26 Black Beauty Brand Founders Changing The Industry

Simply put, their impact goes way farther than skin deep.

Photo: Illustration: Kaitlyn Collins, Design: Jenna Brillhart

It's statically proven that Black women have a deeply personal connection with beauty products.

According to a 2018 report by Nielson, Black consumers are likely to spend nine times more on beauty products than any other group. In our own proprietary research into women and personal care, we've found Black women invest above average in hair and beauty products across categories.

However, despite the overwhelming demand for products and tools that cater to the specific needs of every natural curl pattern and melanin-rich skin, Black beauty has historically been ignored and underrepresented in all facets of the industry, from the brands on beauty aisle shelves to the people in the C-suite down to developing the products.

Instead of making it "work" with what's out there, Black entrepreneurs have started their own brands, providing products that enhance the beauty of Black and spaces where their communities feel seen. Take Miko Branch, co-founder of Miss Jessie's, and Lisa Price of Carol's Daughter, for example. Two brands that brought affordable, effective haircare products for every gorgeous curl pattern to mass market stores. Shontay Lundy, founder of Black Girl Sunscreen, has created an SPF that doesn't leave a white cast on dark skin tones, in response to the myth that melanin-rich skin can't get sunburned or skin cancer.

But representation goes beyond product formulas. In response to the lack of Black people holding decision-making positions in corporate America, Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter launched Pull Up or Shut Up for Change in the summer 2020. Chuter prompted brands and companies across all industries — including beauty — to share the diversity percentages of their staff across all levels, to hold those in hiring positions accountable, and encourage real change that consumers can see when they shop, and individuals can experience in the world at large. The results of that work can be seen at brands like MAC, Milani, and even beauty conglomerate COTY, which all announced increases in Black talent by the end of 2021.

Then, there are the Black makeup artists and hairstylists who create the boundary-pushing looks that become trends. Legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath, responsible for some of the most memorable runway looks in the past two decades, became the first makeup artist to be honored with a Dame of the British Empire. Vernon François is known for bringing natural hair in all its glory to the red carpet and his namesake affordable haircare line specifically designed to care for and enhance all curl patterns.

In 2022, clean beauty is the name of the game — and if you're greening your routine, you can still #buyblack while you do it. Black women like Shirley Billot, founder of Kadalys; Lois Reid-Hines, creator of Tropic Isle Living, as well as Akilah Releford, CEO of Mary Louise Cosmetics are all leading the charge by looking at sustainability from a holistic lens.

Here, InStyle celebrates 26 Black beauty brand founders, innovators, and visionaries who have made their mark on the beauty industry and are changing it for the better.

Shirley Billot, Founder of Kadalys

State of the Arts Beauty Boss

These days, it seems like nearly every beauty brand on the market aims to be clean and sustainable. But with no definitive FDA regulations around what those terms actually mean, it's up to individual brands to set their own standards. And Shirley Billot, founder of Kadalys is making sure to set the bar high.

"I founded Kadalys out of a desire to make the world a better, healthier, and more equal place," she shares with InStyle. "[We're] actively addressing the challenges of tomorrow: tackling food waste and creating long-term and sustainable employment."

With nearly 22 million tons of misshapen bananas being disposed each year, Billot decided to transform the fruit into patented bio-actives, using the skin and pulp of green, yellow, and pink varieties. Together, these ingredients are able to diminish the look of wrinkles, even out skin tone, and smooth out rough patches. Plus, the line is vegan, cruelty-free, and its packaging is 100% recyclable.

Beyond just the products themselves, Kadalys' planting partners are shareholders in the company. "I wanted to create ethical skincare that helped consumers look radiant without having to compromise on quality, natural ingredients, or eco-consciousness," says Billot. "And most importantly, I wanted to improve equality by creating a company that empowers and supports growers and workers."

Despite Billot's holistic approach to sustainability and efficacious products, she shares that she's had her fair share of challenges when it's come to finding retail partners. "When I first launched my brand, a large retailer told me that they did not want to carry Kadalys," she says. "They did not want to attract Black and brown consumers to their stores." Of course, this did not stop the founder from bringing her vision to life. And today, you can find the brand at JCPenney, Thirteen Lune, The Detox Market, and more.

Brittany Golden, Founder of IGL Nails

State of the Arts Beauty Boss

No, you're not dreaming it — press-on nails are having a moment. And Brittany Golden knows a thing or two about the trending product that had a resurgence during quarantine.

