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The Interview: RMS Beauty's Rose-Marie Swift on being a rebel and a clean pioneer

Chloe Burney
24 July 2023

Rose-Marie Swift started her career as a makeup artist, soon shooting to stardom after working with some of the world’s top models. Swift went on to create RMS Beauty after years of searching for products that not only looked natural on the skin but also weren't formulated with harmful chemicals.

RMS Beauty was founded in 2009, pioneering the 'clean beauty' movement. The brand birthed a slew of companies jumping on the ‘clean’ beauty bandwagon and saturating the once-niche market. Since its inception, RMS gained global recognition and is now stocked in Space NK and Sephora in the UK.

Swift candidly told about her struggles to make noise in the profit-over-wellness beauty industry as well as her battles as a clean cosmetics company competing with the industry giants. In the interview, Swift's passion for game-changing cosmetic chemistry is clear for all to see and it is no doubt the key to her success.

You started your career as a makeup artist, what made you take the leap into creating your own products in 2009?

I've been doing makeup ever since I've been a little kid, playing around on my sister's faces and cutting their hair and I somehow fell into doing makeup. Believe it or not, I used to go around to the strip clubs and sell the dancers makeup. Now you have to remember, this is back in the 70s. The clubs weren’t like the ones nowadays, they were actually burlesque shows, so to speak. I worked with so many different faces and so many different personalities and it was really fun.

I got a little private label copy to give me little eyeshadows and lipsticks that I would sell to the dancers. I’d buy products for 80 cents and sell them to them for $5 or $6. I was just raking in the bucks back in those days. But, I got into doing makeup because the cosmetics company asked me to do some makeup for a model that came into town. It was a very famous model at the time and my career took off from there. Before I knew it, I was working with Victoria's Secret, Louis Vuitton – all the biggies. I don't want to brag, but it came very easy for me. I was very lucky. I think the universe was guiding my direction.

I think also the universe has something bigger for me to do because I was always a huge advocate of healthy food. You know, drinking lots of green juices and eating organic salads. I couldn't stand the fact that makeup didn't look like the model’s skin. Everything had a weird overcast and SPF in it that looked white if it got wet. I'm really critical. The makeup had to be perfect and I thought, "this is bullshit! I'm just going to create my own brand".

My concept was: skincare meets minerals meets colour. It was beautiful on the skin and it photographed amazing. That was the challenge with the new ways of shooting digitally, everything was so precise and it was not always attractive looking. I remember the first time doing digital, they blew it up in the monitor and I thought that I was the most terrible makeup artist in the whole world because I could see all the makeup floating around on the surface of the skin. I thought, "This sucks, I’ve got to do my own brand". Here I am.


How many years of planning did it take to create the first-of-their-kind clean formulas?

I had a friend in Canada who worked for a paint factory. She was one of the chemists there and she helped me to create formulas.

I got the concept of organic formulas from the raw food industry. I just took the idea of clean, raw food and oils and I did research on how these are produced. Back then I was a raw foodist I didn't want to eat oils that were hydrogenated and fractionated, so why would I put that shit on my face?

I just wanted to create something that was almost edible - technically you can't really eat the product because of the colour pigment. But, you know, I wanted ingredients that were really clean and it expanded from there. Especially once Miranad Kur, Giselle and Adriana Lima started saying nice things about the brand in their interviews. So it was fabulous!

Some of the models I can't mention because they've had huge contracts with makeup brands for years. They pretend to wear all these big-name brands, but they are wearing my shit!

This industry is all about name-dropping. For example, trying to get into a store at the very beginning was kind of a nightmare. I was doing French Vogue in Paris and I decided to take my products into Colette. I walked in there and I said: "Hey, my name is Rosemary. I'm here doing French Vogue with Mario Sorrenti".

If you name-drop, they'll pay attention. And, of course, took my product the next day. So then we started going around in New York telling retailers we’re stocked in Collette and doors just opened.

When you started the brand, people dubbed you, a forward thinker, as "controversial". Why do you think it took the industry so long to catch up to your "forward thinking"?

