Shades of Excellence is a new series in which Kindred. shines a light on businesses started by people of colour who are pushing the boundaries of their industries.
In 2020 the UK beauty industry was valued at a whooping €9.8 billion (approximately £8.2 billion), making it the third-largest cosmetics market in Western Europe. With skincare gaining more attention since the beginning of the pandemic and consumers focusing more on self-care, the industry is only expected to grow while adjusting to the new ways of how people shop.
So why, when Black British women, despite spending £168 million a year on hair products alone, is there still a lack of good quality products catering to their needs? It's difficult to comprehend why so many large corporations choose to turn a blind eye to the needs of people of colour when the industry loses £2.7 billion a year by doing so. Being catered to isn’t only about looks, it’s about being valued in society.
However, as people of colour have become more vocal in recent years, there has been a rise of new and inclusive brands, taking the industry by storm with products that cater to various skin tones and their long-ignored needs.
The massive gap in the market is what drew 26-year-old Keisha Renaud to start her own botanical skincare and wellness company - MelaBeauty. The brand, which uses 100% natural ingredients, caters its products to, as you can tell from its name (derived from melanin), melanin-rich skin tones.
People have been urging brands to be more inclusive, which has ultimately resulted in an influx of new brands with a focus on Black skin or skin of colour in general. Finding a niche is key for small business owners who wish to build a loyal customer base that will buy their products, however, Renaud, on the other hand, believes it's about more than just having a niche.
"It's more about infusing your own personality into the brand because your personality is your own," she says. "Nobody else can copy that. So even if another company comes out doing the same thing as you, they can't do it exactly the way you do it because that's your personality coming through in the brand."
Renaud speaks of her business ventures fondly and with passion, even though she embarked on her journey during the pandemic, which may not seem like an ideal time to start a new business. However, losing her job in marketing at the start of 2020, turned out to be a "blessing in disguise".
"I had this idea that I'd been sitting on since 2017, so I thought 'Let me actually get it in motion and use the free time that I have to really get it started'."
It was around that time that Renaud found Formula Botanica, the UK’s biggest skincare school, inspired by her trial and errors with skincare after years of experimenting with DIY products.
Speaking of her experience she says that in the beginning, "it was very daunting. I think that was the point where people had doubts about me starting the business because it costs a lot of money to go to a skincare school. My mom especially, she was like, 'Are you sure? Like is that the right thing?' and I was just adamant. I was like, 'Yes, this is what I want to do'.
"As a teenager, I had the epitome of teenage skin," she says. "I had acne, my skin was literally an oil slick all the time like you could actually fry bacon on my skin. And honestly, I really just needed to do something about it.
"I used to love YouTube, it was literally like my hub where I just learned so many different things about skincare. That's when I got introduced to jojoba oil, which is still one of my favourite oils now because it's just so great for your skin and mimics the natural sebum of your skin too."
Experimenting with DIY masks and spot control, Renaud wanted to learn more about skincare and the ingredients used after making a few mistakes such as burning her skin with tea tree oil or breaking out even more. But as she says "we live and we learn".
"I joined the program, and I completed my organic skincare diploma in 2020. The idea for MelaBeauty did come to me around the 2016/2017 mark, that was when I was going through a lot mentally. That was also when I really wanted to do something more about my skin and I started to really get into self-care. And I thought to myself, 'You know what, I could make something out of this. I could use this passion, this DIY and make it into something'."
Which is exactly what the young entrepreneur did. With more time on her hands to focus on the business, she began doing tests at home and in the laboratories, experimenting with different skin fields and what she wanted for the products and the brand.
"To actually get it into fruition after having sat on it for three years was a really good and rewarding feeling," she says.
Renaud mentions that she creates her products "backwards", starting with the final product in mind. "The feel for the product kind of sets the precedent of what ingredients actually go in there. The first thing I do is decide what I want. So the base functionality of the product. Is it an oil, an exfoliator? Then from there, I think about what I want this product to do.
"I start at the end and I go backwards," she says. "So if I want this product to be moisturising for dry skin, for instance, then I'll research or use my knowledge of what I know about ingredients that are good for dry skin. Then I know I could use this in there, could use that in there and I'll kind of come up with a theme for the product."
The Brunel University graduate has business in her blood. Renaud grew up watching her father start a printing and advertising company, "setting it up and going through all the stages of running it. And I really thought I want to run a business when I grew up".