"I started IGL Nails at the top of the pandemic," she shares. "Like most women, I wondered, 'Oh my gosh what am I going to do about my nails?' So I decided to learn how to do acrylic and dip powder. I realized that it was an expensive, time intensive process that was damaging my natural nail beds. That's why I began to research press-on nails and was unhappy with the selections. I wanted color, varying lengths, and designs that popped and expressed my style and personality at an affordable price. I created IGL Nails to encourage women to take back their time and 'Never Have Fugly Nails.'"

While Golden's brand may have had humble beginnings, it wasn't long before her reusable press-ons took off — in fact, her success was kismet. "While doing a weekend market in January 2021, I smiled at a shopper who was walking by to introduce myself and my brand," the founder shares. "She loved my designs and said they would be great in print and media. Little did I know that she worked for NYX Cosmetics and would be one of my biggest customers to date. Now IGL Nails can be seen on the NYX Cosmetics models in print and online in 2022."

And it's only up from here. "I am looking forward to collaborating with a big box retailer," says Golden. "My hopes for the future is to be the leading press-on nail brand nationally and internationally."

We have a feeling it will only be a matter of time.

Dame Pat McGrath

SOTA: Beauty Boss

A woman as iconic and as legendary as Dame Pat McGrath needs no introduction. But we will say this, if you've ever needed to know what a truly self-made woman looks like, McGrath is just that.

Raised by a Jamaican immigrant mother in Northampton, England, McGrath has no formal training when it comes to makeup application. Yet her passion and love for all things major led her to be fearless with the looks she created, eventually catching the eye of leading designers like Givenchy, Gucci, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, and Versace, to name a few.

But while the undeniable Mother of makeup has created countless looks for the biggest runway shows in the world, she credits her humble beginnings for why she loves makeup and fashion. Namely her mother, Jean, who worked as a dressmaker and exposed her daughter to a world of beautiful possibilities.

Aside from her work with designers, Pat McGrath Labs, the makeup artist's own line, was valued at a whopping $1 billion in 2018. As for the future of her brand, in true Pat fashion, McGrath only plans to continue to take things up a notch. "Really and truly, [I want] to continue to bush the boundaries, push the formulas — growth," she says. "It's all about more. It's about bringing more excellence into the market and pushing the science of makeup. That's what it's all about."

Alicia Ferguson, 4C Only Chief Marketing Officer

SOTA: Beauty Boss

As gorgeous and spectacular as 4C hair is (it can defy gravity, hello!) representation and efficacious products are lacking for this curl type — and it's no secret. Alicia Ferguson knew it was time for things to change. "We've all been told stories about ourselves, especially as Black women in relation to our hair," she shares. "My team and I wanted to redefine the story around 4C hair and so 4C Only was birthed to normalize the beauty and texture of 4C kinks and coils."

With four products in the lineup, the masterminds behind the brand wanted to make it clear that you didn't need to use a bevy of products to style this hair type, you just needed products that work. And through this, the goal was to have more women feel more comfortable rocking their 4C hair.

However, Ferguson knows there's a long way to go when it comes to the rest of the natural community's (and the world's) acceptance of coily hair in all it's glory. "There's so much work that needs to take place in the beauty industry with hair-texture shaming and colorism," she says. "4C Only will be at the forefront of redefining and creating space for new stories to be told and additional product offerings that have my fellow 4C folks front and center, because we believe the revolution will be moisturized!"

Karen Young, Founder of Oui the People

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Shaving is a quick and easy way to get rid of unwanted body hair. However, the catch is that if you use the wrong razor, you can end up with painful razor bumps the next day, which is one of the main reasons why many opt for waxing instead.

But what if there was a way to shave without the subsequent irritation?

Karen Young has aimed to deliver just that since she launched Oui the People in 2015, with the mission of not only helping people feel more beautiful in their own skin, but also feel good about their purchase. "I wanted to push the boundaries of culture, have a conversation, and challenge the language and the way we've been framed by beauty brands," she shares. "Under that umbrella, Oui the People makes beautiful body care products that deliver results in a sustainable, clean, and thoughtful package."

That's why in all of the imagery on the site, she just lets skin look like skin, which is her idea of flawless. "I hope that in the next decade women are no longer sold products under the guise that they need to be perfect or ageless in order to be considered valuable to society," she asserts. "Enough already. We've been sold this bill of goods for far too long and it's time we stop pretending that it has had no effect on the way we view ourselves or our overall value. I hope Oui the People has some part in that change and I hope it will be done with the full force of brands like ours behind it."

