In a sea of Sephora shop-in-shops and MAC counters, Marjani Beauty shatters the standards of beauty popularized by mass media.
Kimberly Smith launched Marjani Beauty to create a global marketplace of carefully curated beauty and skin care products designed by women of color for women of color.
Smith partners with growing luxury indie brands that embrace diversity and celebrate the spectrum of beauty amongst women of color.
Currently, Marjani Beauty carries a number of brands for makeup, skin, body and hair needs. Afrodeity, Urban Skin RX, and AJ Crimson are just a few of the melanin-focused brands available on their e-commerce boutique.
Smith’s mission is to create a global community where women can feel free to share their love for Beauty and have access to products that cater to their unique skin needs and beautiful skin tones.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Smith to talk about the inspiration behind her brand, her love for the beauty industry and her plans for growth.
On Building Marjani Beauty
Marjani Beauty began out of Smith’s own frustration when shopping for products that worked with her complexion. She remembers heading to the store to re-purchase her favorite contour palette only to find out that her go-to store would no longer carry her shade.
“That particular day I just remember feeling more frustrated than other days. I remember thinking, I am in the DMV, in D.C., and the women of color demographic is huge here. If we can’t, in this particular area, go in the store and find products for us then I am sure the struggle is even more frustrating for women that live in other locations. What was average experience, turned into why don’t I try to do something about it.”
On the Importance of Independent Brands
Independently-owned brands have been making a name for themselves in a big way. More and more people are looking to small specialty brands to provide a solution for their skin concerns. Smith believes that the push for indie brands is because they often make products that speak directly to their target and are often embrace diversity.
“This is something that, in the beginning, I knew it was important. […] I feel like [ a lot of the] indie brands people don’t know about and [their] only outlet right now might just be their own website and their own resources. So, to create a space where […] the products are for women of color that was my initial thinking. […] I really want to contact these brands that are out there that no one knows about and I want to highlight what’s going on that is not being discussed at the big brand levels.”
On What She Looks for In a Product
There are millions of products out on the market that make success claims. But the real question is whether or not they actually work. Smith follows an extensive Curation Process to ensure that the product meets the needs of women of all ethnicities.
Smith looks for 4 key factors when choosing products to feature on Marjani Beauty. These factors include effectiveness, packaging, mission, and availability.
“The most important quality is effectiveness. When it comes to skincare, for example, a lot of the issues that affect women of color are acne scarring, hyperpigmentation – different things. If your product says ‘Hey, I am going to help you with this’. I want to make sure that it works.”
“We want the packaging to be as nice or better than the products that you are buying. So, if you are used to going to Sephora and buying products like Kat von D or NARS, that’s great. People love when they take their lipstick out of their bag and it’s a nice package so even if it’s an indie brand I want that to be the same as well.”
“I want to make sure that the company’s mission aligns with Marjani’s mission. My target is women of color so I want to make sure that those products are for us. […] Not to say that there are not products on there that are not for everyone, that’s fine. But what is different than what’s happening right now is that we usually aren’t the target so I want women to know that on Marjani’s site, you are the target.”
“This can sometimes be a challenge when you are dealing with smaller companies is making sure that the products are going to be available. If I purchase products, especially when it comes to skin care, I want to purchase it in a way that I can maintain the ingredients. So, I am making small orders so that when you get it, it’s fresh product. I also need to know that you are going to be available to replenish those products as my customers need them.”
On What the Industry Is Failing to Do for People of Color
With the successful debut of Fenty Beauty, consumers are starting to realize that it is possible for large brands to meet their needs. In fact, it made it seem like existing brands aren’t willing to put in the effort to make inclusive products for mass consumption.
One product category that Smith believes still needs improvement is with foundation ranges.
“Foundation is still an issue. […] They have launched 20-30 brands and there’s still some brands that will launch that many shades and there will only be 4-6 shades for brown women. That’s clearly not enough. Or they will have a plan where this is the first launch but in the second phase [they are] launching the other shades. So, […] that says a lot of things to me and to the women of color consumers that we weren’t important enough to launch with the initial group of colors. […] How did you not think that that would be an issue?”
Through Marjani, Smith wants to make black-owned brands globally accessible. A downside to online shopping is not having the ability to test the products in person. This is extremely crucial when trying to find your perfect foundation shade. To solve this issue, Smith introduced her Buy It and Try It Foundation Matching Program. Through the program, you can purchase a full-size foundation of your choice and receive a free matching sample.
Smith also believes that companies’ approach to skin care could be greatly improved.
