7 Black Beauty Entrepreneurs Challenging The Fatigued Status Quo


Last year, only the 14th ever black female entrepreneur raised more than $1M in funding. Discrimination in Venture Capital abounds when it comes to women, that much is certain, but even more so for women of color.

The exact number is unclear, but of the 2 percent of VC funding women received last year, it's estimated that less than 0.1 percent of that was allocated to multicultural women.

Given this, it's almost miraculous that women of color are able to bootstrap their businesses and turn them into long-lasting and relevant brands. The funds afforded to men (and to a smaller extent) white women grant them a cushion with which to pursue that ventures, that black women are simply not granted.

Somewhere black women have found large success against all odds is in the beauty spheres, whereby business is born mostly out of necessity because of neglect from bigger brands. With this in mind, we rounded up 7 beauty entrepreneurs, proving the discriminatory VC world ignorant, while changing the narrative about what it means to be relevant for a multicultural demographic.

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1. Kayla Phillips, Foxie Bombs Cosmetics

This outspoken entrepreneur founded her business with the intricacies of the skin in mind. Since 2015, she has created products ranging from bath bombs and soap to perfume. Her line (currently on hold) is both Vegan and ethically produced here in the U.S.

Phillips told The Fader; "When I see other brands that are owned by white folks and they're using our butters, it kinda makes me turn my head a little bit because these recipes have always been ours. The homemade items and whipping stuff up has always been something people of color have done naturally." Phillips's range is completely her own creation, and made by her own hands. It also happens to be ludicrously pretty. We've bookmarked the site for when Phillips decides to let us back in on her Foxie Bomb experience.

Kayla Phillips. Photo courtesy of Nylon

2. Iman, Iman Cosmetics

Founded in 1994, this beauty brand pioneered the way for most others here in its approach to diversity. Supermodel Iman had spent much of her modeling career being asked "did you bring your own foundation?" by makeup artists, when she decided that question was no longer acceptable.

The entrepreneur told SWAAY, “If you go into a lot of cosmetic stores, you still have the ethnic section in the back. It's like, if you're a company that caters to just women of color, you're sold differently. I wanted there to be options for us." She notes that while larger brands might be becoming more inclusive, there are still more options for women with paler skin. "I was the first company to create bronzers for skin of color, to put SPF in our products, to think of skin care and technology for women of color," she says. Thus, her radical approach back in 1994 became her meal ticket, with the company now estimated to be worth a cool $25M.


3. K.J Miller & Amanda E. Johnson, Mented Cosmetics

There is no nude that suits every skin tone, that much is for sure. So two women came together last year (over a glass of pinot, no less), to launch a beauty line that would cater to every.single.lip. Amanda E. Johnson and K.J Miller created the line in the purview that “every woman should be able to find herself in the world of beauty." Challenging an industry that has been slow on the diversity and inclusion uptake is especially inspirational, when something so basic as a nude lip has been taken for granted across all other beauty lines, but for those with paler skin. Miller and Johnson's collection will blow you away with its expansive range, and your basket will no doubt be full by the time you're done on their fun site.

K.J Miller & Amanda E.Johnson

4. Miko Branch, Miss Jessie's

Miko and Titi Branch launched their business, Miss Jessie's, having spent years working on formulas to accentuate black women's natural curls. From their grandmother's kitchen, they concocted recipes that would way day turn into award-winning formulas and a multi-million dollar business. Initially discouraged by the hole in the market that was targeted haircare at the black community. People actually wanted to wear their hair in its naturally curly, kinky or wavey state, but just didn't know how. “To my surprise" she says, “it created a conversation that was favourable. It took me no time to understand that this was our opportunity to get our business back." Branch told SWAAY, that after much experimenting, it was her late sister Titi who cracked the nut, and was the key to success for their first product, 'curly pudding."

Miko Branch

5. Katonya Breaux, Unsun Cosmetics

What's most inspiring about Katonya Breaux's story is not that she raised our beloved Frank Ocean, or even that she became an entrepreneur at a later stage in life, but that she came up with the solution to a problem, that nobody had thought to address before. Breaux's approach to beauty is revolutionary. Her line, Unsun Cosmetics, was founded after she had become disparaged by the lack of sunscreen options for people of color. "Representation needs to be universal," she commented to The Fader.

And indeed her line is representative of just that. According to the brand's description, "Unsun was made specifically for people of color representing the beige to dark chocolate tones of the spectrum. The desire to protect our skin from the sun should not mean having to wear foundation in order to cover the white and gray film that presents after application."

Katonya Breaux and son, Frank Ocean

6. Rihanna, Fenty Beauty

Rihanna veritably broke the internet last year upon the release of her hotly anticipated line, Fenty beauty, and boy, was it worth it. Fenty became the ball park for inclusivity, with 40 shades of foundation and a highlighter that makes every cheek sparkle (for real). With recent reports gauging that the singer's brand might outsell the famed Kylie Cosmetics, we're very interested to see where things lie at the end of this year. With Sephora struggling to keep the Fenty foundation in stock after its release, it was most recently the line of lipsticks that leaped off the shelves, and a quick dabble into highly-pigmented eyeshadows for the singers' line. While we eagerly await the next Fenty product dump, we pause in appreciation for the brand's directionality, which earned it a whopping $72M in its first month.

Rihanna. Photo courtesy of The Source

7. Kim Etheredge & Wendi Levy, Co-Founders, Mixed Chicks

Mixed Chicks founders Kim Etheredge and Wendi Levy mashed together business backgrounds from both coasts to create a line that aims to enhance waves and curls for multicultural women. Having caught the attention of a few noteworthy celebrities, including Ciara and Halle Berry, the ladies launched to wide acclaim. Levy told Dressing Room 8 "There's not just one beauty image anymore, so we can all find something to identify with these days." To date, the pair have launched a plethora of hair products and have even expanded into makeup, with all products extremely Twitteraffordable and widely praised by the ladies of for their effectiveness and pizazz.

Wendi Levy & Kim Etheredge

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Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.

At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.