A young mom inspired by the lack of proper hair products available for her son. A former fashion show assistant working backstage, frustrated by her models having to bring their own shades of makeup to shoots. A student shifting gears from pre-medical study to holistic wellness accessibility. The three ultimately sell different products, but they are driven by the same motivation: making the beauty and wellness industries more inclusive and leveling the playing field for younger generations.
Black-owned businesses have consistently struggled to gain the capital needed to be successful. Black women in particular have received less than .01% of nearly $425 billion in venture capital that has been raised in the last 13 years. While the percentage of Black women-owned businesses is steadily increasing, JP Morgan reports that 61% of Black women had to self-fund their businesses instead of securing a bank loan even though they are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.
During Yelp’s 2022 Women in Business Summit, three women entrepreneurs in the beauty and wellness industries shared their experiences launching their businesses, staying inspired, and how to stand out in such a crowded market. Joined and moderated by the senior manager of impact at Glossier, Roya Shariat, the conversation focused on the lack of representation in the beauty industry and Black entrepreneurship.
Roya contributed a big-brand perspective to the conversation, while she also highlighted the unique advantages of small brands. “Always remember that your smallness and your personality are your superpowers,” Roya said. Small businesses can benefit from the Glossier Grant Initiative for Black-Owned Businesses, which was launched in June of 2020 in response to political and cultural shifts happening alongside the summertime Black Lives Matter protests.
Meet the speakers
Cora is the co-founder and CEO of Young King Haircare, the first multicultural grooming line for young men. After being inspired by the struggle to find high-quality hair products for her son, Cora left her corporate job to launch Young King in 2019. She says she has been motivated by a mission to redefine grooming for the next generation of Black and brown men. Her experience includes serving as the vice president of external affairs at UnitedHealth Group and a decade of work in the corporate social responsibility, operations, and program development spaces.
Alicia is the co-founder and CEO of Range Beauty, a makeup brand for diverse skin types and shades. After starting her career in fashion, Alicia noticed the consistent difficulty of finding makeup shades at runway shows and photo shoots that could match her skin and undertones and avoid irritating her eczema and acne. She set out to create Range, a brand that would not compromise color, care or condition of her skin.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford
Trinity is the co-founder and CEO of Golde, a Brooklyn-based healthcare and beauty company. Launched in 2017, Golde’s mission is to improve accessibility in the wellness and industries, particularly through superfoods. Beyond wellness, Trinity is passionate about making entrepreneurship transparent and accessible to future generations, hosting her own digital and live series called office_hrs, where she shares her business experiences.
What inspired you to start your business? Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Cora: I never thought I was gonna be an entrepreneur. I was kind of busy climbing the corporate ladder and really doing my thing, and it really wasn’t until having my son that my whole perspective changed. Having him, with all this beautiful hair, and really searching for products to help me style his hair, I just found it so strange that there weren’t any products in the space that were specifically and intentionally crafted for young men of color. I strongly believe in representation. I strongly believe that you should be able to see yourself in whatever product that you use. And I wanted my son and boys to look like him to be able to do that.
Alicia: I grew up knowing that I was always going to own my own company. While working behind the scenes in fashion, I noticed that Black models were coming to set with their own makeup kits, and I discovered it was because a lot of the makeup artists didn’t have anything in their kits for these different skin tones. It resonated with me because it was the first time I heard someone outside of myself say, “I don’t feel represented in this space.” I didn’t feel represented in beauty. I didn’t see myself in any of the marketing images… I wanted a line that was makeup with skin care benefits.
Trinity: I was planning to be a doctor, but I moved away from that path because I found that there was an opportunity to make this space of wellness products and super foods more accessible. Why can’t it be delicious? Why can it be affordable? Why can’t it be approachable?
What makes your brand stand out, and how did you determine what that “it” factor is?
Trinity: What we have found has worked well for Golde is really leaning into telling our authentic story. For me, that meant putting my face out there—which, by the way, in case anyone listening is like “I don’t want to do that,”I didn’t want to do it either! What is it about that brand that makes you the superfan who can’t get enough? It’s product quality, but it’s also the heritage of the brand, and the story behind the brand, and it’s the fact that you feel empowered as a consumer to tell that story.
