Courtesy of Caire Beauty
Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs-as well as their quality, handmade goods-and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.
As we move through life, there's one thing that's guaranteed: We grow older. So, when Lorrie King and Celeste Lee, the founders of Caire Beauty, started navigating the aging process, they decided to meet the moment and launch a high-quality skin care range for mature skin. Their line, which offers everything from face serums to masks, is backed by science and rooted in an "age-awesome" principle for women: These founders believe that women should own their mature skin and look and feel beautiful while doing it.
Before creating their award-winning products, the friends-turned-business partners found their own footing on separate career paths, which eventually led them to join forces and launch their beauty brand together.
Courtesy of Gerald Janssen
A Finance-to-Beauty Career Path
After earning her bachelor's degree from Howard University, King went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for her MBA. "At that time, we were encouraged to choose a corporate or a finance route, so even though I had an entrepreneurship 'major,' I started my career with Merck—a huge global pharmaceutical company—in the treasury division in their U.S. corporate offices in N.J.," she says.
As a side gig to help pay off student loans, King also worked as a YSL makeup artist every other weekend. Over the next three years, she gained a loyal client base—and learned that analytical work wasn't the right fit. "I realized that what I really loved was the customer interaction and hanging out with the other makeup artists—it was about people. I knew that I should be in a more people-oriented, creative situation," says King. One of her friends in the textile design business suggested working in merchandising as a career pivot (from finance into fashion and beauty), and, after a series of interviews, King landed a job at Elizabeth Arden on the Chloe team.
Creating a Consulting Career
Determined to make a change after working in investment banking in Tokyo, Japan, Lee, who spent her undergraduate years at Wharton, entered the entertainment space. "I got a job with AMC Theatres, where we produced pre-show entertainment, including a product called 'Movie Radio' with Bob Kardashian—Kim's dad!" she says, adding that while she enjoyed going to movie premieres, she was ready for a career with higher pay.
Then, a college friend approached Lee asking for help on a starter company called "The Body Shop" (she knew she always had strong ideas for business); Lee's concept helped shape what would ultimately be called Mama Toto, a mother-child personal care company. Her work in consulting only grew from there: Lee later became the head of fine fragrance marketing for Givaudan, where she learned how to forecast beauty trends. "I so enjoyed imagining product ideas and forms, studying botanicals and natural ingredients, and imagining how and why someone might use a fragrance, body, or skin care product," she says.
We have been in the beauty world long enough to have very high, personal expectations of what contemporary beauty should be. It needs to be purpose-driven, original, verifiable, and truly clean made.
While Caire Beauty made its debut in January 2021, King and Lee's work to launch the business began almost seven years prior. "When I was at Coty leading the Halle Berry, Celine Dion, Kimora Lee Simmons, and other fragrance houses, it turned out that Celeste was working as a consultant to the CEO," King says. The friends would chat over cheese and wine and share advice about how to tend to age-related under-eye puffiness. "We were comparing notes on different product attributes—texture, product form, ease of use, cost, and color correctness for women of color," says King. "It dawned on me that it was a shame that we were spending so much breath on concealing and cover-up."
Lee and King ultimately found—through research and interviews with scientists, doctors, and chemists—that skin changes drastically during perimenopause. "Because of hormone decline—which is totally normal, by the way—our skin is no longer able to produce the same amount of collagen and elastin proteins we had in our 20s and 30s," says King. "The cells holding water also diminish and everything becomes less structured, bouncy, and strong." These findings left them with two key questions: "Why isn't anyone doing anything about internal aging?" and "Can we do something about it ourselves?" While they couldn't exactly answer the first query, they knew they were ready to tackle the latter.
Taking the Leap
Around March 2020, the founders had their product formula, brand vision, and LLC—which they formed with their two science partners. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the consulting job they were working on together was put on pause, King told Lee that it was the right time to go all-in on Caire. "We were accepted into a New-York based, highly selective business accelerator called Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) by that June," says King. "ERA was like a startup bootcamp, and we were meeting mentors and taking classes in everything from fundraising to operations and marketing and digital testing 24/7."
