As a teen growing up in Seattle, W.A., Jamie Kern Lima held four jobs at once. (She worked as a receptionist during weekdays and a gymnastics coach on weeknights, then sold popcorn at a local swap meet and bagged groceries on the weekends.) Her non-stop work ethic eventually landed her at Columbia grad school, where—through work with the school newspaper—she discovered her love of journalism and began working as a news anchor. Her career thrived, but the harsh makeup required for TV didn’t jibe with her complexion: She developed skin issues that were painful and embarrassing. After years of spending her “whole paycheck” on beauty products that superficially masked her conditions but made her skin worse, Kern Lima set out to fill the void by creating problem-solving products that performed as well as pro brands. It’d be easy to say that “just like that,” IT Cosmetics was born, but the decision marked the start of a long road for Kern Lima. This is how she turned "no"’s into "yes"’s to create one of the beauty industry’s buzziest brands.
When did you realize there was a void in the marketplace?
I was working as a journalist—writing, shooting, and anchoring the news. It was the morning news, so you get in at midnight the night before to prepare. The stress of the lifestyle and the amount of product I needed to be camera-ready caused flare-ups of rosacea and hyperpigmentation. I kind of became obsessed with beauty [in my effort to overcome these issues]. I knew needed coverage, but it was so hard to find a foundation that still kept my skin looking like skin, and didn’t make my flare-ups problems worse. So from personal experience, I knew there was a place for high-performing makeup made with skin-friendly ingredients.
What were the early days of development like?
We worked out of my living room and went one product at a time. As we created, we started with skin care formulas and then infused full-coverage pigments. We tested with real women and got real before and after shots. It was all about the results. I wasn’t paying myself—all our money was going into R&D and formulation. This was only six or seven years ago.
How did you scale the business?
In the early years, all of our best retail partnerships now—Sephora, Ulta, QVC—said no to us. I heard “no" so many times. I was devastated. I didn’t know how we were going to survive—we had no distribution. But the biggest lesson I learned was not to let hearing the word "no" equate to doubt in your own mind.
But eventually, you turned “no” into “yes”—how did you manage that?
I just kept going. I kept sending product. But in the end, it was really organic—I’m so grateful for the Internet and for social media, because women [who had tried and loved the product] would just start spreading the word, which created demand for the line.
In 2010, I was at a Cosmetic Executive Women event, and a host from QVC happened to be there. She told the buyer who was with her that she’d had customers asking her about our Bye Bye Undereye concealer, and that they should give us a chance. We had a meeting with the buyer after that, and we finally got a yes. It was once chance—ten minutes on air—and it either sold or it didn’t.
Wow! No pressure though, right?
We flew in six thousand units of concealer; everything was on the line. I went to QVC a week early and I sat in the parking lot and prayed and envisioned how it would go when we were on air. I had this demo prepared that showed how others creased and ours didn’t. When the day came, my hand was shaking—the host had to grab my hand on-air. Then I showed my rosacea and how our concealer could cover even that. It sold out in ten minutes.
That was 2010—we went on five times that year and the next year 101 times. The year after that, 151 times. Now we do QVC around 250 times a year. We’re the number-one brand on QVC, and among the top three in Ulta. We also just launched at Sephora. I’m so grateful.
All that said, what’s been your proudest moment related to the line?
It’s been realizing that this brand has gotten so much bigger than the products. Our mission is to create products that are game-changing, but really, they’re life-changing. We want every woman to realize she’s beautiful. We want her to see what she thinks is right, not wrong. When I do events in stores, there are often multiple generations—daughters, moms, grandmas—all saying they’re “IT girls.” It’s the coolest thing ever. So many women connect with me every single day. Part of why I show my rosacea on-camera is to remind women to be fearless, to remind them they deserve to look and feel their most beautiful. When a customer tells me that using our products has made them feel beautiful for the first time in a long time, that’s the ultimate compliment.