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Beauty

10 Black Entrepreneurs Share Their Experiences Navigating the Beauty Space

Read on for their advice on securing capital, commandeering the board room, and perseverance within the industry.

Founding and starting your own business is no easy feat, and that sentiment only becomes more true (and complicated) for Black people, who are not only left out of boardrooms and executive corporate roles, but from the same support and access non-Black entrepreneurs receive when looking to get a business off the ground.

“The distribution of wealth and financial resources has historically been far less proportionate for Black people than our non-black counterparts,” Gwen Jimmere, founder and CEO of Naturalicious, tells NYLON. “The same has been the case when it comes to acquiring capital to run our businesses, which ultimately leads to a means of preventing Black founders from creating generational wealth for our families and our community.”

Still, against the odds, Black-owned beauty brands continue to carve out a space of their own, creating the beauty products they wished to see — and use — occupying stores everywhere. Ahead, NYLON spoke with 10 Black beauty founders, each sharing their own lived experience and insight about navigating the beauty space as a Black entrepreneur. Click through for their advice on securing capital, commandeering the board room, and perseverance, ahead.

Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, Co-Founders and CEOs of Mented Cosmetics

How did Mented come to fruition?

KM: Amanda and I came up with the idea for Mented one night over a glass of wine. We were talking about how impossible it is to find the perfect nude lipstick, and we realized that lipstick was really only the tip of the iceberg. There weren’t very many premium brands focusing on our specific beauty needs, so we decided to fill the void. We launched in 2017 with six lipstick shades we created by hand, and have been blessed to grow rapidly from there.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs on acquiring capital and getting started?

KM: Be super specific about the problem you’re solving, so that the solution you’re creating can be tailored to the audience who needs it most. Founders often get caught up trying to “boil the ocean”, which makes it hard to invest in their ideas.

AJ: It is important that Black founders know their business. Be crystal clear about how their business solves a problem, generates revenue, burns cash, and will scale. Ask questions and garner support for your idea early and often.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

KM: As important as this business is to me, I’m more than this company. It’s so easy to feel like you are your company, but if you don’t create mental and emotional distance between yourself and your business it can lead to some really terrible bouts of anxiety.

AJ: Ride the wave. Entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster filled with highs and lows. Staying grounded in who you are and what you ultimately want for your life is the key. Find balance.

Mented Cosmetics

Melissa Butler, Founder & CEO of The Lip Bar

How did The Lip Bar come to fruition?

I started The Lip Bar making lipstick in my Brooklyn kitchen when i was working on Wall Street, because I was so fed up with the beauty industry. Similar to how I am fed up with police brutality and racism.

Every good business is born of a solution to a frustrating problem and The Lip Bar is no different. I hated the lack of diversity, the excessive chemicals and the idea that beauty came in only one package. So I created a company that is vegan, inclusive and accessible.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

Make sure your business is solving a problem. And don’t be afraid to tackle issues within your business that are unique to your culture because that's where the true opportunity lies. You should work to fill in the gaps and tell the world (your customers, potential investors, friends/family members) why you are uniquely positioned to solve that problem. These are all the people who stand in between you and the seed money you need.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is you’re only as strong as your team. Try to get people who really believe in your vision. Don’t just hire employees, hire partners — people who are so invested in your company because its is also theirs. Starting out, you may not have money for the best talent, so pivot your mind to the type of person you need, not the skill set they have. I don’t only hire for experience because many things can be taught. I hire for character, so get creative. Maybe that first customer who is your biggest advocate could be a team member/partner.

The Lip Bar

Trinity Mouzon Wofford, co-founder of Golde

How did Golde come to fruition?

I co-founded the business with my now-fiancé, Issey. We were both 23 at the time — babies! I was really focused on this idea of taking wellness and making it more easy and approachable. I felt caught between the "crunchy granola" stuff I'd grown up with and the ultra-luxe offerings that were totally out of reach. We started while we were both still at our full-time jobs and funded it with a couple thousand dollars in savings. We did everything ourselves, with the help of some friends, from creative to actual production and shipping.

What advice would you have for black entrepreneurs, specifically when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

Be patient and have fun. Remember that getting a business up and running is not a race. It can be so hard not to try to rush the process. We are approaching 4 years now since we launched and we are just now really hitting our stride. Keep in mind that those overnight success stories you read have been years in the making!

