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Commerce and Cause: Missed opportunities at IMATS 2010

I attended the 2010 International Makeup Artists Trade Show (IMATS) in Los Angeles a little over a week ago.

While I have wandered many a trade show, this was my first time at the IMATS and I had heard a lot of good things about it. Primarily, I was told that there would be lots of color cosmetics and special effects companies plying their wares at deeply discounted prices.

And ... they were right. There was lots of creative Hollywood-style special effects to observe (the designer for Avatar was on hand, and I got to see the the transformation of Hell Boy). But the bulk of the show seemed to be women in their 20's and 30's purchasing their favorite MAC and similar cosmetics at discounted pricing. And when I say "bulk" I mean it. The place was so swarming it was difficult to move through the aisles!

My last moments at the show were spent watching a makeup artist demo how to switch your daytime look to evening in just a few strokes. The demo was taking place in front of the pink and white banner of the sponsoring brush company. I watched distractedly as the frenzy of the last minute shoppers surged around me. My gaze finally settled not on the model but on the pink banner behind her and even though the day had been instructive, I suddenly felt sad.

All this buying, all this spending, all this energy and not a single dollar of it going for breast cancer research. Nor was there a single banner or handout for these young women who represented the exact demographic needing education on prevention. Based on my very rough estimate of the size of the crowd, at least a thousand of the people in that room were going to receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some point in their lives, and of course many more would be impacted by the disease in their families. How hard would it have been to incorporate even the smallest nod to issues larger than eye shadow at this incredibly lucrative trade show?

I'm not judging these companies as shallow beauty-mongers. I have no doubt that plenty of people of there would have been happy to do something to round out the experience of the event. What I am saying is that I felt an opportunity was missed. In today's world, where we have so many important things to do, to cure, to save, I was surprised that incorporation of commerce with cause hadn't occurred as a matter of course. I saw it it as a missed opportunity, and it saddened me.

I later shared my feelings with my co-workers and husband. They tried to wrap their heads around mine but the wrapping quickly unraveled. You see, all my co-workers and my husband come from communist Vietnam. Just after the fall of Saigon, life was recast into something dull, dark and dreary with no color in clothing or cosmetics. While Vietnam has since modernized and now fashion and cosmetics are everywhere, this is not true in every country.

"Americans think change happens when it is expressed in buttons, banners, and ribbons", my husband said, "But in the minds of many, the simple act of purchasing a lipstick is an exciting expression of freedom, independence and joy. It is a celebration of the beauty of life. It is cause enough."
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