As the pandemic keeps much of the world’s population in a holding pattern, in-person exploration is obviously out of the question. But virtual connections are having a moment, from hikes and tours to classes and entertainment, and one beauty brand is getting in on the action, with videos that blend makeup tutorials with personal stories from around the globe.
CTZN Cosmetics was founded by a trio of sisters – Aleena, Aleezeh and Naseeha Khan – of Pakistani ethnicity, born in Los Angeles and raised in the Middle East – who felt that no one looked like them in beauty campaigns. The brand launched in May 2019 with the tagline “Of the World” – and in addition to providing a line of products tailored to people of color, CTZN aims to foster an international community of makeup lovers seeking a glimpse of other cultures and lifestyles with its Cultutorial video series.
Though beauty may seem like an unusual gateway to cultural exploration, brand and marketing head Aleena discovered that it’s one of the few subjects that can seriously capture a click-hungry audience’s attention. As a former member of Snapchat’s content team, she says she realized that people were actually watching makeup tutorials for ten to 15 minutes – “and that's so rare to get that opportunity nowadays,” she tells Lonely Planet. “I had this epiphany where I was like, why don't we actually teach someone something in those minutes that we have such a captivated audience?”
To that end, each segment features one individual working their way through their makeup routine while highlighting their experiences in a particular location. So far, episodes on South Korea, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Egypt, India, and London have been introduced, with more in the works. “It's done in a really fun way that doesn't feel like a history or geography lesson,” operations and logistics head Aleezeh tells Lonely Planet. “It's just that person's point of view of their culture and how they incorporate it into everyday life, even if they don't live in the country that they're talking about.”
With tips covering everything from go-to beaches to craveable cuisine, the videos aim to offer that sense of place a local knows best. “From our South Korea Cultutorial, one of the interesting things that that girl said was that revealing your shoulders is really frowned upon in South Korea – an interesting tip for a tourist who's going to visit,” product curation head Naseeha says.
The series does steer clear of politics, a decision determined by the brand and reinforced by the subjects of their videos. “The people shooting the Cultutorials are the ones that bring it up where they're not comfortable mentioning it,” Aleena says, though CTZN prefers to stay neutral as well, especially since “a lot of these are...new cultures we don't know that much about,” she adds.
While the cofounders are clear that their Cultutorials are not intended to be completely representative of any given location – and indeed, they hope to expand the series to include other voices from each place – they also see the videos as a way of providing cultural awareness, and clearing up any misconceptions that may exist. “To me, culture is not really the history of somewhere,” Aleena says. “It's very subjective – someone's experience in their culture...can be different for everyone, and I think that is so much less about the facts and more about someone's own relationship with their culture. At CTZN, we are more interested in that angle.”
The videos are “just a short synopsis giving you enough of what you need to know to understand the overall feel or vibe of a culture,” Aleena says. “Culture is not really the history of somewhere. It's like, what are people like in that country, what are the mannerisms, what's the colloquial slang? Culture is like, what the lifestyle is of the place.”
“Beyond the stereotypes,” Aleezeh adds.
For more on CTZN’s Cultutorials, visit ctzncosmetics.com.