Skip to main content
BoF Logo

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

How to Scale a Black Beauty Brand

Landing a retail partnership is often seen as a major milestone for beauty founders — but it brings a bevy of new challenges, from the logistical complexities to setting a marketing budget. Black entrepreneurs, who typically have far less capital to work with, often face tough choices.
Brands like Mielle, Danessa Myricks and Brown Girl Jane have found success at retail by being strategic with how they scale up.
Brands like Mielle, Danessa Myricks and Brown Girl Jane have found success at retail by being strategic with how they scale up. (BoF Team)

This is part two of a three-part series by The Business of Beauty, which explores how Black founders built, launched and scaled their businesses.

As much as a retailer’s sales floor can be the place brands go to thrive, it can also be a place where brands struggle to survive.

Three years ago, Danessa Myricks, the self-taught makeup artist and brand consultant-turned-beauty entrepreneur, knew her vision for her then-six-year-old inclusive yet fun makeup line was hitting its stride with a wide-range of consumers.

She had already won numerous awards for beauty innovation, including Allure’s Best of Beauty honour in 2020 for the brand’s Colorfix Liquid Metal Cream Color. Social media influencers had been raving about the brand for its deeply pigmented eye shadow palettes and its fun glittery options.


Still, she resisted the temptation to seek out shelf space at a major retailer.

“I was very afraid of going into a large-scale retail environment because I understood what it meant,” Myricks said. “I also understood that the audience in those spaces don’t always mimic the intention behind the things that I was creating.”

Danessa Myricks Beauty's yummy skin blurring balm powder.
Danessa Myricks Beauty's Yummy Skin Blurring Balm Powder. (Courtesy)

When she did land in Sephora in 2021, she had spent the previous year collaborating with the retailer on a partnership that made sense. (Myricks was self-funded at the time; she secured investment from venture capital firm VMG a year later.) This included streamlining her extensive range of 400 product SKUs down to just 83 items, like the Colorfix 24-hour cream and Dew Wet Balm highlighter, ensuring they’d resonate with Sephora’s shoppers. She also invested time in “educating” her core customers about the value of shopping at a major beauty retailer, priming her consumer base to send a clear message (with their wallets) that the brand belonged at Sephora, she said.

“Success for a small brand, especially a Black-owned brand, is in the partner,” Myricks said, of her choice to work with the retailer. “Many [retailers] reached out to partner but you can tell in [those] conversations that it was more box-checking than ‘let’s build something together.’”

While securing a retail partnership is often seen as a major milestone for beauty founders — a sign they’ve “made it” and are poised for growth — Myricks had valid reasons to be circumspect. Partnering with a retailer brings a host of new challenges, from the logistical complexities of launching in hundreds of stores simultaneously to scaling up supply chain infrastructure and carving out a marketing budget.

Black founders encounter some of the most daunting obstacles in propelling their businesses beyond the startup phase and into large-scale retail, especially as they often navigate the journey alone and face limited access to capital. Roughly 96 percent of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships, according to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research group Brookings. Being retail-ready entails having operational support, such as a seamless supply chain process with a reliable manufacturer and fulfilment centre, as well as a team capable of handling marketing, branding and influencer partnerships.

“The biggest challenge is operational support and scaling,” said Roya Shariat, Glossier’s head of impact, who also helps oversee its grant programme focused on emerging BIPOC brands. “Some of our grantees were making products in their home kitchen or in a facility on their own. Moving from that to a manufacturer and then a fulfilment centre — those operational challenges in the early days are crucial.”

Where to Find Support

Both Glossier’s grant programme and Ulta Beauty’s Muse Accelerator offer participants $50,000 in funding, alongside mentorship and educational resources, which can help alleviate some smaller financial obstacles. Sephora’s Accelerate — which provides mentorship and other resources but not funding — counts 54 Thrones, Sienna Naturals and Brown Girl Jane among its past and current cohort members.


Emerging brands should approach major retail partnerships with caution. Launching a beauty brand can cost anywhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and often more than $1 million. Supporting it at retail can double those costs.

Mielle Organics founder Monique Rodriguez said she could have easily fallen victim to a common pitfall for emerging brands when she landed Mielle’s first major retail partnership with Sally Beauty, where the brand simultaneously hit 95 stores. Although she’d believed the brand’s infrastructure could support its distribution in dozens of stores, she hadn’t accounted for the hundreds of thousands she needed to spend on marketing, especially “trade marketing,” or the dollars retailers ask brands to invest to promote their wares.

