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Independent vs. MAC Cosmetics? We put two fandom makeup lines to the test
Are brand-name fandom cosmetics worth the price?
Whether it’s a comfy tee or a couture gown, there are many different ways to express your fandom through geek fashion these days. But why stop with clothing options? As fans express their desire for more ways to represent their beloved fandoms, they are looking beyond fashion and accessories to the interesting and unique arena of geek-inspired cosmetics.
Recently there’s been a push for more fandom cosmetics on the market so geeks can express their passion for a fandom through their eye shadows, lip glosses, nail wraps, and more. It’s a growing demand that inspired number of independent cosmetics companies, and mainstream retailers are getting into the growing geek cosmetics market as well. As both types of companies offer more choices though, where should you look to get your fix? Is it worth spending more money for cosmetics from mainstream brands, or should you go with fan-created products?
I decided to see which fandom cosmetics products are worth the price by testing two different sets inspired by Disney fandoms. For a brand name I went with one of this summer’s most talked about collections, MAC Cosmetics’ Maleficent line. After all, MAC is aiming to become your go-to when it comes to fandom cosmetics. They have a history of releasing pop-culture inspired products, including a Simpsons collection and a Rocky Horror–inspired line. I decided to compare MAC to an independent collection also inspired by a Disney film: Shiro Cosmetics’ Marvel Avengers line. Shiro is an independent brand known for its variety of geek-themed makeup.
Here’s what I discovered.
Purchasing and Unpackaging
I ordered from MAC and Shiro on the same day. Both websites were easy to navigate and order from. Shiro included more information about its products than MAC did, with how to find the ingredients for each product clearly explained and easily found on individual product listings.
Screenshots via maccosmetics.com
From Shiro, I purchased four individual colors from their larger Avengers collection which cost $6 each and a lip gloss that cost $8. With shipping and no tax, the total was $34.75.
While it’s not a total surprise, the brand name cosmetics cost more than twice as much as the independent company’s makeup. It’s clear you pay a heftier price for the name. With Shiro though you also had a choice of size, which can change the pricing to be even cheaper. I went for a decent amount of shadow in a full-size jar, but there is a mini-jar option for only $3.50 each as well.
Screenshots via shirocosmetics.com
While purchasing my products from Shiro, it clearly stated that it would take at least two weeks for my order to be processed, and if my request was time sensitive I should email the company. I received an email 15 days later saying my order was shipped. It arrived three days later. For MAC, I expected a larger company would ship faster and it did. Once I purchased the products, MAC emailed me and said it would be one to three business days before my order would ship, and I heard from the company the next day saying my order was on the way. I received it five days later.
Both companies did well in the order and shipping department, communicating how long it would take and when the items actually shipped. It made sense that the smaller, independent company would have a longer processing time.
When I received my orders, there was a clear difference in the packaging from the brand name and independent retailers. MAC’s products came in a sturdy black box and were wrapped in tissue paper inside. There was definitely too much space for these items, but clearly part of MAC’s brand is presentation. Each product came in its own Maleficent branded box and when removed, the branded products were in great shape.
For Shiro the products came in less sturdy packaging, arriving in a white bubble wrap lined envelope. Not only was my purchase wrapped in paper and sealed with the Shiro logo but I could tell it was packed by hand. My receipt was signed “Thanks, Lisa!” with a heart and there were a few pieces of candy inside. I also received a business card and two free cosmetics samples. Despite the outside packaging, all of goodies on the inside made the purchase feel much more personal. Upon removal, all of the products were in great shape with their expected Avengers branding.
Eye Shadow Wear Test
Because the color of each eye shadow can show up a bit differently on everyone’s eye lids, depending on shape and other factors, I first did swatches of each on my arm. I started with MAC’s four-color palette, which contains the following shades: Goldmine (frost finish), Concrete (satin finish), Ground Brown (matte finish), and Carbon (matte finish). These shadows are standard pigmented powders, the type of powder texture most people are probably familiar with when they think of eye shadow.
Goldmine (upper left), Ground Brown (upper right), Concrete (lower left), and Carbon (lower right).
From left to right: Goldmine, Ground Brown, Concrete, and Carbon.
