As an 18-year-old entrepreneur at the time, I thought: This is how long it took me to land on the map? Yes, I had some happy moments and key wins with Nyakio, but I also had some brutally challenging moments where I cried on my knees without feeling seen or supported. I was always the small black owned niche brand. I decided to take my pain and turn it into a purpose, and I started looking through the list because what else were we going to do? I wanted to be part of the change. I wanted to be part of the movement.
I was amazed when I would look at these lists and find these beautiful brands that I had never heard of before. When I would go down a rabbit hole and look at their Instagrams and websites and see that they had very little distribution and some of them didn’t have a large following… We’re seeing amazing and beautiful initiatives like the Fifteen Percent Pledge and Pull Up for Change is happening, but in my head, I thought, It shouldn’t be that hard to get a huge number of brands on the shelves.
My co-founder Patrick and I got together. This was our moment of joy in June 2020 in the midst of everything that happened after the murder of George Floyd. I said out loud, “If I were to open a store tomorrow, 90% of my brands would be created by people of color from around the world,” because that’s where all our beauty secrets and ingredients come from. I wanted to debunk the myth that black and brown people only make products for ourselves, which is downright insane because we know that shea butter and marula oil and all these ingredients that come from the African continent appear in all brands so of course, you can use what we do with our ingredients on your skin.
We launched Thirteen Lune in December 2020 with 13 Black-owned brands. Ninety percent virtually and in real life will always be dedicated to BIPOC brands around the world, but 10% will be dedicated to fostering the alliance. Because the other opportunity and responsibility is to unite all of us. Beauty is universal. It is a way to connect. It is a way of healing. We are in deeply painful times, and for Black and Latino people to take up more space, we deserve all eyes. We define an allied brand as a brand that long before 2020 was thinking of all people in terms of ranges of tones, formulations, in front of the camera, behind the camera and in its hiring process. We have worked a lot with the brands that we invite to be part of the platform. We know that they are true non-performative allies.
Sixty days after launch, we got a call from JCPenney saying, “We’re looking for a new hyper-inclusive beauty retail partner to join us on a mission for our new JCPenney beauty space.” While we always knew we would be omnichannel, 60 days later to have this opportunity to partner with America’s oldest retailer was just a godsend, amazing and incredible. We are now in the process of opening 600 Thirteen Lune stores at JCPenneys across the country. We also now have over 165 brands and my new baby, Relevant: Your Skin Seen.
That is incredible. Speaking of Relevant: Your Skin Seen, I’d love to know how you came up with that. What was the genesis?
I believe in formulations backed and directed by science, but also incorporating legacy ingredients because I say the proof is in the pudding; It’s my story. It’s my real truth. The truth is that I never had access to the opportunity to offer a better service to all consumers, but coming from the perspective of a consumer of skin rich in melanin. We all have melanin. Relevant: Your Skin Seen is a melanin-safe brand made for everyone.
I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a lot over the last 20 years and work with amazing chemists. Even if they weren’t working on my brand formulas, I really took advantage of where I was to learn. You would see these new acids and peels come onto the market and be promoted as safe for all skin tones. Because of the experience I have had, not only with my own skin but in this industry, I knew when I turned it around and read the ingredients and acid levels that it was not safe for melanin. But I didn’t want to feel left out. Who doesn’t want a good peeling? Who doesn’t want the experience of being able to benefit from these ingredients at safe levels?
The same goes for sunscreen. I use sunscreen every day. I always have, but over time it has been a real challenge for me to find sunscreens that are non-comedogenic and do not cast white or purple on my skin as a person of color. Since you would see melanoma numbers rising in black and brown communities, it makes a lot of sense because we are not marketing feel-good or luxurious products. Everyone wants to look like themselves after putting on their sunscreen. They don’t want to transform into something they don’t like, so they will opt out.
So relevant: Your visible skin is a couple of things. As I said before, this is the first time that I, as a black businesswoman, have had the lead, the autonomy, the support, the access to data, and the opportunity to create the brand of my dreams. I believe that all people deserve to be seen. It’s a recurring theme in my life, and it’s been long before Thirteen Lune and Relevant: Your Skin Seen. How can I bring something to market that will better help others see themselves and feel considered and appreciated and nurtured and treasured? That’s at the heart of Relevant.
I have to say that when it comes to products, I have tried the eye cream and I love it.
Agh yes, the Beam + Glow!
Yeah, and I don’t know if it shows, but I’m prone to dark circles. It’s hard to find an eye cream that I like enough to use consistently. I’ve been through that tube in record time.
Same. I think I’m on my fourth tube in six months. I am also prone to dark circles. We went through so many different formulations, and I was like, it’s there, but it’s not there. As the founder of a brand, you are always creating products that you want to use and then inviting others to enjoy. Even at that, it’s like you have less melanin than I do, but we both have melanin and we’re both prone to dark circles, so my goal is to help everyone achieve results.
I would say this brand is unique in that there are a lot of legacy ingredients that are used by many brands, but they are not marketed to everyone. You mentioned that you want to debunk that myth. Can you tell me a bit about the development process for Relevant? Were there unique challenges in the formulation process to make them safe and effective for each skin tone?
Knowing my chemists really allowed me to get the process going even when we couldn’t physically be in the lab. Fortunately, they both had their own lab at home, so we were able to continue development work. I worked with these two chemists specifically because they are not only experienced, award-winning chemists, but they are also people of color who know the science of skin and know how to safely create, for example, Sol Tone, a five-acid product. toner that can work for all people and not cause hypo or hyperpigmentation or make the most stable vitamin c on the market in a way that would not change and help with discoloration. The main skin concern is dry skin. How were these things going to hydrate and at the same time help remove dull skin, help minimize the appearance of dark circles and puffiness, etc.? It was a good balance.
On a personal note, like everyone else, supply chain issues! Starting to develop a brand in 2020 that came out in 2022, I mean, who’s to say it wouldn’t have come out six months earlier if we didn’t have those things? But everything happens as it is supposed to happen.