All great business ideas start from somewhere — and for Mented Cosmetics co-founders and CEOs, Kristen "KJ" Miller and Amanda Johnson, it was over a spontaneous conversation. As they say, the rest is history. “When we graduated from Harvard Business School we were pretty certain we wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial venture together, so it was really a question of when not if,” the ladies shared via e-mail. “One night, Amanda mentioned she had been looking for the perfect nude lipstick for three years...can you imagine?”asks KJ.
Sadly, we can. Apart from brands like Fashion Fair, Ginger + Liz, Jane Carter Solutions, and Beauty Bakerie, seldom are beauty brands created for and run with women of color at the helm. Mented (short for pigmented) aims to change the disparity with their line of luxe satin lipsticks made to enhance the natural beauty of women of all hues. “Unfortunately, the beauty industry would have us believe that 'nude' means one thing: pink (and pale pink at that),” share KJ and Amanda.
“We want every woman to be able to find herself in the world of beauty. And, that includes being able to participate in the classic clean-beauty look that have been denied to deeper skin tones for so long.” Well, mission accomplished: Mented now offers six staple shades with clever names like “Foxy Brown” and “Nude La La.” Read on to get to know the line (and founders) even better.
Teen Vogue: You mentioned the struggle of finding the right nude—what were the previous issues or pain points you faced?
Amanda Johnson: Every time we'd go to the beauty counter and ask for a nude lip, we were told the only way to "achieve" the nude look was by buying tons of products: a concealer to even out our two-toned lips, a pale pink lipstick (though our lips are nowhere near pale pink), a brown liner to darken the lipstick, and a gloss to finish the look. It felt like we shouldn't have to work that hard to achieve what's supposed to be a natural, classic look.
TV: Both of you are Harvard MBA grads, but how did you jump into the cosmetics industry? Did you have any past experience apart from being a consumer?
AJ: We pursued cosmetics because we had a problem that no one else seemed willing to solve, and they say that's always a great starting point for an entrepreneurial venture. We've been fortunate enough to attract a number of advisers with decades of experience in the beauty industry, so though we're new to this, we've got a lot of expertise at our disposal. Also, we think having an outsider's view has been really helpful, because we don't get caught up in thinking things have to be done a certain way.
TV: Do you think your line will give women of color a sense of empowerment? How so?
AJ: Absolutely! The feedback we've received from customers has been so fulfilling to receive, because we constantly hear how excited women are to finally have shades made for them. It's empowering to know that you deserve to be prioritized, and that no one should be able to treat you like an afterthought.
TV: How did you test/create the perfect shade for each woman? Did friends and family serve as inspiration and/or testers?
AJ: Our friends and family members were definitely Mented guinea pigs for a few months. It was important to us to test the shades on women of every hue, so we ended up becoming a little manic about making women try them on...we're definitely very thankful.
TV: While the cosmetics industry is starting to acknowledge WOC more, there’s still a lot of work to be done. What legacy do you want Mented to leave behind?
Kristen "KJ" Miller: We say it a lot but it bears repeating: we believe every woman should be able to find herself in the world of beauty. We want this, above all else, to be the legacy we leave behind — one of hearing, prioritizing, and celebrating women of every hue.
TV: How does social media play a part in your brand awareness strategy?
AJ: Social media is hugely important for us — it's been our primary source of customer engagement and it drives a significant portion of our traffic. One of the most important roles social media plays is in allowing us to highlight our customers — we love showing them off (check our our Your Story page!), and we've also noticed how the community of women we're building loves cheering each other on. It's been so gratifying to see.
TV: Currently the line focuses on nudes, are there plans to dive into a larger color range?
AJ: While we will always have a focus on creating nude and neutral colors that are perfect for a woman's everyday routine, we will definitely expand into a broader color range in the future.
TV: What can we expect next for Mented and their inclusiveness of makeup for darker skin tones?
KJM: We call 2017 the 'Year of Lips,' so by the end of the year we will double the size of our nude lipstick collection, introduce nude lip gloss and launch our lip balm. Next year is when we dive into eyes and cheeks, and we'll be releasing face products by late 2018/early 2019.
This story originally appeared on Teen Vogue.
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