Portsmouth double award-winner turns ditched makeup into watercolour paints

Ameenah Begum recalls a time where she was so bogged down by peer pressure that on finishing university she felt the only natural next step was to get a full-time job in the corporate world.

Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 10:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 10:51 am

But it wasn't her. It wasn’t something Ameenah,26, saw herself pursuing in the long-term.

She wanted to branch out and launch something new and exciting. Something that fuelled her creativity and spurred her on to be a change-maker – to put her stamp on the world.

‘When you graduate everyone tells you to go and find a full-time job,’ Ameenah from Portsmouth explains.

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Ameenah Begum in her studio at Portsmouth Guildhall. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘So that’s exactly what I did. I was working in corporate for a short while and I decided that actually I’d rather do something that I’m really enjoying.’

And it was then, in 2019, that Ameenah thought back to her drive for sustainability, charged by her end-of-year university project on ditched makeup products and the devastating impact they had on the environment, deciding then that she would do something revolutionary with these products.

But this time she would invest her knowledge into starting a watercolour paints business, Cos Colours.

She adds: ‘Cos Colours started as an end-of-year project at university where I realised that I was really into sustainability and trying to make some kind of an impact on the world in a good way - for the environment.

Ameenah Begum formulating product at her Portsmouth studio. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘But then I started looking at my own unsustainable habits.

‘I realised that at the time I was getting really frustrated at how much I was spending on a bottle of foundation and I couldn’t even get to the bottom of it.

‘I was just thinking, “how much other makeup must be out there that’s just wasted?”

‘And it eventually made me realise that it’s a much larger problem than on an individual scale.’

Ameenah Begum, founder of Cos Colours | Planet Friendly Paint. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Ameenah flipped her end-of-year project on its head combining her passion for art and interest in sustainability into formulating individual watercolour palettes from pre-owned makeup, her own innovative masterpieces.

And the results didn’t fail to disappoint.

Among her products are a new cosmic collection made up of eight unique, handmade watercolour paints made from up-cycled cosmetics. Each colour represents one of the planets in the solar system.

She says: ‘I put my passions, my interests and my skills all together and eventually it was one of those overnight moments where I woke up and thought, “what if I can turn this into paint?”

‘So then I started going around asking different artists, different shops about any advice I could get and ended up coming up with a cool solution to experiment with these products,’ Ameenah explains.

‘Initially, I tested it with professional artists as an oil paint.

‘But then I realised it's such a niche area as it is anyway and I really wanted to see if I could make this as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.

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‘I ended up focussing more on watercolour paint and I realised that actually it was the perfect medium to suit artists of all abilities because it meant that this message could be spread much further than just on an individual level.’

Ameenah’s friends, family and members of the community chipped in with their own pre-loved makeup that would otherwise sit collecting dust on a shelf – or worse headed for an incinerator, dump or the natural environment.

In the last few months she’s even drummed up supporters hailing from the Netherlands who have posted their unwanted cosmetics to Ameenah where she experiments with their shades - specific and unique to conventional paint formula due to warm and brown tones found in makeup – at her Portsmouth Guildhall studio, Planet Friendly Paint.

Research from the Plastic Soup Foundation, a non-profit marine conservation organisation that aims to reduce plastic pollution, shows that when it comes to beauty packaging, 95 per cent of it is thrown away after just one use, and only 14 per cent of it makes it to a recycling centre.

But Ameenah is proving that a circular economy can work as she takes waste makeup products headed for landfill while showing they can still hold value before we make a rash decision to throw them away.

She’s even invested in a zero waste Terracycle box which collects non-recyclable, pre-consumer and post-consumer waste to turn it into raw material to be used in new products.

‘[Cos Colours] is giving people that extra step to help them understand how to be a little bit more conscious on how we decide what we do with our own products,’ she says.

‘I'm providing businesses with a circular economy solution, a circular beauty solution, while also producing a product people want, that artists want.’

The UK has one of the largest and fastest growing industries when it comes to colour cosmetics. According to database company Statista, the UK generates more than two million metric tonnes of plastic packaging a year.

‘We ‘re one of the most popular countries when it comes to consumer makeup habits,’ Ameenah says.

‘With that number comes a huge amount of by-product and waste that people don't see because a lot of the stuff we buy is usually to do with the packaging and the way it's marketed to us which is fine.

‘I'm absolutely for woman empowerment and doing what makes you feel good which is exactly why I wanted to continue to make this community driven.

‘We shouldn't have to feel guilty about buying and making these purchases. It's just showing people an alternative to show we can still make a difference.’

This time last year Ameenah's watercolour paint business, built up on her own up, won her a Young Innovators Award.

The awards, run by Innovate UK and youth charity The Prince’s Trust recognise young people with great business ideas.

Now Ameenah’s goal is to make for the masses.

She hopes to partner with retailers who can sell her sustainable palettes to artists all over the world.

Ameenah was also awarded the Deutsche Bank Award for creative entrepreneurs along with four other business owners for which she worked hard.

She plans to join with cosmetic sellers so unwanted product can be sent to her for repurposing.

She says: ‘The main thing I'm trying to achieve is showing that consumers will go the extra mile to find products that benefit our planet. ‘It is possible for large businesses to work with small ones like mine to make an impact and real change.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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