One day in high school, when Adrienne Vendetti Hodges was being teased yet again about her copper-colored hair, she realized she had two choices. Give the guy the satisfaction of knowing he was bothering her or tell him: “I love my red hair. It’s awesome.”
Hodges, now 27, chose the latter, even buying a cranberry-colored hat that day to emphasize her point. She went home and told her sister, Stephanie Vendetti, now 25, about the power of embracing red hair. (Vendetti hated her own cinnamony color so much she had persuaded her mother to let her dye it blond starting in fourth grade.)
Thus began the sisters’ efforts to work with, instead of camouflage, their red hair, along with the pale skin and blond eyebrows and eyelashes that went with it. But Hodges and Vendetti, who soon reverted to her natural color, struggled to find beauty products that didn’t make them break out (redheads often have sensitive skin), tint their scalps pink (in the case of one color-depositing shampoo) or turn their eyebrows muddy. Magazines and beauty sites rarely addressed these issues, though redheads make up roughly 6 percent of the U.S. population.
“You can’t just go to a makeup counter and ask for help because that’s how you end up with fuchsia eye shadow and clear mascara on your brows,” said Vendetti, who suffered those particular indignities on the afternoon of her senior prom, no less.
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In 2011, after spending thousands of dollars and testing hundreds of products, the sisters decided to share the knowledge they had acquired on a blog they called How to Be a Redhead (http://howtobearedhead.com). They posted daily about topics including foundation that works with freckles, how to deflect ginger-bashing bullies and interviews with makeup artists.
Within days, Jill Zarin, she of the auburn hair and “The Real Housewives of New York City” fame, had found them and tweeted a link to the site to her million-plus followers. “Check out this great blog!” Zarin wrote. “Gotta love redheads.” The sisters now have more than 90,000 followers on Instagram.
Taylor Shields of Kansas City, Mo., found the site through Facebook and was quickly hooked.
“Foundation always made me look like a Kabuki doll, or my makeup was too dark and I looked like I was goth,” she said. Through How to Be a Redhead, she found a good organic sunscreen and a foundation, plus the confidence to wear scarlet lipstick, a shade she had always thought was off limits.
The sisters are courted by brands like Pureology, owned by L'Oréal, and Whip Hand Cosmetics, a Detroit company that, after seeing the response to the sisters’ Instagrams of their primer, collaborated with How to Be a Redhead on custom lip palettes designed for redheads.
“It became clear to us that this was an extremely loyal but underserved audience,” said Matt Cardwell, a Whip Hand founder.
The sisters don’t allow banner advertising. Instead, companies who want to work with them go through a 10-day “redhead-approved” testing process to ensure no one’s skin erupts or hair feels weak. They try the product, as do redheaded friends and family, which usually means at least one of Hodges’ three red-haired sisters-in-law. Her husband, Josh, is also ginger, and has benefited from their knowledge.
“Susan Ciminelli has totally changed him,” Vendetti said gleefully, referring to the New York beautician who has a skin-care line. They say they frequently receive emails from men asking for advice for sensitive skin.
They have a huge backlog of products to test, but ones that jump to the front of the line include anything relating to eyebrows, every redhead’s arch nemesis. (Posts about confidence do best on the site, followed by brows and then skin.)
Like their readers, they are frustrated that no company has yet made the perfect eyebrow powder or pencil for redheads that doesn’t require mixing shades. Eventually they plan to make their own – something they did successfully with red bobby pins, which have sold out multiple times.
Whatever they do, they know their readers will be watching. Theirs is, after all, an audience that wrote en masse to complain when the sisters titled a post “Britney Spears is now a redhead.”
“Oh, my God, women and girls of all ages went nuts,” Vendetti said. “They were like” – she raised her voice an octave and shrieked – “ ‘She is not a redhead! She just dyed her hair red.’ ”
Now they carefully refer to women such as Spears and the actresses Christina Hendricks and Amy Adams as “chosen redheads” and joke about the stereotype of fiery redheads. Said Hodges, “We’re just happy to have an audience.”