How Three Female Entrepreneurs Built Their Brands by Delivering Inclusivity
Filling gaps in the market and game-changing opportunities opened the door for three female entrepreneurs serving diverse customers.
While working in the medical spa industry, Rachel Roff noticed a lack of services for treating conditions associated with darker skin tones. Her drive to see the industry be more inclusive encouraged her to open her Urban Skin Solutions Medspa and Laser center in 2006. “I started with one laser for tanned and dark with a couple of employees,” Roff said.
When business started booming, Roff identified a need to go beyond her Charlotte, N.C. market and launched a retail line of professional-quality products called Urban Skin Rx. “Two years ago, life was good with average e-commerce sales of $125 per customer,” said Roff whose business was grossing around $2 million. Then Target Corp. came calling serving up a route for Roff to extend her inclusive products to everyone.
But mass-market growth came with a host of challenges, especially since she was self-funded — how could she make money at the lower price points associated with the mass market? How could she protect her online luxury business?
The opportunity was too good to pass up. At first Roff recast smaller sizes of her bestsellers for Target to provide lower price points. But soon the retailer wanted her full line. Her solution was to be totally transparent with her fans and explain the division into two brands, Urban Skin Rx and Urban Rx Professional Strength. That idea clicked and she’ll soon be expanding into other specialty and mass retail doors.
After graduating from college, Nancy Twine was working in the financial industry with a position that allowed her to pay off student loans. When her mother died unexpectedly, she focused on directing her passion into what gave her joy, namely time spent with her mom creating beauty concoctions in the kitchen. With that as inspiration, she began digging into research. Twine saw a shift in personal care to natural formulas — but most were in mass channels and predominately body or skin care. “No one was owning the natural, high-performing hair care,” Twine said. That was the genesis of Briogeo. While attending a trade show, Twine and her Briogeo line netted the attention of Sephora. Twine quit her job to focus on her budding beauty business.
Now Briogeo is the fastest-growing hair care line at Sephora and posting gains across the distribution network. The lineup is targeted at all ethnicities and addresses hair type concerns. Briogeo has resonated especially with discerning shoppers who research products. “They know the difference between sulfates and parabens. They don’t want to sacrifice performance and they want to identify brands made her them, not someone else.” Inclusivity is paramount with visuals representing all hair types and ethnicities. “We want to be an inclusive hair care brand for all.”
Twine is also her own best consumer. “I’m not a hair dresser. I’m not a chemist. But I know what an excellent formula should feel like and how it should perform,” Twine said, admitting she doesn’t take no for an answer. “We don’t take off the shelf products. We continue to innovate and push the limits. If I’m told there isn’t a clean ingredient, I research it on my own.”
Harvard Business School classmates Amanda E. Johnson and KJ Miller bonded over the desire to never see women of color feeling they didn’t matter. “Women of color represent 40 percent of the female population and black women outspend the market up to 80 percent, but when we shop for nude lipsticks, we see a sea of pinks and beige when our lips are brown, pink, purple, two tone and beautiful," said Johnson, who in addition to being the cofounder serves as chief operating officer. Mented set out to not only create products, but solutions. In 2017 the duo launched Mented Cosmetics with six nude lipsticks made in their apartment in Harlem.
“We sent every influencer a sample with a simple ask. If you like them wear them. Luckily for us they loved them, and we turned our Saturday lipstick making into a brand.” Ensuring press coverage and word of mouth catapulted sales. Mented doubled its first-year sales goals and is beating year one volume in 2018 by 400 percent. The brand has since extended into a full range of cosmetics. In addition to direct to consumer, Mented has a test in Macy’s Herald Square (in conjunction with Facebook) and will be part of Beautycon’s pop-up shop in Los Angeles.
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