Talk to an entrepreneur of any age, ethnicity, financial background or gender, and they’ll likely be able to name more than a few moments that changed the trajectory of their life, both personally and professionally. From deals that went sour before they had time to get off the ground to a disheartening divorce that made getting out of bed for a 9 a.m. board meeting that much more difficult, those who are often the most successful are the same ones who learn how to battle the toughest of demons.
Meryl Marshall, founder of Hynt beauty, has had her fair share of trials, including two major events – she is both a breast cancer survivor and a 9/11 widow. These irrevocably life-changing experiences have made her stronger, and the battles she’s fought her way through are what inspired her to create her own line of clean, green cosmetics that is growing at a rapid speed.
Based in New Jersey, Marshall has a cult following on Instagram, which she uses to showcase the line of clean, luxe ingredients. This innovative businesswoman, however, has her own story to tell that extends far beyond what’s kept in the bathrooms of women across the country. She also harbors a courageous drive that propels her forward, no matter which obstacles she encounters.
Prepare yourself, because you’re about to be astoundingly inspired by this gutsy entrepreneur:
You are such a survivor. How did you stay strong after 9/11 and the cancer diagnosis and subsequent battle?
When asked to reflect on myself, I think of how resilient I am. I have had to endure the tragic loss of my beloved husband Robert on September 11, 2001. It was indeed a very dark period of my life. I was widowed at the age of 42 with an 11-year-old son. I had to deal with the loss of my husband as well as the aftermath of a major world event. I was barraged with people constantly coming to my home to console me and reporters calling. I was interviewed by many, including Katie Couric and The New York Times, where my story made the front page.
I was blessed to meet my husband Craig – a widower with two young sons. We fell deeply in love and vowed to take care of each other and our sons. We married in May of 2004 and six months later, I found a lump in my breast. I was shocked when the test results came back and it was indeed malignant. Though we caught it early, it was a fast-growing type of cancer that required aggressive treatment. I endured surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Needless to say, that left me with three frightened kids at home who had already lost one parent.
Craig took such loving care of all of us, and that was when I realized that despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges in life, I had one great guy and three amazing kids in my corner. And so, I was lucky twice.
Were these turning points the catalyst to starting HYNT?
Yes. I was devastated when I received my diagnosis and thus began my journey of questioning numerous things, such as the food I ate, cleaning products I used, lawn and garden products I owned, as well as the products I spread on my body. I did extensive research and realized that many of the products I was using were potentially harmful to myself and my family.
I started making small changes and eventually transitioned to a healthier lifestyle, which included scrutinizing products on the market. I did find healthier makeup, but it was extremely difficult to find the textures and colors I was accustomed to in elegant, luxurious packaging. Clinical white and wood may connote green beauty, but they were not appealing to me.
I wanted to create a brand that expressed the message of trust and love – a brand that can be relied on for pro-makeup-artist level quality, in gorgeous, sexy packaging, that adhered to a strict blacklist of ingredients that were unacceptable in the formulations.
HYNT Beauty Products Courtesy of HYNT
My husband Craig and I infuse our passion into our business and truly love the interaction we have with our customers. We also enjoy working with our dynamic, creative team that keeps Hynt humming soundly. We are also philanthropic by giving back to various organizations that support those going through cancer treatment, a cause that is close to our hearts.
What was the hardest part of starting your own company?
The hardest part of starting a company is the amount of time and dedication required. My husband and I can work very long days and often for hours during the weekend. We still have a relatively small staff to delegate work to so it is often confusing whether we are working on our business or working in our business. We know the difference and we are always fine tuning the process. Craig and I mutually respect one another and play different roles in our business. We work well together and we support one another in problem solving.
Another challenge is the high MOQ’s (minimum order quantities) that we must purchase, especially in packaging. The packaging sits waiting to be filled with product so that it can be sold but when you are first launching a company, you can’t fill and sell 20,000 of a particular eye shadow shade overnight. And thus, a lot of money ends up sitting on shelves.
We aim to run our business frugally, but one needs to be wise on knowing where to spend the budget when there is a decent ROI (return on investment). The priority of these expenditures is changing all the time while there are changes in the way people purchase product.
Even though the business and its mission to share healthier cosmetic options are my passion, I must stay motivated and keep stress to a minimum.
What do you wish someone had told you before you became an entrepreneur?
I wish I was told how much money it takes up front to do things right. For example, money is required to build a better website, a stronger SEO, for consulting, and hiring and maintaining the top team members. They are costly, but the results are unquestionable. And with time or additional investment, they bring back far bigger returns.
This is a very exciting time for Hynt Beauty. We are encountering slow but very steady growth. The green beauty industry is here to stay and we receive calls and emails all the time hearing how someone tossed all their conventional products and are starting anew with clean products they feel confident in using. HyntBeauty.com is a thriving e-commerce site that has accumulated over 13,000 subscribers since its launch one and a half years ago.
We are cautious as to who we sell to and how. We learned that there are many challenges selling in brick and mortar locations.
We are still trying to get the line into certain markets. We have amazing partners with other clean beauty e-commerce sites. We have all learned that an expanded sampling program is crucial for the customer to ‘try before you buy’ which transfers to a high percentage of return to site for a full-sized purchase.
We are currently completing our EU Certification. We have several International distributors lined up. We are already selling very well in the Nordic countries.
We are continually trying to improve our packaging sources. I am working hard to secure U.S. manufacturers that can make the same cosmetic packaging that we currently purchase overseas. It is generally more costly but if it makes sense, we try to negotiate for sharp pricing.
Most of our packaging is recyclable, like the proper safe plastics and glass. Eventually a refill program for certain products will be incorporated into the line. We minimize the amount of printing we do in the office and use biodegradable paper when we do print. We even use biodegradable green-line plastic bags for our sample program. We are constantly looking to improve Hynt Beauty and remain dedicated to honesty so that it can continue to be trusted and loved.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.