It was over two glasses of Pinot Noir at KJ Miller's apartment in Harlem, New York, that her and Amanda Johnson discussed how they could not find a good nude lipstick. At that very moment, the two friends from college decided to make a change. They created their beauty brand by literally making lipsticks in their kitchen and thus, Mented Cosmetics was
Of course inclusivity is always at the forefront of our minds, but several beauty brands ignore demographics that are not, well, white. Sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands and that's what Miller and Johnson did on that fated night. We had to know more since we are constantly looking for more ways to #buyblack, so we spoke to the duo about their company, goals and the future of Black beauty.
BET: Where did the inspiration to start Mented Cosmetics come from?
KJ: Amanda and I graduated from Harvard Business School and we knew we wanted to work together in some capacity. We both were incredibly interested in consumer products and also retail. We had a lot of work experience in those areas so we knew we wanted to do something, we just weren’t sure what. After we graduated we both went to work on our full-time jobs but we would meet periodically to discuss the central ideas. One night we were at my apartment, drinking some Pinot and chit chatting about business ideas and Amanda said to me,"you know I’ve been looking for the perfect nude lipstick for like three years," and I was struck by that because I was in the exact same position. I was like, wow, me too! I can’t find a nude lipstick, or really frankly any lipstick that I love, which is why I never wear it. And we just thought that was absurd, that two professional women with plenty of disposable income who are beauty enthusiasts, and want to spend their money on makeup, were time and time again disappointed by the experience. And so we decided that we wanted to jump in and try to solve the problem on our own.
BET: Right now, the offerings only include lipstick and nail polishes. Do you guys plan to add more products to the line?
KJ: We definitely plan to expand the line and we’ve got a lot of things actually in the works right now, so we call 2017 the year of lips. We will introduce lip-gloss this fall and actually we’ve already finalized the shades and we’ve already been testing them on people and we’ve gotten such great reception on those, so we’re excited to be releasing those in about a month and a half or so. Next year is when we’ll start getting into eyes and cheeks, so eye shadow palettes, blush palettes, highlighter, and then really either late 2018 or early 2019 is when we see ourselves getting into face products, so your foundation, your concealer, and your powder. We’re always getting emails from customers asking for foundation specifically, I think because you know a lot of women of color have to resort to mixing different shades. Finding something that fits your undertone correctly is really difficult, so we know that’s a big opportunity area, and it’s one we want to get right, which is why we sort of have it slated for later on, we really want to take the time and do it right.
BET: Who were some of your first customers?
KJ: Our family and friends really were more our first guinea pigs than our first customers because, as we were developing our line, we would invite people over and say, "What do you think of this shade, what do you think of this shade?" They really were very graciously willing to be our guinea pigs. In terms of our first customers, it really was our Instagram followers. And I’ll let Amanda speak more to that because she heads marketing and really was responsible for us even having an Instagram following to launch to.
AM: KJ is so nice. Well, we started our Instagram in 2016 when we were still hand making the product in our apartments. We started sending it to makeup artists and influencers on Instagram just to get the word out about what Mented was, what we were doing and to get their feedback on the colors we were creating. And it really just started an organic following and people were cramming for the product. They were very interested, and we launched pre-orders in January 2017. We already had a list of people who wanted to buy it and they were so excited so, between the content we give them, the content posting on platforms, and the great customer service that KJ provides literally 24/7 every single day, people have just been excited about the Mented experience.
BET: Can you elaborate more on what it was like to hand-make the lipsticks?
KJ: Yeah definitely. I mean, you’d be surprised what you can learn from YouTube and Google, and the truth of the matter is when we first decided we wanted to create new lipsticks, we tried going to cosmetic manufacturers. We tried saying, look we want to develop new lipsticks; we want them to be for women of color, for women with brown skin tones and brown in their lips. We think this should be possible, but we’re not seeing it anywhere. They just didn’t get it. We said, you know what lets do this on our own. We Googled, we researched, we YouTubed and we taught ourselves how to make lipstick with the aid of the internet and we ordered all of the ingredients. The oils, the wax, the micas, colors, the dyes, and we just set to work in our apartments, every Saturday and Sunday we would be in Amanda’s kitchen cooking up lipstick. We thought it would be so difficult. But, what we realized was it’s not really difficult if you actually start with the model that you have in mind. If you start with a brown girl and make a lipstick for a brown girl, it’s not that hard. What is hard is taking a lipstick that was meant for a white girl and attempting to make it into a lipstick for a brown girl, that is difficult. But, that’s not what we did.
BET: Ultimately, where do you guys see the future of Mented?
AM: I think from the very beginning we said, "Why isn’t there a beauty company out there serving the everyday classic needs for women of color?" So, very much from the very beginning, KJ and I said every woman deserves to find herself in the world of beauty. And what that means for us is we see Mented becoming a huge global brand one day, providing amazing cosmetics for women of color. So, our goal every quarter, every year, every new product, every new customer, is to get them to see that vision and embed that in everything we do, so we really get to that next level.
BET: What's your advice to future entrepreneurs?
KJ: The one thing I would add is Amanda and I both knew we wanted to launch a start up, but it took us a while to get here. You always hear the stories of the 18-year-old Mark Zuckerbergs who quit college and started whatever in their garage, and that’s well and great. But I’m happy it took us as much time as it did to get to a place to launch a business because I think we’ve been able to launch it smarter and we’re both very passionate about it. We get asked by women of color all the time, “What’s your advice if I want to start a business? What should I do?” Find someone you trust and you really respect to launch it with and then go for it. It might be the right time or it might not be right time it’s really hard to know until you jump in. For us, the right time was 28, 29. For someone else it might be 18, for someone else it might be 45. I think because it felt right we jumped in and that’s usually our advice to potential entrepreneurs. The worst that could happen is it doesn’t work and move on to something else.
BET: How many years did it take you guys to get Mented up and running?
KJ: Well, we started talking about Mented initially in the fall of 2015 and we launched January 2017, so a little over a year. We wanted to get to a place to where we were ready to go.
(Photo: Mented Cosmetics)