Self-identified “makeup junkie” and Greenhill alumna Regina Merson ’99 has always struggled with finding a makeup brand she could relate to. Even though she’s an avid consumer of beauty products, (“you name it, I bought it”), she couldn’t find a brand that expressed the nuanced sides of her personality as a Mexican-American woman, or in her words, as a “Latina.”
“One of the reasons I hoarded so much makeup was because I felt like I had to hobble together a collection that was reflective of who I was,” she said.
About four years ago, Ms. Merson started developing her own makeup line named Reina Rebelde, geared specifically toward Hispanic-American women. The line officially launched in August 2016 and is exclusively sold online with products ranging in price from $15 to $20.
“I thought that there was a real need in the market and there was a deficit in how the industry was speaking to Latinas as a whole and our experience in this country,” she said.
The brand celebrates the complex identity of Latinas in America, which can often times seem contradictory. It comes at a time where Hispanic-Americans are the largest minority group in America according to the 2015 U.S. Census.
“We speak Spanish, we speak English, we’re pulled in all these different directions. I think it can be messy, but in how messy it is, it’s also a really beautiful and empowering thing,” said Ms. Merson.
The brand name itself, Reina Rebelde, is a testament to the duality of a Latina identity. According to Ms. Merson, reina, or “queen,” speaks to the feminine side of Latinas and their obsession with beauty. Rebelde, or “rebel,” addresses the strength of Latina women, who she said often “run the show” despite the patriarchal culture in Latin America.
“It’s meant to be a juxtaposition of the fact that this woman has both sides of this personality and she carries them with her at all times,” said Ms. Merson. “She’s always a queen, she’s always a rebel, and the makeup line channels this theme throughout it in the way products perform.”
Ms. Merson started Reina Rebelde after getting laid off from her job as a bankruptcy attorney at Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP. Growing up, she was a part of Greenhill’s Debate team and always wanted to be a lawyer. After graduating from Yale University with a B.A. in History, she attended the University of Chicago Law School, believing that a career in law would “constantly be interesting and intellectually challenging.” However, after practicing, she decided that she wanted to pursue something more creative.
“I figured out that I really wanted to do something that dealt with people on a more granular level and was more creative.”
Ms. Merson accredits Greenhill for encouraging her creative instincts by nurturing an inclusive environment where students feel safe to be different.
“Greenhill was always very cutting edge in having a very inclusive environment,” she said. “I think Greenhill always made me feel at home.”
Now, Ms. Merson is “living the startup life” and does everything from tailoring the colors in her products to managing the budget and marketing her brand. Although she does not make the products herself, she works with a chemist in her manufacturing company to ensure that each product is produced the way she envisioned it. Ms. Merson said that her job now is equally stressful and time-consuming as it was when she was a bankruptcy attorney.
However, she feels that the grunt work helps her understand her business better.
“I’m a very process oriented person. I like to see how the sausage is made,” she said.
This attention to detail allows her to connect with consumers all throughout the United States, and in some cases, abroad. Ms. Merson said people often buy her products because they personally relate to the message of Reina Rebelde. She tries to encourage this by featuring clients on Reina Rebelde’s social media accounts.
“I think it’s important, now with social media, to use that to tell someone’s story,” she said. “Yes, it is about the makeup. Yes, she looks beautiful. But by the way, she’s also accomplished all these amazing things against a lot of odds.”
Although Reina Rebelde is tailored towards Latinas, with Spanish words scattered throughout the brand’s website and packaging, Ms. Merson hopes that non-Latina women will use her products to learn something new about Hispanic culture.
Many of her products contain allusions to important events in Hispanic history, such as the eyeliner “Zapatista,” named after Emiliano Zapata who gave birth to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a rebel army in the south of Mexico.
“Maybe they’ll be compelled while they’re waiting in line getting their salad somewhere, to Google it,” she said. “There’s so much about Mexican culture and other Latin-American cultures that’s misunderstood in this country, and very much put into one bucket. And I think that’s done a tremendous disservice to everybody.”
While Reina Rebelde’s message focuses on Latina empowerment, Ms. Merson admits that it can be difficult to create a brand that accommodates every Latina, especially since the demographic is so diverse.
“It’s hard because you can’t make everyone happy. There’s some lighter skinned Latinas, there’s some darker skinned Latinas, there’s Afro-Latinas,” she said. “For me, the emphasis is really on intense, bold colors that very much announce, ‘Here I am, I actually have makeup on my face.’ I think most Latinas want people to know they’re actually wearing makeup. I’m that way too. It’s on. I’m not trying to pretend for it not to be on.”
Senior Isabel Chavez, a Latina and makeup lover, recognizes the difficulties in speaking for an entire group of people. At the same time, she believes that the mission of Reina Rebelde is important.
“I understand if people don’t agree with her [categorizing] all Latinas, just because it is kind of dangerous to speak for an entire group. But I don’t see it as harmful, I see it as kind of cool. I don’t know. It’s just kind of badass,” she said.
Still, Ms. Merson sees the makeup line as an extension of her own experiences.
“I think it’s really important to be authentic to who you are, and for me the authenticity lies in being inspired by my experiences as a Mexican-American woman who’s from Mexico, who immigrated here, who was educated here, who had a career here,” she said. “But I still feel very much tied to my Mexican roots, and I think that’s something that will always be apparent in the line.”
Photo courtesy of Regina Merson
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