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.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."