Jacqueline Carrington, Founder of People of Color

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Nude isn't one shade fits all — whether foundation or nail polish is the product the product at hand. When her three-year-old daughter fell in love with nail polish, Jacqueline Carrington noticed the neutral shades available didn't reflect the beauty in every single skin tone, specifically melanin-rich skin. "Growing up, I never saw images of nail polish colors shown on brown skin tones that represented myself or any of my friends and family," she reflects. "I wanted to create a brand that curated nail polish colors that complemented the various shades of brown skin around the world as the first thought, not an afterthought. So I launched People of Color, non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free nail polish that celebrates people of color and those who live in color, because we all live in a world of color!"

Creating more nail polish colors is only half of the equation. Carrington hopes in the future more brands feature various shades of brown hands when promoting their nail polish. "To help drive real change in the industry, it's so important to uplift Black and other PoC-owned nail polish brands," she says. "We all need to do our part and support each other to drive awareness which is why we were so thrilled to work with Facebook to promote Black-owned businesses for its #BuyBlack Friday campaign and are looking forward to ways we can continue to champion inclusive brands in the future."

Shirley Raines, Founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Shirley Raines hasn't always had things easy. Five days before her first born son's third birthday, he passed away, leaving Raines deeply distraught. "I came down with very bad panic/anxiety disorder and fought it along with depression for many years," she reveals. "My life has been so hard and at times, I questioned, 'Why I am still here?' I got on Prozac when I turned 49, and decided that I need to find a way to work with this trauma and pain in my life."

That's why in 2017, she launched Beauty 2 the Streetz, a non-profit created to give people experiencing homelessness in California's Skid Row showers, hair cuts, hair color, makeovers, and hot home-cooked meals. She assists over 600 people a week.

"I felt at peace in the midst of this chaotic world, I felt like my pain and trauma had a purpose and that made it easier to live with," she says. "I have been doing this for almost four years now and have an amazing team — and the pandemic has not stopped us."

Since launching the initiative, Raines has met countless extraordinary people. But there's one person in particular, who goes by the name of Q, who she will never forget. "Q was one of the first homeless people I made a connection with, Q became my family," the founder shares. "Back in October a story we did with Kamau Bell from United Shades of America and Q was a part of our interview. After almost four years of caring for Q and over 26 years since she had seen her family, they were watching the show and saw her. They quickly came and took Q home. She is housed and has spent the holidays with family after so many years. I will miss her dearly and we do stay in contact, but that is the dream ending we want for our whole homeless community."

Sir John, L'Oréal Paris U.S. Makeup Artist & Creative Director

SOTA: Beauty Boss

You know who Beyoncé is, therefore you're very familiar with Sir John's work. The L'Oréal Paris U.S. Makeup Artist & Creative Director has collaborated with Bey on her most memorable looks, including her 2017 Grammys performance and her Lemonade and Black Is King visual albums. As if that isn't iconic enough, Sir John has also created makeup collections for Disney's The Lion King live-action remake, looks for Barbie, and severed as mentor on Lifetime's American Beauty Star.

One common thread throughout the dozens of glamorous looks he's created throughout his career is how they all bring out women's inner strength and power. "My goal was never to make women feel more beautiful…I wanted them to feel powerful and empowered," he says. "There is so much power in beauty, so much power in a lipstick. Beauty makes you feel more connected to yourself and there is something so special about that."

Despite the tumultuous past year, Sir John is hopeful for what's next in the beauty industry. "I hope that all of the good things — all of the wins I had — I hope, wish, and pray for the future," he shares. "I'm actively working so that artists from all walks of life, different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc., can have the same opportunities that my white counterparts have had for years. I look forward to an equitable industry that happens one conversation at a time and one protest at a time. I want everyone to be invited to the party."

Sharon Chuter, Founder of UOMA Beauty and Pull Up for Change

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Sharon Chuter is a straight shooter — and she has no qualms about telling it like it is. So it's no surprise that the founder of UOMA Beauty, an inclusive Black-owned brand, was ready to not only take her own industry, but the rest of corporate America to task to combat systemic racism.

In June 2020, Chuter launched Pull Up for Change and created the #PullUpOrShutUp campaign, asking companies to be publicly transparent about their employee demographics. She wanted to know if these companies that claimed to care about diversity were actually practicing what they preach, and consumers were paying attention. But while this work is necessary, being a change-maker doesn't come easy. "I will never forget the pacing back and forth in my home right before I launched the initiative," she confesses. "I knew I was putting everything on the line — the future of my brand and me personally — so even though I was 1000% invested in the cause, I was mad. I needed to see change. I wanted more than just performative activism this time. So I was willing to risk it all."

