White labelling – or, no, you did not make that


Up until about five years ago, I had never heard of white labelling. I assumed – rather naively – that anyone who launched a makeup, skincare or cosmetics brand had developed their products themselves. Well, that is to say: I never really thought about it. When you do (think about it), it becomes pretty clear that not every small makeup brand is helmed by someone with the know-how to develop a cosmetic product from scratch. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What is white labelling?

White labelling is the act of buying cosmetics (usually makeup) from a company, repackaging it and selling it under your own name. A piece in The Irish Times last year maintained that customers deserve to know when the products they're buying are as a result white labelling (or private labelling). It named Blank Canvas and Fuschia as examples of white labelling, in products we all know of.

That is to say; Blank Canvas doesn't make its own cosmetics. It buys them from a second party, repackages them and sells them under its own label.

What's the problem with white labelling?

Honestly? There's nothing at all wrong with white labelling – and for beauty lovers with the means to start their own businesses, it can be a great solution to a whole series of problems. From the consumer point of view, it can mean you get access to, say, eyeshadow palettes in colour combinations you can't find elsewhere.

Say, right, if I decided to launch my own makeup brand, and use white labelling to do so – I'd essentially use white labelling, Lego-style, to build the makeup that I want to wear. I'd create eyeshadow palettes with not a single shimmer in them. I'd create a contour palette with three (not six!) shades that wouldn't confound me every time I tried to use it.

White labelling doesn't necessarily mean that there's no creativity in the product – or that it's not serving a particular need. (If it wasn't, surely it wouldn't sell?) It just means that it's created by individuals who don't have access to labs and product development departments.

But – and there's always a but

What I really would like to see is brand owners and distributors calling a halt to lying about white labelling. I'm so sick of hearing people say that they "developed" their product or that they had to work "to get the formulation right". Unless you're a chemist, with access to a lab, you did not do either of those things.

There's nothing shameful in bringing to market products you've discovered, branded under your own name, which you think an Irish (or European) audience would love to see. But what is shameful is pretending to your customers (or to anyone; I mean, cringe for you) that you have a scientific qualification when you've worked for a decade as a makeup artist.

I don't think every product created as a result of white labelling needs to be marketed as "a great white-label product!" – but, when asked, I would think it very ill-advised to lie. That's about it.