7 Black Beauty Entrepreneurs On The Biggest Lessons Learned In Their First Year Of Business
The odds are stacked against Black women vying to succeed in entrepreneurship. Whether it be struggles accruing capital, inequitable access, or the simple microaggressions that come with being a double minority, their journey to the top is undoubtedly harder. But that hasn't stopped them from succeeding anyway. Despite the odds, the number of Black female beauty entrepreneurs continues to soar. Especially in the realm of beauty.
According to research done in 2018 by American Express, while Black women are undoubtedly the most underfunded demographic, they are creating new businesses at the highest rate. Since 2007, the number of entities owned by Black women has skyrocketed 164 percent, with close to half of women-owned businesses in the United States having minority women at the helm. The beauty industry, in particular, has seen one of the highest increases.
But according to Aishetu Dozie, founder of Bossy Cometics, these disparities often benefit the strength of the brand in the long run. "I quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible to raise money from the large traditional venture capital firms as a Black business owner," she tells TZR. "But that’s a blessing in disguise. Having little money allows you to really understand your strengths and weaknesses and communicate very directly with your customer base. The fact that we’d be underestimated as a result would ultimately become our superpower."
And those are sentiments shared by other new Black beauty entrepreneurs who believe that they, too, are more in-tuned with their brands due to the obstacles they've faced. Ahead, check out seven beauty business owners, with brands under the age of two, and find out their biggest tips to success and lessons learned along the way.
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Tiffany Staten, The London Grant Co.
All Black women are not made equal. We are dynamic and colorful and multi-dimensional."
"London Grant was inspired by my need and desire to use non-toxic and pregnancy-safe products that actually worked. When I was pregnant with my first, I started to laser focus on everything I put in and on my body. I also started thinking about what I could do to prevent stretch marks, and realized that the products I thought were natural and safe were filled with chemical preservatives, known to impact our hormones. During that time, I learned that women are exposed to an average of 160 to 500 chemicals in their daily routine, with women of color being exposed to even higher levels of toxic chemicals. When I delivered my baby without any stretch-marks, I knew that I’d developed something meaningful and effective.
"My first year of business was about two things: getting the brand out there and overcoming imposter syndrome. When I launched London Grant, I was blindly naive to how difficult it is to grow your customer base. I thought that online traffic, repeat customers and word of mouth would be enough. Beauty is a very competitive space, so refining my unique value would be critical. I began to cultivate language about our products that amplified a message of honesty and authenticity. The more I told my story, the more I connected with new customers. This type of organic customer-building is hard work and takes time, but you really get to intimately know your audience and their needs. So, I got to know my community really, really well.
"All Black women are not made equal. We are dynamic and colorful and multi-dimensional. Like any other demographic, it’s important to fine-tune who you’re marketing to and find like-minded collaborations. Some of our collaborations have been wildly successful partnerships, while others have shown me that I was in the wrong space. Take the time to really refine your segments, because saying that you market to 'Black women' isn’t enough."
Brittney Ogike, BEAUTYBEEZ
Yes, all entrepreneurs work hard. But when you’re a minority, you have to work twice — or maybe three times — as hard as your counterparts."
"Oftentimes, women with textured hair have to go to local beauty supply retailers for specific products like hair gel, braiding hair, and wigs. These stores, historically, have poor customer service, inferior product offerings, and inherent discrimination. After years of being dissatisfied with my experiences shopping for proper hair care, I sought out to create change in an industry that ignored us for too long. BEAUTYBEEZ merges the essentials of the traditional beauty supply with the customer experience of a prestige beauty retailer.
"I spoke with my community and integrated all of our experiences as Black women beauty consumers into every aspect of the business — from branding and store design to customer service. Branding was very important to me because there is no purposeful branding that speaks to our community in this space. I worked with a branding agency to develop the aesthetics of BEAUTYBEEZ. I also worked with a retail design firm to help create a space that could solve all the pain points in our industry. We created private wig suites so customers could shop for the perfect wig in the privacy and comfort they deserve. The store has a chic industrial vibe where products are organized by category, and customer service is a priority — a major upgrade from the traditional beauty supply store.
"I’ve learned that hard work will pay off — eventually. Yes, all entrepreneurs work hard, but when you’re a minority, you have to work twice maybe three times as hard as your counterparts. When I encountered something challenging, I tapped into my network, got creative, and stayed persistent. If I had made excuses and given up, BEAUTYBEEZ wouldn’t exist today."
Aishetu Dozie, Bossy Cosmetics
I realized early that perfection was a trap and decided that I would build a business that could reinvent itself as time went on."
"I wanted to build a beauty and wellness brand for ambitious women that spoke with us as though we were more than how we present ourselves in the physical sense," Dozie says of the creation of Bossy Cosmetics. "I was convinced that there is a strong intersection of beauty and women who are enterprising, hungry, determined, and aspirational. I’ve always used lipstick as my superpower, wearing a gorgeous shade has always made me feel confident and emboldens me in meetings to take up space as and when I should."
