NEW YORK — Frustrated with cosmetics she felt were unflattering to Latina skin tones, three years ago makeup artist Monica Ramirez decided to take matters into her own hands.

An excellent idea, since according to “The Latina’s Bible” by Sandra Guzman, Hispanic women spend $1.6 billion annually on cosmetics, fragrances and personal-care products. And they spend 27 percent more on cosmetics and 43 percent more on fragrance than the general market.

So Ramirez created her own line.

Ramirez, president of Zalia Cosmetics, began by testing products in two salons, one in New York City and the other on Long Island, getting rid of unpopular shades, launching new colors and tweaking product formulations to best complement Latina skin. Later, she teamed up with former Estée Lauder Cos. executive, Khaled Haram, now chief executive officer of Zalia Cosmetics, and planned the relaunch.

The line was repackaged with silver and clear components bearing the Zalia name in red, and secondary packaging that boasts the brand’s colorful flower icon. The water-based formulas are oil-free, fragrance-free and yellow-pigmented to appeal to the olive-based Latina skin tone. Zalia Cosmetics is a complete color line that consists of about 109 stockkeeping units, ranging in price from $9 to $26.50.

Zalia opened two BeautiLounges in November, both in New Jersey, which are actually kiosks located near the center of the mall and decorated with brightly colored carpets, drapes, mirrors and visuals — one of a fair Latina model and the other with a darker complexion.

“We really wanted to do something different and to play with a space that’s open — not behind counters,” noted Haram. They were designed to be an “intimate and personal” environment. When customers approach the BeautiLounge they are greeted in Spanish. “Latinas love togetherness and usually travel together,” said Ramirez. “They’re very close in our culture, so we wanted a place where they could come and hang out.” And besides the visuals designed to appeal to a wide range of Latina women, there are even special makeup sheets. “Basically, it reflects Latina features. We tend to have bigger eyes, bigger lips and a rounder face,” said Ramirez. The best seller so far is Color Blend, a $26.50 highlighter compact.The company plans to open three to four additional locations in the first half of 2004, and is eyeing the tri-state area, Florida, Texas and California, which makes sense since research determined that 71 percent of all Hispanics live in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey. Next on the list are Illinois, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia.

An important part of the strategy is that the company identified various malls it felt could “best service the Hispanic population.” Stores will be placed in areas that have a Hispanic penetration of at least 25 percent [the percentage of the Hispanic population in thetotal population]. Haram explained, “from a positioning point of view, we wanted to be somewhere between prestige and mass. So the brand is a great value proposition to the consumer who is lacking the product that fits between the $8 lipstick which is the high end at mass and $13 or $14, which is your entry point at prestige.”

Industry sources estimate that Zalia Cosmetics could generate as much as $1.5 million in the first year.

Promotions will include mailings and in-store events. Haram noted that several magazines, such as Urban Latino, and organizations they work with “have a large network of Hispanics in their database and are excited about sharing that with us.” Zalia Cosmetics will also donate 3 percent of sales to charitable functions and organizations that empower Latina women and entrepreneurs.

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