“Even though we still started small, as we grew in retail and the consumer demand grew, we were spending a lot on marketing and it got very expensive — more than we expected,” she said. “That was a huge challenge for us, because it caused us to go through a period of not being profitable as a company.”

There are other pivots that can come with retail readiness that put pressure on financial and physical resources, too.

Hyper Skin’s Desiree Verdejo said one of her most significant early retail lessons revolved around her product’s packaging design.

Hyper Skin by Desiree Verdejo.
Hyper Skin by Desiree Verdejo. (Courtesy)

“Our initial packaging got a lot of attention from the press, but when we started stocking in Sephora, we realised that it didn’t stand out on shelves,” she said.

This eventually resulted in a complete rebrand after her launching at Sephora in 2022. That the brand was profitable and lean helped her to pivot quickly, she said.

Jessica Phillips, Ulta Beauty’s vice president of merchandising and head of Muse, emerging brands and hair, said the retailer’s programme is one way it’s sharing ownership with BIPOC brands in ensuring their success in stores and online.


“It’s really on both of us,” Phillips said. “Muse was developed out of that understanding over the years that brands think that when they make it to Ulta, the work is done, they’ve made it, and then we’re going to do all the work … And the thing is, it’s always a partnership, it’s always both sides coming together.”

Avoiding or Embracing the ‘Ethnic’ Label

Most brands, especially at retail, will inevitably face a crucial decision: whether or not to identify as “Black.” To grow, scale and garner critical investment, Black beauty brands (and most brands) often need to demonstrate “broad appeal,” or that they can sell their wares to customers outside of a small or singular demographic, said Alisa Carmichael, a partner at VMG Partners, an investment firm.

Success for Black-owned brands, particularly in the early stages, often depends on their ability to cultivate and sustain connections and community among multicultural consumers. This bond is strengthened when Black entrepreneurs effectively address the complex beauty issues faced by this demographic. Specifically in hair care, labels like “ethnic” or “multicultural” can help consumers quickly identify products formulated specifically for them.

When Black founders seek growth outside of this core demographic — whether through an acquisition or a shift in marketing — they’ve historically risked alienating customers and in some cases (Shea Moisture and Carol’s Daughter can tell the tale) a ferocious social media blowback.

But, there are increasingly more ways to thread the needle. Over the last seven years, a slew of Black brands — from Rihanna’s Fenty to fragrance label Brown Girl Jane — have found success in creating a brand that “puts the Black woman at the centre but includes everyone,” said Phillips.

Carnivale is the latest fragrance to be released by Brown Girl Jane.
Carnivale is the latest fragrance to be released by Brown Girl Jane. (Courtesy)

When it comes to their popular fragrance line, Brown Girl Jane’s founders, Malaika Jones, Tai Beauchamp, and Nia Jones, embrace an “unapologetically Black” ethos. The brand’s latest collection, dubbed Carnivale, is inspired by the annual festival in the Caribbean country Trinidad and Tobago. But even as they’ve rooted the brand is Black storytelling, they also aim for broad appeal. So far it seems to be working: nearly half of Brown Girl Jane’s customers are not people of colour, they’ve said.

“We stand proudly in our identity as Black women,” Beauchamp said. “We also know that we live in a global world … So our perspective is to tell those stories and elevate those stories from our lens but to reach the masses.”

Further Reading
About the author
Sheena Butler-Young
Sheena Butler-Young

Sheena Butler-Young is Senior Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and covers workplace, talent and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

More from Beauty
Analysis and advice on the fast-evolving beauty business.

How to Raise Money as a Black Beauty Brand

Black founders carry a markedly higher burden when it comes to educating investors on the value and viability of their business ideas — but there is an art and science behind knowing when your brand is ready and what kind of investors will be the best fit.

How to Launch a Black Beauty Brand

In a three-part series, The Business of Beauty explores how Black founders Monique Rodriguez, Danessa Myricks and more built, launched and scaled their multi-million-dollar businesses. In part one, a look at how these entrepreneurs found their niche and harnessed early lessons that were critical to their growth

How Should We Feel About Tweens at Sephora?

There’s something both innocent and concerning about 13-year-olds’ obsession with skincare. Kids will always want to find new ways to express themselves, but the beauty industry has a responsibility to protect its youngest customers.

view more

Subscribe to the BoF Daily Digest

The essential daily round-up of fashion news, analysis, and breaking news alerts.

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
The Business of Beauty Global Awards - Deadline 30 April 2024
© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Cookie Policy and Accessibility Statement.
The Business of Beauty Global Awards - Deadline 30 April 2024