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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

How Three Black Beauty Founders Broke Into Retail



Breaking into retail in any industry is challenging. The beauty business is no exception. To inspire those of us on our own retail journeys, three black female founders share about their voyage from DTC to the shelf. They cover seeking funding, scaling product creation, building relationships with distributors and all the learning curves that came along the way. These three powerhouses are brand builders who broke barriers in the beauty and personal care space and opened up to us about how they accomplished their success.


Founder 1: Beatrice Dixon, Co-Founder and CEO of The Honey Pot Company, a plant-derived personal care line.

When we started the company we were a direct-to-consumer brand, and the opportunity to go into Target kind of fell into our laps. We didn't do the things most brands do when they are ready to go into retail. A buyer emailed us and expressed interest in our products. That's how the conversation started and we were literally learning on the job. Any founder that tells you they know what they're doing is lying. We're all just winging it and learning as we go.


Interestingly, when we started the conversation with Target, they suggested putting us in the multicultural section. It felt weird because vaginas aren't multicultural. Vaginas are for every race. We were going to take it anyway but then the buyer offered to put in the feminine care section after another four to six months. That might have made most people nervous because you really want the opportunity with Target to happen. But in that instance, I decided to wait. It was better for us to be on the shelf in the feminine hygiene aisle than be set apart.


Next came the new challenge of mass-producing products for a national retailer. We went from making products in the kitchen to having to mass-produce. We found a contract manufacturer and did a family and friends round of funding. There were so many times that it almost didn't even happen. We were operating on a hope and a prayer, relying on duct tape and chewing gum.

When we got into stores, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know how to plan inventory; we didn't know about tradesmen; we didn't know about any of that stuff. So it was hard, and it was tumultuous, and it was stressful. But the dope thing is that Target stuck with us. We kept a very close relationship with our buyers, which is extremely important. When you're going into distribution, you want to connect with your buyer as if they are literally an arm of your business.


We kept a very close relationship with our buyers, which is extremely important. When you're going into distribution, you want to connect with your buyer as if they are literally an arm of your business. -Beatrice Dixon


Founder 2: Amanda Johnson Co-Founder and CEO of Mented Cosmetics, a pigment-first beauty brand celebrating women of all hues.

Evolving from direct-to-consumer to HSN, Target and Ulta was interesting. They all came about differently, and every opportunity grew us to the next level. When we first started the business in 2017, we participated in Target's accelerator program. We learned a lot about retail we didn't know, and at the end, they offered to put us on the shelves. However, we declined because we were not ready. And actually, that is the value of that program. Even though we weren't on the shelf, we stayed really close to them. They cheered us on and invited us to speak on Target panels amongst other things. In 2018 we participated in the program again. We knew all the things we needed to do operationally. We knew we needed to get tighter around our warehouse, supply chain, timelines and costs for retail to make sense for us.


When we were ready for retail, out of the blue, a customer emailed us suggesting we apply for the HSN program Big Find. It's a nationwide search for the new big find for HSN. After we applied, things moved pretty quickly. We submitted the application in November 2019 and by January 2020 we were on air. Suddenly we were in front of millions of people telling our story. It grew our audience but in no way cannibalized it because it was such a different audience. I think the growth we've seen can be attributed to each retailer giving us access to diverse audiences. They're all so different. Each opportunity taught us so much internally and ramped up our expertise.


I think the growth we've seen can be attributed to each retailer giving us access to diverse audiences. They're all so different. Each opportunity taught us so much internally and ramped up our expertise. -Amanda Johnson

Founder 3: Nyakio Grieco Co-Founder of Thirteen Lune, an E-commerce destination featuring BIPOC beauty brands, and Founder of Nyakio Beauty, a line of clean beauty products.

I'm probably one of the more OG founders given I launched Nyakio Beauty in early 2002. I started as an indie brand inspired by my family's beauty secrets from Africa - my Kenyan grandmother and my medicine man grandfather. I started making coffee scrubs in my kitchen, but at that time, nobody was using the word clean to describe brands that were homegrown natural remedies. The idea of going into a giant retailer at that point, especially as a young 27-year-old black woman, leaving a job in Hollywood to make coffee scrubs, was a far-reaching goal. So I started with indie boutiques.


I spent the next 18 months of my life being customer service, shipping and receiving, the accounting department and whatever else it took to get into more independent boutiques across the country. I had a lot of stops and starts in my journey because whenever the business grew, I had to scale back, look for partners and raise money. In my 20s and 30s I learned a lot about raising money, accessing capital and not taking no for an answer. I considered myself very fortunate that I didn't know the stats many young black entrepreneurs do today. I just assumed that because I had a great idea that somebody would give me money. And while I had to knock on a lot of doors, I never assumed that those no's had anything to do with the way I looked or my gender. I just thought it wasn't the right opportunity for them. And I kept going.


When Sundial Brands acquired me, it was pre-Unilever. At that point, I wanted to be part of a bigger family that could help me do the sustainable sourcing that spoke to my heritage. Sundial had a legacy of doing that. Within the first two years of my joining this family-owned company, Unilever decided to acquire the entire portfolio. I became part of that acquisition. Personally, I didn't think my business was ready to be acquired by a major conglomerate, but I was ready to take advantage of every aspect of it. Being one of the only black female founders within this portfolio was a huge opportunity for me.


Target has been my dream since I was 27. At 47 that dream was realized. Even though my journey has taken much longer to get to the shelves at Target, I know it's the very reason that my second business exists. I created Thirteen Lune because I wanted a retailer committed to what we call our own 90/10 rule. 90% of the brands we carry at Thirteen Lune will forever and always be black or BIPOC owned, and 10% of our brands will be dedicated to allyship. Allyship means brands who may not be black or brown owned but have long wanted to move the needle on diversity by coming together and unifying. All those years were worth the journey. Because it took me to where I am today, helping other founders get to success a little quicker. That's how we build generational wealth.


All those years were worth the journey. Because it got me to where I am today, helping other founders get to success a little quicker. That's how we build generational wealth. -Nyakio Grieco