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Kristen Noel Crawley, KNC Beauty founder, knows that it takes more than being a “lover of skincare” to become a successful beauty brand founder.
The launch of the Black-owned brand in 2016 was “a natural evolution” for Crawley, who networked her way through the beauty industry, starting as a beauty columnist for Elle magazine, she said on this week’s Glossy Beauty Podcast. “I started the brand because I had those dry and crusty lips. Since I launched my brand, I haven’t had any problems with my chapped lips,” said Crawley, who had found a solution to her lip dilemma in the form of a lip mask in Japan. “The only thing I didn’t like was that there were probably 50 ingredients in this one little sachet.”
What started as a means to fill the all-natural lip mask void in America evolved into a line of products including KNC’s retinol-infused star-shaped eye mask and collagen-infused lip scrub and lip balms.
Beyond trend spotting, Crawley is adept at tapping into larger social and cultural movements. She launched KNC’s School of Beauty, a mentorship program for Black female beauty founders, in 2020, and a collaboration with streetwear brand Bape in July 2021. “School of Beauty was actually a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “Black women and women of color contribute so much to the success of the beauty industry and I want to see more female founders in that space.”
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Women supporting women
“It’s basically a mentorship program that is free and open to everyone. We approached [Revlon] about the idea and they were excited about it and offered their support. And [for] the first session, they offered a $25,000 grant to the NAACP and we also offered a $10,000 business grant to a participant from every session. I’ve mentored quite a few women in the industry and it was [about] bringing that to a larger scale … And then also making sure to share other successful women’s stories. But, the main thing for me with the KNC School of Beauty, what I love to talk about, is all of the lows and the no’s because we [all] have them. I always want to show these young women that it’s not what you see on Instagram, or what you read in the article is not necessarily everything that is going on. We all have to get scrappy, and not take ‘no’ for an answer and keep going.”
A columnist’s eye
“Many years ago, I would try a lot of different things [beauty products] and I would post about them on Instagram. This was back when influencers weren’t a thing — Instagram had just started. But I was posting what I liked, and it was fashion, beauty and skincare. A friend of mine had mentioned that she wanted to introduce me to someone [who] wanted to give me my own beauty column. For many years I did that and was able to build a community in the beauty and skin-care world. I was able to reach out to people and build relationships with them, interview them, try their products … I’m thankful for that and for women supporting women. That was my first professional foray and then I built a name up in the skin-care world and eventually I launched my brand.”
Sticking to her values
“I had a lot of self-doubt and insecurities, but eventually, I got over that. I found a manufacturer, and it was actually the third manufacturer [I went to], who agreed to let me create my own formula. The other manufacturers wanted me to white label, which is [when] they make the product however they make it and put your name on it. I didn’t want to do that. I started with about five to seven samples, as I didn’t have the means to have proper R&D. My friends and I tried them and they told me their thoughts and then the rest all fell into place in a way. When we launched, I wasn’t expecting the success that I had and that was a frenzied time.”