- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The expansive tan brick cosmetics factory off Interstate 40 in North Little Rock has been a central Arkansas landmark for nearly half a century. Viewed from the road, the building’s west end proclaims Maybelline in vibrant red letters while letters on the east end spell out L’Oreal USA, the French firm that bought the company in 1996 for $508 million.

This year, Maybelline, founded in Chicago in 1915, is celebrating its 100th anniversary while the North Little Rock factory celebrates its 40th year of operation, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1GKv4Zx ) reported.

Success is a beautiful thing.

After it was acquired by L’Oreal, Maybelline’s corporate headquarters were moved from Memphis to New York. Today, the 785,000-square-foot plant in North Little Rock, which features increased automation, is led by Eric Fox, plant manager.

Both Maybelline and L’Oreal products are produced there as well as high-end luxury fragrances and cosmetics for other companies including Giorgio Armani, Kiehl’s, Lancome, and Ralph Lauren. The facility, one of L’Oreal’s five factories in North America, is nearly a start-to-finish facility with everything made there except some of the bottles and compacts.

“The plants are separated by technology now, so some of the Maybelline lipstick products are produced at the Franklin, New Jersey, plant,” Fox says. “Everything else is produced here.”

The North Little Rock plant produces all of the mascaras, eye shadows, face powders, lip glosses, and nail polishes for the Maybelline New York, L’Oreal Paris, and Essie brands.

A separate building at the plant is used to manufacture and package nail polish while everything else, including the company’s top-selling Great Lash Mascara, are manufactured and packaged in the main building.

Several hygiene and safety precautions are always in force, with all employees and visitors wearing lab coats, hair caps, safety goggles, and steel-toe shoes in the production rooms.

“Since this is a product that people put directly on their bodies, we have very strict hygiene rules,” Fox says.

In 1915, when Maybelline founder Tom Lyle Williams was 19, he noticed his older sister Mabel applying a mixture of Vaseline and coal dust to her eyelashes to give them a fuller appearance. Using his chemistry set, he adapted the mixture and created a mail-order beautifying product he dubbed Lash-Brow-Ine and sold it through his Chicago-based company, Maybell Laboratories. In 1917, he launched Maybelline (combining Maybell and Vaseline) cake mascara with its single-row applicator brush.

Print ads in the 1920s of the Maybell Girl with eyes closed to display her dark, lush lashes led to Williams’ mascara being sold in variety and drug stores. Early ads featured Hollywood stars Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, and Viola Dana. In 1932, a sample size of Maybelline Eyelash Beautifier sold for a dime. Soon, a refillable version in a red and gold box sold for 75 cents with refills at 35 cents.

By the 1930s, Maybelline Eye Shadow was introduced through newspaper and movie magazine ads with stars like Betty Grable offering tips on how to apply the makeup.

By the late 1950s, Maybelline produced Fluid Eye Liner and Iridescent Eye Shadow Sticks in jewel tones and Magic Mascara, the first mass-market “automatic” mascara in which the product adhered to the spiral brush when it was removed from its bottle.

Rapid growth for Maybelline followed the arrival of Liquimatic Brow - the first automatic, liquid brush-on brow color and waterproof Ultra Lash Mascara, which sold for a dollar.

In 1967, Maybelline was sold to Memphis-based Plough, Inc. (which later became Schering-Plough). Four years later Maybelline’s headquarters moved to Memphis, where vast strides were made in research, manufacturing and distribution. Also that year, the company’s most popular product - Great Lash mascara in its signature pink and green tube - was introduced.

In the early 1970s, the company’s sales expanded to Puerto Rico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, Mexico, Australia, and Southeast Asia. In 1974, Maybelline expanded to launch its first products for the face and lips. In 1990, the company was sold to the Wasserstein Perella & Co. investment firm and the next year, its most memorable slogan was born - “Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline” in ads featuring supermodel Christy Turlington. Sales in China soon followed.

While the company, as many cosmetics businesses, has come under fire from animal welfare activists, the company’s website says: “L’Oreal no longer tests on animals any of its products or any of its ingredients, anywhere in the world. Nor does L’Oreal delegate this task to others. The rare exception allowed is if regulatory authorities demand it for safety or regulatory purposes.”

