Bigger, Bolder, 'Badder': How Urban Decay 'Conspired' to Disrupt the Beauty Industry

Today, Urban Decay has somewhat of a cult following.

ByABC News
October 20, 2016, 12:37 PM

— -- Wende Zomnir embodies her brand, Urban Decay. The company’s committed litmus test -- to be feminine, dangerous and fun -- is likely inspired by her personal style and character. She’s a self-described beauty junkie who set the bar high with the company’s first tagline, “Does pink make you puke?”, and pushed the cosmetics industry to boundaries that 20 years ago seemed outrageous -- but today are the new, fabulous norm.

“When we started Urban Decay, if you walked into a department store, it was basically a sea of pink, beige and red and that was all you had the options for,” said Zomnir. “Then you could go to the drugstore and find cool blue, purple, green, but the quality wasn’t there.”

So like many wise entrepreneurs, Zomnir took advantage of what she saw as a consumer need and filled that demand with quality cosmetics outside the typically offered neutral color palette. This meant breaking into the $18 billion makeup industry -- but instead of simply creating a brand, she built an empire.

“We wanted to make a fundamental change in how people viewed beauty,” Zomnir said in a recent interview of "Real Biz with Rebecca Jarvis."

Her co-founders, Sandy Lerner and David Soward, teamed up with Zomnir to start Urban Decay in 1996, taking somewhat unconventional titles.

“We came up with ‘co-conspirators’ because our original vision was, ‘We aren’t going to knock on the door of the cosmetics department, we’re going to knock it down.’”

Today, Urban Decay has somewhat of a cult following that has grown over decades of being bold. Sometimes, that can mean receiving backlash on some of their racier product names that seem to never stick to convention.

“Our last mascara, Perversion, there was a lot of controversy -- should we call it something else or should we keep it?” Zomnir said. “You know the whole idea with Perversion: it’s bigger, blacker, badder, it’s this dark,thick volumizing mascara, and some people thought that was pushing the envelope too much.”

Urban Decay, which was bought by L’Oréal in 2012 for an estimated $350 million, didn’t become a household name by being timid, and there’s no reason to believe that will ever be the case. It may all be pretty on the outside, but Zomnir has learned it takes more than aesthetics to build an internationally renowned brand.

“There’s this perfect marriage of art and commerce that has to happen in beauty, and I think it’s a really rare thing,” she said.

To find out more about Urban Decay and hear Wende Zomnir’s unique story, watch her on "Real Biz with Rebecca Jarvis" and look out for her podcast episode coming soon. For a look behind the scenes, follow Rebecca Jarvis at

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