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Tarte Cosmetics under fire: Beauty influencer branded trips have always been toxic and exclusionary

Does anyone remember the golden age of YouTube? I’m talking about that blip in time during 2016 and 2017, when no-one had heard of the word Coronavirus yet, we hadn’t had to go through the experience of UK political Armageddon (I’m looking at you, Liz Truss), and social media influencers were still happy living out their lives in long-form content.

During this time, Emma Chamberlain hadn’t yet donned the Met Gala carpet, Shane Dawson hadn’t been cancelled off the platform and no-one had heard of Alix Earle. Long story short, beauty YouTubers ruled the small screen and the cosmetic market.

Names such as Jeffree Star, Tati Westbrook, James Charles and Nikkie Tutorials dominated the influencer space. TikTok was still in its infancy and the novelty of smooth skin, designer bags and monstrous mansions so easily reachable through our laptops hadn’t completely worn off just yet.

This period of internet history was also a time when beauty brand trips were at an all time high. Cosmetics companies would ship a cohort of the most popular online sensations to the Maldives or some other high-end tropical location and the group would spend a week or so documenting every single second of their beautiful vacation. They’d then include maybe one or two clips at most on how a particular Charlotte Tilbury lip liner “made” their entire trip… Yep, I’m sure the yacht parties had nothing to do with it.

It was a time where it was truly uncommon to be a YouTuber in the beauty space and to not have been on a branded trip. Some creators dedicated specific highly-produced videos to showcasing the vacation, others simply filmed weekly vlogs and had the product promotion intertwined within the clips, making for a more seamless sponsorship. While the videos didn’t always translate into a massive boost in sales, they definitely increased brand awareness and hype.

Then, everything changed, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, short-form content skyrocketed, beauty vloggers began to feel outdated and old news, and we all started becoming much more accustomed to a different kind of online content, one that felt more raw, gritty and real. The allure of extravagant displays of wealth wore off, and we all felt much more at home with the “down to earth” TikTok girlies who ate KFC in their cars and chatted about Vanderpump Rules.

That is, until an American beauty brand called Tarte Cosmetics decided to completely shake things up, and revitalise the beauty branded influencer trips. And let’s just say, it didn’t quite go to plan.

In January 2023, Tarte invited a group of 50 influencers and their plus-ones to an extravagant trip to Dubai. Among the cohort was big names such as the aforementioned TikTok star Alix Earle, influencer Meredith Duxbury (you know, the beauty creator who floods her face with foundation and always looks flawless), and twins Azra and Aisha Mian.


Dubai babyyy #dubai #trippinwithtarte #tarte

♬ original sound - 𓆩 𝐋 𓆪 • ليليا

Trip of a lifetime!!! Thank you @tartecosmetics 🥹💕😱

♬ original sound - Meredith Duxbury

The cosmetics brand received a lot of negative backlash following this event. Mainstream media publications labelled the brand as inherently “out of touch” and far too happy to shell out a vast amount of wealth solely to boost sales.

In response, Tarte CEO Maureen Kelly released perhaps one of the most trivial and unhelpful statements of all time: “Every day, brands make decisions about how to spend their marketing budgets. For some companies, that means a huge Super Bowl commercial or a multi-million-dollar contract with a famous athlete or celeb. We’ve never done traditional advertising, and instead we invest in building relationships and building up communities.”

The criticism the cosmetics company had faced clearly didn’t make too much of an impact, because only four months later, Tarte whisked the same bunch of creators (plus a few add ons) away to the Miami Grand Prix for another excessive and exclusive weekend.


Can you tell I was a bottlegirl in my past life? Lol #trippinwithtarte #tarte

♬ CITY GIRLS WHAT WE DOIN by Lafacebytrice - T R I C E 🌹

Day 1 was a successs … wish us luck today! 💓🏝️ #trippinwithtarte #tarteisland #brandtrip #umiami

♬ Young Folks - Shindig Society

This time however, it wasn’t just the bill that had netizens up in arms. Unsurprisingly, considering the nature of both the online beauty space and the highly exclusive brands dominating the industry, one creator who’d been invited on the trip has shared how specifics concerning the weekend made her feel slighted and almost like a “second-tier” participant.