“Skincare to me is a very tricky thing in that women that have more melanin in their skin they have different concerns than women that don’t have as much melanin, so non-women of color.”
Brands found in accessible retailers typically don’t cater to darker skin tones. Often, women of color have to compromise to get a solid beauty routine. Smith recalls her own shopping experiences.
“I would go shop at Sephora and Target. I would get certain products that would address one thing, probably oily skin, my oily skin issue would be resolved but then I would have scarring and hyper-pigmentation. That’s a little bit different when you have more melanin in your skin. So, I think that unless you are using products that are really targeted to those issues, it’s hard to get a comprehensive skincare regimen. I don’t think that the brands that are carried in some of these stores really address that.”
On What She Love About Beauty
Smith has always been beauty lover so being in the industry has given her a whole new love for skin care and cosmetics.
“I love it because ultimately I am a girl’s girl. I love makeup […] I love playing in makeup […] I love to get dressed up and try on different lipsticks and try on different looks. That to me is fun. Being on the business side now, it’s even more exciting because I always paid attention to trends before but now I am now paying attention to it from a buyer perspective. It’s even more exciting. Going to different trade shows and meeting brand owners and finding out about things before they launch–that’s fun.”
She’s also enjoying where beauty is going.
“It’s really exciting to see some of the bold choices that as women of color that we are being more comfortable about. We are being more comfortable about wearing bolder shades. You used to have these list that was like what are the best colors that women of color should wear. The list would always give these really boring staged answers and never take into consideration the diversity of tones we have. We can be really fair and we can be really dark. It would be just one cookie-cutter answer. Whereas now, we can wear whatever we want. I think it’s a fun time in beauty right now.”
On Her Favorite Products
Marjani carries an array of amazing brands. We asked Smith what some of her favorite products are from her site.
“I have oily skin. I had these dark marks that I could not […] get rid of for years and years and years. And I have been using their Clear Skin Cleansing Bar. I have not seen my skin like this probably since I was in college or something. My skin has cleared up. My dark marks have faded. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it before.”
“My favorite foundation is Danessa Myricks’ Foundation. When it comes to foundations I like a cream. Her foundation is cream-based and it’s like skin. I don’t like a foundation that’s too cakey and when you put it on it looks like you are wearing foundation like it’s wearing you versus you wearing it.”
“One of my favorite lip brands would be Liquid Courage […] Their liquid mattes, I really love. The formula is good because it’s not sticky. It lasts all day, […], it glides on really easily and it’s buildable”
“Usually with liquid eyeliner it runs or when you’re trying to apply it the applicator is really flimsy so you end up having a really crooked line or your line goes off on its own. This one has a stiff applicator so when you are doing your eyeliner it’s straight and it doesn’t run. It’s dark black so it has a nice sheen so when you do a dramatic cat eye or you want a winged-out liner it’s really good for that.”
On Her Five-Year Plan
Marjani has grown in such a short amount of time so the potential for the company to became a major game player in the beauty industry is huge. Within the next five years, Smith hopes that Marjani will be your go-to brand for all of your cosmetic needs.
“I want Marjani to be the number one destination for beauty for brown women. Right now, we are building our small Marjani following. In five years’ time, I would definitely hope that when someone speaking of a Sephora or they are speaking or an Ulta that they are then speaking of Marjani as the brown-girl beauty authority.”
On Brands She Would Love to Work With
Smith is working every day to add more brown-girl friendly products to her site. She even has a few brands in mind that she would love to include on Marjani.
“A couple of brands that I would love [to work with] would be Beauty Bakerie. I would love for that to be on the site. Coloured Raine, I would love for that brand to be on the site. Mented Cosmetics would definitely be a brand that I would love to have on Marjani’s site.”
On Plans for The Year
Smith plans to continue to raise awareness about Marjani Beauty.
“I did The Perfect Match Tour last year where we were doing the foundation matching pop-up. […] We did about four cities so I want to expand on that this year. I did one pop-up last year. I am planning to do more of that this year.”
She also wants to continue to bring Marjani to life by talking to her core target market and allowing them to interact with brands developed by women of color.
“[…] Really getting out more and allowing people to see the products and try the products. So, not just seeing them online. Also, I will be doing more partnerships with the brands so that when I am doing live events bringing on some of the brand owners as well.”
Smith finds that by working with independently-owned brands, she’s able to give her consumers access to the brand owners. Not only will customers have to opportunity to learn more about how the brands began but they will even have a chance to ask these owners questions. It allows Smith to maintain a unique luxury feel to Marjani Beauty while delivering great products to women of color.