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

Know your numbers! I can't stress that enough. You don't have to be a finance expert, but you have to be comfortable understanding your expenses and your revenues. That knowledge will empower you to make the right decisions as you launch and grow.

Golde

Tristan Walker, CEO & Founder of Bevel

How did Bevel come to be?

The goal was to help Black men, and ultimately all men, eliminate issues related to razor bumps. These are simple issues that impact a man’s confidence and are issues that have frankly gone unsolved for the more than 200-year history of health and beauty. When you consider our cultural influence, how much money we spend on these categories, the needs and problems we face regarding our skin and hair, along with our desire to have products that look great and work — I believe we deserved better. That thinking is what started the company and was really the ethos for Bevel.

Image courtesy of Rog Walker @papermonday

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs on acquiring capital and getting started?

Running a company is hard; growing a company is harder; ensuring your company is well-financed for that 150-year vision is even harder than that. Raising money was the most regretful thing that I did. I raised $39 million, and I wish I didn’t raise a cent of it. With raising money comes things: you have to return it, you have to take in other opinions that might not be meaningful, and you lose ownership. Having gone through this, of course I needed to get it off of the ground, but now I know what I didn’t need, either. If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t raise a thing. There’s a density of genius in the Black community that other people will have to respect with time. I think we just need to believe in ourselves.

Image courtesy of Rog Walker @papermonday

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

Remaining consistent to what you value. My six core values: courage, inspiration, respect, judgment, wellness, and loyalty. I’m not hanging out with people who don’t share those values, I’m not making decisions that don’t align with those values, and I’m hiring people according to those values.

Bevel

Jamyla Bennu, Owner & Mixtress of Oyin Handmade

How did Oyin Handmade come to fruition?

I had a need for naturally sourced ingredients in hair care built for my highly textured natural hair. At the time, there weren’t a lot of products. So, I started whipping them up in my kitchen. Now, Oyin Handmade ranges across hair care and body care for women, men and kids.In the late '90s, when I started learning more about the moisture needs of my natural hair, I realized organic products existed, but they weren't formulated for my hair's moisture need; many of them were full of chemicals or non-nourishing ingredients. I wanted healthy, effective products that were good for the environment and good for my hair and skin. Drawing on my creative background, I researched recipes, purchased ingredients from my local grocery store, and set about to make my own. That creative impulse is the spark that led to Oyin Handmade products, and it's one that, as a maker, I continue to nourish with every formula.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

Run the race you want to win, and don’t follow anyone else’s dream but your own. It’s important to find your own “why” in the midst of your work, and to hold fast to that, as the world inevitably seeks to shape you.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

Pivoting away from mass distribution in 2018-2019 was a huge step for us. Moving back to our original direct-to-consumer and independent retailer model plus a few select mass retailers, allowed us to focus on the core mission of our business: providing delightful and effective handmade quality products and continuing to build direct relationships with our customers.

Oyin Handmade

Sharon Chuter, Founder & CEO of Uoma Beauty

How did Uoma Beauty come to fruition?

I knew I wanted to do something when I found myself complaining all the time – I am a big believer in “talk is cheap” – “be the change you want to see”. We all complain about the things we are not happy with, but no one is prepared to risk it all to be part of the solution. That’s why I embarked on this journey. I hope that at the end of the day I am able to play a small part in making the world a better place – a place where women who look like me understand that they are truly beautiful and have the courage to explore that from the outside in. We feel beautiful when we are confident, and when we are genuinely at peace with ourselves, women are unstoppable. Every person deserves to experience the feeling of being enough, being worthy, being beautiful. It is quite a liberating feeling.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs on acquiring capital and getting started?

Be prepared. Get your numbers right. Expect to walk into a room where you aren’t going to have any advantage. Especially the advantage of having someone make an emotive decision right away. Especially if you are raising money for the first time, you are selling a concept. You haven’t launched yet; you have minimal data—so you are relying on someone believing in your vision. Be on point, get your strategy right, know your facts, be prepared to back up those facts, gather your numbers, and research everything.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

Predict, forecast but stay nimble. Anything can happen in business. After all, business is a part of life. One of my tattoos is a constant reminder of that. It’s an Adinkra symbol “Mmere Dane” and it means time changes, which means nothing is permanent, not success and not failure. For me, I don’t let success get to my head and neither do I allow failure get to my heart. The only thing that is constant is change and we all need to continue to be open and learn from the change we must experience in our lives and in our business.

