MADE by Ashley White
Long gone are the days of settling for a nude lipstick that does not compliment our complexion. The founders of Mented Cosmetics, KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson, had the same problem and after three years of looking for the perfect nude shade, they decided to create their own line of cosmetics for women of color. Mented Cosmetics (short for ‘pigmented’) has created its own lane in the beauty industry as a luxury beauty brand that celebrates and prioritizes women of all hues and different ethnicities. MADE caught up with the leading ladies of Mented to learn how they’re making a difference in beauty and business….
Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller met at Harvard Business School and quickly hit it off. In addition to becoming friends, knew that one day they would start a business together.
“We used to meet while we were working our full-time jobs on the weekends and in the evenings and think through, ‘What are our biggest problem areas? or ‘What are the things we constantly try to hack or solve?’ Beauty quickly came to the forefront when Amanda mentioned that she had been looking for the perfect nude lipstick for something like three years,” explained Miller.
Miller was also having a hard time locating the perfect nude lipstick and a light bulb went off in her head. Then the duo got to work.
“We wanted to tackle this problem head on and we wanted to do it in a way that was truly authentic. We actually got started by handcrafting all of our lipstick shades in our kitchen with our ingredients, our colors, our wax, our oils, our molds and really taught ourselves how to do it because we felt strongly no one else was doing it right, and we didn’t want to go to manufacturers and purchase shades that we knew wouldn’t work. We really wanted to do it in an authentic way, and it was about solving not just our problem but solving a bigger problem in beauty that we saw which was that women of color truly weren’t being celebrated or prioritized,” says Miller.
It wasn’t long before they realized they were on to something big.
“One of the first influencers that we sent [our samples] to was King Mali Magic. She’s a huge Instagram influencer and out of the blue without prompting or telling us, she tried the product, loved it and made a whole video,” says Johnson. “Our Instagram account just exploded in one day. She’s in this video talking about how much she loved the colors, the creaminess and she’s trying it on this model. Then we saw all the followers just rolling in and people commenting and saying, ‘What is Mented?’ and ‘How can I get my hand on this shade?’—that was one of the early moments that we knew we had something.”
In a crowed market, Mented stands out for a number of reasons, and Johnson attributes that to the brand’s authenticity.
“We are the consumer as well as the owner and we have this very authentic approach to beauty, the company we want to build and the space we want to create for inclusion within beauty. I think that’s something that the big box beauty brands can’t replicate,” says Johnson.
Product development also plays a huge role in setting Mented Cosmetics apart from other products in the marketplace.
“We say all of our products are about solving problems. We would never create something that we wouldn’t wear ourselves. Being the consumer as well as the owner really helps us in thinking about solving real problems and putting the consumer first as we create our product. None of our products will ever be ashy and none of our products would not show up. These basic things that women of color need for beauty, we’ll always be able to address and do it in a different and better way.”
After the release of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, we saw more cosmetic companies highlighting diversity among their products, but Miller notes that it’s something that’s often short-lived.
“I think that cosmetic companies tend to go through this cycle where one year diversity is this hot trend and everyone’s pursuing it and then the next year they stop caring and they moved on to the next trend,” says Miller. “We’re used to companies saying, ‘Hey, look, we’re releasing these new shades and now we have these deeper hues,’ and then six months later we go to the store and find out they’re out of stock because they are recalling a lot of them or discontinuing them. That’s sort of what we’ve seen in the past.”
“I will say Rihanna is helping to shed a brighter light and frankly, I think we are too, on the idea that diversity is not a trend. There’s beauty in diversity and we’re just as deserving of a brand’s attention as anyone other skin tone and so I think we’re hopeful that more brands start to recognize the importance of celebrating women of color. It’s a good thing for us if more brands recognize the importance of reaching out to and celebrating women of color because that just means more options for our consumer. It means she gets to be happier and it means her dollar gets to go further and that excites us,” says Miller.
Mented currently consists of vegan, non-toxic lipstick, lip gloss and nail polish and the founders have plans to expand the line in the near future.
“From a product development standpoint, we’ve always said Mented Cosmetics is a full-fledged beauty brand and a global beauty brand with products in every category,” explains Miller. “That’s really what we’ve always driven to. So, we are eagerly and rapidly working on additional products and our product development roadmap is truly informed by our customers.”
In addition to making great strides in the beauty industry, the co-founders are serving as #BusinessGoals as well. According to Forbes.com, Miller and Johnson are the 15th and 16th African American women to ever raise $1M in venture capital. This is no easy feature as black women only receive 0.2% of venture capital funding, despite being the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.
When asked what advice they had on starting a beauty business, here’s what they had to say:
“I think the number one question is really around passion for the idea,” says Miller. “Prior to Mented, I attempted to launch a number of startups and never really followed through fully with any of them. Never quit my full-time job for any of them and at the end of the day, the passion just wasn’t not there. It’s got to be something you wake up thinking about, you go to bed thinking about it. You’re always texting your partner saying, ‘Hey, what about this? Or we could do it like this.’ There’s just this passion and excitement that you really can’t clamp down. I think if you’re in that boat, then you’re probably in a good place to really move forward with something. I think if you have an idea, but it doesn’t excite you all that much, then you really want to rethink it.”
“I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur before Mented. Finding the right partner and the right idea gave me the confidence to go after this, but I just encourage women to explore entrepreneurship as a career,” says Johnson. “I think it can be intimidating and you can think it’s something for only rich people or white people or males, but I think we as a community need to start normalizing it even more and going after it and taking the risk. Sometimes it will not work out, but it’s worth the journey and it’s worth the effort.”
Keep up with the cool things happening at Mented Cosmetics by following them @mentedcosmetics.