But it turns out that the risk came with rewards. Many companies quickly opted to Pull Up, and Pull Up for Change's Instagram currently has over 120,000 followers.

While the issue of systemic racism has a ways to go before its solved, countless companies have been forced to initiate more inclusive hiring practices and find ways to foster Black talent. And despite the fact that change is slow, Chuter is not one to give up. "I want to see Black employment tick up at least two percentage points over the next two to three years — I think we can achieve if we come together," she asserts. "I want to see less brutality, more justice, and less division, especially around human rights issues, I want to see a world where we are not debating on the value of people's lives."

Tai Beauchamp, Malaika and Nia Jones, Co-Founders of Brown Girl Jane

SOTA: Beauty Boss

The trio behind Brown Girl Jane want to see Black women thrive. And in order to really soar, every woman needs community support and the tools to get more rest, find balance, boost mood with home fragrance, and radiant healthy skin.

Brown Girl Jane's products, which include broad-spectrum CBD tinctures and skincare oils, plus scented candles, were born out of Malaika's own experience with CBD and her hope to flip the plant's negative reputation in the Black community. "After experiencing health challenges post giving birth to my youngest daughter, I sought healthier alternatives to pharmaceuticals to ease pain associated with a spine injury and was amazed by the power of the plant." she explains. "I began to evangelize the healing and restorative power of the plant to my sisters and friends. CBD is highly stigmatized in the Black and Brown communities and for good reason considering the over-criminalization of cannabis and marijuana in communities of color."

Beyond actual products Brown Girl Jane hopes to create a space for Black women in the wellness industry. "Black women have long been excluded from wellness conversations and the 'wellness' industry as a whole," says Beauchamp. "We realize that education about our hero ingredient, CBD, is essential but we also seek to normalize conversations about mental health and the tools you need to feel equipped. This is why we created 'You Good, Sis?' (our weekly IG Show) and the #BrownGirlSwap which has become a movement to support Black women entrepreneurs in beauty."

Vernon François, Celebrity Hairstylist & Founder of Vernon François Collection

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Vernon François has created jaw-dropping red carpet hairstyles for Lupita Nyong'o, Serena Williams, and Amandla Stenberg, that have revolutionized the way naturally curly, coily, and kinky hair is seen in Hollywood. "Being able to present my work with big curly and kinky hair at red carpet events like the Oscars is rewarding," says the UK-born stylist. "It never gets old and every time is like the first. And when my work gets people all over the world talking, like how Lupita's hairstyle did at the Met Gala in 2016, that is unforgettable."

François is equally inspired by the beautiful messages he gets from people that watch his educational videos on social media, use products from his namesake haircare line, or have made a significant change in how their view their own hair. "For years people with curly and afro hair were not being shown the love that they deserve by brands and beauty in the UK, and it was obvious to me that answering this need myself was my calling," François says of his collection. "This wasn't just my opinion, my clients told me over and over how frustrated they were by not being able to find what they need in high street salons and stores. They would have to go out of town to get products that they weren't 100% happy with, usually very thick, heavy, greasy formulas. With my many years of experience and research I was perfectly placed to address this."

Esi Eggleston Bracey and Senator Holly Mitchell, Creators of The CROWN Act

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Imagine a world where people could be penalized, expelled from school, or even fired from their jobs for wearing their hair the way it naturally grows from their scalp. Well, this is the reality for Black people living in the Unites States. That's why Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP and COO of North America Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever, and Senator Holly J. Mitchell worked together to craft The CROWN Act in partnership with Dove.

"We have all witnessed cases of Black people being denied employment and an overwhelming number of Black children being sent home from school because of their hair," Eggleston Bracey shares. "Dove has been devoted to championing real beauty for women and girls, and believes it is important for everyone to feel included and valued."

In July 2019, Sen. Mitchell introduced the legislation, making California the first state to make hair discrimination illegal. Since then, nine other states have passed the bill, and an additional four have legislation protecting Black people from hair discrimination. Legislative progress is tracked at this site.

"Not long after we decided to introduce the CROWN Act [in California], the world witnessed yet another example of hair discrimination when Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler from New Jersey had his locks viciously cut off in public in order to participate in his wrestling match," Sen. Mitchell shares. "That is just one example from the generations of stories of Black girls and boys being sent home from school because of their natural hair or Black women being classified as less professional because of their innate cultural traits."

