On my radar: Innovation that will make you blush

2014-06-12 12:00

The speed and the way in which some technology trends evolve takes my breath away.

Take 3-D printing, for example. The fact that the healthcare industry is already using 3-D printers to print prostheses like artificial eyes and bone replacements illustrates the massive potential of this technology.

Over the past two years, this trend has moved from a futuristic technology that would one day enable anyone to manufacture a one-off item in the comfort of his or her home, to a now ubiquitous desktop machine that is available alongside most household appliances in most electronic stores.

But while the mainstream user is still coming to grips with the full benefit of these machines, the early adopters are finding new ways to disrupt businesses and their value chains.

One of the most startling developments was unveiled last month at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 conference in New York.

An eagerly awaited event at the conference is called the Battlefield, a prestigious start-up competition where hopeful entrepreneurs present their unseen start-up concepts, and hopefully launch them – even if they don’t win the $50?000 (R539?000) development prize money – on one of technology’s biggest global stages.

One of the start-ups, which didn’t eventually win, but nevertheless caught my eye, involved an innovative twist on 3-D printing.

Grace Choi, a self-confessed “serial inventor” and Harvard Business School graduate, presented a concept that could very well threaten the status quo of the cosmetics industry – exactly what was predicted that 3-D printing would do one day.

Her start-up project is called Mink, and what it does is print out make-up, whether it is an eye shadow, lipstick or blush, in whatever colour you want.

Part of her presentation involved an explanation of how she thinks make-up users are held to ransom by the big beauty corporations.

According to her, 70% of make-up is currently bought in mass retail outlets. In order for those retailers to turn a healthy profit, they stick to generic colours they know are popular and will sell continuously, in large volumes.

So mass producers don’t invest in seasonal and more fashionable or trendy colours as a wider variety of colours would be more expensive to produce, resulting in lower profit margins, leaving users who want unusual colours with the expensive option of luxury brands or boutiques.

In this sense, Choi believes consumers are being unfairly charged a premium for something that is free online: colour.

Using Mink, Choi intends to completely disrupt the value chains of not only the beauty and cosmetic industries, but retail. Aimed at young, digital natives who do not have an established buying pattern or specific brand loyalty, Mink is user-friendly. Here’s how it works:

.?You see a colour you like, any colour (it doesn’t have to be an existing make-up colour).

.?You scan or photograph that colour (even with a mobile phone camera).

.?The colour is then translated into a hex code, a six-digit code that defines all colours on the web (for example, #FF0000 for red). This hex code is what Choi believes consumers are unfairly charged a premium for, as all colours can be digitally boiled down to a code sequence.

.?The hex code is then fed into a simple programme like Photoshop, which then instructs the Mink 3-D printer to create your personalised make-up using whatever substrate (lipstick base material, or powder for blush or eye shadow) that is loaded into it.

.?The product you print, for example an eye shadow, will fit into a standardised compact, which enables you to carry your freshly printed colour make-up with you.

With Mink, Choi intends to shift the dictates of the beauty industry out of the grip of the big corporations and place them squarely into the hands of users.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com

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