You may not know Wende Zomnir personally but you definitely know her products. She became the co-founder and executive creative director of Urban Decay in 1995 and still serves as the brand’s chief creative officer today. She helped launch the brand with just nail polish and lipstick and sold it to L’Oréal in 2012 for an estimated $300-$400 million. I’d say she knows a thing or two about makeup. Today, she launches Caliray, a clean makeup brand inspired by the low-key glam of California.
The first thing I ask Zomnir is why start over with a whole new makeup brand? To be honest, it sounds exhausting, even with the help of brand consultant and “vibeologist” Jenna Dover. Apparently, I’m not the only one asking her that. But she swears she loves the creative process. “I really do love the whole ‘creating something from nothing’ and starting with that white piece of paper,” she says. “And I really do love the constraints being clean and sustainable put me in.” She explains that she couldn’t just “back-metalize” the lids and use thick plastic because then it wouldn’t be easily recyclable.
“I’m a creator and my canvas is beauty,” she continues. “Urban [Decay] is awesome. I’m still involved. I have lunch with all of the senior people there all of the time and try to inspire them and give them my feedback and be the founder. But it’s not the same creatively as starting from zero.”
Keep reading to learn more about her process and her first Caliray products.
What the Name ‘Caliray’ Means
Considering this is a SoCal-inspired brand, I thought I knew what Caliray meant. California sun rays, right? I was close. “I was opening different countries for Urban and people would always ask me, ‘what’s it like to live in California?’” Zomnir says. “That’s really what inspired it.” She then thought of a shirt she owns — but hasn’t worn — emblazoned with the phrase “I’m a ray of fucking sunshine,” which she feels embodies her spirit. “Yes, I’m a ray of sunshine but sometimes I can be prickly, too,” she says.
How She Approaches Sustainability & “Clean”
Caliray mascara tubes are made from 100 percent recycled ocean plastic and decorated in a way that they can be recycled again. The paper on the boxes is 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper without coating so it can be recycled, too. Zomnir knows the brand isn’t perfect when it comes to sustainability but she’s going to try her hardest to get close. “I always say sustainability is a journey. We’re not at the destination,” she says. “We’re always going to be like, ‘oh we can do that better!’ Or, ‘there’s a better source now!’ Or, ‘oh that wasn’t that good, we should change that.’ There’s a lot of different things we can improve all the time.”
When it comes to the clean beauty label, the brand prides itself in formulating without parabens, sulfates, phthalates, alcohols, nanomaterials, microplastics or formaldehyde. While “clean” is different for every brand and not regulated, Caliray looked to major beauty retailers to get on the same “clean” page.
Why Mascara and Eyeliner
Urban Decay is known for its eye makeup so it makes sense Zomnir would use her expertise in the area for her new brand. “There’s a lot of clean mascara out there but it’s not all high performance,” she says. “It’s not all long-wearing. I felt like there was a space in clean to have pencils and mascara — two eye basics almost everyone uses — that were high-performance.”
Come Hell or High Water mascara is a tubing formula that Zomnir promises it easily comes off with simple makeup remover or cleansing oil and doesn’t pull at your lashes. “You get that same performance of zero smudging. It’s very life-proof,” she says. “I’ve even surfed in this mascara and it doesn’t come off. You get this incredible result but with a little warm water and massage action, it rolls off.” No black streaks on your face, here. Plus, it contains lash-softening argan oil.
As for the Surfproof Easy Glider Eye Definer, Zomnir says “they work just as well as some of the long-wearing 24/7s that most people know and love” — a nod to an Urban Decay best seller. The ultra-pigmented pencils are wrapped in a 65 percent bio-based (sugarcane) barrel, something Zomnir hopes to get to 100 percent. All three shades (black, brown and deep navy) have a velvety smooth finish.
I gave the mascara a try for the first time in the car and I was very impressed with the length of my lashes.
Why You Shouldn’t Recycle the Packaging — Yet
The first thing I noticed when I opened the mascara box was the copy inside the box that says “Don’t look down here,” so of course, I ripped open the box to look. Zomnir knows you’ll probably do that, too. A sign in a dive bar in Chicago had the same phrase and it stuck with her. “What’s inside are little hand drawings by me talking about more details on the product,” she says. There’s also a QR code to scan and get more info on the sustainability aspect. So, don’t recycle the box just yet!
What’s Next for Caliray
Don’t expect the brand to only hawk eye makeup. Zomnir hopes to expand into other categories. “I do have some plans,” she says. We’ll be watching — and trying all the results. Shop Caliray now on the brand’s website.