However, with Democrats now in full control of the Senate, the pair are keeping their fingers crossed for The CROWN Act to be put into law across the country.

Abena Boamah-Acheampong, Founder of Hanahana Beauty

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Understanding what's in your skincare products goes beyond being able to pronounce the ingredient list. How the ingredients are sourced and the labor that goes into making the product is equally important. Abena Boamah-Acheampong started Hanahana Beauty, a clean skincare and wellness brand in hopes to bring more transparency and sustainability to the beauty industry, as well as uplift women of color.

"Simply said, as Black women, we are worthy of having beauty brands that are intentionally created for us in mind and that are using ethically sourced clean ingredients," Boamah-Acheampong says. "I was inspired by Black women to create Hanahana Beauty and I created it because it felt like Black women, sustainability, accessibility, and transparency from producers to the consumer was an afterthought in the beauty industry. I wanted to make it forefront of our mission and everything we do."

Hanahana's hero ingredient is shea butter directly sourced from Katariga Women's Shea Cooperative in Ghana. "I always start with what's on the ingredients [list] and if it works for me. Then, if the values match mine," she says on choosing beauty products she likes to shop. "At the end of the day you want to support a brand that does exactly what they say they do."

Tristan Walker, Founder of Bevel

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Much like Young, Tristan Walker knew firsthand how irritating shaving can be, especially as a Black man prone to razor bumps. But as a young professional who once interned on Wall Street, he was expected to have no facial hair at the time. "One day, I was called out by a supervisor, in front of all the other employees, for not being clean shaven," he remembers. But little did his boss at the time know, Walker had recently broken out from using a razor, and wanted to avoid further flare-ups. "Shaving irritation and razor bumps can lead to dark marks along with other issues," he explains. "This is pretty significant and effects 80% of Black men and women globally. When that happened, I didn't know what to use to solve this problem. My confidence took a major hit."

With that negative experience in mind, Walker's immediately thought of his two young sons, and what would happen to them should they decide to enter the corporate space. That's how Bevel, a line of specially crafted grooming products, was born.

Naturally, once the line launched in Target, Walker brought his oldest son — who was two at the time — to take a look. But while the founder couldn't find his products at first, it didn't take his child very long to spot them on shelves. "My son pointed behind me and said, 'Dada!'" Walker exclaims. "He had just seen my picture on one of our boxes. Think of that. This was his first real experience at retail and he had an experience that I'd been waiting my whole life for."

Bevel has made serious waves in the grooming industry since it launched in 2013, and Walker has no plans to slow down. "As I think of the future for Bevel and the work that we're doing, the word that comes to mind is 'more,'" he shares. "More product development, more product testing, more retail distribution, and more support of causes that truly engage the Black community as a whole, and Black men specifically."

Shontay Lundy, Founder of Black Girl Sunscreen

SOTA: Beauty Boss

In Miami, where Shontay Lundy founded Black Girl Sunscreen in 2016, every day can be a beach day. Frustrated with the white, chalky residue that sunscreens left behind on her skin tone, Londay created her own line of SPF products formulated without oxybenzone and parabens. "There were no sunscreen brands that spoke directly to me and no brand made it their business to connect with me," she says. "I did not even want to try their products, so I did not wear sunscreen. That is what was lacking. I was never ever taught about sun safety and did not have viable options to protect my skin. If I felt this way, I was certain others felt this way as well."

Five years alter, Black Girl Sunscreen is sold at Target, has recently expanded into Nigeria, and includes a kid's line of products. "It is extremely heartwarming to see more Black people staying moisturized and protecting their skin from the sun with Black Girl Sunscreen," Lundy shares. "I believe misinformation about the importance was and still is the reason many Black people do not wear sunscreen. Continuing to educate consumers on the importance of wearing sunscreen will hopefully continue to open minds on the need for SPF protection."

Felicia Leatherwood, Celebrity Hairstylist and Founder of Brush With the Best

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Felicia Leatherwood knows firsthand how it feels to deal with hair discrimination. In fact, she became a stylist for that very reason. "I started this journey because there was no one who understood how to work with my hair," she shares. "I really just wanted to show women how to appreciate their own texture of hair."

And when she says texture, she means each and every one of them. Just take the way she styles Issa Rae's 4C hair as an example. While there is a false notion that coily hair is somehow "difficult," "bad," and "unmanageable," Leatherwood has proven everyone wrong by single-handedly showing the world that 4C hair can be as versatile as any other hair type — from the regal style she created for the star at the 2018 Met Gala, to every single look she wore on Insecure.

