefits of it but there is definitely the illusion of inclusion,
right? It’s not, we’re not really sometimes inclusive,
and sharing, and embracing of each other’s individuality. So I don’t know, I think it just, I think
what you’re asking just goes back to continuing to beat the drum of individuality is important
and empathy is important, and you just got to keep trying. Thank you. All right. Hi, my name is Aiman Shaw. I’m actually wanting to go into the beauty
industry once I get my degree, so it means a lot that you came out and spoke today, but
my question was what finally pushed you to finally just be like, “You know what? I’m going to bring all of my new ideas to
the table and I’m going to upset some people but hey, whatever”? Well, that actually helps to answer the previous
question too. I had an amazing mentor, a female mentor who,
I always knew that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial and I ended up meeting a woman
named Sandy Lerner and if you don’t know who Sandy is, she started a company called Cisco
Systems. It’s basically responsible for 80% of the
connections on the Internet. She was a female entrepreneur and she really
believed that the makeup industry could be cracked. So when I met her, I would’ve never, I wanted
to be an entrepreneur but I didn’t know how, and I would’ve never, I loved beauty, but
I would’ve never thought beauty, and the universe brought us together and that’s kind of how
it came about. I didn’t really talk about it in this talk,
but I think mentorship of each other is so important and helping show each other the
way. So I meet beauty entrepreneurs all the time
now, and I’m always introducing them to the people I know at strategics. I want them to be successful, I think that’s
what we have to wish for each other, is a lot of success around us, and I always say
there is a pie and you can slice it up, but we can always keep growing the pie so there’s
enough for everyone. That’s awesome. Yeah, and just so you know, Wende’s graciously
considered the opportunity to spend almost all of tomorrow with various student groups
and getting to know the campus better, so I’m sure that the interactions are going to
be dynamite, and I’m really excited to hear the students and the feedback that they give
you. I’m excited too. That was a great question, and so there’s
follow-up opportunities. All right. Thank you. Over in this side. Hi, I’m Lauren Steel. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m missing way back. Hi. I better get you back there. Hi. Hello, my name is Jenna. I’d just like to say thank you so much for
being here first of all. I would also like to know how, especially
in the phase of becoming a subsidiary of L’Oréal, how you have been able to keep your brand’s
values, more specifically your cruelty-free stance? Well, it definitely was a challenge at first. Not a challenge to keep, they believed in
our cruelty-free stance, we would not have done the sale if they would not have allowed
us to maintain that, but now they are also completely cruelty-free and I think that … One
of the things I love about being acquired by a company like L’Oréal is they really
help you on the ethics piece. So a lot of our raw materials, we are able
to tap into their resources to make sure all of our raw materials are completely clean,
no child labor. We were doing that on our own, but they take
it to a whole other level. They’ve got people in the field checking and
making sure. So I think that is one of the best things
about being acquired by a strategic once you start to become a global brand, is that you
really need to make sure that you are doing the right things. In terms of the cruelty-free, I like to think
that we inspired them to get off their butts and make it real for them too, and one of
the things is that you may not have heard, but it sounds like China has always been an
animal testing country, and they are starting to lift those requirements. It’s pretty exciting, and I think big companies
like L’Oréal and Lauder are the ones on the ground doing the negotiations with the Chinese
government to lift those restrictions. So I don’t always love everything they do. Trust me, it’s not always easy and I do a
lot of battling with them in terms of what the brand stands for, but there’s good and
bad to everything. Thank you. Okay, now, I just got to tell you we can take
two more questions and then we’re going to have to go ahead and say goodbye to Wende
for today, but hopefully you’ll get to see her tomorrow. There’s some people in the back, yeah. I know, well let’s get … Oh, way back. Way back. Okay, we’re going to get you, and then we’re
going to get you over here, and then we’ll wrap it up. Hi, I’m DeeDee Kong, I’m a fashion merchandising
major. So within the past few years a lot of makeup
brands have been working towards extending their shade range, typically creating darker
toned face makeup products for darker toned individuals. So I was wondering if Urban Decay had any,
if they were working towards extending the shade range for their base makeup products? Well, did someone plant you? We just launched a whole new shade range,
a whole new foundation called Stay Naked. It includes 50 shades. It is seven shade ranges, five master tones,
three undertone, or five undertones, three master tones. So you will be able to find your shade, and
it’s at Ulta, they do the shade matching, they get the exact perfect shade for you,
and we accompanied it with 25 concealers. So it’s a pretty amazing product because it’s
long-wearing and it looks really beautiful, it looks like real skin. So that’s always been really important to
us. I think I’d like to back up to 2015. When we launched our original Naked foundation,
or was it 14? We launched our original Naked foundation
and we wanted to launch 28 shades and the retailers wouldn’t let us. They said, “Oh, that’s too many shades.” So we had to cut and we cut from, not from
the ends, we cut from the middles, but I think it’s a really brave amazing new world, and
again, more disruption thanks to Rihanna for really pushing to have 40, 50 shades be the
gold standard. And a final question here. Hi, my name is Riley Sage, I’m a cosmetologist
and merchandising major, and in an industry that has just so many opinions in it, and
you are someone that made bold, innovative, and disruptive products in the industry. So did you ever find yourself having to compromise
and say, “You know what? Here is a mauve for the people that don’t
like the bold colors.” Or did you ever just, you know what? No, if you don’t agree with me, then so sorry. Well, we did make the Naked palette. It’s a smokey palette. It actually wasn’t, as I mentioned in the
speech, it wasn’t actually intended to be a gimme to people that wanted neutrals, it
was actually meant to be that little traveler that went with you to go with all your bright
shades, like just to build a base eye, and it turned into something else that then turned
into something else. So if you want to wear neutrals, more power
to you. The beginnings of Urban Decay were in bright
bold colors and that’s what we’re known for. Thank you. Well, that is something that I love. The fact that one of our alumni is unafraid
to be bold, different, and creative, and I think those are great words to end on. I want to say how about a giant round of applause
for Wende and a great, great talk? Thank you guys for having me. I’m super honored. And I just wish you luck. I know that she’s even going to join the Mean
Green family for the football game in Apogee Stadium. Yes. I’m so excited. So it’s going to be a really exciting week,
and we’re just so thrilled you’re here and we hope that you stay involved, and you can
tell there’s a whole range of students who would just love to hear more from you. So any time you’re in town you want to come
by, we’d be so happy to entertain you. Okay, thank you. Thank you, Wende. Thanks for having me. And thank all of you.