The ERA program was an investment for the pair—and, they still paid for all of their custom ingredients, fermentation, packaging, website design, and operations. "Last year, we entered a number of competitions, including female founders, BIPOC, and other accelerators and competitions," says Lee. "We were a finalist in Pharrell Williams' Black Ambition Prize, as well as Pipeline Angels, an all-female investment group. At the same time, we were able to raise startup money from friends and some wonderful angel investors that we met through ERA and Wharton."
Courtesy of Caire Beauty
Hall of Fame-Worthy Team
The pair also brought on a friend and now-spokesperson for their brand: Chef and TV personality Carla Hall. Hall was King's roommate at Howard University, and one of Caire's earliest testers. "As someone who flies a lot—and continued to film for the Food Network throughout most of the pandemic—she is a great tester for us," says Lee. "She wears a lot of intense, TV-ready makeup and is under hot lights for long hours and swears by Caire, particularly the Triple Lift Molecule Mask ($52, cairebeauty.com)."
Caire's offerings helped Hall with another skin concern, too: "It's yet another suppressed fact that with estrogen decline during perimenopause and all through menopause, over half of women will get zits and blemishes back," says Lee. Hall uses the Caire Mask and Serum Duo ($99.95, cairebeauty.com) to "help with the prevention of blemishes and age lines, while managing the residual effects of makeup and sun care gently," adds Lee.
Signature, Science-Backed Formulation
"Caire is designed to delay and defy the effects that estrogen decline has on skin for women over 35, 45, and 55-plus," says Lee. Their aforementioned mask and serum set boosts collagen production and improves skin health thanks to the products' hydrating nutrients. Plus, they have custom bio-fermented peptides that "talk" to skin and speed up cellular production. "We have been in the beauty world long enough to have very high, personal expectations of what contemporary beauty should be. It needs to be purpose-driven, original, verifiable, and truly clean made," says King.
Overall, their formulas replenish and activate skin that has lost its firmness and volume—which leads to dryness, wrinkles, and sagging. "The Caire Theorem Serum Boost ($56, cairebeauty.com) has proven, super-pure plant extracts to diminish purple-y and brownish under-eye circles and lift lid and under-eye sags," says Lee. "That was, of course, super important to us because it was those questions about eye issues that got us started in the first place!"
Courtesy of Gerald Janssen
Redefining the Standard
To make their brand, they centered on educating themselves and using their own experiences to bring it to life—and they recommend the same to fellow entrepreneurs. "One way to get both is to get into an accelerator like we did, but I would suggest that women to first use their friends and networks," says King. "Offer to get involved in a friend's startup and really get in deep. Ask what the 'real' problems are: Is it financial, is it operational, is it social media? Be helpful: The more you do, the more you will gain."
King also suggests asking to read other entrepreneurs' first, second, and third business plans before writing your own. "It doesn't need to be a 20-page plan with five-year financials and explicit designs drawn out," she says. "Start with two or three pages and think about the who (who will want or use this), what (is the product or service and its unique value), where (will I sell it), why (is it different and better than what's already out there), and how (will I actually design, code, manufacture this and with what money) questions." Answer your own questions and you'll have a solid foundation that's ready for feedback.
Owning the Skin They're In
Although King and Lee are beauty industry veterans, they still hope to develop their business, broaden their knowledge of all things skin, and expand their affordable, nourishing product range. Today, you can shop their line at cairebeauty.com, Aillea, and in person at the Conscious Beauty Collective pop-up at the Natick Mall near Boston, Mass.—but they hope to launch at a national retailer so consumers can access their formulas on a larger, more accessible scale.
For now, they are continuing to work with their team and other entrepreneurs to amplify the experiences of people in midlife. "Lorrie and I are so excited—we're hosting (with our podcasting friends at Hot Flashes & Cool Topics) our first live event at the World Trade Center in New York City in October, called The Marvelous Mrs. Menopause, which will bring together real women and real experts and some celebrities, too, to celebrate and elevate our time of life," says Lee.