Aside from hairstyling, Leatherwood also created the absolute best (and we do not say that lightly) detangling brush of all time, appropriately named Brush With the Best. This innovative tool features widely spaced flexi-bristles that detangles all hair types without the tugging or pulling that can lead to breakage.

"My hope for the future is that all textures of hair be recognized as beautiful," Leatherwood says. "I want young girls to understand that there are options and there isn't one right way of being beautiful. I really want us to embrace ourselves in totality from head to toe. Because I feel like once we do that, we will be able to see what confidence truly looks like."

Lois Reid-Hines, Founder of Tropic Isle Living

State of the Arts Beauty Boss

For Lois Reid-Hines, creating Tropic Isle Living — an all-natural and cruelty-free hair, skin, and body care brand — was all about honoring her roots, and sharing a piece of her Jamaican heritage with the rest of the world.

"When my late husband and I moved to the U.S. over 30 years ago, we knew that the Caribbean had so much to offer in terms of natural, pure ingredients that our ancestors had been using for centuries," she tells InStyle. "Starting Tropic Isle Living was a celebration of love for Jamaica, its culture, and the traditional way we use health and beauty products. We were the first to introduce Jamaican Black Castor Oil to the U.S., and we also coined the term."

Starting her business at only 22-years-old, Reid-Hines has learned a thing or two about the beauty business, including the fact that no matter what, you have to believe in your product. "[When we first got to the U.S.], it was a struggle to get anyone to take us seriously and to look beyond Jamaican Black Castor Oil's scent and 'feel' to appreciate its unrivaled powerful properties," she says. Despite these hardships, business has been booming for the past 30 years — and Reid-Hines now has two other entities in the works.

With her wealth of product and business knowledge, the Tropic Isle Living founder is now looking to be of service to those entering the beauty industry. "My hope for the future is that I can help more women of color realize their dreams — and then inspire them to continue to pay it forward."

Dafina Smith, Founder of Covet & Mane

State of the Arts Beauty Boss

Dafina Smith's love for hair came at an early age — and so did her creative spark.

At 13, her parents opened a beauty supply store in Minneapolis. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"I would work there after school, and on and off when I came home from college," Smith shares. "I always marveled at how transformational hair extensions could be and at how expensive they are, but the retail experience around it was not elevated at all. When I began working in fashion I wanted to bring the same experiential and luxurious brand storytelling that I helped create in fashion into the beauty industry. My goal when I founded Covet & Mane was to create the 'Chanel of Hair Extensions' by maniacally focusing on quality, craftsmanship and innovation around one product: hand-tied hair extensions."

By offering proprietary cut-point wefts, and expertly sourced silicone-free hair, Covet & Mane is able to offer consumers a 21-shade product that's free of unraveling and shedding, with seamless blending, along with brass-free and fade-proof color.

Providing the market with high-quality hair extensions has an obvious impact, but as Smith looks to the future, she's looking to spark inspiration in less obvious spaces.

"My only hope is that my story is planting seeds both big and small that influence the world in a beautiful way," she shares. "The other day on a team call, one of our concierges mentioned she is grateful she is able to work from home, and have her daughter, who watches our meetings each week. She sees an entire women-led team run a business. The ripple effect of that is yet to be known. But hopefully, it's positive and impactful for the next generation."

Akilah Releford, CEO and Founder of Mary Louise Cosmetics

State of the Arts Beauty Boss

Let's go ahead and cut to the chase here: Akilah Releford isn't new to the skincare game.

"I started Mary Louise Cosmetics from my dorm room at Howard University," she shares. Now, the clean line can be found at major retailers like JCPenney, Thirteen Lune, and Macy's — something she'll never forget. "Being able to see our brand in one of America's oldest national retailers was truly a special experience."

With nourishing products available for a variety of skin types, including sensitive, dry, and acne-prone, there's a little Mary Louise for everyone. Or as Releford puts it, "We give our customers the freedom and autonomy to experience clean skincare on their own terms."

But despite all of her success, the founder admits that while she's definitely left her mark on the industry, she still has a long way to go. "I feel like I'm always in a state of constant learning. I think a great founder always is," she shares. "The most important takeaway from growing a business is maintaining optimism and always coming back to why I started Mary Louise in the first place: making people feel good in their own skin."

