When you survey the biggest names in the cosmetics industry, you're likely to find that men hold the reigns over the majority.
Ironic as it is, it has always been this way, and while female CEOs have begun taking over, there are still very few major female-owned players in the cosmetics game. However, an emerging sea of female entrepreneurs are taking this male-dominated industry to task. One such woman - "The Lip Expert" Sara Happ.
Happ went straight from journalism school and into ESPN before she realized that her penchant for beauty - cosmetics, products was more worthy of her time. She was at home one evening searching for a product for her dry lips, and Google, back in 2004, was coming up empty. "I got chills," says Happ, when it dawned on her that this was a major gap in the market. She wanted something to cleanse her lips - like a body scrub would do for your body, but for your lips. She took to her kitchen and began mixing essential oils, salts and anything she could find that might result in the combo she was looking for.
"There are lip problems that need to be solved and we can do that. We just need to focus."
Needless to say, it took a while until Happ finally got that perfect mixture. But when she did, she developed a clear game plan. "I took it to a few boutiques back in LA - not like Fred Segal but like small boutiques where the owner is the buyer - and I met with them over two days and was just like 'will you try this?'" Happ remembers, continuing - "and they all bought it! What was made in my kitchen." The disbelief in her immediate success didn't last terribly long of course, as with every new entrepreneur, the next project is perpetually down the line.
Happ's next undertaking would be packaging. As she rightly remarks, "no one is going to buy it if they don't think the packaging is really cute because no one knows what this is - it's not a thing." Lip scrubs were a veritable non-entity circa 2004. Happ's empty googling had proved this - and thus pitching to boutiques and spas was extremely difficult. Nobody had heard of the concept before - and people don't buy what they don't know, so she sourced boxes from Italy, and hand-wrapped the products herself.
Only, people do buy what they don't know, when celebrities advocate for it. It was Christmas 2005 and one Ms. Reese Witherspoon walked into a store that was stocking Happ's then rarefied product, and bought the store's entire stock. Of course, given her profile, the media was quick to pick the story up, and Happ was included in a spread in People, the next month.
It was after her appearance in People that Happ made her lip products her full-time job. Looking to produce on a bigger scale, she approached a lot of different chemists who each in turn told her the product wouldn't work, until finally she met one in New Jersey up to the task. "I made a deal with the guy and said 'if you don't believe me take this home to your wife. If her girlfriends don't love it don't call me back,' and he took it home and calls me, he said 'my wife and her 12 girlfriends love it I guess I have to make it.'" Therein, Happ began mass-producing her Sara Happ Lip Scrub.
"Get a job. Don't go work for yourself. You have to learn from other people. If you work for yourself at 25 you're not learning or growing."
"People say two things all the time; 'my lips are dry' and they are, because it's the only part of your body that doesn't have sweat glands; and also people say 'I'm addicted to my lip balm' - yes you are," says Happ. Her knowledge of female dependency on these beauty essentials become a key part of her success. And since beginning the venture, she has been profitable every single year because of this knowledge. "The first thing I ever bought with my own money - with my allowance was a strawberry lip smacker. And I was addicted," she laughs. Happ spent the next two years working closely with her chemist to get the scrub chemically seamless. "I wanted it to be perfect," says Happ, "and I knew with the lip scrub we got to fill a hole in the market and it was going to sell because we didn't have competition." Happ was right indeed, and the bigger brands were quick to jump on the lip scrub train after her, but she was, and forever will be, the first.
While she was building the product and the brand, she was building an advisory board of powerhouse women, one such woman, a familiar face in haircare - Alli Webb, founder of Drybar. Happ places special importance on the women she chose to help her build the brand and on whose shoulders she leaned on when business became difficult.
"I just think women who work for and support each other their relationships are just so strong and you don't get that by being unkind or unsupportive. Success is not instant."
And what were they supporting? Her ultimate goal, to build a lip care brand focused solely on making your lips the very best they could be. "It's just really thoughtful chemistry, it's not rocket science - taking out the bad stuff, putting in the good stuff," and off the shelves it went.
Even though the product launched during one of the most difficult economic years history has seen, sales soared. Happ believes it's because of the lipstick index - "in times of economic downturn lipstick sales soar because you can't afford the Chanel bag, but you can go to the Chanel counter and get a red lipstick. It's a little quick luxury, so lip products sales tend to soar in times of economic distress. So in 2008, 2009 and 2010 we just blasted."
Sara Happ lip scrub
But for Happ, it's not about sales or profit, in fact, what she does was never driven by a desire for wealth or fame, it was driven by a desire to solve a problem. Lips presented a problem and she deigned to solve it. Only naturally, after the scrub there were more lip issues to tackle, and Happ looked to solve the next: rejuvenation.
Every woman, no matter what age, has looked at herself in the mirror and sighed at a tired or worn face. The solution for most? A face mask and sleep. But what does one do when her lips are tired and forlorn, or looking a little beat up?
Sure, the scrub takes care of cleansing and old skin particles, but what if there was a way to deeply moisturize and smoothen the lips? Happ looked to create a product that would genuinely make your lips soft and supple. She looked to create a lip mask, and again created a first-of-its-kind product, that was an instant hit with the critics.
And now, she's created a lip plumper that won't burn your lips as soon as it's lathered on, and we're really thankful. Ever since the rise of the lip plumpers, we've endured a few painful evenings of tingly puckers and skewed smiling. Happ's new plumping gloss goes on without the sensation of a regular plumper because she detested the way they had felt and knew there was an antidote. Finding this, Happ has released Plump and Prime and we dare you not to see the instant results.
From her kitchen in 2006, Sara Happ is now sold throughout the U.S in over 500 stores ranging from Nordstrom to Anthropologie, and in spas across the country - a testament to home-made products and the perseverance of a woman with a conundrum to solve.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.