In February of this year, black-owned beauty brand The Lip Bar began selling in 43 Target stores in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, NYC and the DMV. With the launch, the brand began selling Target exclusive shades, “Baddie,” a gloss, and “Unimpressed,” a liquid matte finish. Founder Melissa Butler appeared on Shark Tank and was not offered a deal with one of the sharks — but when she sent a blind email to a buyer at Target about how her customers were shopping at the big box retailer for hair products but not beauty, the proper next steps for her company were set into motion.
Melissa’s story is an inspiring one — one of individuality, determination and ethically-sound products (all the lip colors are vegan and cruelty-free). So, if you want to wear stunning lipstick shades like Taraji P. Henson, who wore “Drama Queen” and “Savage” at The Oscars, check out our interview with The Lip Bar’s CEO, Melissa Butler, below.
AfroTech: How did you end up on the career path you’re currently on? Was that always what you intended?
Melissa Butler: I never thought I’d be in the beauty industry. I grew up thinking I’d be a Doctor, then a lawyer, you know the typical things parents tell you to strive to be. And even as an adult, I went to work on Wall Street before deciding to start The Lip Bar. I kind of stumbled upon this career path. I was taking a more holistic approach to my lifestyle, cutting chicken and turkey from my diet and making natural soaps in my kitchen when I discovered that I could also make lipstick. And so it began, I’m in my Brooklyn kitchen, making lipstick from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. after I left my 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
AT: When did you fall in love with beauty?
MB: I’ve never been asked this question before. And I always tell people that I’m not passionate about beauty. But I am passionate about changing the identity of beauty. That passion arose when I was a teen growing up in Detroit and quickly realizing that supposedly “light was right.” I became infatuated with complimenting dark brown girls on their complexion and reminding them that if the world didn’t see them, I saw them. I had no idea that the good I thought I was doing would transform into a beauty company. But I’m happy it did.
AT: What motivated you to start The Lip Bar?
MB: My motivation stemmed from pure frustration. I hated that the beauty industry consistently showed beauty in a specific light. Beauty looked like one thing in the media and that one thing was never inclusive of what I used to call “regular black girls,” everyone had to be “exotic.” Everyone of color had to be mixed… had to mask their blackness. Me starting The Lip Bar was my interpretation of If You Can’t Beat Em, Join Em. So I decided instead of complaining about the beauty industry, I’d fix it. So all of our campaigns are super diverse and they support an inclusive beauty narrative.
AT: What was the process like when you started working with Target?
MB: It was confusing as heck! Going to a big box retailer is no small undertaking, you have to scale strategically, but you also have to learn their systems while maintaining your own. But right now, I’ll say it’s worth every hardship.
AT: What has changed since The Lip Bar launched on Target.com and in stores?
MB: Everything! Retail gives credibility. I say Target and people perk up. We’re closing our first fundraising round and it wouldn’t have happened without Target. And I’m super proud of the Target relationship, because we didn’t get into the retailer like most companies, we didn’t go through a distributor, this relationship came from a blind email where I pitched the buyer. I tell people this to remind them that the power is in their hands and whatever you want is possible if you’re willing to work for it.
AT: What has the response been from your customers since The Lip Bar became accessible for many more people?
MB: MY CUSTOMERS WENT NUTS! Like absolutely insane. We sold out of several stores within the first few days. And because of our early success, we are pushing for a larger footprint in Target stores to serve our customers.
AT: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
MB: Freedom. And I don’t just mean time. Because freedom of time is probably the thing I have the least of. When you are running a company. you’re constantly giving. And don’t get me wrong, I love it! But the freedom I speak of is the freedom to choose. The freedom to take risks. The freedom that comes along with knowing that whatever goes right is on you, but also, whatever goes wrong (even if by someone on your team) is on you! It creates a relentless amount of drive to keep learning and doing.
AT: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
MB: Don’t be afraid to fail is the best business advice I’ve ever received. When most people start a business for the first time, they feel this incessant need to succeed. And they get all choked up and embarrassed when things go wrong which will happen often but more importantly, not allowing yourself to fail gets in the way of the risk-taking and learning that comes from getting things wrong.
AT: What are some other things you think readers should know about you? Any new projects you’d like to promote?
MB: I’m expanding outside of lip! It’s insane. Six years in the game and I’m finally going into a new product type. I’m excited. It’s gonna be dope. And of course, we’ll continue to create the most amazing vegan and cruelty-free lip colors on the market at an affordable price and in the best packaging!