At 10 years old, Mallory Butts knew she wanted to attend Spelman College.
An eager Mallory and her sister scurried alongside their mother, an alum of the college who’d brought her young daughters for a visit, toward the Sisters Chapel—the historic spirituality ministry perched on the center of Spelman’s campus—where they sat in on a set of twins giving a powerful speech on the magic of being Spelman women.
“I wish I could remember their names,” Butts tells Glamour, “but I remember them giving a very powerful speech about the way Spelman really influenced who they were postgrad and the different ways that they were successful in their careers and out trying to change the world.”
That day Mallory witnessed firsthand the camaraderie shared between Black women when they chose to become Spelmanites. As she exited the chapel, she watched her mother lovingly shout, “Hey, sister,” toward complete strangers as they walked across the campus. And while each woman her mother spoke to might not have been a personal friend, they shared a common connection through their historically Black college. This was an epiphanic memory for Butts, one that solidified her desire to one day attend the school.
“Looking at my mom and her Spelman friend group specifically, all of them are always striving toward their goals,” Butts says. “They are always the first person to jump into a leadership role, first person to help someone, and I thought, Well, if this is what Spelman represents, then I want to be a part of that. I want to be at an institution that's going to cater to me.”
The 19-year-old is now a chemical engineering major at Spelman College, an all-women's school for higher education.
“I was heavily influenced by the late Virgil Abloh,” Butts says of her major. “I’ve always been super into art growing up; making lipstick out of crayons was my first sort of cosmetic venture. Being into fashion design and watching him at Louis Vuitton [was impactful].” Butts says Abloh’s 3% philosophy—which is basically that everything in the world that could ever be created is probably already created, so instead of trying to make something new, tweak something that already exists and advance it by 3%—particularly spoke to her. “That’s something I really thought about as far as my cosmetics goals, as far as not trying to create something that no one has ever seen before,” she says.
A sophomore at Spelman, Butts is a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society and the American Chemical Society. She is a recipient of the Jimmy Rane Foundation Scholarship, the Bill Maness Good Samaritan Scholarship, the 2021 Southeast Chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists Scholarship, among other honors. (If we continued to list any more of Butts’s accolades, we’d truly be here all day.) As a community leader, Butts has started several organizations and initiatives focused on helping the greater Atlanta area. And when she’s not busy taking over the world, she actually finds time for the simple joys in life, like her passion for sewing.
Since she’s one of Glamour’s 2022 College Women of the Year, we asked Butts to fill us in on how she plans to launch her own cosmetic beauty line, on finding balances between the chaos of it all, and on what it means to continue her HBCU legacy.
Glamour: You’re majoring in chemistry. What led you to choose that as a major, and what are your goals once you’ve obtained that degree?
Mallory Butts: In middle school I started getting acne on my face, and immediately my mom took me to my dermatologist, who was a Spelman grad as well. At the time I was 12 or 13, and I learned that a lot of the products on the market are not made for young melanated sensitive skin, so she didn't feel very comfortable prescribing a whole lot of different treatments. I ended up doing DIY products. And this was during the rise of YouTube. So I was doing a lot of DIY searches: how to make face masks for acne, how to clear hyperpigmentation, things like that. And so, over the summer, I would spend days on end just mixing different natural regimens, like honey and oatmeal, or rose oil, and things like that, to try to come up with different solutions. My mom was like, “You realize you could do this as a career and also help a lot of other people.” So I went to high school trying to figure out how to make this what I do for the rest of my life.
I’m now majoring in chemistry and chemical engineering on the path to become a cosmetic chemical engineer, to make skin care specifically for people of color to try to decrease that disparity gap in the cosmetic industry, and also mitigate some of the health issues that are associated with certain cosmetic products. What I realized in high school was that a lot of products that are catered toward people of color tend to have more toxins in them. I think that could be a result of the lack of people that look like me in the industry behind the scenes, being a part of the formulating process. So I’m hoping to be able to eliminate some of those issues.
How do you find time to manage all of your interests while in college?
I definitely would say, being in school, I'm busy all the time. I want to make sure that in addition to studying, being active on campus, and being involved in different service opportunities, that I’m making the time where I can just to create. It has been a little bit more challenging, but I knew after my freshman year, I wanted to make sure I spent my summer doing that, because I didn't get to spend a lot of my fall and spring freshman semesters doing that. I ended up applying to an internship with Estée Lauder, which was 12 weeks in New York and Long Island specifically at one of their labs in the research and development department. Every day I was in the lab hands-on, working through different problems finding solutions, which was extremely eye-opening and such a learning experience for me. It was very humbling, and I’m very grateful for that. It is more challenging in college, but I think knowing what I want to do, it's worth finding time for it in the midst of my studies, in the midst of my extracurriculars. So I’ve come back with a lot more knowledge that has really helped me to navigate where I want to go next as far as my sort of DIY, hands-on stuff.
What are the products you can’t live without?
I really love Neutrogena, especially their Hydro Boost moisturizer. It has been phenomenal for me and many others that I’ve spoken to. I’ve started to pay attention a lot more now to ingredients in products, so realizing that hyaluronic acid is really good for melanated skin in particular. I like their face washes as well. They’re really gentle, which I love, because that matters for melanated skin.
I want to ask about the long list of achievements you’ve had in the past few years. You’ve really done so much. Is there a specific achievement or honor that is the most special to you?
