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CHANNEL FEATURE: Interview

Framing Lips - Shore inspiration adding colour to the world

Through a very plain door, up some very plain stairs lies a very colourful and creative world. Off Hurstmere Road in Takapuna, one of the world leaders in her creative field plans, creates, and sometimes, plays. Channel’s Heather Vermeer met the woman behind the face, behind the name, behind the brand, that has put Karen Murrell onto the lips of women across the world.

She appears to be slightly shy. The rich dark fringe that frames the face of this former model seems a place to hide. Her softly spoken voice is a breath of fresh air amid the bold tones of commercial confidence and self-assuredness that are often used by those who are super successful in big business. Yet she has used this vulnerability-inflected voice to take her childhood passion to a grown-up enterprise across the world. And has made a mark on the make-up world more enduring than lipstick on any collar.

Cosmetics and skincare have always been her thing. Young Karen was inspired by her Nana Gwen, her ‘second mother’. She affectionately remembers afternoons spent exploring Nana’s extensive make-up collection as a curious and creative young girl. Karen went straight from school in a small Waikato town to the Clinique cosmetics counter at Smith and Caughey’s in Auckland. There, she educated herself in the vagaries of the skincare and beauty industry for two years. Her love of colour and natural products led to her experimenting with her own skincare and lipstick creations, tested on friends and families, who responded enthusiastically.
Karen went onto set up Skinfood, a hugely successful skincare brand that expanded into international markets and achieved worldwide distribution. This developed and finely tuned her business acumen and knowledge of production and distribution, leaving her perfectly placed to begin her new enterprise –
Karen Murrell lipsticks.
In 2008, she launched her brand of natural lipsticks with the tagline ‘Nothing nasty touches my lips’, initially distributing her four colours to Farmers stores nationwide. Next she targeted the Dubai market and grew the line to total five colours in 2010. The following year she increased this range to nine colours and began distributing to over 300 stores across New Zealand.
By 2012, Karen had her eyes on Australia and secured deals to sell her products in over 100 stores in seven states. Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand were the next to gain Karen’s stock in 2013 as her range grew to 12 lipstick colours. This year, she has tapped into the immense USA and China markets, as well as distributing to South Africa.
So what stage is the Karen Murrell business plan at?
“We’re about half way there,” she says. “Where we are at is exactly where I wanted to be by this stage.” A strong support network in her business, with reliable freight partners and business contacts have been key. “The people we work with I really like working with. There’s a method to my madness that works for us and my suppliers. It’s good.”
In true Kiwi style, a subtle, modest approach has seen Karen Murrell slowly infiltrate the make-up market without a song and dance. “We don’t tend to over-promote what we do,” Karen says.
Working to her ‘nothing nasty’ principles being a lover of all things natural, Karen blended earthy ingredients of avocado oil and evening primrose oil, ‘to soothe, hydrate and moisturise lips’. Carnauba wax is used to solidify the lipsticks and ensure her formula was hard-wearing. Her range is rich in natural high pigment, producing intense colour and making it long-wearing, and it doesn’t feather. The lipsticks’ good-enough-to-eat smells come from fruit and spices, such as sweet orange and cinnamon. Karen says: “I wanted my lipsticks to smell great and taste great. I didn’t want that chemical finish that you often get with lipsticks, and I wanted them to be moisturising to the lips, and not slimy in any way.” She achieved it. Wear one and you’ll see it knock the socks off those prestige, luxury beauty brands who employ supermodels to pout in their shades.
Why choose Takapuna as her home and business base?
“I just really like the beach and the community here. I came from a small town in the Waikato and I really like living in a town, in a community.  I have found having an office with Gene (Cooksley, Oscar & Co) and Franca (Florienne) just marvellous. It’s like a little creative hub we’ve got here. It’s been a huge source of support.
“Takapuna has become a creative fashion hub, without being over the top. The Department Store, Takapuna Beach Cafe, The Commons and that entire precinct are great. It’s a stylish place. I’m always really amazed when I have international visitors, they all say ‘look how well everybody is dressed for a beach community’.”
