“When it comes to beauty, no one deserves to be an afterthought.” – Mented Cosmetics
KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson know how to break barriers. After a late-night chat over wine, the pair realized how difficult it was for women of color to find a perfect nude lipstick. Fueled by the passion for redefining the beauty industry, Miller and Johnson began developing Mented Cosmetics. Their goal was to create a global brand that provides staple beauty products for all skin tones.
With over nine lipsticks shades, four lip gloss shades and a set of nail polishes, Mented Cosmetics empowers women to be unapologetically themselves.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with these two entrepreneurs to gain their insight on developing their brand, strategies for inclusivity and the future of the beauty industry going forward.
On Building the Brand
Everything from their product photography to the ingredients used in Mented’s products lends their hands to Miller’s and Johnson’s goal of becoming a household name. Mented is a global beauty home for women of color that women can depend on to have what they need when they need it.
To achieve this mission, they operate with three driving forces:
Quality: Miller and Johnson are dedicated to providing top of the line products to their consumers.
Miller: “It’s incredibly important to us that we put out the message that all women deserve high-quality products and so often if you look at brands particularly drugstore brands targeting women of color you’ll see that the ingredient list just isn’t up to par and we think that women of color are just as deserving as strong ingredient stores are which is why we were adamant in the beginning that we wanted our products to be vegan, cruelty-free non-toxic and paraben-free so that’s been important to us from the very beginning and we’ve also heard from our consumers that they love that about us.”
Representation: For the Mented Team, representation is a priority, not a bonus.
Johnson: “It’s been incredibly important from day one that we showcase the diversity of our community and how our products really work for melanated skin tones, if you will. So, every photo shoot has various Black women, Hispanic women, South Asian women, Middle Eastern women and it’s been important to us that people see the variety of hues that the product works on.”
Partnerships: From the beginning of their journey with Mented, Miller and Johnson realized the power of collaborating with others to produce the best products possible.
Johnson: “If you can get your product in the right hands these platforms can really help to amplify your message and really help consumers connect to your brand so working with these different influencers has been great they have such interesting ideas they can think about your product and your brand in different ways and really communicate that to your customer all while bringing you different eyes.”
On Media + Black Community
Mented Cosmetics’ strides in beauty have not gone unnoticed, primarily by their black peers. Mented has been featured by Afropunk, The Root and most recently, Essence Magazine.
Johnson: “I think it was Oprah who said it best, ‘There’s nothing like being acknowledged by your own community.’ I think having publications that understand our customer, understand the Mented brand and having them recognize us as true leaders in the industry that are solving these major problems and creating community; it’s everything. We’ve enjoyed the love and support from these different publications, and we are just proud to be overall apart of these communities.”
Additionally, Mented is not only thankful for the support of their peers, but they believe in the power of supporting the black community. We asked them about the importance of uplift black-owned businesses so that they are brought to the forefront of retail.
Miller: It’s very important and we love when we are able to do it. We love when we are able to shout our black-owned brands, we’ve done it a couple of times on our blog. We think it’s such a strong community and we’ve had so much support from other black business owners that when we have the opportunity to support them and shout them out, we absolutely try to.
The lack of representation for women of color has been an on-going battle. The Mented Team believes that the first step to diversifying the industry is with the company’s mindset. Brands have to be willing to embrace and celebrate all women equally. Globally, brands should not only be ready to welcome but to also take reasonable steps to include everyone though every single step of their brand consistently.
Miller: I think it just comes with a desire to celebrate all types of beauty. I think it’s the industry, and by that, I mean if different brands and retailers in the industry really were serious about all of the different shapes, sizes, looks and races that we are and celebrating diversity then I think we would see the result being a lot more options for women of color. I think it starts with brands like ours, who are saying yes, we absolutely do want to celebrate and prioritize all different types of beauty. I think other mainstream brands pretend like that’s something they want to do by launching these one-off lines meant for Hispanic women or meant for Black women but then just as soon as you see them offered you see them taken away because they decide something else is on-trend now. “
“I think if you treat diversity like a trend you’re never really going to win the hearts of women of color because we are not a trend. We are a staple. We are human beings” -KJ Miller.
Johnson: I think for the industry it also matters that these different beauty houses both large and small hire diverse candidates. Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, South Asian people need to be in the labs creating the product, need to be in the marketing meetings talking through campaigns, they need to be in the focus groups with customers truly understanding and building a strategy around this customer and their particular needs and until these companies fully embrace that within their organizations I think they will always be off the mark.
On Advice For Entrepreneurs
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur and want to venture out and start your own business Miller and Johnson have a few words of advice for you. In short, get out there and do it.
Miller: A quote that I love is that “well-behaved women fail to make history.” I think I would just say If there’s something that you want. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, and that might mean you have to ruffle a few feathers or be not quite so well-behaved in the eyes of certain men in this country. But I say go for it anyways and know that if it’s something that you believe in and something that you’re passionate about it truly is worth fighting for and worth doing what it takes to get there.”
Johnson: Johnson: “Something my mom said very early on to me was “Chase the passion in what you’re doing,” so always be passionate and things and then “never stop learning.” I think it’s important to never get complacent in your life to constantly be out there looking for what makes you happy and what you want to learn next. Those few things have driven every personal and professional decision I’ve made, and I think I am the better for it. “You only learn how resilient you are by doing it.”
On the Future of Beauty
It’s no secret that black women have skyrocketed to the top of the beauty. Brands like Beauty Bakerie, Juvia’s Place, Fenty Beauty and Mented have given women of color what they have always wanted, to be acknowledged. We asked Miller and Johnson, where do they see women of color taking the beauty industry over the next several years.
Miller: I see us really taking it to the moon, there’s this article in perhaps The Huffington Post, I forget, about how black women really are the trendsetters for just about everything in this country: for fashion, for music, for beauty, for media. In so many ways we lead the charge of what’s cool and in right now. And I think in the world of beauty which is just as true as in any other space. I think that means that women of color are poised to really transform this industry to be so much more inclusive but also just so much more better and cooler and more fun because that’s sort’ve who we are.”
Johnson: “I think #blackgirlmagic is a real movement and we’re really out here living that dream and living that reality and building companies around it changing the face of media and products and all these things. I am just excited for the ride and to see how far we take it. I think there will be such interesting innovation that comes from women of color feeling empowered and going after what they have always done but going after it in a big, big way so I think we will see the effect of that in beauty but in a lot of other channels as well.”
After speaking with KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson, you can feel their electric energy. For them, life is limitless, the only obstacle in their way is getting up and making it happen. These extraordinary women have developed a fresh business model that cherishes women from all backgrounds and encourages them to love their skin.
Although Miller and Johnson can agree that the beauty world, still has a lot of growing to do, they are excited to be a leader of change and watch the industry blossom.
As it stands, Mented Cosmetics is just in its beginning stages; the team plans to expand into all categories including face, cheeks, and eyes over the next year.
I can tell, Mented is just beginning to shake up the beauty world and I can’t wait to watch their journey to the moon as they continue to evolve to be a global brand.
Check out Mented’s Instagram page for more information and to learn more about their mission and their amazing products.