• Sianna M. Simmons

The Beauty Behind the Brand Week 2: The Brown Beauty Co-Op

Welcome to Week 2 of The Beauty Behind the Brand! This series is dedicated to celebrating black female-owned beauties and the stories behind their brands. Now, more than ever, we need to amplify the stories of black women, dismantle the divisive stereotypes of our sistahs, build each other up and allow ourselves to indulge in the beauty of our own skin.

I’ve had the honor of getting to know the brains behind 6 different black-owned, vegan-friendly beauty brands who are not only changing the beauty game but creating it. We’ve talked everything from venture capital funding as a woman of color and advice for other entrepreneurs, to the experiences that gave them the 20/20 vision they needed to glow up.

As part of The Beauty Behind the Brand series, I’m delivering their stories, a few product reviews, as well as discount codes and giveaways to some of their favorite products. That’s right, you can learn about incredible black women AND get VIP access to clean, non-toxic beauty products that were specifically designed for every shade of black and brown skin. Instructions for your chances to win at the end of each post! If you missed Week 1 of the series, check it out HERE.

Despite making up more than 40% of women-owned businesses, black and brown female entrepreneurs receive fractions of funding investment compared to white counterparts. Combine this with the high burden of proof required to legitimize minority owned-business, the short-lane of forgiveness within our own culture, the stereotypes that pit black women against each other, and you’re left with a perpetuated trope of a fractured a sistahood.

This week in The Beauty Behind the Brand, we are honoring two women in DC who are actively changing the scarcity and fear-based narrative particularly among black and brown female entrepreneurs, to one rooted in collaboration, nurtured through friendship and revealed in celebration.

Kimberly Smith and Amaya Smith founded Brown Beauty Co-Op but weren’t always in business together. Kimberly is the owner Marjani, the premier indie beauty retailer for “brown girl approved” skincare and cosmetics. Amaya, the owner of Product Junkie, a natural hair start-up that aims to offer naturalista DIY-ers an in-store haven.

Left to right: Kimberly Smith and Amaya Smith

Both women had successfully established themselves and their businesses but soon realized they could do more together. A collaborative beauty boutique eventually became a no-brainer and in December 2018, Marjani and Product Junkie came under one roof to form Brown Beauty Co-Op.

The store opened its doors to the District of Columbia and quickly became known as the one-stop-shop for services, products, and events specifically curated for all black and brown beauty needs. But, Kimberly and Amaya had a vision three times that.

Brown Beauty Co-Op Store located in Washington, DC

I got to meet Kimberly and Amaya, the minds behind this beautiful collaboration, through a virtual video call. We talked about challenging mainstream beauty standards, the burden of proof for black-owned businesses, and how they are creatively adapting to meet their clients virtually.

S: I’ve talked to other black female entrepreneurs who have shared their challenges as minority business owners in establishing brand or product value. Is that something you all identify with?

K: The cosmetics in our store are all black and brown owned. You definitely come across people who buy these products because they want to “support” and not because they want your products to be a part of their go-to beauty arsenal. Small batch products are almost always compared to something you’re more familiar with and can find in store. It’s hard to build customer trust off of a brand you haven’t heard before. Even though the homemade product is often better, you’re always being compared to the Sephoras or ULTAs.

A: White mainstream beauty standards are a big hurdle. We rely on community conversations, mothers, sisters, friends for everything else, brand loyalty can be established this way too.

S: How do things like the #dontrushchallenge contribute to the beauty industry?

K: I think it does counter the belief that women can’t get along and are catty or can’t support each other. In reality, you can benefit from leveraging friendships and relationships in general so two minds are working together. Our collaboration is changing this narrative from fear-based to resource-based.

S: At the We Work of color event you talked about the burden of proof black entrepreneurs face to prove their expertise as compared to those part of the dominant culture. Can you say more about this?

K: There are big misconceptions and associations tied to luxury items and excellent customer service. Typically, luxury isn’t attributed to black-owned businesses, and even black clients have such a short lane of forgiveness when it comes to customer service.

We are more than a black-owned business. We want to dispel all of those myths about quality and customer service to the point that “luxury” is automatically associated with our brand. We specifically got a location in DC that isn’t expected of us. More than that, our clients deserve a high-end space that’s also catered to them. There is incredible value in a 360 experience and ambiance that looks, feels, and sounds like you.

S: While the effects of this pandemic are hard for us to manage as individuals, it’s especially hard for businesses and their owners. What is top-of-mind for you all during this time?

K: Starting a business you think about worst-case scenarios but you don’t consider pandemics. Most times, you don’t know when and in what form an opportunity will present itself, but you’ve got to be ready to pivot away from some things in order to focus in areas you weren’t before. For me, I hadn’t been concentrating on the online component of the business, but our new situation has caused me to take a step back and think of ways that I can still connect. I’m focusing on problem-solving each day at a time.

A: Certainly feeling stressed, but I’m focusing on things we can fix. I have a full-time job, Monday through Friday, and then switch to our business in the evenings and weekends. Working two jobs and coming home or going into the community with friends, provided exciting interludes throughout the day, but we don’t have that anymore.

S: How have the requirements for physical distancing changed the way you run your business right now?

A: Most of our key engagement concepts have translated well into a virtual experience. We are still open online, still shipping. We’re doing virtual consultations which actually gives us more time with our clients without distraction. We host and attend happy hour events to do virtual parties. Sometimes people just want to talk, so it’s important for us to create the same vibe where we can let our hair down and have that girl talk. Highlighting other small businesses to cross-share audiences is a big part of our mission and we can still do that now. We use our platform to highlight other small and upcoming brands.

Even though the Brown Beauty Co-Op storefront is closed due to COVID-19, they aren’t getting allowances through their landlords during this time. Consider supporting through the Brown Beauty Co-Op gofundme as your donations are critical in helping Kimberly, Amaya, and the other black women-owned businesses and vending partners of the Co-Op.

In partnership with OMNoire, these brown beauties are offering 20% off with code OMNOIRE! The Co-Op is also open for curbside product pickup Friday - Sunday from 3pm - 6pm, hosting virtual consultations, happy hour events, and glam parties for your friends.

What are you waiting for? Glow up!

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