Atima Lui grew up in Kansas as the descendant of American slaves and the daughter of a Sudanese refugee, and she remembers trying on makeup with a friend for the first time as a child. Her friend had lighter skin. “As soon as she put it on my face,” Lui says, “there was nothing we could do to make it look good.” She’d discovered the cosmetic industry’s long-running assumption that “nude” means white or light.
Lui is now deploying an AI-based app called Nudemeter to try to fix that problem. Through photos and a short quiz, it determines a user’s skin color, accounts for how the skin is illuminated, predicts changes in skin tone through the year, and helps consumers of any complexion choose makeup colors that work with their skin.
Lui has managed to build a business around Nudemeter, but her goals go beyond the technology itself. Growing up, she says, she was shaped and hurt by society’s assumptions about “who gets to be an entrepreneur, or who gets to be a technologist.” That’s something else she’s trying to fix.