This piece appears as part of our initiative on Identity & Representation, a six-month-long project highlighting different facets of identity and how they shape the practices, conventions, and conversations happening in the Highsnobiety world. Head here for the full series.
Dark undereye circles are a universal problem. Whether you’re poorly rested, dehydrated, a little hungover, or simply more susceptible than others to the darkening of the thin, sensitive skin around the eyes, dark circles are something most people want to hide, if only to avoid comments like “Rough night, huh?”
But those circles are hard to mask, which is why Deepica Mutyala became an internet phenomenon in 2015 with a viral video in which she brilliantly and unexpectedly used bright red lipstick to help cover her own circles. Nearly 11 million people have watched the video to date, and it thrust Mutyala from her job in brand development at Birchbox to internet influencer.
Mutyala, a first-generation Indian American, found that the bright red color neutralized the deep purple tones of her dark circles. When applied before a concealer, it allowed a more even and flattering blend with her brown skin, a solution many other non-white consumers were looking for.
The beauty web went bonkers, but the technique didn’t work with every skin tone. Mutyala noticed that there was a spectrum of tones that could benefit from this color correction, but that consumers needed more than one option, not just bright red. They also needed a product that wasn’t simply red lipstick, one that contained nourishing skincare benefits, too.
For the next three years, as she grew six-figure followings on her tutorial- and testimonial-centric YouTube and Instagram channels, Mutyala realized another thing: she was getting relatable feedback from followers, many of them South Asian like herself, and most of them non-white. They shared their experiences with colorism — the beauty industry marketing and tailoring products for lighter skin tones — and soon Mutyala found she had become a genuine figure of influence among a community with universal concerns.
“We were talking about these topics that nobody else was,” Mutyala recalls. “I got to relate with all these other people going through it. They would come and share their thoughts on identity and culture and being proud. Those followers met other people going through it.
“We talked about things like facial hair, which is something I was embarrassed about growing up, and about hyperpigmentation, or having rosacea or dark circles. Then we got even deeper and talked about our childhoods and our paths to self-discovery, and how we were helping other people do the same.”
Suddenly, her channels were a meeting ground for discussions about all kinds of matters, not just skin concerns and colorism. Mutyala started making non-beauty videos, addressing issues such as depression and moving home to Texas with her parents for a month. This groundedness created another dimension: Deepica the human being, not just Deepica the beauty expert.
With experience on the business side of the beauty industry in corporate environments such as L’Oréal and Victoria’s Secret, as well as the scrappy startup setting at Birchbox, Mutyala saw an opportunity to launch her own brand, especially now she had three years as a product tester and accidental community manager.
She is forthright about the fact this had been a goal of hers since she was a teenager, but it wasn’t something she was about to rush into. As an influencer, she was often approached about launching things like an eye-shadow palette or self-branded highlighters, but it always felt like the wrong approach given the community she had cultivated.
“I have so many influencer friends who have had tremendous success in launching palettes or highlighters,” she says. “But I felt like whatever I launched had to have more purpose behind it, and not just a product for the sake of it. So it boils down to what I wish more brands did: listen to your audience. Community, community, community.”
And that’s how Mutyala’s brand Live Tinted was born. But it wasn’t launched with products, against the advice of would-be investors and industry experts. It was launched as a separate social channel, a place for Mutyala’s community to gather around shared concerns, not just around Deepica the personality.
“I felt very strongly that we had to launch the community first, so that I myself could learn what this brand was,” Mutyala says. “This Live Tinted community turned into our focus group. They were the ones who told us what they wanted and what the market was missing. Why not go directly to the source and ask them what they want?”
“If I had just launched it under me, I think it would have just been a South Asian brand,” she continues. “And while I’m proud to have created something that includes South Asian women, Live Tinted is something so much more than that. It’s for every shade in between, it’s about mid-tones, and it’s about the people who connect to the voice behind the brand, including both ends of that color spectrum.”
After crowd-sourcing ideas with the Live Tinted community, Mutyala wasn’t surprised to learn their major beauty concerns were the same as three years prior: hyperpigmentation and dark circles. She didn’t want to assume, as beauty trends include people wearing less makeup and focusing more on skincare. But what people did want was a multi-purpose stick. They wanted a skin-nourishing color corrector that could be used as a lipstick, eye shadow, or blush.
And so the multi-purpose Live Tinted Huestick was born, launched in May this year in three neutralizing tones, from deep to neutral tints of red. Each stick is vegan, cruelty-free, and clean, and packed with hydration-boosting hyaluronic acid and squalane, along with pigment-correcting vitamin C and antioxidant-rich vitamin E, all of which Mutyala’s followers had expressed as priorities.
Launching the product and the initial Live Tinted marketing campaign was all-consuming for Mutyala. She had to stay true to her community, picking tones that worked with the whole spectrum of skin colors and market them in a way that corrected colorism as if it were a pair of pesky dark circles. She had to build a team of advisors and set up an office in her LA garage. Her first hire was her cousin, who oversees Live Tinted’s finances.
She also had to build a business plan that would attract investors — and the company is currently going through first-round fundraising. It took a year and change, but launching a brand had been Mutyala’s dream since she was 16. It was a response to the dyed-blond hair and blue contact lenses she’d worn at that age, the result of the colorism she experienced herself.
Mutyala harnessed her vlogging powers to create a docuseries about launching the Live Tinted brand, whittling down more than 80 hours of footage she captured during the planning period.
In the videos, she discusses casting from the Live Tinted community and her desire to avoid tokenism. We see her in various stages of product development and sample testing, as well as in business meetings, including one with her role model, Bobbi Brown, whom Mutyala calls “the queen of color correction.” We see the campaign shoot, scraped together using a mix of Mutyala’s own contacts, Live Tinted community members, and friends, and shot entirely in Mutyala’s garage.
It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the director is South Asian and everyone in the beauty crew is a woman of color. A quick scan of the Huestick product page shows models of various ethnicities and skin tones wearing all three Huestick shades on cheeks, lips, and eyes, and under concealer. There is next to no retouching of the shots, showcasing the product’s efficacy and the Live Tinted community’s natural beauty.
While Mutyala and her small team manage the fundraising, sales, community, and product development (which will continue to be sourced from the community), the Live Tinted founder is finally able to step back and reflect on the experiences that brought her to this point: “I grew up not seeing myself on TV, on billboards, in magazines — and I believed that my life was of less caliber. And so I changed parts of myself to be more like the people I was seeing. So, on a personal level, whatever Live Tinted can do to help change that narrative for other people, we will do.”