Oh honey, I'm an Aquarius, I’m very rebellious. We're future thinkers of humanity.

I care about what people are putting on their faces, but I think what took the industry so long is a conflict of interests. We’d go and meet with Editors and I’d tell them what products I avoid using in products. But they couldn’t talk about RMS Beauty next to an ad from, you know, your P&G companies whose products are full of chemicals. They’re the big-paying companies that are giving plenty of advertising dollars.

We had to really figure out our own way to get press and attention. This was a time when blogs first came about and when Facebook was big. We’d use those platforms to talk about our product because it was hard to get coverage.

So that was a huge challenge for me, but it helped that I was a well-known makeup artist. When models were interviewed, people would ask what’s in your bag, or on your makeup shelf and they helped me get the word out. That’s how it got out.

What makes RMS different from other brands in the over-saturated beauty market?

I think it's because when we started, I was the only one that was versed on what is in cosmetics. I'm not a chemist, but I actually went out of my way to learn and study what was in cosmetics and what products were under scrutiny. I would blatantly tell editors about the chemicals in beauty products and after a while, they liked me coming in and they wanted to hear what I have to say.

When somebody has a question to ask in the industry, they would come to me for the truth and I’d always give it. Unlike some cosmetics companies, I’m not afraid to speak up. Some would rather be quiet and make their money, but I am thinking of the bigger picture. I'm a humanitarian, I want people to be eating healthy food, I want people to be smelling clean air and I want people to be using clean products.

Why would you eat healthy food, then put that stuff on your face when it gets into the skin? Your babies touch it, you kiss your kids when you’ve got lipstick on – with all these chemicals in it! You inhale it, you ingest it. There’s a bigger picture than just selling a product. Nobody wanted to start talking, whereas I talk too much.

Not only were we one of the first to make clean cosmetics, but I also think people trust me as a makeup artist too. If they’re going to buy teeth whitening, you'd want it to come from a dentist, not an influencer. In the same way, If people are going to buy clean beauty colour cosmetics, it should come from somebody who knows every raw material and ingredient to the tee.

"Clean" is often used to market beauty products but isn’t always reflective of natural ingredients. As a truly "clean" company, can you tell us some more about your skin-loving, clean ingredients?

I don't have marketing people behind me throwing bucks around. Some stores have their own grading system for what they think of as "clean" and you know, if you think about it, that's a pretty hard comparison to just blanket everybody under the same box. Like the editors with conflicting interests, stores have the same problem.

What’s happening now is that beauty stores have grading systems but they have to think about the brands they stock. They can’t, for example, grade YSL or Estée Lauder poorly. They don’t want to get in trouble with the big money makers, so they have to think about the big eagle hanging over their heads.

There are so many ingredients and products that people label as "clean" but are filled with things like silicones. You can avoid silicone; you don't have that super slippy slidey feeling but we have found alternatives.

In my opinion, we’re the cleanest of the clean brands that rival famous products and categories. Our re-dimension hydro powder blushes are the perfect example of this. That was the first time that technology was ever used. You know, as clean as it is, we made sure it didn’t contain silicones and talc.

We went to the lab and we worked shoulder to shoulder to create a formula that went viral on TikTok. We also have shade extensions coming out soon because it's done so well. People want more. It is also refillable, so overall as a brand, we’re really pushing the boundaries asking, "Can we do better?".


You mentioned the packaging and how it's refillable. Your packaging across the brand is interesting, can you tell us about it?

I wanted simplicity, I'm super minimalist. Back in the 90s when I was a makeup artist, I was sponsored by Shu Umera. I was obsessed with Japanese makeup, I didn’t have any French makeup in my kit. So, I was heavily influenced by Japanese simplicity and elegance.

Since we associate clean with white, we went with that neutral colour palette. I wanted my products to look like skincare and no colour brand had ever done their packaging all white. The minimalist style keeps in the vein of looking clean like skincare because my products are like water, not glue. It’s not MAC, where you pack the products on.

