May 10, 2021

5 Minutes With Zanna Roberts Rassi

Gritty Pretty sits down with the Milk Makeup co-founder.

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been waiting for Milk Makeup to hit Australian shores for the better part of the last six years. Now officially stocked in Sephora Australia, the beauty brand, born out of the iconic Milk Studios in New York, is flying off the shelves quicker than you can say Sunshine Skin Tint (which is one of their best products, FYI). Who created this ultimate no-makeup makeup brand, you ask? Allow us to introduce you to one of the co-founders: TV presenter and beauty junkie, Zanna Roberts Rassi.

With a face you’ll likely recognise from the E! Network’s red carpet coverage, Roberts Rassi epitomises the phrase ‘beauty visionary’. Creating one of the first brands to build diversity into their blueprint—be it through celebrating different cultures, races, ages, sexualities or genders—the New York-based mother of two was ahead of her time. 

Here, Gritty Pretty sits down for five minutes with the beauty brand founder to quiz her about all things beauty, business and being unapologetically herself.

Hi Zanna! Thank you so much for chatting to us today. Before we jump into Milk Makeup’s launch into Sephora AU, we want to know what the lightbulb moment was like when you first created the brand?

Thank you for having me! For us, I would say it was a collection of lightbulb moments that led to Milk Makeup. But I do remember one in particular. It was me, sitting in the lobby at Milk Studios, and watching the creatives mill around in between shoots. It wasn’t the models or celebrities that I would notice, but the crew and the way they would style themselves in a cool way or do their makeup in an androgynous way or really celebrate their tattoos. They were all so creative and cool and weren’t subscribing to the overly done face or the typical beauty standards and I realised that there was this space to create a brand that shared that same ethos.


That would have been so inspiring! Once you’d come up with the concept, how long did the brand development process take?

When we first started to get the ball rolling and had our amazing CEO Dianna Ruth on board, as well as my husband Mazdack Rassi and our Creative Director, Georgie Greville, we were like kids in a candy shop—wanting everything. We had an amazing deck with loads of inspiration and this incredible concept, but no product. Eventually, you have to make products. So I think it took us about two or three years to get the brand to where we wanted it to be before we launched in 2014.


Why was Milk’s ethos of celebrating self-expression, authenticity and individuality so important to you and the other co-founders?

We wanted to be the antidote to one-size-fits-all beauty. We could see that message perpetuating in magazines and in ad campaigns and it was all so predictable. When you look around, everyone is so beautiful in such unique ways, and we wanted to champion that. Race, age, gender, sexuality, it didn’t matter. It was just about beauty for all. We are not one-size-fits-all, you just want beauty products that make you feel good. We want makeup that empowers us to conquer the day. 


What has been the most challenging part of running a business?

I mean, what isn’t challenging about running a business? I think, for us, we set the bar really high for ourselves from the get go. We wanted to be completely inclusive and fully vegan—and it’s a lot easier to not be either of those things. There’s no doubt that we have created more work for ourselves. And then, obviously, last year was a challenge. But there were definitely silver linings because we could do virtual consults and really manage our relationship with consumers more closely than ever before.


Your positive outlook is infectious! It’s no surprise that your consumers resonate so much with what you’re trying to create. In terms of your own role, how has it evolved since you began in 2014?

Honestly, it’s stayed pretty consistent in that no two days are ever the same. Obviously, as our team has grown, we have been able to delegate roles more effectively but to this day I could still be doing interviews in the morning and then writing press releases in the afternoon. I’m in there with the nitty gritty of selecting campaign imagery and triple checking product descriptions but am also overseeing the bigger picture stuff of how our brand is resonating with customers and how we can do better and be better. I’m a journalist, so I’ve always had that passion for taking something that’s really interesting and important and translating it into a digestible form for an audience. The best thing about what we do is that each co-founder has a completely different skill set, so we can really check off all the boxes confidently.


To wrap up, what is the greatest piece of business advice you would give to someone looking to start a beauty brand?

Pick a lane. Have a really strong, clear point of view. And know thyself before going out there. There will always be naysayers and people who don’t get what you’re trying to do, but if you have a really clear vision and a passion for your idea, no amount of doubt will be able to throw you off. I’d also say to please trust your gut. That took me so long to accept, but you will always know what the right decision is and you need to stand by that.


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