Tackling the Cosmetic Industry as a Student Entrepreneur

A split image of Nsek in a chestire cat outfit and another of her holding up her lipgloss with pulled back hair.

Magdalene Nsek’s purple menacing grin stretches over her face, as black whiskers peek out from each corner. She outstretches her fingers, revealing 1-inch acrylic claws as pointed as daggers. It’s weeks before Halloween arrives, but she’s in full costume as the grinning Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. But this isn’t in preparation for a fall holiday party, she’s promoting her business, Chibi Cosmetics, a product line for cosplayers.

It’s Not Dressing Up. It’s Cosplay.

The act of dressing up as fictional characters from popular culture dates back as far as the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the mid-’80s when the term cosplay, a combination of costume and play, came into existence. Now, fans of science-fiction, manga, superheroes, and television shows spend hundreds to thousands of dollars each year building out simple to elaborate outfits in an effort to pay homage to their favorite character. And for the truly committed fans, they trek to their nearest Comic-Con each year to convene with equally obsessed cosplayers. And each year, it seems the crowds grow in size. In 2019, Comic-Con reported $26 million in revenue, a near $1 million increase from previous sales.

After Nsek lost her job at an IT department in 2020 during the onset of the pandemic, she began spending hours of quarantine watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. But for Nsek, she didn’t just settle on watching, she applied what she learned with her own face. Things escalated quickly from here. Next, she was in full costume and makeup to appear as her favorite Mortal Kombat characters, a popular videogame from the 1990s. After sharing the images of her outfits and enjoying the “likes”, an idea sparked. “I thought, why not make money from my hobby?” laughs Nsek. But this wasn’t going to remain just some hobby for much longer. Nsek was obsessed––spending so much time on her makeup she was late for nearly every appointment. “That’s when I realized the 9-5 isn’t for me.” And in what was about to become a series of escalations, she set out to start her own cosmetic line.

 

“People who were into anime used to be made fun of. Now it’s about embracing it.”

 

A new business requires more than publishing a website and watching your Paypal account blow up––it isn’t the ’90s anymore. Today, there are plenty of people fighting over market space for small to big sales alike. And the U.S. beauty and personal care market is wickedly crowded. In fact, cosmetics as an industry is a global leader in sales, raking in $89.5 billion in 2018. Skeptical? A walk down any cosmetic aisle reveals hundreds upon hundreds of unique brands vying for your attention. And often, that’s just at your local pharmacy.

Nsek wasn’t naive in what she was venturing to accomplish. She already attempted selling her own artwork with little success, so was acquainted with the feelings of defeat–something she wasn’t eager to experience again. She enrolled at the University of Redlands School of Business to obtain her MBA. It was here, she hoped to learn more about the legal processes in starting a business, how to market her product, and make sales.

After enrolling, Nsek learned about cornering a segment of the market, rather than trying to sell to everyone. It just so happens the consumers she cornered, cosplayers, were perfectly timed. With the emergence of superheroes leaping from the comic book bins to theatres, fanning over capes and spandex was now popular culture. “People who were into anime used to be made fun of. Now it’s about embracing it.” The geeks finally get their day.

So, what’s the future hold for Chibi Cosmetics? With Nsek’s education in business and immersive participation in cosplay, she is already working toward expansion. She registered Chibi Cosmetics as a limited liability corporation and has been seen with her product lines at a pop-up held on campus. When asked what’s next, there’s no hesitation in her response. “I aspire to be bigger because my goal is to have a storefront at the right place at the right time.”

If you’re looking to learn more about what it takes to begin your own business while enrolled in college, consider sending Nsek a message on Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok.

By Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee
Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee Assistant Director of Marketing Thomas Guzowski, U of R Employee