It also comes from talking to your customers, and so we do fairly regular customer surveys. We also hop on Zoom calls with our customers. We’re answering DMs, whatever. That’s where the magic is. If someone comes to you and says, “I love your brand,” ask them why. If you could name one thing, what is the thing that makes you love this company? And you’ll start to hear themes, and you’ll start to find that pattern of where you need to lean in.
Cora: I did a lot of [market] research when starting the business. I actually interviewed and surveyed 100 parents. I walked down store aisles, I googled. I looked at various reports just to understand who are the big players in my category—how they were showing up and then how we could be different from that.
I strongly recommend you actually take the time to do all of that research to really understand your unique value proposition. How are you so different from what’s out there that you can create this community of people that will become your ambassadors and will ride for you, no matter what? Staying true to my why: I created this brand for my son. At the end of the day, and with that, I knew we weren’t gonna fail.
What strategies do you use to help people find and identify with you?
Alicia: When I go through Instagram pages of other brands, I don’t see anyone with acne—it’s very taboo. I was very intentional about making sure that we were showing images of people with real skin, without any filters, and redefining what healthy skin means. You want people to come to you because they feel comfortable. For us it was really about building a community, giving people a place, a home, where they felt comfortable.
Find wherever your community is. Don’t feel like, “Oh my gosh, we have to be everywhere, and we need to have thousands of thousands of followers on every single platform.”
How do you decide when it was time to expand your team, and how mature was your business when you pursued it full-time?
I always tell entrepreneurs: Don’t feel like you have to quit your 9-5 right away to start the business. I think you need to be thoughtful and really plan out your exit. Starting a business requires money, and you’re not gonna get money right away. But just pace yourself and be willing to roll up your sleeves and really get in there and do all the things.
How were your businesses and personal experiences shaped by the social and political events of 2020?
Trinity: Our business was surging [in 2020]. We did more in revenue in June of 2020 than we did in the entire calendar year of 2019. On some level, of course, massive, unexpected growth is very exciting. At the same time, as a Black founder, I was also grappling with everything that was happening [politically and socially], and I think it felt very conflicting to see this surge of interest and enthusiasm about our business, but to also know that so much of it was kind of coming from a really strange place. It wasn’t the circumstances under which I wanted to see growth for my business.
Cora: Sadly, it really did take this very tragic situation [of George Floyd’s death] for people to be woken up in our country and recognize not only the social injustices facing the Black community, but also the economic disparities. It was a struggle to ensure, or at least for me, to feel like it was from a genuine place. When I was evaluating all these opportunities that were being thrown my way, it took some deep diving to really understand the intent behind these programs: Is value being poured into our business from a genuine place? Or is a kind of value being extracted from our businesses?
Alicia: 2020 was my first whole year with Range. The personal balance was very difficult because there were days where I just did not want to get out of bed. Then trying to decide who was genuinely trying to support us from who was doing it just from a performance measure. We blew through four months of inventory within one month—it was our highest revenue year since I had launched the brand. [I was] just trying to stick to the people who I already knew were showing us support in the community. It was a year that showed Black-owned brands aren’t only for Black people.
What is your hope for the future of representation in the beauty industry?
Alicia: I just want diversity and inclusion to be normalized. I don’t want it to be a specialty topic. I don’t want it to be a spotlight because of this. It should just be part of normal conversation. It should be a normal benchmark for any company. It should just be part of your framework because that’s when the most unique ideas come together. That’s when the most powerful brands are created. That’s when there’s a true sense of community and belonging.
Cora: Really for founders who look like us, in beauty, it’s really hard to secure that capital needed to grow your business. Being more equitable in that space could really impact all of our businesses by being able to tap into those resources, with us not being pigeonholed into being a niche brand because we are Black or because we are women.
Yelp launched its Black-owned business attribute in partnership with My Black Receipt in June of 2020 to amplify Black business owners’ presence on the app. Business owners can opt-in to have the “Black-owned” attribute display on their Yelp Page. This free, searchable attribute helps consumers find and support Black-owned businesses in their communities.
Businesses can also select an unlimited number of other attributes, including women-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Asian-owned, and Latinx-owned.
Watch a recording of this conversation, which was a part of the larger 2022 Women in Business Summit for more inspiring tips and insight into entrepreneurship, female leadership, and diversity in business.
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