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By the early Nineties, AIDS and its impact had cast a shadow on the beauty industry.
“Several people in the industry had contracted AIDS, and few were doing anything about it,” recalls Frank Toskan, who cofounded MAC Cosmetics with Frank Angelo. “We couldn’t turn our head away from it. It was right in front of us.”
The pair brainstormed how to raise funds to fight the disease, and turned to their bestselling item — lipstick — for the answer. Thus was born Viva Glam. Every cent of the $14.50 selling price is donated to the MAC Aids Fund, which serves people affected by HIV and AIDS; today, the franchise consists of 10 products, the latest a bold pink lipstick and lip conditioner fronted by Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin.
Toskan patterned the first Viva Glam lipstick after MAC’s most popular shade, Russian Red, and tapped an unlikely spokesperson to promote it: drag queen RuPaul. “I created the best color I possibly could,” says Toskan.
But the concept wasn’t wholeheartedly embraced by all, at first. Some of MAC’s retail partners were leery of linking their nameplates with AIDS. Plus, MAC demanded retailers forgo their share of the profit on Viva Glam lipsticks. “We said to them, ‘You have to take what we offer, otherwise you strip us down and we no longer have a conscience,’” says Toskan. “Sometimes you just have to take a stand.”
That stand has since grown into a movement — continued today by MAC’s parent company, the Estée Lauder Cos. — that has generated nearly $250 million.
“I never dreamed that it would be so successful. It gives me faith,” says Toskan. “I learned that people are naturally willing to help. They just may need someone to nudge them once in awhile.”