It all started because she could not find the perfect mascara.
Ms Nina Leykind, founder of British eye make-up brand Eyeko, used to buy and toss out mascara after mascara because nothing matched her expectations.
“You can get great lipstick and blusher anywhere, but for mascara, there was always something missing. It dries up easily in the tube; the lashes droop after a while; the mascara fades or crumbles,” says the 44-year-old Briton during an interview at a recent Sephora press event.
Eyeko (a mash-up of the words “eye company”) was launched at Sephora stores here earlier this month.
“These were the little details which got to me and I knew I was not alone in this.”
So, in 1999, she quit her public relations job to start Eyeko with her American husband, Mr Max Leykind, who ran cosmetics label Hard Candy from 1995 to 1998.
One of the first products she came up with was a mascara which comes in a soft paint-tube packaging.
“The mascara does not dry out as easily in our tube and you can squeeze it to find out if there is any more left, so there is zero wastage,” says the mother of two.
Then, unlike other beauty brands which promise do-it-all mascaras, she churned out three different ones.
“The Skinny Brush Mascara lengthens, the Fat Brush Mascara volumises and then you can layer the Black Magic Mascara on top for the curl and jet-black lashes,” she shares. Use all three mascaras together if you want dramatic lashes or use each on its own for a subtler look.
“All make-up artists will tell you that they use more than one mascara.”
Today, she claims that the inky Black Magic Mascara – inspired by the curly and dark lashes of her children, aged seven and 11 – is a staple of celebrity make-up artists and has been worn on the red carpet by A-listers, such as Jennifer Lawrence, Salma Hayek and Nicole Kidman.
Another example of how well she is able to intuitively tap into what women want from their cosmetics: the Visual Eyes Liquid Eyeliner.
It comes with a fine and stiff brush tip for dotting in between the lashes to get brighter looking eyes, and drawing bold flicks easily because many women say they cannot get the cat-eye look.
“My best friend Emma Bunton (also known as Baby Spice from defunct girl group Spice Girls) used to say she could never draw a smooth line on her eyes. She now uses Visual Eyes at the back of the car,” boasts Ms Leykind.
Eyeko products used to be made in Italy. However, seven years ago, she switched to South Korean formulas. “They’re so advanced with their eye make-up,” she says.
While Eyeko has been known for its long-lasting and innovative cosmetics, it found worldwide fame only last year, when it hired British It girl, host-model Alexa Chung, as its creative consultant.
“We noticed that whenever she was interviewed in magazines on how she does her signature eye make-up, she always said she uses Eyeko,” recalls Ms Leykind.
“So, we invited her on board and it increased visibility for our brand. Many people know who Alexa is and we’re officially trendy and fashionable because Alexa wouldn’t be associated with the brand otherwise.”
Ms Leykind also insists that Chung, who loves the 1960s mod make-up look, is “not just a face”.
“We have a genuine partnership. As a creative consultant, she oversees all our packaging, design and products.”
She says she receives e-mail messages packed with ideas and tearsheets from Chung in the middle of the night.
The first product which Chung created for the brand was the Eye Do Liquid Eyeliner.
She had wanted the ink to be darker and a formula which could help the lashes grow. The result was a stiff marker pen-like carbon black liner with a fine nib. Tripeptides are added in the liner to help promote lash growth.
Chung also designed the packaging and came up with the name “Eye Do” and the tagline “That’s where I draw the line”, which are printed on the pen in her handwriting.
To date, Chung has two ranges of Eyeko products to her name: the Eye Do Eyeliner and Eye Do Mascara – which lengthens and strengthens – as well as the Me & My Shadow eye-colour products.
Ms Leykind says about one million pieces of the Eye Do liners have been sold around the world so far.
Aside from liners, the brand also carries brow gels, eye make-up wipes and eye mask patches. There are 20 Eyeko products in total.
Prices start from US$9 (S$11) for a packet of wipes to US$28 for a metallic eyeliner.
Sephora stores in Singapore carry selected Eyeko products, but you can get all the products at www.Eyeko.com.
The brand is sold in South Korea, Hong Kong, the United States, Australia, Europe and Dubai. It is stocked at retailers such as Colette, Sephora and Selfridges & Co, as well as on Net-A-Porter. The brand will venture into Japan and Brazil next.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on July 18, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.