People 19 March 2018
It takes a lot of strength to go on national TV, face rejection, and then push forward despite it all. But Melissa Butler — a former Wall Street-er turned beauty entrepreneur — wasn't about to shy away from her business goals just because a few sharks told her no. Since appearing on Shark Tank's sixth season, she took the criticism about her vegan, cruelty-free makeup brand, The Lip Bar, and pushed herself, and the brand, to new heights.
From Wall Street to The Lip Bar
Before we get to the gritty details of Butler's Shark Tank experience, let's first dive into a bit of background. After all, it's not every day someone on Wall Street calls it quits to launch a niche-market makeup brand. Butler says she was completely unfulfilled, unsatisfied — un-everything. Instead of complaining, she decided to change her path. She just didn't know that path would lead to beauty.
“I've never been a makeup enthusiast, but I've always loved lipstick. There's something so feminine and powerful about it — one stroke of color can give you enough confidence to take on the day," she told SWAAY. “So here I am, a lipstick lover, hating my job while simultaneously attempting to be more kind to my body by using products that weren't chemically laden. When it came to hair and skin care, it was easy to find more natural alternatives, but that was not the case with lip colors. The only natural items I could find were boring colors or shades that didn't suit my skin tone."
And there's that identified gap in the market: vegan, cruelty makeup that caters to a broader range of skin tones.
A testament to female entrepreneurs: Melissa Butler
“I started making lipstick in my kitchen for personal use," she says. “After a year of experimenting, The Lip Bar launched in 2012 with the goal to 'Challenge the Beauty Standard' through our vegan, cruelty-free ingredients and our inclusive imagery."
The (Painful) Shark Tank Experience
“After binge watching Shark Tank one Christmas Eve, I decided to apply. My creative director and I sent in a video talking about the product while hoola hooping to show our personality. From the very beginning, our goal was to get aired. Seven million people watch the show, so even without a deal, we knew it could be a great opportunity," Butler says. “Fast forward, we go on the show and they're completely closed off to the business. They were quite cruel." Butler confesses that she considered not watching the episode and not even informing The Lip Bar customers that the brand was about to make its TV debut. Though that instinctual reaction to pretend like it never happened at all was strong, she fought through her fears and sat down in front of the television. “I watched it to see how I could have been better," she says. “Ultimately, I used it as momentum to drive the business. After it aired, we got thousands of orders, emails, you name it. If nothing else, it reinforced the fact that I had an audience."
Turning Rejection into Something Positive
After appearing on Shark Tank, Butler took a step back and thoughtfully pawed through the harsh criticism to find something constructive. “As the saying goes, 'You win some, you learn some," she remarks. “I learned to refine my message. We didn't change the focus; instead we got super laser-like in carving out our niche. It worked. We started telling the story and truly communicating with our customer. This wasn't advice from the sharks, but it reminded us of who our audience is."
The Lip Bar is set to have a pretty pivotal year. The brand has officially launched at Target, their first retail partner, where it can be found in over 140 different stores. They're also launching three new collections and the brand is projected to garner $2 million in revenue.
6 Up-And-Coming Beauty Brands to Watch
Want to shop more innovative, industry-disrupting beauty brands? Check out this list of noteworthy makeup companies.
Naked Truth Beauty: This beauty brand has made “an all-out commitment to socially responsible beauty: Good for our bodies, communities, and environment," they write on the website. They take the guesswork out of responsible beauty consumerism by formulating their products with a small, organic list of ingredients, and by using packaging that's made from recycled, 100% biodegradable material.
Chosungah: K-Beauty brand, Chosungah, is based on the principle that "makeup is a fun process of finding one's strength instead of hiding one's weakness." It was founded by Chosungah, a first-generation professional makeup artist and boasts beautifully packaged, high quality products. Fun fact — Chosungah's Chocho Lipstick was MAC Cosmetics' first collaboration with a Korean makeup artist.
Nudestix: Nudestix was launched by two teen sisters and their mother, who each felt like beauty brands were overcomplicating the makeup process. Their products are all in stick form and come packaged in a sleek tin with a mirror for easy, on-the-go application for women of all races.
Reina Rebelda (“Rebel Queens"): “Reina Rebelde was born out of something I share with you — a passion for makeup and extreme pride for my cultural identity as a Latina," Regina Merson founder of the brand, writes on the website. The collection was inspired by strong, Latina women and strives to be versatile, bold, provocative, and unapologetic.
Beauty Bakerie: The Beauty Bakerie brand lives by the words, “Better not Bitter," and strives “to sweeten the lives of others through engaging our social media followers with positive messaging and through altruistic donations via online platforms." It was founded by Cashmere Nicole, who writes, “I overcame the struggles of teenage parenting, and I overcame breast cancer and loss only to arrive at a place of peace. It is the sweetest peace I've known."
Crop Naturals: Crop Naturals is an Australian-based indie beauty brand that sources organic, sustainable, natural ingredients. “The rapid growth of the natural beauty and personal care industry has led to considerable misunderstanding around the term natural," they write. “Due to misconceptions, mislabeling and some outright deception from brands – the interpretation of what is truly natural has become misguided." Their goal is to change that by being completely transparent about their ingredients and sourcing methods.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.