Meet the woman behind New Zealand’s most successful natural lipstick brand

12 April 2022
By Fashion Quarterly

Make-up maven Karen Murrell provides insider tips & shares how she evolved from fashion school failure to beauty business success.

Karen Murrell lipsticks.

When Karen Murrell founded her natural lipstick brand in 2008, it was because she wanted to create ‘clean’ lipsticks that people could wear with confidence, knowing that there were no toxic ingredients in them. Today, her formulations are some of the most popular in Aotearoa and abroad. Karen joined us recently to share her thoughts on her career, make-up, and top tips for picking a new-season lipstick. 

We really never know what’s in our future. When I left school, I wanted to be the next Coco Chanel, so I went to fashion school — and I was terrible. I failed the course and was fired from my job as a pattern cutter. It was my friend who fired me; she’s now very famous and fantastic, and we still laugh about it! After that, I ran off down Queen Street to Smith & Caughey’s and the best job of my life — working on the Clinique counter. I’ve been putting on make-up since I was able to pick up mascara, and colour has always had a special place in my heart. 

I started Karen Murrell Natural Lipsticks when the global financial crisis was hitting. But, actually, it was my second company as I was one of the original founders of SkinFood [skincare], which is still sold in supermarkets today, so I knew what was needed in terms of running a business. 

Our tagline is ‘Nothing nasty touches my lips’ and it’s true — that’s what our lipsticks are about. They don’t just look good, they nourish your lips as well, and every ingredient is selected by me with love and care.

Models wearing Karen Murrell's red lipstick shades.

There are really two processes for creating lipstick — one is real and one is the PR version. There’s a formal Gantt chart that looks at colour trends and testing products, then there’s the behind-the-scenes version, which I won’t discuss in public, but it’s when two crazy, lipstick-loving girls [Karen and Dani Howard at the company’s manufacturing plant] get together in Melbourne and start
to create in a whirl of colour and mess!

I’m inspired by nature, flowers and the beauty of the wild world. As a creative, I feed off energy, so the energy around me is really important. Negativity is something I find very challenging. I think many people forget our businesses are like our children and that we’ve spent years and years building them.

For me, one of the best things about running a business has been having the freedom to create my own destiny. I’ve always been driven by stuffy people telling me I can’t do things, and I love proving people like that wrong. My idea of success has changed as I’ve grown older. Now I look at it as more of an evolving process. There’s a great saying: “The fun is in the run”, and I think that’s so true.

Karen shares her top tips picking a new-season lipstick 

Karen Murrell.

Lip colour is so personal, but my first tip for choosing a great one for you rests on the following factor: what complements your skin tone. You’ll probably know this better than anyone, but if you’re in doubt, take the Karen Murrell ‘Find Your Shade’ quiz

When it comes to the shape of your lips, lip pencils are great for just making minor but effective changes. Use a pencil in the same colour or tone as your lipstick to lightly outline just outside your natural lip line for an instantly fuller look.

Another key factor to take into consideration is your mood and where you’re going. The great thing about lipstick is that if you want to glam it up, you can opt for bold and beautiful colours, like the confidence-inspiring scarlet of Karen Murrell Fiery Ruby. If you’re going for more of a natural look, nude shades can add extra style and elegance to a subtle look. Try Karen Murrell Cordovan Natural, or Driven from our new Confidence collection. I also like to break my looks into occasions, such as: 

Work: for professional settings, I lean towards berry shades (Scarlet Blaze), deep reds (Red Shimmer) and warming nudes (Orchid Bloom).

Casual: after hours, I go for nudes (Courageous), corals (Desire) and dusty pinks (Carnation Mist).

Party: for fun, I think pinks (Pink Starlet), wine hues (Magenta Moon) and bright reds (Seduction).

Discover the natural lipstick world of Karen Murrell at


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