When the Black Lives Matter movement swept the U.S. over the summer, Nyakio founder Nyakio Grieco noticed the wave of posts on beauty Instagram showcasing hundreds of Black-owned beauty brands.
“As a consumer, I would go to these lists to try to support and shop, and I was surprised by a few things. One being, here I am, a Black beauty founder who started a brand out of my apartment in my 20s, and now in my 40s had launched into my dream retailer at Target. I’m looking at these beautiful lists, and I’m shocked at how many brands I’ve never heard of before,” she said. As a result, she started planning the launch of beauty e-commerce site Thirteen Lune, which went live in December 2020.
Grieco is the latest in a growing cohort of Black female founders launching e-commerce platforms to showcase BIPOC-owned beauty brands. Others launching in the past year include AMP Beauty LA, Geenie, Sanctuaire and Beautyocracy, with others such as Skin Edit + Co. planning to launch. These startups join BLK+GRN, which was founded in 2017. Each platform emphasizes curation and community-building while focusing on different price points, age demographics and categories.
Launched with co-founder Patrick Herning, the founder and CEO of size-inclusive e-commerce platform 11 Honoré, Thirteen Lune features non-toxic products for people of all colors, with brands offering “deep and rich founder stories,” said Grieco. The brand list features premium Black-owned beauty brands including Lauren Napier Beauty and Ceylon, along with a category of “ally brands” such as Joanna Vargas. The e-tailer has received just over $1 million in a friends and family investment round that included investments from Gwyneth Paltrow, Sean Puffy Combs, and Beautycounter founder and CEO Gregg Renfrew. Instead of a traditional influencer marketing model, it has enlisted a “vanguard” of celebrities, models, editors and tech leaders to vet products and spread the word about the platform.
“I would say this is the first time, as a founder who has had proven success over the course of 20 years, that I’ve ever had inbound calls, especially from the institutional level,” with regard to investment, said Grieco. “That just says to me that change is in the making, and change is hard and slow-moving, but I’m seeing that there is some progress.”
Luxury beauty, fashion and wellness e-tailer Sanctuaire, which launched in August 2020, has a “mission of generational wealth,” said its founder, Courtney Arrington-Baldwin. Sanctuaire features a roster of 40 BIPOC-founded brands with a focus on wellness and self-care. Arrington-Baldwin noted that shopping for brands from a Black-owned retailer means “you’re keeping it circular, because it’s all [about] support in the Black community.”
“All of our founders are self-funded, which we felt was pretty unique because it really speaks to the character of women of color,” said Arrington-Baldwin. “It speaks to what’s going on, as it relates to funding and the numbers that you see, where Black women are not often afforded the investor funding. But even still, we pursue and launch our businesses.”
AMP Beauty LA, meanwhile, launched in September 2020, and was founded by a group of three women with tech, editorial and luxury retail backgrounds who met as sorority sisters in college. Its roster of brands includes lip mask brand Sistine, skin-care brand Rosen and personal care brand The Honey Pot.
According to AMP Beauty LA co-founder Angel Lenise, a supervising video producer at Elle and the chief brand officer of the new platform, “Often when we shop for beauty, we have to go to different sorts of retailers, from your mass, premium, prestige beauty stores to your local convenience stores to your mom-and-pop beauty supply stores. There isn’t really a one-stop shop where women of color, and Black women especially, can shop for all of their beauty products,” she said.
“We really want to be a space that speaks to every corner of what Black beauty is,” said Lenise. “Another thing that we really want to push is that Black-owned does not mean that it’s just for Black people. Sephora caters to a wide audience, as does Ulta, as does Target, because they monopolize these spaces. But we as a Black-owned company sell brands that create products for all textures and all shades.”
The platform features a colorful aesthetic geared toward millennials and Gen Z. It was described as a “big sister, cool girl type of image” by Phyllicia Phillips, AMP Beauty LA’s co-founder and COO, who works at Snapchat. “We wanted it to have visuals that complemented the world of beauty and how colorful it can be,” she said.
“To understand our aesthetic, you have to understand that American culture is Black culture. A lot of trends that we push forward and create, we don’t get a lot of recognition for,” said Montré Moore, AMP Beauty LA’s co-founder and CEO, who previously worked in luxury beauty at Neiman Marcus. “The power behind our aesthetic is gaining control of that overarching influence of Black women and Black culture, and figuring out a way to create authentic messaging. That’s something that’s a huge white space in the marketplace.”
AMP operates via a warehouse and ships products out in chic packaging designed by Moore. “We wanted our customers to receive their orders in a thoughtful, intentional way,” said Lenise. “It was really important for us to say we don’t want to drop-ship; we don’t want to make it seem like you’re going to get 10 different packages if you order 10 different items.”
Geenie, a beauty e-tailer launched in July 2020 for BIPOC-founded and socially conscious beauty brands, closed an angel round of funding for an undisclosed amount in January 2021. The platform focuses on indie beauty brands “guided by the multicultural, gender-expansive, activist and values-led ethos of Gen Z and millennials,” according to the company’s description. Brands include Black-owned Kami Cosmetics, Indigenous-founded Cheekbone Beauty and Prados, and LGBTQ+-founded Fempower Beauty.
“We wanted to move into 2021 with some momentum, with a budget. We were super scrappy and self-funded in the fall; though we were able to do some stuff, we were limited by not having any sort of operational or marketing budget, so that was the goal of doing this first initial angel round,” said Geenie founder Chana Ewing. The angel round included a group of 11 investors, including Emmett Shine, co-founder of DTC marketing agency and incubator Pattern Brands (formerly Gin Lane); Maxwell Mitcheson, vp and head of talent at talent development company TalentX; and Alexa Payton, vp of growth strategy and operations at Dentsu.
Geenie plans to “tap influencers across TikTok and Instagram, and build out their ambassador program within their private community,” said Mitcheson, who is also advising the company on its influencer marketing strategy.
Shine emphasized the importance of community-building for the company, which connects with customers on Slack-like group chat app Geneva to discuss not just beauty, but also current events and social issues. Shine, who is also an advisor for Geneva, sees community-based marketing as the future for younger consumers.
“Gen Z is breaking off from the ideals of millennials, and is emerging as a new force to be reckoned with in consumer culture,” he said. He noted that they have a “strong conviction for social activism and social causes,” and are more interested in “tight-knit groups” online than a “constant need to impress in a presented way that is Instagram.”
“When [Ewing] first brought me her vision in June, I told probably 15 people I know that this is the best idea I’ve seen,” said Payton. “People have to start putting their money where their mouth is” when it comes to “wanting to support diverse founders and female founders,” she said.