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Grade schoolers and makeup
26 February, 2012

Growing up

New York Times News Service

The other day at Kimara Ahnert’s makeup and skin care studio on Madison Avenue, Sloane Kratzman, 12, was sitting in a chair, having blush applied to her cheeks, her legs dangling above the floor. She had been driven in after school from Greenwich, Connecticut, by her mother, Teresa Kratzman, a longtime friend of Ahnert’s, for her first makeup application lesson.

“She’s taken an interest in makeup, so she might as well learn to put it on properly,” the elder Kratzman said. “There’s so much out there now.”

“All my girlfriends are wearing makeup; it’s the stage,” Sloane agreed. She said she reads The Zoe Report, Teen Vogue and Seventeen, and looks up to Blake Lively and Lauren Conrad for beauty tips. “Everyone at least has lip gloss,” she said. “Benefit is the hot brand right now.”

A sixth-grader, Sloane is part of an emerging demographic: the tween beauty sophisticate who might go to a salon for updos, facials or waxing. Ahnert, for one, said she has regular 12-year-old clients who have their makeup done before going out to a dinner or to a bat mitzvah.

Defined vaguely as ages 8 to 14, the tween category now has several product lines. In February 2011, GeoGirl, a collection touting natural ingredients like licorice extract, green tea and vitamin E, arrived on the market. Reactions were mixed, with some critics excoriating the line for marketing anti-aging products to children.

“Our target demographic is actually the beauty beginner,” said Janine Coppola, senior marketing director of Pacific World, the company behind GeoGirl. “We created more for stage and not an age.” (She said, though, that most cosmetic users start at 10.)

A year later, GeoGirl is thriving. Wal-Mart renewed orders for 2012, and began stocking the brand last September.

The sector is growing overall as well. The NPD Group, a market research company, found that in 2009 girls ages 8 to 12 had raised their average beauty product spending by 70 cents a month, when compared with two years earlier. And they increasingly have options aimed specifically at them.

On Dec. 12, Lourdes Leon, the daughter of Madonna, was on location in New York City for a photo shoot for Material Girl clothing. Leon, who is 15 and known casually as Lola, founded the brand, sold exclusively at Macy’s, with her mother in August 2010. A year later, the two introduced Material Girl beauty. Leon came up with the idea, she said, and designed the packaging (an ‘80s-looking, bright graffiti typeface), flavours and scents. (Her favourite is Viva Vanilla, although she added, “I don’t like anything that smells too sweet.”)

“I was mostly using adult products before,” Leon later wrote in an email. “For example, I was using Bare Minerals, Benefit and MAC.”

Her interest in beauty began early. “When I was 2 years old!” she wrote. “Growing up in London and NYC, I was always fascinated by makeup.”

With a range of offerings, Material Girl beauty is as much Holly Hobbie as Lolita. Lip glosses, at $7 a tube, come in the sweetly innocent “Butterscotch Sundae” or the vampy “Plum Like It Hot.” The “Flirty Fruit” body wash ($12) is a blast of playground nostalgia. Meanwhile, the “Smoky and Sexy” eye palette, Leon’s favourite item at the moment, packages four shadows and a black liner for the adult price tag of $20.

Where the preteen category ends and teen and adult beauty begin has become as well-blended as Leon’s expert smoky eye.

“The tween market is performing well, but it’s hard to separate from the value market,” said Jose Barra, senior vice president for health care and beauty at Target. Barra defined value products as those with price tags 20 percent lower than national brands., like e.l.f. cosmetics, with items priced from $1 to $3.

“If you think about what the tween is doing, she is trying to figure herself out,” Barra said. “She wants to use what her mom and older sister are using, but it has to be low-cost for her because she’s more on a budget. For it to work, it has to be a brand that can take her into puberty and maybe even college.” (It’s also a challenge for a brand to grow with its spokesmodel; earlier tween lines, like one by the Olsen twins for Wal-Mart, have foundered.)

Tinker Bell, at least, is timeless: In March, Target will introduce a collection themed to the Disney character by Pixi cosmetics. The same month, the chain will begin stocking Willa, a beauty line aimed at the 7-to-14 set.

In attractive white packaging accented by royal purple and silver hologram accents, Willa has more design kudos than many adult drugstore brands.

The founder, Christy Prunier, a former Hollywood film executive, got the idea three years ago when looking for beauty options for her 8-year-old daughter, Willa Doss. “Everything had cheap chemicals in it,” Prunier, 43, said.

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