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The Blacker the beauty, the sweeter the biz
For decades, products in the beauty aisle tended to exclude women of color. Here are four Black women changing that narrative one successful business at a time.
Black women entrepreneurship is on the rise.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Black women-owned businesses grew 67 percent between 2007 and 2012, outpacing the 27 percent growth rate for female-owned businesses. This upward trend is particularly impressive considering the massive hurdles Black women have to jump through in business, like a lack of funding from outside sources. A 2018 ProjectDiane report by Digital Undivided revealed that Black women have raised only .0006 percent of all tech venture funding since 2009.
In the beauty industry, specifically, there has been tremendous innovation and an explosion of brands helmed by Black women in the last several years. While there are various factors driving this uptick, it can’t be overstated how many brands were born out of Black women fulfilling a major need in the market. After all, it’s no secret that for decades products in the beauty aisle tended to exclude women of color—and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty isn’t the only Black-owned beauty company responding to the severe lack of consideration.
Cases in point: CURLS by Mahisha Dellinger, Cashmere Nicole’s Beauty Bakerie, The Lip Bar by Melissa Butler, and Shemika Harmitt’s Prime Beauty. After being frustrated by the lack of products tailored towards their specific beauty needs, these trailblazers took matters into their own hands and created them themselves. Dellinger concocted efficacious natural hair products she struggled to find, while Nicole created long lasting lip colors with clean ingredients. Butler formulated flattering nudes and bright colors for Black and Brown skin and Harmitt made bronzers that would actually show up on deep skin tones.
But that’s only the beginning of their stories. In honor of Black History Month, Supermaker spoke to these groundbreakers about their entrepreneurial journeys, the struggle to secure funding from venture capitalists as Black women, and what they’re most proud of in life. Read on to encounter four brands making major waves in the industry by redefining beauty standards and offering up inclusive products for a multicultural consumer base.
Inspired by her love for all things sweet (yes, including pastries) Cashmere Nicole started Beauty Bakerie in 2011 as a passion project after going through treatment for breast cancer. Frustrated by the lack of high-performing clean makeup on the market for Black women, she decided to make her own using “whatever money was leftover [from] my paycheck,” she explains over the phone. “As a person of color, you typically aren't going to get funding unless you have a proven concept and you've been busting your butt and really trying to get your brand out there. And for many of us who do the hard work that you think would yield funding, it still doesn't quite happen,” she adds.
Driven by a passion and love for beauty, Nicole set out to create a long lasting lipstick that was so pigmented, wearers wouldn’t need to touch it up during the day. After several rounds of tweaks, the brand’s popular offerings was born: Lip Whip, a vegan, smudge-proof matte lipstick with serious staying power. Beauty editors have jokingly said it could probably last through the apocalypse.
Flash forward several years, Beauty Bakerie has become a cult fave among beauty fanatics. Mega beauty influencers like Jackie Aina and Alissa Ashley can’t stop raving about the brand. Celebrities are major fans, too: Beyoncé was an early supporter, and in 2018 Cardi B was spotted wearing one of the brand’s ultra-popular lip shades, Très Jolie (a vibrant magenta). Today, they carry everything you need for a full face: foundations, highlighters, eyeshadow, mascara — you name it. You can find their whimsical products named and packaged after popular bakery items — like their Blending Egg Beauty Sponges — in Morphe Stores and Ulta Beauties across the nation, and in Boots in the UK.
When Nicole isn’t working on Beauty Bakerie, she’s deeply invested in a new endeavor close to her heart: Sugar Homes, a nonprofit she founded in 2016 that provides shelter and resources like clothing to orphans around the globe. “When you get down to [it], [all that] matters is if you can change lives, and I'm excited that we can do that,” she says.
Mahisha Dellinger has had a long love affair with her natural hair. “I started doing my own hair when I was five. That’s [when] I fell in love with my curls,” she tells Supermaker. While she didn’t have many tools or products at her disposable, she really enjoyed the process of styling her curls. Fast forward to 2002, when, frustrated with her job in corporate America, Dellinger decided to branch out on her own and create a company centered on her one true love: hair.
And so CURLS was born. “I was a new mother at the time, so I wanted something for my hair I could use and feel comfortable using on my daughter,” she recalls. From the beginning, it was completely self-funded. “I had exceptional personal credit and I [couldn’t] get a business loan to save my life. I thought it was going to be easy [but] everywhere I went, I was rejected,” she says.