Uoma Beauty

Kay Cola, Founder and CEO of OrganiGlow

How did OrganiGlow come to fruition?

Founding OrganiGrowHairCo was a Universal cosmic design. I had just gotten off of tour, to my daughter who was begging me to straighten her hair because girls at school were teasing her for having curly hair.

I decided in order to encourage her to embrace her beautiful luscious locks I had to wear my own. I ditched the flat iron, weaves and wigs, but found myself in a sea of toxic products that were not helping.

I decided to create something healthy for myself and children to cater to our individual porosities and textures, which did not like the coconut oil, fragrances and proteins that were offered in several popular brands. People saw that my hair was restored from years of damage, bleach, heat and styles and asked what I was using and when I said something I created, they exclaimed, “You should sell that”. The rest is Herstory.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

I did not acquire capital. I invested in myself. I had zero investors, and funding. Save your own funds, invest in yourself and reinvest into your business with every dollar you make.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

I have learned and grown the most from being a business owner. It has helped me become a better leader. Having employees has taught me every human needs something different. Having customers has taught me service humility and compassion for both the customers and my customer service workers. It has taught me that business owners do not get to clock out and that there will be fires to put out everyday, but the lives who benefit from what you do far outweigh the challenges that come.

OrganiGlow

Gwen Jimmere, Founder & CEO of Naturalicious

How did Naturalicious come to fruition?

I started in my kitchen with $32 as a newly minted single mom, fresh out of an abusive relationship. At the time, I was having a hard time finding hair care products that worked great for my coily hair, were naturally based, and didn't force me spend hours on my hair. As a new mom, I needed to look and feel great about myself and my beauty, but I couldn't afford to spend a ton of time doing my hair. I couldn't find a solution to my problem, so I created it. They say "the struggle is real" when it comes to managing natural hair, and I created the first patented system that makes it effortless. To date, Naturalicious has saved over 70,000 women more than 1.2 million minutes on their hair routine.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

The distribution of wealth and financial resources has historically been far less proportionate for Black people than our non-black counterparts. The same has been the case when it comes to acquiring capital to run our businesses, which ultimately leads to a means of preventing Black founders from creating generational wealth for our families and our community. But now, there are a growing number of Black and Brown venture capitalists and investors who are specifically interested in funding black founders. I encourage black entrepreneurs to seek them out and do business with them.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

Start where you are and work with what you've got. I started with $32 and a baby on my hip and now we're in stores around the world. If I can do it, anyone can. Don't wait around for the "right" moment" as there rarely is one.

Karen Young, Founder of Oui the People

How did you Oui the People come to fruition?

I founded Oui the People because I suffered from debilitating razor burn. I didn’t even want to wear shorts because it was so bad. It started when I was a teenager and continued as I was working as a beauty professional. Then I got ingrown hairs which were the icing on the cake.

I knew there were so many options for men. When I wanted to gift a man in my life with something beautiful and useful, I often went for a safety razor. The whole set would be beautifully presented with the right shaving cream, oils, and razor. It struck me that I was not only having a terrible experience shaving, but the very act of shaving was far from luxurious. I wanted to create something that felt tailor-made to women and the very experience was inclusive. We started with a razor & oil and began expanding into body care this year, with the same principles, efficacious, healthy, transparent, and thoughtfully made.

What advice would you have for Black entrepreneurs when it comes to acquiring capital and getting started?

I started the company with $1500 and I know for certain that black entrepreneurs, like myself, are so capital strained that we have to be incredibly creative with very little. I would advise a fellow black entrepreneur to start building a network early on, connecting with other founders, especially other founders who have raised capital, and investors. It may seem as if capital is the biggest hurdle, but it's actually network- one of the biggest deficits in the black community- it is your network that leads to capital. You can grow your network by applying for incubator programs, building a database of founders on Twitter, finding and joining tech, entrepreneur groups in Slack, signing up for newsletters so you know what's happening, and attending conferences.

What's the most important lesson you've learned in founding your own business?

The lesson on creating a close network took longer to understand than I'd like to admit. Also, don't' let anyone dictate your highs because they will dictate your lows as well. Entrepreneurship is a wild ride.

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