From the swatch, the colors matched my expectations so I moved on to testing each shade for a full eight hours on two different days for a total of 16 hours. This let me see how the colors would wear for about the length of a workday. I only wore each eye shadow individually and without any additional products like a primer. I took photos at the start and end of the eight hours. All were taken in the same lighting, with more daylight naturally at the start of the eight hours and more artificial light needed by the end of the day—hence the slight difference in colors you’ll notice from the two and why the swatch above is helpful. I also did two different types of photos, one full face shot so you can see how the eye shadow will appear in the distance with a whole look over time and close up so you can see the wearing of each color more closely.
Each color predictably wore differently. Goldmine I thought would be the lightest just like in the swatch and wear the fastest. It did just that, starting out shiny but fading by the middle of the day. At the end of the day it was almost all gone, leaving only a slight hard-to-see shimmering behind.
Goldmine before (left) and after (right)
Goldmine before (top) and after (bottom)
Next I tried the brown shades. Ground Brown and Concrete both had good staying power over the eight hours. Yes, they faded but overall by the end of the day you could still see some of the color and it looked like I was still wearing eye shadow.
Concrete before (left) and after (right)
Concrete before (top) and after (bottom)
Ground Brown worn with Maleficent lip gloss to show how gloss pairs with a shade from the collection. Before (left) and after (right).
Ground Brown before (top) and after (bottom)
The same was true of the black color, Carbon. It can go on very dark depending on the look you want and even if you don’t put a lot on will last as well as the brown shades over time.
Carbon before (left) and after (right)
Carbon before (top) and after (bottom)
For Shiro Cosmetics I followed the exact same procedure. Their Avengers Mightiest Heroes Collection contains 10 colors so I chose four to be equal with MAC. I chose two shades that would be similar to two of MAC’s colors and two very different colors: A Push In The Right Direction, He Loves His Hammer, Cognitive Recalibration, and Something Sweet As Pain. The textures of these are very different from MAC’s shadows because they’re mineral powders, which might be less familiar to people who stick to brand names. This texture might make you think of the texture used more often for face powders.
The colors come as separate jars that when opened, have a seal on the inside you remove. You can then tap as much powder as you want to use out through small holes into the top half of the jar. Mineral cosmetics can be messy as a result, so you have to be careful with how much you want and not put too much on your brush. If you use too much, it can sometimes fly off the brush as you try to apply it and mark the rest of your face, which will ruin any other makeup you might have on.
From left to right: Cognitive Recalibration, Something Sweet As Pain, He Loves His Hammer, and A Push In The Right Direction.
I once again did an arm swatch but unlike MAC, Shiro already thought of this and actually offers its own swatches it you go to the page for an individual product.
From left to right: Cognitive Recalibration, A Push In The Right Direction, He Loves His Hammer, and Something Sweet As Pain.
First I tried the colors that reminded me most of the MAC shades: the brown-black A Push In The Right Direction inspired by Nick Fury and pewter He Loves His Hammer inspired by Thor. Both lasted as well as Carbon and the brown shades from MAC. They faded by the end of the day but not completely.
He Loves His Hammer before (left) and after (right)
He Loves His Hammer before (top) and after (bottom)
A Push In The Right Direction worn with Black Widow lip gloss to show how gloss pairs with a shade from the collection. Before (left) and after (right)
A Push In The Right Direction before (top) and after (bottom)
The same could be said of the Hawkeye-inspired burgundy shadow Cognitive Recalibration, which faded after eight hours but for the most part remained visible. The lighter shade of the four, the indigo Something Sweet As Pain inspired by Thanos’ servant The Other, was similar to MAC’s Goldmine in how quickly it faded through the day. It was slightly more visible than Goldmine at the end.
Cognitive Recalibration before (left) and after (right)
Cognitive Recalibration before (top) and after (bottom)
Something Sweet As Pain before (left) and after (right)
Something Sweet As Pain before (top) and after (bottom)
With a sense of how the eye shadows would wear, I moved on to test the lip gloss.
Lip Gloss Wear Test
For each lip gloss I followed the same procedure as the eye shadows, wearing them for eight hours on two separate days for a total of 16 hours and taking photos at the start and end of the day. Because lip shape and other factors can also affect color, I swatched the glosses as well. Each were the colors I expected based on what was advertised.