Unfortunately, his business did not succeed, but it was enough to motivate Renaud to go to university and follow in his footsteps. "His business was very close to his heart as well. And so that made it even more, he was very passionate about it. And I think I kind of embodied that passion as well in my business. I get that from him.
"That’s why I went to uni. I didn't know exactly what kind of business I wanted. I just always said to myself that I want to be a business owner. And everyone was like, 'Oh, doing what?', and I was like, 'I have no idea'."
But she was certain of one thing: she wanted it to be something "that was for us as Black people, for the culture and you know, something that would really empower us. That's one thing that I did always know".
The issue that arises when people of colour are trying to find products for their skin or hair is how hard they are to find. While the demand and the market are enormous, people of colour are having to settle for shopping at run-down shops in questionable areas of their cities. They can go to high-street drugstores which have started to consider other consumers than Caucasians; nevertheless, the products available are frequently loaded with chemicals that will only cause more damage.
On that note, Renaud says that: "I think it's mostly because some of these brands that have been about and are big established brands, they have been mainly catering for white skin, and they haven't really had a focus on black skin or skin of colour at all.
"It's only now recently that I think we've kind of seen people taking more focus and looking at people of colour, considering that people of colour also like to look after and they need to look after their skin and have different needs in terms of their skin as well. I think is that shift that really just got me thinking as well and it really made me think we need something for us."
The lack of options on high streets is what also makes shopping ethically challenging for people of colour. Renaud prides herself on using natural components in her products and ensuring that are sourced in an organic and ethical manner, saying: "In today's day and age, where so many things, even just air pollution, can affect your skin, having natural and organic products helps the environment. You’re not making these things from anything that's going to burn fuel, which is going out and causing more pollution or anything like that. It's just all natural and comes from nature. Sometimes it's actually better for your skin.
"I feel like there's a lot of people out there who want the same. These chemical full products, while they might be great for some, they don't work for everybody."
Renaud built her brand not only to cater for the needs of melanin-rich skin tones and to combat concerns like hyperpigmentation but also to meet their spiritual needs. By combining the power of aroma-therapeutical benefits of essential oils, MelaBeauty products not only work to make you feel good but also deal with inflammation, eczema and psoriasis, among others.
Speaking of the message she is hoping to send out, she says: "We need to take time to look after ourselves. It's so so important to have self-love, especially in today's day and age and especially for people of colour. It's so important that we take some time out and really love ourselves, however you want to do that. If it's through skincare, great because MelaBeauty can provide that for you right there and then. But if you just take the message and you go and do your self-care in other ways, then we're happy with that as well."
She is hoping that in five years, MelaBeauty becomes synonymous with self-care. "I want to create that idea in people’s minds," she says. "You know, that, yes, it’s about making my skin feel good and look good. But also it's about making me feel and look good. I want MelaBeauty to be that brand that you go to because you know that you can get your skincare fix, you know that this skincare is solid and it's going to work for you. But also you want to treat yourself and you want to feel good about yourself."
Renaud herself finds solace in her products, using them to give herself a pamper day when she feels overwhelmed. Managing the business by herself from product formulation to marketing, that happens quite often. She makes sure, though, that she isn't always working and that she has time to socialise with her friends, who have been really supportive of her during her adventure.
She says: "It’s been overwhelming, even just the amount of support that I've got from the people that are closest to me. And the feedback that I've got, as well, from people I don't know who aren’t in my close circle, but they gave me such great feedback. That kind of really keeps me going."
It goes without saying that establishing a new business can be stressful and difficult, so having a good support system in place is essential. Not only that but also being realistic. Renaud emphasises that nothing ever goes to plan, adding: "You have to be ready for things that you don’t anticipate and potential setbacks," particularly if you compare yourself to other entrepreneurs and don’t reach the same amount of sales as they have on their launch day.
This year, Renaud intends to keep growing her company and building on the momentum. She was fortunate enough to make sales in her first year in operation, which is something that many small businesses do not achieve. With plans of releasing two new products and launching MelaBeauty merchandise, she shares with Kindred. that her ultimate goal is to open a MelaBeauty spa.
When asked if she could go back in time, would she do it again, Renaud answers without hesitation: "I know, it sounds crazy because, in the beginning, it was very stressful. But yeah, absolutely. I wouldn't change anything."