In August 2018 Olamide Olowe decided to go on a mission.
The then 21 year old wanted to create a skincare brand for women that tackled chronic skin conditions after struggling to find products that alleviated her own.
But what made her stand out from the crowd was the fact that she had already knew how to get a line up-and-running.
Olowe had previously co-created a beauty brand called Shea Girl, in partnership with multicultural beauty company Shea Moisture, while she was a sophomore at the University of California Los Angeles. And it turned out to be the perfect preparation for what was to come.
“That experience really changed what I saw for myself in the future,” Olowe shares with InStyle.
“It gave me a quick two-year MBA on how to build a brand for an underserved consumer group," she continues. "I said if they could do something so big and so successful and so impactful in the industry, I wonder what I could do for girls with chronic skin conditions like myself.”
In just two years, the now 23-year-old budding entrepreneur connected with her co-founder, Claudia Teng, also 23, and together they teamed up to raise $2.6 million in venture capital funding to develop their beauty company Topicals.
It was a partnership that came together like it was written in the stars.
Olowe and Teng were both pre-med students in college, women of color, and children of immigrants (Olowe’s parents are Nigerian and Teng’s are Chinese). They also both struggled with chronic skin conditions throughout their lives — Teng with severe eczema, and Olowe with post-barbae folliculitis, an inflammatory reaction surrounding ingrown hairs.
“I basically was in and out of the doctor's office all throughout my childhood, I missed a lot of school and always felt very embarrassed to go to like sleepovers and stuff, because I was afraid to bring my prescription steroids with me,” Teng says.
“These conditions are painful,” Olowe adds. “The boils I get from having post-barbae folliculitis are very painful.”
Aside from their chronic skincare issues, they also noticed the disparities for women of color within the medical field.
Teng, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a background in clinical research, worked in the dermatology department at Stanford University as a research assistant while she was in high school, helping out with clinical trials. She continued her research throughout college and post-graduation.
“I noticed how terrible the disparities were for access to healthcare," she says. "When I was at Stanford, we did not enroll a single Black participant in any of our clinical trials. I voiced that frustration to a mutual friend of ours, and he connected me to Olamide, because he knew she was trying to build this science, medicine-backed, skincare brand. We really hit it off.”
The duo set out on a mission to create an affordable collection of products formulated to tackle common skin conditions like eczema, hyperpigmentation, psoriasis, and more, effectively for women of all shades.
To shop: $36; mytopicals.com
The brand officially came to market on Aug. 7, with a goal to transform the way women feel about their skin. The pair did this by making the treatment of stigmatized skin conditions synonymous with self-care, rather than marketing their products as a solution to a "problem," or a way to instantly fix "flaws."
Their own experiences with skin issues fueled this goal, having first-hand knowledge of how skin conditions can trigger mental health issues. That also inspired them to donate 1% of Topicals’ profits to various mental health organizations.
They wanted women to feel like they had a support system at Topicals. “[We're] a group of people who make you feel like the rest of the world is crazy for thinking negatively about you and your skin condition,” Olowe explained. “That's what has helped us support each other in our skin journeys.”
Topicals launched with two products: Like Butter, a whipped hydrating that moisturizes and soothes sensitive, dry and eczema-prone skin, and Faded, a gel serum that combats dark spots and discoloration from sun damage, scarring, and inflammation. Both retail for under $40.
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Their first round of funding came from Dorm Room Fund, a VC firm for student-run startups, as well as Rough Draft Ventures. They used the combined funds to focus on testing. Next, they were accepted into Mucker Labs, an investment accelerator, which not only gave them funding, but also acted as advisors as the pair figured out their product fit into the market. Then, they received funding from high profile investment fund Lerer Hippeau, which has invested in major brands like Casper and Warby Parker.
“About 70% of our cap table [percentage of company ownership] is women," says Olowe. "When we went out to raise, we were adamant that there was a good amount of Black women and women of color on it."
“We wanted to make sure women's voices were heard and that we gave them a piece of equity because that's what we've been lacking,” she continues. “We're not gonna make up for the gender gap and the pay gap if we don't give women pieces of equity to own companies to become wealthy themselves.”
As for what’s to come for the co-founders, they’re not putting any limits on what they can achieve, or who their products can help.
“We're just so excited to have the opportunity to do what we love,” Olowe says. “And as 23-year-olds who are very fortunate to be in the position we are in, we just want to serve our community. We're both children of immigrants and we know that we didn't get this far on our own. It's taken a village of people for us to get here.