My little glass pots look like pots of French rouge from back in the 50s. That's what I wanted. The packaging is reflective of a watered-down, ethereal look to the skin.

At the start, I wanted little glass pods with metal lids, so that were recyclable and refillable and since then we've done a good job of making choices to reduce post-consumer recycled plastic. It costs us more. It takes longer, but it's better. It's a better choice.

So if you can use aluminium in place of plastic, we're going to do it, as it makes sense for the brand and the consumer. We're going to do it. It's harder, more expensive, longer, more challenging, but we're clearly up to the challenge.

If you are investing in high-quality ingredients and packaging, how do you balance this with being a profitable business? Is there ever a time when you draw the line and say, "You know what, we just can’t do this"?

Yes, and that has happened before. We've turned down a product because of money. For example, we had to do that recently with ingestible.

But you know, you can go to these labs and say, "I want something the quality of like a meal at McDonald's", or "I want the quality of the finest organic restaurant", and that's exactly what they're going to give you.

Sometimes, we have to deal with the fact that it's going to be more expensive. But in the long run, if that works better, then there's no point in us coming out with something that’s not the quality we want.

Our consumers have been on this journey with us and they trust me. So, yes we have a $48 sunscreen, and it doesn’t give us the margin that compares to those of larger companies, but we’ll take the smaller margins over lesser quality. With a niche brand, like we are, we're able to do that and it's not everybody's business practice, but it's the right practice.

Sometimes companies just want the claim that a certain ingredient is in their product, even if the lab tells them the quantity won’t be effective. Whether this ingredient works in the product or not, some companies don’t care, they just want to claim that it’s in there. Take hyaluronic acid, for example, companies want that claim. We actually got ourselves in trouble years ago when we said how awful it is and how it pills up under your makeup.

However, we found this unbelievable raw material version of hyaluronic acid, did the research to make sure it’s the best quality and now we’re using it in our products. It’s funny with ingredients, there's a beer version and there's a Cristal champagne version. If you're not on top of your ingredients and the products that you're making, then the labs put in the cheaper stuff because they can pocket more money.

Another example is our use of organic coconut oil. I insisted that we used cold centrifuge coconut oil and the chemist was in shock at the difference in the quality between normal cold-pressed coconut oil compared to cold centrifuged coconut oil. There are so many versions, including organic coconut oil, there’s a huge spectrum. People have been going on for years and years about how coconut oil clogs your pores. Well, RMS paid to get ours tested… and it does not clog the pores. So we have scientific proof, that cold centrifuged coconut oil doesn’t clog the pores, but that doesn’t go for all versions of the ingredient.

What are your best-selling products and why?

I think that the Luminizer put RMS Beauty on the map. It was such a cool highlight at the time because all the others out there were glittery, but this just gave luminosity to the skin.

But, our Un Cover-Up concealer has been our best seller for the past 15 years and is still our number one. Uncover up is tried and true. Customers love the light coverage that's just really comfortable to wear that looks like skin.

And then, of course, the beauty oil. It's one of those formulas that if you use it once, it becomes an addiction.

What does the future of RMS look like? Are there any exciting launches or collaborations on the horizon you can tell us about?

In the US we just launched our first-ever sunscreen, which is coming to the UK in Q1 of next year.

And, as I mentioned, we've advanced a lot with our hydropower blushes – people just can't get enough of them! We have three more shades coming out. We also have a luminizer version that's coming out this fall. We're leaning into the super cool technology that our customers are loving. I think a lot of times clean beauty has this unfortunate reputation of not lasting long or looking good on the skin and these are performing better than any product that's on the marketplace. They're lovely and they last all day.

We also have water-based lipstick, which isn't yet available in the UK. There's nothing like this on the market! It's basically an emulsion – just super cool. We're able to include serum-like ingredients in the formula because you can disperse them into water, whereas lipsticks are generally waxes, butters and oils. So it is a conditioning lipstick that lasts all day.

We're really focused on always advancing and innovating the ingredients and the technology in clean beauty.

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