Why These Twin Eritrean Political Refugees Made Sure To Own 100% of Their Beauty Brand
In the Los Angeles loft headquarters of 2.4.1 Cosmetics, gray walls give way to a calming and warm ambiance, with flowers and flickering candles framing the space. The founders' own quote, “Don’t let the eyeliner fool you” sits on a wall. It's a nod to one of their first products: a rich black eyeliner named “Wing It,” that caters to cat eye lovers.
The company's aura is a reflection of its leaders, twin sister Eritrean political refugees Feven and Helena Yohannes. The two are on a quest to instill confidence, kindness, and integrity in women with their beauty brand, as they say, “one eyeliner at a time."
2.4.1 Cosmetics is a clean and classic collection of cruelty-free, paraben-free, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and fragrance-free lipsticks and lip glosses, eyeshadows, and liquid and gel eyeliners, each with a name that has special meaning.
“We were really intentional about naming the products,” Feven shares, referencing their creamy nude Role Model, pinkish-brown Honor, and mauveish plum Redemption lipsticks as examples.
They were just as intentional about the products itself.
“We’re not trend driven,” Helena says. “2.4.1. is not just about a woman looking good. It's her feeling good as well,” Feven chimed in. “The essence of 2.4.1 is deeply rooted in our early memories as political refugees, and the idea that women are resilient and strong.”
That echoes in the company’s beauty philosophy which describes the 2.4.1 girl as one with “both brains and beauty,” who knows to enhance her beauty and not conceal it. “It is soul deep makeup for all women,” Helena said.
In less than a year after launching 2.4.1 Cosmetics in July 2019, the Yohannes sisters’ products have already been selling out. And a few weeks ago, beauty veteran Bobbi Brown announced on Instagram that she would be mentoring the pair after already supporting the brand months beforehand.
To shop: $22; 241cosmetics.com
Feven and Helena’s determination to be a force in the beauty industry on their own terms is a testament to their past — and how much it took to get to where they are now.
They were born in a refugee camp in Sudan in the early 80’s in the midst of the Eritrea-Ethopia war (which their father fought and suffered injuries in) that lasted from 1961 to 1991, and came to the United States via the green card lottery.
Seeking a better life for their family, their five-foot tall mother waited in the lottery line, which was half a mile long, carrying Feven on her back and Helena on her chest. On a stroke of luck, they were spotted and moved to the front. The Yohannes family was sponsored by a Presbyterian church in Rochester, New York, and eventually moved to the U.S. to build a new life.
Settling into a new country and new home was what helped Feven and Helena develop an affinity for makeup. “Beauty has been a vessel for connection with a lot of women that we know in our lives,” Helena says.
They would do makeovers for girls in their neighborhood at only eight or nine years old. “It was a way for us to make friends. We were these Eritrean immigrants who moved to this predominantly white neighborhood,” Helena continues. “We were just trying to connect with them. We wanted people to feel good about themselves.”
In August 2016, they turned their childhood passions into a business, and started their journey to launch their cosmetics company. After nailing down their name, they networked with as many people in the beauty industry and in business as possible, and researched beauty product creation from top to bottom.
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Getting venture capital funding is often an uphill battle for Black-owned businesses, so when it came to raising money to create their products, they opted to self-fund.
“We wanted to rise on our own terms,” Feven says. “We wanted to be authentic to ourselves and not have anyone dilute our voice.” Helena adds, “So, we bet on ourselves. Today, we can say we 100% own our own company.”