Innovator Interviews: Urban Decay’s Malena Higuera

Innovator Interviews: Urban Decay’s Malena Higuera

Urban Decay recently threw its first metaverse makeup launch party on Roblox. Malena Higuera, general manager at Urban Decay said the Urban Decay Eye-Con effort was a way to encourage fans to break the rules and unleash creativity in surprising ways. 

“Urban is the OG of not just nonconformity, but also for always testing and learning from trial and error,” said Higuera. “Sometimes we’re almost too early to the game, because we’re always innovating. We also always try to have a good time. It’s really about having fun, being first in the space and seeing how we can deliver new and inventing and entertaining experiences.” 

The brand revealed 18 virtual makeup looks in Roblox and developed 3D avatar wearables that allowed users to try on makeup products that could be purchased. The products included limited-edition looks from beauty influencers Manny Gutierrez, Leilani Green, and Emmy Combs, including: 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil, 24/7 Moondust Glitter Eyeshadows and 24/7 Inks Liquid Eyeliner. The virtual event was produced in collaboration with Ulta Beauty’s Ultaverse, where consumers could try new looks on their avatars and then shop at the Urban Decay pop-up shop. 

This immersive experience isn’t Urban Decay’s first foray into Roblox’s ever-expanding universe. The brand collaborated with Paris Hilton in 2022 to launch Cryptoween, a virtual Halloween soirée complete with costumes, DJ sets, and special celebrity appearances. 

Brand Innovators caught up with Higuera to talk metaverse, Gen Z and innovation. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

How is the brand thinking about the metaverse?

The idea was to bring our sense of self expression to a whole new audience. What I love about the metaverse is it’s a space where we are servicing everyone’s realities. We see our brand as a tool of empowerment. We see the metaverse as another tool of empowerment. It’s a tool of self expression. Then you have obviously the power of Roblox, which gives us this entirely new opportunity to connect with the new generation in a way that we might not even be able to do in the IRL spaces that we live in. 

You bring the power and tool of the metaverse, the empowerment tool of Urban and then you have this space of its new introduction to a new generation that brought us all together. It’s a chance to give everyone a way to unlock self expression through our products that creates almost the fantasies of makeup that you may not even yet know you can do IRL. Then there’s the last piece which is at the service of our great partner Ulta. Ulta is a leading retailer in the Gen Z space. It’s like a one plus one equals three or in this case, one plus one equals five. 

Can you talk about how makeup can come to life in the metaverse?

It’s such a mixed reality. We use our relationships for example, with Emmy Combs or Manny MUA and brought them together giving them an opportunity to play with makeup in ways that you don’t know if you can do in real life with a wild sense of self expression very much we like to say “fearlessly.” Self expression and bringing that to life in a different way. Sometimes you stare in the mirror and you’re like, “Can I really do this eye liner?” Can you throw self doubt out the window? I hope that we live in a space where we can one day really all of us throw self doubt out the window. But this gives us a space where you’re completely unleashed, you’re completely free. What we also hope for many people who find comfort in the meta space, if you’re also fearless to be your most authentic self.

You mentioned Gen Z. Is that the key audience that you’re going after with this effort?

What we really more gravitate towards is anywhere that we can be an ally for standing up in your differences. What I love about the new generation is bringing its allyship across communities of self expression, self love, especially. It was a perfect way to kick off Pride Month. I use the term Gen Z but honestly, it’s more about, we know that’s who are on Roblox. But it’s more about finding the connection, where we can help others really stand in their differences. This is a generation that is opening the doors for different types of new relationships with brands. They’re demanding a much higher expectation of brands. This generation is certainly holding true to power on being brands that are holding up responsibility for social wellness, digital wellness. 

Can you talk about the connection this type of an event in the metaverse can then lead to real world product sales?

Brands have to create space for testing, learn and hold. I like to look more on return on objective versus return on investment. I call it the ROO. Because sometimes, especially when things are new, you have to hold them to different objectives. In this case, this isn’t the objectives here are more certainly recruitment of awareness. But also, one of the areas that we like and we are more and more looking into is how can you play around to be higher in consideration? How can you play around to say, oh, wait a second, I didn’t know that Urban has the most colors of eyeliner. 

This was less a sales driving initiative, because we can’t necessarily measure the omnichannel experience that it creates. But it might mean that a month from now, when you’re down the aisle at Ulta, you pick up that 24/7 liner. It’s certainly met our objectives in terms of awareness, driving buzz driving for the brands. You’re actually playing with the product longer than on a website. These are all great objectives that ultimately, as we test and learn on this platform will continue to support our biggest initiatives.

What are the key learnings that you take away from this event?

The key learning is to keep learning. We found the gamers actually had a strong propensity to participate in the events and they did have fun glamming up their avatar so we were excited to see that that was the case. We also found that emphasizing an identity is the most fluid in the meta environment.

It’s also giving us learnings from the real world. How do we bring some of what we’re learning in the way that people want to express themselves in the metaverse into real life? We found that this is a space for exploration and fantasy. It might just be the realization that they want that 24/7 black liner in day-to-day life. Being able to service both realities is really important. Thinking of the same person, but in two realities, was interesting. This gave us a sense of where we could start to test and learn different looks in the virtual space and in the real space. 

How are you thinking about innovation? 

We’re at the forefront of where beauty meets tech. L’Oreal has been seeing that for years and keeps us abreast, but also pushing us, which is great. For Urban, what excites me about beauty tech is the opportunity to empower you to see yourself in ways that sometimes you feel on the inside, but you’re not quite sure how to do it on the outside. We’re experimenting in the next level. We’re obviously are in the meta space. I can’t wait to see what we figure out on AI and where we’re going to go. 

It’s always an honor to be in this industry where there’s so much new and you look at urban and OG on its way to be the G.O.A.T. We want to innovate for self expression.