When I graduated high school, I was awarded a Heart of Service Award, which really meant a lot to me. [This award is given out annually to a promising senior student at the Greater Atlanta Christian School.] My junior year I had thoughts of establishing a culture club and fully launched it during my senior year. It was a club focused on trying to bring a sense of awareness, respect, humility, and gratitude for all the different cultures that existed at my high school. That really meant a lot to me because I started actually thinking about it during my first semester of junior year, which was right before COVID hit. And then during the second semester, all of us were at home, so I put it on pause for a minute. Then, over the summer, there were protests that happened after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the other lives lost, so when I came back to school that fall for senior year, I established the club. I was trying to make sure everyone felt reflected and understood. It was as a result of that organization that I got the Heart of Service Award.
And then, in addition to that, I’ve been awarded the FOSSI Scholarship, which is for scholarly success in STEM, which always is wonderful as I’m working toward a STEM career. So it’s always nice to be recognized for those goals. Additionally, I have a service scholarship with my local Links chapter, which is really nice as well. The Links, Incorporated, is a nationwide society for women of color, specifically Black women. But basically, they have a lot of focus on service initiatives and giving back to the community. So I have the Servant Leader scholarship. And I’m currently working with the Buckhead chapter on different service initiatives.
When did you first start exploring different opportunities you have in Atlanta to really give back to the community?
Honestly, Jack and Jill. I was in Jack and Jill from about eight until I graduated high school. [Jack and Jill is a leadership organization formed in 1938 by African American mothers with the idea of bringing together their Black children in a social and cultural environment.] As part of Jack and Jill, being a member, it’s not just encouraged, but it’s required that you participate in service. And so I think for me, it kind of feels like second nature. I’ve been raised with the understanding that this is something you’re supposed to do. You should give back and be conscious of what’s going on in your community. Look to see how you can help others. I think it was just extremely humbling growing up around that. My grandmother religiously goes to her food pantry at her church. And so every summer I would help hand out canned foods or work the clothing drive, getting people jobs and things like that. Alongside the culture club in high school, I started Jeans for Homeless Teens with my sister, which is another service initiative collecting jeans for homeless teens in the Atlanta area. And so the first time around, we collected 500 pairs of jeans, which was phenomenal because that was during 2020, and then I brought it back last spring to Spelman and it also was really successful.
How did growing up in Atlanta help shape your view of the world?
Atlanta is a hub for Blackness and Black success. I’ve always been very grateful to be in a space in a city that is extremely cultured. I saw Black people as lawyers, doctors, and successful business owners all over the city. Growing up here and seeing that, I think for me, it is reassuring to see that it’s possible to have goals and to achieve them. I also think Atlanta is just a really beautiful place for young Black creatives. It’s cool to just be in a city where it really seems to be about “How do we all win, how do we all get to our goals?”
You spent a lot of time growing up in and around the Spelman area, but was there any nervousness around actually attending as a college student?
There were definitely some nerves when I first got here because Spelman women are such high achievers and everyone that’s here, they’re here because they were the top of their class. No one here is a slacker; everyone’s on top of their game. I needed to make sure when I got here that I continued being on top of my game and making sure that I’m doing well in school, because I know classes are going to get harder. Also just being involved in campus, maintaining my service efforts that I started in high school, having time to sleep and eat and breathe as well. So it was definitely some nerves coming in, just thinking about how I would maintain and be able to balance all the things I was interested in. But it completely changed once I got here. Everyone is super welcoming. The sisterhood is extremely strong. You know, you walk past people all the time that you don’ know personally, but someone’s like, “Hey, sister,” and then after a while you eventually learn their name and you become friends. There’s always a door that’s being held for you, literally and figuratively. This is really a community that is all about helping others who want to change the world get there.
I attended FAMU, and there’s just nothing like being on an HBCU campus. It’s such an indescribable feeling, but what’s one thing you wish more people knew about HBCUs or Spelman?
The ambience that exists here. It’s almost like a family. The support system is unmatched. It's not like hand-holding, but it’s reassurance that if you need help, there is absolutely someone, honestly, a couple of someones, that are around the corner waiting to help you in whatever way you need. There are so many things in place on campus that just reinforced the idea of what I feel historically Black colleges and universities uphold, which is creating this cultural sanctuary. You constantly have people to help you climb as you continue to reach for your goals.
What would you name this current chapter of your life? And also what chapter do you hope comes next?
I would call this chapter “The Come Up,” referencing the steps I’m taking on the metaphorical ladder to try to reach my goals. And then the next chapter, I think I would call it “Choosing to Change the World,” still referencing the Spelman motto but now focused on the actual implementation of my goals post-college.
After everything you’ve learned so far, what’s something you would tell your younger self?
I would tell her to not be afraid to speak up. Because I think growing up as more of a quiet-natured child, I would have something to say. I've always been very curious and thoughtful, but often I would choose not to raise my hand or not to speak up. I would definitely tell her to not be afraid to speak up, and to know that her voice matters, which I absolutely believe Spelman has really emphasized for me in every way. I’d tell my younger self that she has a voice and has something to say and should feel that it is worthy of saying.
Lastly, when do you feel the most beautiful?
When I feel happy, honestly. When I feel overall joyful, which is typically when I’m surrounded by people that I love, my family, my friends, and just when I’m doing things in addition to school. I think I feel the most beautiful when I feel beautiful on the inside and when I’m well nourished from a mental standpoint. When I’m doing the best for myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, that's really when I just feel like I’m the most beautiful.