Looking ahead, Releford's only wish for Black founders to know that despite the beauty boom, there's still room for them in the skincare space.

"It has been very exciting to see the industry grow with more innovative products by Black founders over the last few years," she says. "This makes me hopeful knowing that everyone will feel represented in what often feels like such a saturated place."

Ron Robinson, Founder of BeautyStat

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Vitamin C is one of those ingredients every dermatologist will recommend you have as a part of your beauty routine. The only problem? If not properly formulated, it can easily oxidize and become ineffective.

But Ron Robinson, founder of BeautyStat and cosmetic chemist who had previously worked for brands like Clinique and Revlon, found a way around it by creating a proprietary encapsulation method for vitamin C, which maintains its efficacy. Once he knew his unique formula worked, the product was too good to keep to himself. But believe it or not, when he first created BeautyStat, it actually wasn't about creating products at all.

"In the mid-2000s, I saw the fast rise in social media, and I felt there needed to a be online community where consumers can connect with beauty experts in order to learn more about what beauty products worked and didn't, so I created BeautyStat," he shares. "The mission was to publish expert beauty content and product reviews so that consumers could learn more from insiders. This would help them make better educated beauty purchase decisions."

Robinson ran the platform for just over a decade, and during that time, both friends and family talked to him about starting his own brand. At first, he brushed the idea off, thinking to himself, "Who needs another beauty brand?" Then he started researching vitamin C skincare technology.

"We found a way to stabilize pure vitamin C," he says. "Concurrently, we tested the concept of us launching a brand with our own consumer database that showed our brand concept was very strong with high purchase interest and relevancy. After I got back the independent clinical testing results which turned out to be amazing, I immediately said, 'This is a break-through, we need to launch this under BeautyStat Cosmetics.' And right there, the brand and product was born."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nyakio Grieco, Founder of nyakio Beauty and Co-Founder of Thirteen Lune

SOTA: Beauty Boss

When the tragic and senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna took place in 2020, the country erupted. Protests were being organized across the nation and conversations on the historical negative impact of systemic racism trickled down to nearly every industry — including beauty. That's when Nyakio Grieco knew she needed to create a space to help Black beauty founders build financial capital. "I co-founded Thirteen Lune in Dec. 2020. It's an e-commerce platform for discovery of beauty brands created by Black and brown founders, who create products for people of all colors," she shares.

And it was an instant hit among consumers, and has become one of our go-tos since as well.

"It gave me such joy and pride to see the diverse group of consumers who had come to discover these brands. I knew in that moment we had created a truly inclusive beauty experience," she says.

Grieco has nothing but high hopes for the space she's built, and the impact it will have on the world. "By building our brands and founders to great success, we help to build generational wealth in Black and brown communities, therefore helping to alleviate systemic racism," she says. "The beauty industry has such an opportunity to unite and unify. I look forward to Thirteen Lune leading the charge to be exemplary of true inclusivity in our industry."

Lisa Price, Founder of Carol's Daughter

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Carol's Daughter, a staple for naturals at the drugstore, was born out of Lisa Price's kitchen in Brooklyn where she mixed her own haircare and body care concoctions using easily accessible ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil.

At first, Price didn't realize her products were filling a void in the market. "When I started the brand in 1993, I was natural and I knew a lot of naturals," she says. "I knew that we were not the norm, but I knew we were out there and at first, I felt there just wasn't enough variety. What existed all had a certain look, feel, message, scent, package, etc. It lacked fun and whimsy. I wanted my products to serve a purpose, deliver benefits, but also make you feel pretty, smell good, and make you smile."

Nearly 30 years later, Price continues to remix wash day by reinventing staple product categories like conditioner, and encourages other Black entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, too. "Know your numbers and those of your competitors. Know your story and how to tell it through your marketing, your colors, your textures," Price advises. "Be who you authentically are and not what you think others want you to be. This work is challenging, rewarding, and can be life-affirming, but the needed goals cannot be achieved when we start from a place of compromise."

Miko Branch, Co-Founder of Miss Jessie's

SOTA: Beauty Boss

While there's now a plethora of products on the market specially formulated for natural hair, back when Miko and Titi Branch first launched Miss Jessie's back in 2004 — named after their paternal grandmother — the category was scarce. But the pair knew they were destined to create a new, innovative space in the market.