Despite this setback, she went on to create her own hair care line consisting of a shampoo, conditioner, curl moisturizer, and a curl lotion to start. Today, CURLS has grown into a multi-million dollar brand and is sold at major retailers such as Target, Walmart, Amazon, and JCPenney. In 2018, Dellinger was tapped by none other than Oprah to host OWN‘s Mind Your Business series, where she offered advice to female business owners looking to fulfill their dreams.
Offscreen, she leads the Black Girls Making Millions Academy, an annual conference where women entrepreneurs can learn from experts in business. She also owns a CBD line called Herbn Goddess, a wellness brand for people looking for stress-relief from their busy, stressful lives. And most recently, she’s started partnering with Exquisite Hair Factory tomanufacture hair extensions in various textures and ethnicities for a wide range of businesses. Next up: world domination, maybe?
Prime Beauty may only be shy of two years old, but the cosmetics brand has already been making major waves in the beauty industry. Founded by Shemika Harmitt, a beauty publicist with eight years of experience, the brand launched with lipsticks and highlighters— products that are often top of mind for beauty consumers and “easy to produce in smaller quantities to get the brand out there,” she explains. Harmitt always knew she wanted to create bronzers she and her fellow Black beauties could wear, though.
While attention has been paid to the need for foundations and concealers in a variety of tones, Harmitt says that when she started out, there was a major gap in the market for bronzers for Black and Brown consumers. She decided to fill it.
“At the time the bronzers [were] launching, there weren't any [on the market specifically] for dark skin. No one with deeper skin tones could find anything that actually worked and showed up on their skin,” she tells Supermaker, remembering her original inspiration.
As it turns out, Harmitt’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. The Brownzers have been a hit with people who had been searching far and wide for a product just like them. Mega influencer Nyma Tang was a fast fan, and Cardi B wore the Bronzeville shade in the “Wish Wish” video with DJ Khaled and 21 Savage.
Most recently, the brand released the Island Gyal eyeshadow palette, inspired by Harmitt's Caribbean background. As for the future, Hermitt plans on making more complexion products. “It is our goal to make sure we fill in those gaps where other brands are lacking for deeper skin tones,” she says. As for what she’s most proud of about the brand thus far: “For me, success is all of those emails or customer reviews that I get from women who have purchased my bronzers and they said, ‘Thank you for creating a bronzer for my skin tone,’ or, ‘I never knew that I could use bronzer because they were never available in a deep enough shade.’”
Since as early as she can remember, Melissa Butler has wondered why certain people and skin tones (namely lighter complexions) were seen as more beautiful over others in our society and mainstream media. “I noticed a pattern that left a lot of women out on the margins and I've always thought a couple of things. Number one: without representation you're left seeking validation. And number two: unfortunately, a lot of times a woman's value and worth is directly linked to her looks and we buy into that,” she recalls.
While in college, she came up with the idea for the Lip Bar, a line of lipsticks she didn’t see anywhere else — from nudes to red and bright colors that were high-performing and looked amazing on brown skin. “I [wanted] to create a beauty company where people could be happy to be themselves and where they could be themselves and feel whole,” she says. But it wasn’t until 2012, when she left her cushy Wall Street job, that she really started taking it seriously.
For the first couple of years, she created all of the formulas by hand on her kitchen table to ensure the quality was up to her standards. As far as the brand’s advertising, Butler was always adamant that their marketing was reflective of the women she was creating for. Essentially, they were inclusive before “inclusivity” was a major buzzword. “I think the biggest risk when I first launched was really planting my stake in the sand and saying, ‘Hey, we're multicultural and we're going to celebrate women of color’ when no one else was doing it,” she recalls.
Her commitment to diversity has paid off tremendously. Now in its eighth year of business, the vegan and cruelty-free brand is sold in Target stores across America, has a massive fan base, and collaborations with stars like Justine Skye under the belt. Their product range has also expanded to include “Face Fast Kits,” which has all the products you need to do a full face of makeup in minutes, making it perfect for busy people on-the-go.
At her core, Butler sees herself a problem solver, and she advises budding entrepreneurs to be the same. “A lot of people approach me and say, ‘Oh, Melissa, I want a makeup line,’ or ‘I want a shoe company because I love shoes.’” But, according to Butler, loving shoes or makeup isn't enough. She advises hopeful entrepreneurs to figure out what problem their business can solve that consumers will be able to relate to. “Once you figure out that other people believe in what you believe in and really want the solution that you're going to offer through your products, build that community. Talk about the issues with that community and then launch your products to that community. [They’ll] be more than happy to support you.” she says.
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