With New York Fashion week upon us, it’s only inevitable that many women will be focused on fashion, beauty trends, makeup, and skincare products. If you’re not in the industry, often there is little thought behind the story of a brand. As women, we often choose our beauty products based on packaging, word of mouth, comfortability, or need.
The Lip Bar, a non–toxic, vegan and cruelty free line of colorful lipsticks, was born out of New York City by Founder and CEO Melissa Butler. Melissa had a career in finance, before making the leap to launch her lipstick line. A few years in as an entrepreneur, Melissa was featured on Shark Tank where the sharks challenged her business model.
According to a recent article in Forbes, “the $445 billion beauty industry has become a gold mind for self-made women,” and this self-made woman is carving a slice out of the beauty industry at the right time. Melissa has grown her revenue to nearly half a million dollars, while maintaining a brand fueled by a corporate, socially responsible culture.
Melissa has an untraditional story that led her to create a market in the beauty industry, without formal background in this industry.
I sat down with Melissa to hear more about her journey from finance to the beauty, lessons learned along the way, and advice she would give to other women entrepreneurs.
Lauren Wesley Wilson: When and why was The Lip Bar created?
Melissa Butler: In 2012, I was working on Wall Street. I was completely unfulfilled, unsatisfied, un-everything. I decided that instead of complaining about it I’d change my path.
I’ve always loved lipstick. Lipstick is feminine and powerful and with one stroke, it can completely transform your mood. I was also looking for lipstick products that weren’t chemically laden. I noticed that it was easier to find natural hair and skin care alternatives, but the assortment of natural lip colors were frankly just boring.
Wesley Wilson: Your brand’s tagline is “challenge the standard of beauty.” How do you feel your line helps to not only challenge the perception of beauty but also brings up the conversation of inclusion for all women of color?
Butler: The Lip Bar defies beauty standards not just by the products we produce, but also through the voice we provide to our customers -we tell their stories. Our imagery reflects diversity because that’s reality, beauty isn’t a singular look. The way we approach beauty and the way we want our customers to look at beauty isn’t linear. It’s inclusive of women who are a variety of shades, hair textures, shapes and sizes.
Wesley Wilson: Where is The Lip Bar sold currently?
Butler: The Lip Bar is currently sold online at TheLipBar.com and in select Target Stores across the country. Our average price is $13 and our best seller is a liquid matter red power shade called “Bawse Lady.”
Wesley Wilson: Being a Detroit native, how much does your city have to do with your drive to be a business owner?
Butler: Detroit is truly a magical place. It has a certain toughness. It’s a gritty land of doers. I grew up around entrepreneurs. Diligence and small business was a big part of my childhood, so starting a business came natural to me. When I was ready to leave New York, I couldn’t think of a better place to move my business than to Detroit.
Wesley Wilson: What made you decide to turn The Lip Bar into a Mobile retailer and to launch dozens of pop up shops?
Butler: In my first two years of business (2014), I built The Lip Bar truck— dubbed the most glamorous experience on wheels. I knew we needed to get products in the hands of the consumer. Beauty is an intimate purchase and women want to try the product. Building The Lip Bar truck and doing pop up shops across the country was a necessity for me. I wanted to create a lasting experience and create an interactive environment between the customer and the vegan lip colors.
Wesley Wilson: Who are your investors?
Butler: We don’t have any investors. We have strategically bootstrapped our business. After nearly six years in business, we will be taking capital from outside funders.
Wesley Wilson: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced by starting your own business?
Butler: Starting and growing a business is hard. There is constant dedication and sacrifice. But it’s also extremely fulfilling. Raising capital has always been one of my largest obstacles. It’s really tough to get people to believe and buy-in to your business, especially in its early stages.
Wesley Wilson: What are several things you wish you knew before launching your business?
Butler: The most gut-wrenching thing I tell business owners who are rushing to launch is to wait until it’s right. No one is waiting for their business to launch, so it’s better to take the time perfecting your brand, product, etc. When starting a business, people tend to make up these invisible deadlines for themselves often rushing to market. I was certainly one of those entrepreneurs and I wish someone would’ve cautioned me against it. If nothing else but to learn more about my market.
Wesley Wilson: What do you hope the future entails for your company?
Butler: My hope is that through our diverse imagery, vegan, cruelty free and natural ingredients that we change the way people think about beauty and ultimately themselves.
Lauren Wesley Wilson is the founder of ColorComm which holds its annual ColorComm Conference for women of color in communications, marketing, & advertising. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.