According to Insider, Bria Jones, a lifestyle influencer with almost half a million followers, stated in a now-deleted TikTok video that despite being invited to the initial Grand Prix festivities, Jones found out that she’d been excluded from the final Formula 1 race on Sunday—an event that all of her other influencer friends would be attending.

The influencer stated: “I will be damned as a Black creator if I accept anything other than equal treatment on these trips.”

Rather than taking immediate action and accountability, Kelly responded with a video of her own (which has also now been deleted) that reeked of passive aggression. In it, the CEO inferred that there had simply been miscommunication between the two parties, stemming from the fact that “arrivals and departures were staggered” for all creators and that no individuals were given preferential treatment over others.

While the incident seems to have now been smoothed over, with Kelly insisting that Jones has already been invited to Tarte’s NYC HQ over the summer for a “fun” photoshoot, the entire ordeal just feels like a story we’ve heard an uncomfortable amount of times. Black and Brown creators have always been disproportionately erased from mainstream brand campaigns, and the fact that it’s those influencers who’re also being “accidentally” left out of these kinds of snappable moments feels wrong on so many levels.

Regardless of whether or not cosmetics brands have a distaste for “traditional advertising,” these trips were already toxic in 2017, and they’re still toxic in 2023—nothing has changed. Beauty influencers may be having a comeback in the digital space, but it feels as though we’re just taking ten steps backwards.

Alexander Wang is proof that the fashion industry still values creative genius over ethics

Back in 2005, aged only 21, Chinese-American fashion designer Alexander Wang launched his eponymous label, subsequently earning him the title of “wunderkind” by industry experts Business of Fashion (BoF). Unfortunately for the publication’s credibility, as well as Wang’s numerous alleged victims, this praise has not aged well.

From Wang’s groundbreaking debut and the overwhelming praise he received throughout his career all the way down to the horrific sweatshop allegations and accusations of sexual assault, here’s everything you need to know about one of the fashion industry’s greatest’s fall from grace, and his eventual absolution.

Alexander Wang, fashion prodigy and one of the most revered names in the industry

Following the launch of his brand, wiz-kid Wang gained some recognition within the fashion industry after being bestowed with the iconic CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2008, an award which granted him $20,000 to expand his business. From there, things only got crazier for the young designer.

Replacing the notorious French-Belgian Nicolas Ghesquière as Balenciaga’s creative director in 2012, Wang oversaw the luxury household’s women’s and men’s ready-to-wear as well as its incredibly successful accessories lines—back then, the City bag was the bag to rule them all.

Despite the initial hype surrounding Wang’s new position however, it didn’t take long for Kering (aka the multinational corporation specialising in luxury goods that owns Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, and many more) to issue a statement announcing that Wang was leaving Balenciaga by mutual consent. That was in July 2015.

Shortly after in 2016, Wang became the CEO and chairman of his brand, succeeding his mother, Ying Wang, and sister-in-law, Aimee Wang. Later that same year, he was awarded $90 million in damages after successfully suing over 45 defendants operating 459 websites that sold counterfeit goods bearing the brand name.

Though the move made sense at the time and Wang was widely acclaimed for his uncompromising approach to tackling counterfeit goods, the irony of this situation should also be highlighted. Back in February 2012, a lawsuit was filed against Wang, claiming that his company violated New York state labour laws, and that employees were being seriously mistreated.

Involving 31 plaintiffs, the case sought $50 million in damages for each of nine charges, adding up to a total of $450 million. One of the workers brave enough to speak out, Wenyu Lu, claimed that he was “hospitalised for several days after he passed out at his workstation because he was forced to work 25 hours straight without a break,” as reported by The Cut.

Lu also claimed that the tiny office on Broadway in which he was stuck slaving away in (quite literally) was windowless and poorly ventilated, and that workers were being forced to work 16 hours or more without paid overtime or breaks.

His lawyer claimed that Lu was eventually fired due to complaints about working conditions and applying for workers’ compensation. A second plaintiff, Flor Duante, also stated that she was fired after filing for workers’ compensation, and that she had worked 90-hour weeks at Wang’s factory.

Though it was then reported that the lawsuit had been dismissed by the likes of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), with a spokesman for Wang stating: “We are gratified that this matter has been dismissed, as the allegations were unfounded and completely false,” it was reported that both parties had agreed to a settlement with undisclosed terms. In other words, hush money.