Shiro’s Red In My Ledger (left) and MAC’s pro longwear in Anthurium (right)
Each gloss was .6 ounces though MAC’s container was slightly smaller than Shiro’s. Upon opening them there was a bigger difference though. Shiro’s blackened mulberry Red In My Ledger gloss inspired by Black Widow was messy. It appeared watery and stuck to every part of the applicator, not just the head. On the other hand, MAC’s pro-longwear lipgloss in Anthurium gave a clean look upon opening. Even when both were closed, the Shiro gloss oozed out of the opening so that I lost some of the gloss wiping it away whereas the MAC gloss closed cleanly.
MAC Cosmetics (left) and Shiro Cosmetics (right) lip glosses open.
MAC Cosmetics (left) and Shiro Cosmetics (right) lip glosses after closing them.
I started with MAC’s gloss, which was easy to put on and is very bright at first. After four hours, though, it had almost completely faded. I reapplied it but by the end of the eight hours it was basically all gone.
Anthurium before (top) and after (bottom). See the full face shot above with Ground Brown shadow.
When I tried Shiro’s gloss it was slightly harder to put on because of its more watery texture, but it was clearly visible at the start. It also faded through the day and by halfway was all gone. I reapplied but at the end of eight hours it too had disappeared.
Red In My Ledger before (top) and after (bottom). See the full face shot above with A Push In The Right Direction shadow.
For the amount of money spent on the brand-name MAC Cosmetics products, there weren’t too many differences between it and independent Shiro Cosmetics. Both eye shadows lasted fairly well throughout the day, with Shiro’s light shade actually staying a bit more visible than MAC’s. The lip gloss was where MAC showed better quality and where it’s worth spending an additional $14 over Shiro.
One consideration with the less-expensive, independent cosmetics is how creative the colors were compared to MAC. The Maleficent collection by MAC may have been inspired by the character and branded with the movie logo, but the colors existed in the product line before this film. They were chosen to represent the film, but weren’t made specifically for this collection. You can, in fact, buy three of the four eye shadows (non-branded) individually for $16 each.
Shiro on the other hand clearly made its colors with the specific film’s characters in mind. From the individual artwork to the names of each product, everything gave a sense that there’s passion behind each item—and isn’t that the heart of fandom? It also had a much wider selection of choices than MAC, and mineral powders can be used for more than eyes, offering different looks when wet as well, so you can get more for your money.
In this case you can get quality and quantity by going with the less expensive, independent cosmetics company. It might be worth going brand name and spending the extra money when it comes to gloss, or if you really dig the bold way MAC presents its fandom-inspired lines. Either way, you can still show your fandom pride with your makeup.
To my surprise not long after this review was published, I received another envelope from Shiro Cosmetics in the mail. This one contained once again a few pieces of candy, a business card, products wrapped in paper and sealed with the logo, and a handwritten note from company founder Caitlin Johnstone. The note thanked me for this comparison and then explained that the Red In My Ledger gloss I received was actually faulty. The gloss, Johnstone explained, did not have the stopper inserted. She apologized for the mess it caused and said a replacement along with something extra was included in the package.
Johnstone had not only shipped me a new Red In My Ledger gloss but also sent her Game of Thrones-inspired fruity cranberry flavored Red Wedding gloss.
Looking inside the original gloss I received and this new one, it’s clear a stopper was indeed meant to be inserted. The Red Wedding gloss has one as well. When opening the new gloss, the mess I encountered with the original gloss is completely gone and upon closing, it doesn’t ooze out like the original gloss does.
This new gloss is as clean as MAC’s gloss now, with the gloss only being applied to the head of the applicator thanks to the stopper. It also closes cleanly.
Even though it is clearly in Shiro Cosmetics’ best interest to correct this error, I am still impressed by the fact that they sent me a handwritten note and a replacement. For them to take notice of the review when we did not send it directly to them, realize the error, and track down my information to send me this package speaks to the difference between brand and independent cosmetics. MAC may or may not have read the review, but Shiro is still small enough that the founder will take the time to handle the problem personally. I believe this shows how they would most likely act if there were a problem with a customer’s product as well.
If you want such a personal touch when it comes to your fandom cosmetics, then an independent brand like Shiro might be for you.
Photos by Lisa Granshaw and JoAnn Granshaw
Lisa Granshaw reports on pop culture and geek fashion and is the founder of GeekFold. You can find her work on Syfy, Boing Boing, and Geek and Sundry.