"From a very early age, I was raised and trained to be an entrepreneur," Miko shares. "My father, Jimmy Branch, felt it was crucial that my sister Titi and I grew up being independent, so he put us to work at one of his businesses at an early age. From that point on, I paid close attention to the things that I liked to do, and the things that I was good at, which ultimately led into my career in the beauty business, by way of styling hair. Once the Miss Jessie's brand was established, and our namesake Brooklyn salon evolved from two chairs to an expanded salon space, I quickly started to specialize in curly hair. It was at that time that I knew that our focus and attention in this underserviced space was very important to the hair industry, and furthermore, was going to be helpful to many."

Miko's beloved sister sadly passed away in 2014, but the founder makes it clear that the brand would not be what it is today without the brilliance of her sibling. "An unforgettable moment during this journey was when my sister knocked on the door of my Brooklyn brownstone at three-o'clock in the morning to share, with excitement, that we had finally come up with a formula that would be groundbreaking both in the hair and beauty industry," Miko remembers. "That special formula is now known as Curly Pudding, which was the first product we launched under the Miss Jessie's brand."

The brand now boasts dozen of products. And while the market has become filled with new product options for Black women, Miss Jessie's remains a fan favorite for good reason: Their products work. "I hope for the future that people continue to love and embrace their God-given natural textures, which makes it even more a labor of love for me to come up with the Miss Jessie's products you'll love," Miko says. "I hope that through Miss Jessie's, the curly-community continues to achieve the curls of their dreams."

Nancy Twine, Founder of Briogeo

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Unsatisfied with the clean haircare options out there, Nancy Twine set out to create Briogeo, a product line made with natural ingredients that live up to their performance claims. In less than a decade, Twine became the youngest Black entrepreneur to launch a product line a Sephora and the best-selling brand just entered Ulta.

"I started Briogeo because I knew there was a better, healthier way of doing hair care that still delivered results," Twine says. "It became my mission to create clean and effective formulas that work for all hair textures and types, while also leaving out questionable ingredients."

Twine is excited by large retailers who are starting to make carrying Black-owned brands a priority, but the support needs to go beyond the products on the shelves. "That said, working with large retailers is not a straightforward process and many new brands may not have the corporate infrastructure to fulfill all those big-business demands," she shares. "In order to keep inclusivity top of mind, it's important that retailers support these incoming brands with education, training, and resources to help ensure they're set up for success."

Melissa Butler, Founder of The Lip Bar

SOTA: Beauty Boss

A moment of introspection in 2012 led Melissa Butler to start The Lip Bar, a line of vibrant, high-performance lip colors made with clean ingredients. "When I started the company, I was working on Wall Street and I started taking a more holistic approach to my lifestyle, Butler says. "Ultimately, I became incredibly frustrated with the beauty industry for its lack of diversity and the amount of chemicals in products. I decided instead of complaining about it, I could really do something to change it."

Since launching into Target stores, TLB has expanded into eye makeup and complexion products and opened a boutique in Detroit. Building a team that reflects the brand's consumer base has been just as much a priority as creating high-performance formulas. "When I started the company, I was really flustered and shocked to learn that it's really older white men who run the industry despite women being by and large the consumers of beauty," she shares. "I was very intentional about building a company for people who are the end users and I'm really proud that my team consists of 18 women."

Jaé Joseph, Creative Director of Black Apothecary Office

SOTA: Beauty Boss

Finances have a lot to do with how few Black-owned brands you see in beauty aisles. Black entrepreneurs are twice as likely to be rejected for bank loans, and Black and Latinx women, who prominently start beauty brands, received just 0.64% of venture capital funds in 2018. Jaé Joseph is hoping to change this by bringing cultural integrity to investing.

Joseph started Black Apothecary Office in 2020, an accelerator for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the beauty and wellness space as well as tele-health markets such as mental health resources. The program provides startups with the tools they need to pitch to investors and bring their brands to market or provide already launched brands with e-commerce partners and more visibility. After graduating from BAO's program, entrepreneurs can apply for financial aid to execute their plans.

"BAO's mission is about building cultural integrity and community," Joseph says. "It's about finding beauty entrepreneurs that have been around for 20 or 30 years but don't have access to multichannel retail online or aren't acclimated to social media. Also, finding the entrepreneurs who are TikTok stars, for example, and don't know how to scale their business beyond paid ads partnerships." We want to merge those two worlds together and build an ecosystem."

In addition to aiding the 100+ beauty and wellness startups that have applied for the accelerator program, BAO also gives brands exposure to aid in their growth via social media.

The State of the Arts is InStyle's biannual celebration of the Black creativity and excellence driving fashion, beauty, self-care, and the culture at large.

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