"I spent hours and hours researching current trends in makeup, suppliers, marketing techniques, distribution... you name it. I became a student committed to learning about the industry as well as talking to women that were in my target audience to learn what was missing for them in their beauty regimen. The first year is equal parts hard as it is fun. I’ve had the best time launching this brand, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I realized early that perfection was a trap and decided that I would build a business that could reinvent itself as time went on. For anyone wanting to do the same, this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint so you’ve got to be ready for the long run. Pace yourself because burnout is the quickest way to giving up. Take care of yourself. Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster and you need love and support around you to be able to thrive and eventually soar."
Emilia Ramos, Agrestal Beauty
Black business owners continue to be underestimated, so it is essential to put your whole heart into everything you do for your company."
"I always had an innate desire for skincare, and I soon discovered the harsh chemicals common in many beauty products on the market. Soon enough, I was obsessed, researching the best ingredients, testing [formulas] on my friends and family, and in the end, creating quality products made from organic and vegan ingredients. I wanted Agrestal Beauty to go beyond the actual products themselves, and have a greater purpose of spreading mental health awareness and self-love, based on my personal experience.
"I spent two years researching and testing the best ingredients on the market to determine the foundation of the products I wanted to create. Once I invested in the brand's identity, I took all of my money from my savings and invested it into the first launch of Agrestal Beauty's manufacturing and marketing efforts. Black business owners continue to be underestimated, so it is essential to put your whole heart into everything you do for your company — 100 percent is not enough. You always need to come to the table with new ideas, new goals and provide 150 percent effort all the time.
"To anyone wanting to break into beauty, start somewhere, even if it is small. If you have a beauty line idea, start with one lip gloss, and focus on perfecting that lip gloss. Once you get it to a place that you can stand behind, then feel free to expand off of that."
Anika Goodwin, Opulence MD Beauty
Being a Black-owned business doesn’t mean the business caters only to people of color. I am a Black woman founder, but I want all women to have safe beauty options."
"As a board-certified ophthalmologist, I cringe when I see women gluing on lash extensions each day and wearing lash extensions for weeks and months without cleaning them, all in order to avoid sacrificing their expensive individual lash touch-up. I was fed up with treating the numerous allergic reactions and eye issues lash glue and heavy lash extensions can cause. As a false eyelash enthusiast, I knew that I could design a lighter more comfortable lash that was also easier and safer to apply.
"There are those that expect 'Black-owned business' to mean that it only targets Black people. This is a misinterpretation of the movement. Being a Black-owned business doesn’t mean the business caters only to people of color. I am a Black woman founder, but I want all women to have safe beauty options. Vision matters, regardless of color.
"The best advice I can give to future business owners is don’t take criticism personally. When you start a business, it becomes like one of your children and it hurts to have someone makes negative comments or leave a negative review. Put out the very best product that you can, provide the very best customer service that you can, and know that your ideal customers, your tribe, will find you and love it."
Lesley Thornton, KLUR
I learned not to undervalue my product and never play small. Despite the lack of resources and support, I could still strive for unparalleled excellence and raise the bar."
"I started developing skincare products for Klur as aftercare products solely for a private clientele. My clients saw consistent results and overall healthier skin using my routines, and that inspired me to share my work and knowledge with others. Klur did not get up and running overnight, however. The brand was not an instant success, and because it took so long to gain traction, there were many ups and downs. But I stayed the course, kept a tight budget, and dedicated myself to the process.
"I’ve learned many lessons in the process of building Klur. Mainly as a Black woman in the beauty business, I quickly learned how much harder I had to work to get a foot in the door. I learned not to undervalue my product and never play small. Despite the lack of resources and support, I could still strive for unparalleled excellence and raise the bar. Most importantly, I learned that it's okay to pass on opportunities that compromise my personal values.
"You can never go wrong when you focus on quality and authenticity. This is what makes your brand so valuable. Show up as yourself and build a community based on that. It’s okay to be different and think differently. You don’t have to be the next something or somebody to attain success. You're already successful business if you manage to have your voice and others listen."
Selam Kelati, I+I Botanicals
Women helping each other has been an empowering and inspiring part of our story."
"When I grew up in East Africa, it was common to use various local plants for beauty, health, and wellness. So my business partner Jennifer and I tapped into my ancestral history and traditions along with current scientific knowledge of the benefits of amazing plant-based ingredients to develop each of our products. We started I+I Botanicals as a celebration of diversity.
"As working mothers, both Jennifer and I understand the unique pressures on women. We are often the caretakers, nurturers, healers, problem-solvers for everyone in our lives. That does not leave much in the tank for our own well-being. We intentionally developed products that are simple to use and blend easily into a busy daily routine. In addition, the products are created to provide an uplifting experience with subtle aromas from natural — and organic — essential oils, and a luxurious feel on the skin. Through our products, we are trying to promote a message that self-love and self-care are a necessity for well-being, and not a luxury.
"There will be ups and downs in any business. Funding and getting in the door with major retailers are the most obvious challenges for any start-up, but even more so for a Black, female entrepreneur. There simply are not as many avenues and resources available or offered. Fortunately, we learned early on that one of our biggest resources was our network. Using our connections and building new relationships has helped us reach a larger audience and forge new partnerships. Along the way we have found incredibly generous women — from Indie Beauty Expo and the Cosmetic Executive Women organization (CEW) — to share their knowledge, experience and connections to help us on our journey. Women helping each other has been an empowering and inspiring part of our story."