This Lipstick Brand Was Rejected on Shark Tank, and Now It’s in Target
Here's how The Lip Bar's founder Melissa Butler made it happen.
Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
In 2015, the investors on Shark Tank told Melissa Butler that The Lip Bar, a non-toxic and vegan lipstick brand celebrated for its diverse range of bold, bright, and super pigmented lip colors, would never make it. As Butler explains (and the videos back it up), they told her if anyone really wanted to buy green lipstick, an existing brand would have already created it.
The rejection didn't stop her. Butler continued cooking up those lipsticks in her kitchen and built her passion into a brand. And today, you can pick up Butler's ingredient-conscious, affordable lip products in Targets nationwide.
Here, Butler reveals how she made her leap into the beauty biz, how she's using her brand to address the lack of diversity within the beauty industry, and more.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
My launch into beauty is not traditional. Most people who start a beauty company, they are either makeup artists or just extreme makeup enthusiast. I was completely on the other side of it. I was that person who always loved lipstick and always thought a pop of color on the lip completely changes your day, your feeling, and your mood. I was very much frustrated with the beauty industry and its lack of diversity, its excess amount of chemicals, and its high price points. When I was thinking about the beauty industry, I thought more so about the food industry. If you want to buy a high-quality meal, you have to spend a lot of money. But if you only have a little bit of money to spend, you can eat, but you have to eat complete junk. I felt that’s what the beauty industry was nearing. In 2011, when I was working on the Lip Bar and making all these colors in my kitchen, I was working on Wall Street. I wanted to create a company that provided representing for all sorts of women everywhere.
I know you were on Shark Tank. What was that like?
I don’t think I realized the impact of going on that show would not only have on the company, but have on our audience. We didn’t get the deal on Shark Tank. They were really mean to us. They were just really cruel. They said we would never get a market share. They said people would never want those colors. When we were on the show, we were showcasing the entire collection. They were like, ‘No this is clown makeup. No one will ever want a blue lipstick or a purple lipstick or a green lipstick.’ We got this big public rejection. They weren’t our audience. It taught me to not talk to people who weren’t willing to listen. Before we even opened our mouths, they already knew in their minds that it was a no for them, so it didn’t really impact me. Nothing about that experience made me want to quit. What I didn’t realize was that it inspired a lot of people. I’ve never even thought about stopping because at the end of the day, I’m the pilot of my plane. What I’m doing is really steeped in purpose.
And now, The Lip Bar is in Target. How does that feel?
As a smaller business, working with a huge retailer like a Target, they’re a little unsure. We were only in 40 stores. We performed so well in those 40 stores that, within six weeks, they were trying to get us to expand to like 450 stores. It was an incredible year for us. It was an incredible organization to partner with. I’m happy that they were willing to support a small business like The Lip Bar. We’re adding a lot of value for them. We’re keeping them young. We’re keeping them cool. We’re validating the fact that they are on trend and they know their market.
Do you feel like that understanding of finance was beneficial in starting your own brand?
To be completely honest, I can’t say that I think my background on Wall Street was a huge catalyst for my growth, or my ability to just even keep going. A big part of it is really understanding your purpose. For me, the Lip Bar was always a purpose-driven business, and so that then stood out because it was reflected in the models we used, the stories we were telling, the shade range. Everything was about the idea that you are enough. I think the finance industry, if nothing else, it gave me more edge in the fact that I was used to being ignored as a woman in finance, as a woman of color in finance. I felt like the “only” always. I got very comfortable being the “only,” being told no, or being ignored. I think that’s the part of it that helped.
You said that one of the biggest frustrations you had with the beauty industry was the lack of diversity. Can you talk about how you addressed the lack of diversity when launching The Lip Bar?
We used to do a lot of trade shows with the Lip Bar, and I specifically remember being at a trade show and almost being brought to tears because a woman was crying because we put her in a color. I think it was as simple as a red or a pink, and she was covering her mouth and was saying, ‘I can’t wear this.’ That was like an a-ha! moment that we were doing something that was impactful. We were reversing the conditioning where people felt like they couldn’t wear certain shades. After that, we literally put out a campaign where we put a really deep-toned model with no hair in the brightest colors we had at the time to debunk the idea that bold colors are for people with fair skin. Everything that we’ve done thus far has been with the idea of challenging the beauty standard.
Going back to the other frustration you had: Chemicals in beauty products. What guidelines do you follow?
We have a pretty long blacklist. When I started the company, every single product for the first three years came from my bare hands. I was personally sourcing ingredients and going and trying to find farms that produced organic castor oil, for example. Our lip gloss is organic. Our lip gloss is our cleanest product and I’m super proud of it. It’s also super pigmented. Everything is paraben free. Everything is cruelty free. Everything is mineral oil free. It has no petrochemicals. Our liquid matte does have silicone in it, but in order to get that matte effect people wanted, it needed that ingredient. I was opposed to launching matte because I didn’t like the two ingredients that made it have that mattifying effect, but people kept asking. We laid it out: This is what’s in it. This is what’s not. They [our customers] were like, ‘Yes we want it.’
What’s the most popular lip color?
Right now, the most popular color our of the whole company is Boss Lady. It’s a really deep blue-based red that works on every single complexion. It’s literally beautiful on everyone. It takes your look to 0 to 100.
I read that you guys have 16 shades of nude lipstick. It’s an offering that so many brands don’t give their customers. What was that response like?
You know what’s crazy about the nudes? There’s never enough. Even though we have 16, I feel like it’s not enough. Nude lipstick, especially for women of color, has always been very difficult because it comes off almost chalky. You can even look sick. It’s too bright. It’s never that perfect shade. My nude is different than my sister’s nude. It’s different from my mother’s nude. If we have that much variation within my immediate family, how could I really have four or six nudes? Even with our 16, I feel like that’s not enough. I feel like we could go further and deeper.
Would you ever expand to beyond lip products?
Yes, and we’re working on the expansion right now. We’re expanding to all forms of the face. It’s crazy to us. For six years, we’ve been a lip authority. We’re looking to do the exact same thing to different areas of the face – providing really high quality products and beautiful packaging at an affordable cost.