Like with countless other individuals in the limelight however, these first few stains to Wang’s name didn’t alter the fashion designer’s impressive harem of celebrities.

From Pamela Anderson, The Weeknd, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky to Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, Zoë Kravitz, and many, many more, Wang is probably one of the most well-connected fashion designers out there. And it’s not only work-related partnerships that we’re talking about here—most of the names listed above are actually considered close personal friends of the 39-year-old.

An impressive list of sexual abuse allegations launched by DietPrada

On 29 December 2020, fashion industry whistleblower Instagram account @DietPrada, along with modelling watchdog account Shit Model Management, published posts compiling accusations made on various social media platforms (including TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram) by users who claimed Wang had sexually assaulted them at some point in the past.

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A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada)

Scrutiny only ensued further when model Owen Mooney came forward to speak out about an alleged 2017 incident where he said that Wang groped him in a packed New York nightclub. Mooney’s story was later reposted by Shit Model Management, leading others to come forward with similar accusations.

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A post shared by Shit Model Management (@shitmodelmgmt)

The posts amplified previous allegations from others such as New York-based DJ Nick Ward, who also publicly accused Wang of groping him in a nightclub in 2017. Some claimed to have witnessed a victim being drugged by the designer, or being slipped ecstasy or other drugs themselves without their knowledge. There were also repeated allegations of victims, including several trans women, being groped or having their bodies or genitals exposed by Wang.

Two days after the accusations started flooding social media platforms, Wang’s representatives released a statement to various media outlets in which the fashion designer denied all accusations of sexual assault and instead added that he intended to “hold accountable whoever is responsible for originating these claims and viciously spreading them online.”

The next day, on 1 January 2021, The Guardian published other alleged accounts of sexual assault incidents from others, including transgender model and actor Gia Garison. On 4 January, Wang issued an updated statement thanking those who had stood by him, while also assuring that he would “remain honest and transparent” throughout the investigation into the claims.

That very same day, it was reported that American attorney Lisa Bloom—known for advising Harvey Weinstein amid various sexual abuse allegations, as well as for representing women whose sexual harassment claims precipitated the firing of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News—would represent alleged victims of Wang.

More than two months later, however, Wang changed his tune, instead promising that he would “do better” going forward and expressing regret, though without offering an outright apology, of course. Representing 11 of the accusers who had come forward against Wang, Bloom revealed that her clients had met with the fashion designer only days before his Instagram post and that they had “[spoken] their truth to him and expressed their pain and hurt.”

She went on to add that her group “acknowledged Mr Wang’s apology” and “are moving forward.” When asked about any arrangement, financial or otherwise, that came from the meeting, Bloom declined to comment.

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A post shared by Alex Wang (@alexwangny)

Wang’s inevitable yet distasteful comeback at New York Fashion Week

After laying low for a couple of years, and focusing on his brand’s booming growth in China, Wang made his official return to the runway during this year’s New York Fashion Week, which took place between 10 and 15 February.

His first show back in the city that never sleeps was billed as the fashion designer’s “romantic return” by BoF—had you not been aware of what had been going on before then, you’d never known his brand was tarnished just two years earlier.

The dreaded question of whether the fashion scene would show up for the disgraced designer was clearly answered. The 150-person audience was packed and filled with most of New York’s fashion elite. Anna Wintour was spotted. Julia Fox walked the runway. And celebrities like Nikita Dragun and Ava Max were in the crowd.

Though many were quick to criticise Wang’s return on social media, when it came to the world of the rich and famous, it seemed that no one batted an eye. Kylie Jenner is currently featured all over the designer’s Instagram account for his label. Pictured wearing the brand’s new Spring 2023 collection, Jenner not only models Wang’s clothes, but she goes as far as to promote them in a video specially made for his eponymous brand.

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A post shared by alexanderwang (@alexanderwangny)

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A post shared by alexanderwang (@alexanderwangny)

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A post shared by alexanderwang (@alexanderwangny)

From recently posting a branded TikTok video featuring con artist and fraudster Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, flashing her ankle monitor to having Vogue proclaim that the designer “still has a handle on what the kids want,” one thing is evident. Alexander Wang is cool again.


vip is always better. for an insider’s peek at CUPID’S DOOR, tune in on wednesday, 02.08.23 at 8pm est. #alexanderwang #cupidsdoor

♬ original sound - alexanderwang