By  on January 14, 2005

NEW YORK — Markwins International is playing with the big beauty brands.

This spring, its Wet ‘n’ Wild division will add several new items including an Ultimate Sheer Tinted Moisturizer and an Ultimate Cover Smooth Foundation. Both are advanced, quality formulations not typically associated with budget brands.

Wet ‘n’ Wild has been owned by Markwins International and has operated as Markwins Beauty Products since 2003 when the California-based company acquired the brands from AM Cosmetics.

These two sophisticated launches illustrate just how far Markwins has progressed from its roots as a supplier of inexpensive imported blockbuster kits to a full-fledged beauty resource with estimated sales exceeding $200 million. “They are playing with the big boys now,” said industry observer Allan Mottus.

Once considered just a seasonal and promotional resource, Markwins is now classified as a major beauty manufacturer — one with brands giving established names such as Revlon and Del Laboratories’ NYC a run for their money.

Markwins got its start selling promotional blockbusters to department stores under The Color Workshop banner several years ago. The next step was mass market kits bearing a variety of names such as ACT. The company established its own production plant overseas, allowing it to launch value-packed kits at sharp prices. “I don’t know how they can put such quality out at such cheap prices,” wondered one competitor, who asked not to be named.

The kits have been staples at chains such as Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kmart and even Kohl’s.

Five years ago, these kits supplanted fragrances as mass’ best-selling holiday item. This Christmas, Markwins initiated category management programs for the division that resulted in higher-than-ever sell-throughs, according to Markwins International’s Bill George, president of North American operations. “Markwins is always a Christmas staple,” said Valerie Cheyney, buyer for Happy Harry’s in Newark, Del. “As always, Markwins did well this year.”

But the kits are only one part of the Markwins story. The acquisition of AM was a turning point for the firm. Many retailers’ eyebrows were raised when Markwins acquired AM and its Wet ‘n’ Wild, Black Radiance, Tropez and Jonel logos. The concern was whether a company known for promotional imports could sustain a major beauty force.

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