Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.

By Dianna Mazzone
Jan 03, 2019 @ 8:45 am
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It's not often you hear a top exec for a makeup brand say they don't mind if a customer stops using their product. But for Malena Higuera, the general manager of Dermablend, it's a sign of success: "I will equally celebrate the day that someone starts using Dermablend as when they stop altogether," she says. "I [just] want them to feel that the brand was there when they needed us."

Granted, Dermablend isn't your ordinary beauty company. The brand has a cult following for its high-coverage, long-wearing foundations that seamlessly cover perceived imperfections like acne without further irritating the skin underneath. Higuera was a fan even before she got the top job: "During my maternity leave, I was going to dermatologist offices and leaving in tears because my cystic acne and rosacea was the worst it had ever been. [Around the same time] I had to get my makeup done, and the artist presented me with Dermablend. It changed my life. [Now], I'll consider my job done when nobody's apologizing for the skin that they're in."

With that in mind, one of Higuera's first brand initiatives challenged the idea of before/after images. She spearheaded the Beautiful/Beautiful campaign, featuring side by sides of bare and made-up faces both labeled as "Beautiful." "I felt this incredible responsibility to change the conversation," she says. "Ultimately, it should be about the power of choice." Higuera walked the walk by publicly sharing her own Beautiful/Beautiful image. "That was pretty badass."

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Cuban-American roots: "When you're raised as a child of political refugees, you learn very early on about how fortunate you are to have what you have, and how important it is to work for it," Higuera says. The proud Cuban-American says that growing up in a bi-cultural environment has had a huge impact on her work ethic and the way she views her world. "It taught me to be able to always observe cultural differences and actually see the strength in difference," she says. 

A global perspective: "What I love about beauty is it often is a reflection of societal and cultural change," Higuera says, adding that she furthered this understanding by focusing on emerging and developing marketplaces during her first position at Avon. After several years, she helped the company launch their naturals skincare line in China. She then accepted a position at Maybelline, continuing to launch skincare in Asia. In 2009, she moved to France for four years to manage Maybelline for Asia Pacific, which includes marketplaces from Japan to India. "Here you had this Cuban-New Jersey-New Yorker living in Paris, managing 14 different cultures, and it really taught me the art of influence," she says. "It gave me the ability to adapt — without changing who I am — to the culture that I'm in, in order to make positive change."

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Inclusion in the workplace: Fostering a diverse workplace is important to Higuera. "I look for people living on the hyphen," she says. "I look for difference, because I think it's only going to make us much more powerful." As an advisory member of the Women of Color Think Tank at L'Oréal (which owns Dermablend), she helps brands find and hire women of color in advertising, messaging, and product fields. "It's an incredible opportunity — our voices are stronger and more powerful together," she says. "We give brands in the building an opportunity to have direct access to the best and brightest minds of women of color."

Best advice: "I'd love to pretend that everything I did was because I asked for it, but often times I tripped right in," Higuera admits. The beauty exec suggests simply being ready to take opportunities as they come as her best advice for young entrepreneurs. "I knew only when I was in it that I was about to be part of something that was going to change my career."

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