Instead, the company, which spends more than $1 billion annually on research and development, has formed a technology incubator division here in the United States to explore, test, and launch new beauty products. Through it, the company is now producing its own 3-D skin for testing.

“Some of the biggest potential advantages of 3-D bioprinting are the speed of production as well as the level of precision that 3-D printing can achieve,” says Guive Balooch, global vice president of the tech incubator.

Last year, the company introduced a beauty app that uses advanced facial mapping technology so consumers can try out new looks in real time by turning their iPhone or iPad front-facing camera into a virtual mirror. It is partnering with engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop flexible wearable electronics to help researchers and consumers better understand skin.

A glass case outside Fox’s office displays an array of vintage items - magazine ads (including one with actress Swanson), a brass Maybelline sign that earlier hung in the company’s lobby and some examples of early products.

The North Little Rock factory opened June 15, 1975, with more than 300,000 square feet and about 350 employees. Of those original employees, 31 came from the Memphis plant and distribution center, 13 were transferred from its original Chicago distribution center and the rest were new hires in Arkansas.

“We’re going to have a big outdoor party in October to celebrate,” Fox says about the 40th anniversary. The event will include tours for the employees’ families.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the factory employed more than 1,000, many working on assembly lines. In 1978, the company bought a trucking facility next door, adding 35,000 square feet of space for nail color manufacturing. And a major expansion of the main building in 1981 added another 440,000 square feet of warehouse and distribution space. When the company’s Los Angeles distribution center was closed in 1986, the North Little Rock factory became Maybelline’s sole manufacturer and distribution center for domestic products.

Increased technology has reduced the factory’s need for employees and today, it runs three eight-hour shifts and employs 400 to 450 full-time and another 100 as temporary workers. One of the more unique employee perks includes a company store, open to employees only, which offers all the products in the L’Oreal USA catalog at a discount. All employees get a store credit they can use every two months.

“The North Little Rock plant has an annual financial impact of more than $30 million to the local community and also provides thousands of hours of community service activities,” Fox says.

Nine of the factory’s employees have been there since the year it opened. They include Sherry DeVries, a document control coordinator, and her husband Jerry, a production team leader; Bob Giessmann, a production planner; and Steve James, one of the plant’s engineers.

“It’s like night and day,” says Jerry DeVries of the changes at the factory through the decades, with Sherry adding, “There’s been a lot of construction and remodeling.

“There have been a lot of good people here and it has been good to us all these years. Everyone comes out here and gets the job done.”

James says, “I like this area and it’s always been one of the better jobs here in central Arkansas.”

Geneva Boyd of Ward began working at the factory in the late 1970s and worked on the mascara and lipstick assembly lines for more than 22 years before retiring.

“I really enjoyed working out there,” she says. “It was nice and clean and they had some good people and good supervisors.”

Working on an assembly line with either a dozen or six employees - depending upon the product - Boyd packaged products and taped boxes of products to be shipped.

“On the eye shadow line, there were a dozen of us and I’d put the little sponge applicators in the cases and then put the cases in the boxes,” she recalls, adding that employees sat on comfortable, cushioned chairs with backs while they worked. “When I retired, I was working on the lipstick line with five others - two who fed the machine, three who packed, and one who did the taping.”

But today’s cutting-edge technology has made many jobs obsolete.

“The days of the old assembly line like you’d see (on the I Love Lucy TV episode set in a candy factory) where Lucy and Ethel were trying to keep up with packaging the chocolates are gone,” Fox explains as he walks through the maze of machines filling the plant’s first floor, adding that only three countries - the United States, Europe and Germany - use this type of automation.

“It’s really a high-tech, fully-automated factory with robotic technology and we employ those who have majored in robotics, electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineering,” Fox says. “In the past, there weren’t a lot of female engineers but now there are.”

Among the North Little Rock plant’s current employees, which includes several female engineers, a group of 18 young professionals aged 23 to 28 are part of the company’s management development program.

Nicole French, 23, a chemical engineer from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, graduated in December 2013 and began at L’Oreal in early 2014 after being recruited by the company during an on-campus career fair. Before graduating, she spent two summer internships at the plant.

L’Oreal is “leading us and guiding us so we will one day be the future of the company,” French says.

___

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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