The Shore has a big sway on the shades Karen puts out. “Takapuna is a huge influence on my lipstick colours. For example, the pohutukawa flowers on the trees on Takapuna Beach are the exact colour of one of my first shades, Red Shimmer. I saw them and I made this shade.”
Karen tells how another one of the shades, Camellia Morning from her current ‘Summer Bouquet’ collection, was inspired by a flower she spotted while walking on the beach in Devonport. Does she always take inspiration from nature? “Not always necessarily nature, per se, but by what’s around me. Colour creation is more an evolution of what we are doing in our lives.”
When she’s not working, Little Red Cup in Takapuna is her current favourite cafe hang-out and the beach is a big draw for her. She is quick to praise Shore people for their kindness, and especially the men of Takapuna after recently discovering that chivalry is alive and well on the Shore. She explains: “I was carrying my bags and some stock along the street to the office and this elderly man stopped to see if I needed help. Then, soon after, the same thing happened again, only it was a young guy this time. I thought, how lovely, chivalry is definitely not dead on the Shore!”
On the question of the people that Karen surrounds herself with, Karen answers purely in a business sense as is her focus in any media interaction.
“In business I work with like-minded people that have a created vision for me and my brand. I have an extremely valued business relationship with my business partner David Ross.” Karen credits David for his support and direction since 2008. David, an accountant, and Karen conceived the business plan together, and the pair continues to work in partnership; meeting every week to discuss direction, deal with any issues and ‘regroup’.
Whose lips would she most like to see her lipsticks worn on? “It’s not really about that. The biggest enjoyment has been more so, seeing the business grow and seeing the pallets full of lipsticks going off all round the world.” Though she does confess to being a little bit chuffed when Toni Street recently told her she wears her lipsticks on TV.
The internet and mobile technology have made it much easier for Karen to keep her finger on the fashion pulse worldwide. Travel, costly in time and money, has been replaced by the swipe of a finger on the phone to check the latest catwalk shows and fashion trends. How does she predict and produce the next big colour that’s going to sell well? “It’s always gut instincts,” she says. “That’s my gamble - what colour is it going to be? We have this competition about what’s going to be the colour of the season. That’s my joke with the scientists who develop the lipsticks. “I have been lucky so far I guess. I’m going to get caught out, one day I won’t get it right!”
A new on-trend shade is currently exclusive in China, with the entire shipment being snapped up from the Australian manufacturers, twice. It will land here next month. And with a new collection coming out in New Zealand in time for Christmas, there is plenty happening for her this year and next. “I am pretty excited about the new collection. The colours are all very much pointing towards Twiggy and her 1960s look.”
And what’s the next battle for the brand? “It’s always been a constant battle in manufacturing enough stock! But my next battle is getting ready for Christmas and doing all the planning for that. And I am starting to look towards winter 2015. I’m looking at a new lipstick finish, which is exciting. Hey, nothing happens quickly in cosmetics though. There’s a lot of testing, blending - it takes time.”
So who is Karen Murrell? “I am just a regular person really. I just blend in with the crowd.” Others may disagree. 

Win a Karen Murrell lipstick!
Channel fan Karen has kindly offered to give away one of each of the lipsticks from her current collection to a handful of our lucky readers.
To be in to win a Karen Murrell lipstick, simply answer the following question:
Which lipstick colour from Karen's current 'Summer Bouquet' collection was inspired by a walk on the beach in Devonport?
Email your answer along with your name, address, and phone number to heather@channelmag.co.nz with subject field 'Karen Murrell Lipstick Competition', or post your answer with your details to: Karen Murrell Lipstick Competition, Channel Magazine, P.O. Box 33-1630, Takapuna by noon on Monday 25th August 2014. Correct entries will be drawn at random on Monday 25th August and winners will be notified on that date, no correspondence will be entered into.

by Heather Vermeer

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