When I was younger my aunt told me I had to think I was the most beautiful girl in the world. While for some that may seem that she was teaching me to be cocky or over confident, I think she was just preparing me for a world that wouldn’t see me or the girls that looked like me as the standard of beauty.
I’ve always been intrigued by beauty and what that means to, and for Black women. As I got older and became aware of the “standard,” my aunt’s comment thankfully stuck with me, giving me the thick skin I needed. Beauty for me has evolved though, moving from the surface level, face card never declining motto, to more of a ritual that allows me to slow down, take care of myself and show myself the deepest kind of love.
Being able to add Black owned brands to my routine and support Black owned companies, like Thirteen Lune, an e-commerce beauty hub for Black and Brown founded brands, provides an indescribable joy, and as a beauty junkie I had to talk to their Co-founder, Nyakio Grieco. We chat about her journey in this space, her goals and of course, her favorite products.
What was your relationship with beauty products and the industry like as a child, in your teens and early adulthood?
Both of my parents are from Kenya, much of my early childhood was hearing stories about their life and where they grew up. At eight, I finally got the privilege of going there to see it myself. Kenya is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s about the people, the kindness, the joy. During the trip, I met my grandmother, also named Nyakio, for the first time. That’s where my beauty journey started. My grandmother, a coffee farmer, taught me how to make an organic coffee scrub from scratch. Wisdom was passed down from my grandfather, a medicine man, about the power of cold-pressed natural oils.
What has the journey been like for you, in the beauty space in particular?
Despite not having any previous experience or connections to the industry, I wanted to start my own beauty brand, and celebrate my family’s beauty secrets, rituals, and history. I had a lot of products come across my desk, as I worked in the entertainment industry, and there were never products representing the continent of Africa. There were products that used ingredients from Africa, but it wasn’t being celebrated nor authentic, so I left my job to start Nyakio Beauty.
For Nyakio Beauty, access to capital was a challenge. Even when I was able to get into partnerships, Nyakio Beauty was such a tiny brand within their portfolios that oftentimes marketing dollars would be put elsewhere. Before I was able to get into national retailers, that was also challenging, and even once the opportunity would emerge, sometimes I’d have to say no because I knew I couldn’t afford to be there.
I ended up having to ‘re-launch’ the brand several times. When I would fall down or I had to shut it down or I had to move and find new partners, it was a challenge to have the resilience to start again, and to continue to celebrate it every time. I joked with my friends like, ‘How many times have you been to a Nyakio Beauty launch?’ But I would keep re-launching the same brand in new ways.
I’ve been surrounded by a lot of encouragement, and because I had a strong sense of community from family and friends, I felt empowered to navigate the next steps and keep going. I wasn’t afraid to fall down. I thought, ‘If this doesn’t work, I can always go back and do X, Y, Z.’ And knowing that always allowed me to move forward and not be in fear. I tell people that all the time: ‘Just go for it. The worst that can happen is that it wasn’t meant to be forever. It had a season, but at least you did it and you never have to regret saying, I never had the opportunity to try.’
I had to create other streams of revenue to support the business at the time. I would sometimes work two or three jobs just to be able to keep it going. I babysat before I had kids. A lot of times I would take jobs helping to design for other people or I would help other people start their businesses. I designed a candle collection for a store in Dallas, I briefly worked in real estate, you name it! I did whatever I could to be able to pay the bills and still live my dreams at the same time.
I have, however, been fortunate to have had many supporters and great mentors along the way. Richard Pietz was my first manufacturer; Ron Robinson was my first retailer. When I first started, he was an incredible mentor to me and he still is; Laura Mercier—when was also full circle that Nyakio Beauty wound up being part of the Laura Mercier portfolio of brands; Lisa Price from Carol’s Daughter—even though I didn’t meet her until later in my career—she was always somebody that I looked to; Sharon Collier—the first portfolio brand company that brought me in to elevate the brand—it was Sharon’s decision [when she was CEO at Gurwitch Products]; Molly Madden – my boss from 3 Arts. She always told me, ‘You’re going to be a star. You’re going to do such big things.’ She continues to be a mentor. My mom is my forever mentor, my dad was when he was alive.
Tell us about Thirteen Lune’s inception
In the midst of the global pandemic and racial reckoning in 2020, I found myself on various Black-founded business lists and was shocked to find myself in the company of 100 to 400 to 1000 Black-founded brands. I couldn’t believe that there were that many brands because, in a lot of ways, being a Black woman beauty founder who creates products for all people, had been kind of lonely. I didn’t realize there were that many others out there and upon researching these brands, I couldn’t believe that they didn’t have more followers, more distribution, or more visibility.
After the creation of beautiful pledges like the Fifteen Percent Pledge and Pull Up for Change in the summer of 2020, I started to look at the numbers of how much money Black women and Brown women spend on beauty, and I thought, why do we only deserve 15 percent of the space or less? I have been in the beauty industry for 20 years of my life, and learned an immeasurable amount more than gross margins and shipping protocols, while building beauty businesses. Being in the beauty trenches as a woman of color has been profoundly challenging, disappointing, and ultimately life-affirming. But it did not need to be so difficult and at times demoralizing. As I thought about what would have helped me and others move forward, my mission became clear—create a community to help Black beauty founders realize success more quickly, with amplified support and on a bigger stage. This led to the launch of Thirteen Lune with my co-founder Patrick Herning (founder, and CEO of a size-inclusive e-commerce platform, 11 Honoré) in the summer of 2020 with 13 brands. We created Thirteen Lune to highlight brands and founders who, for far too long, have been neglected in terms of capital and retail partnerships.
What is the brand selection process like?
Thirteen Lune thoughtfully curates the best in beauty made by Black and Brown founders for people of all colors. 90% of brands are BIPOC founded while 10% are brands that exemplify allyship to incite meaningful change beyond beauty.
Thirteen Lune vets each brand with a discerning lens and always with diversity and representation in mind. She looks for niche brands that have a strong point of view, innovative and efficacious formulas and have a rich and compelling story to tell.
With a mission of uplifting founders of color and seeing them to success on a larger scale, we ensure that each brand has the potential to grow sustainably into what could be the next great American heritage beauty brand.
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What are your goals?
The goal is to create long-term impact and change within the beauty industry. We want to be more than a passive retail partner. Thirteen Lune is working closely with beauty businesses to help them break into the market by providing them with mentorship, connecting founders and investors, as well as breaking into physical retail stores through the JCP partnership and our upcoming flagship location.
I find that having a community in spaces that are traditionally white has a huge impact. What does community look like for you in the beauty industry? How has it impacted your success?
Allyship within my own life and on the Thirteen Lune platform is the truest sense of community I experience, and I believe has been a massive part of the company’s success. Our 90/10 Rule rewrites traditional retail to prioritize and amplify Black and Brown founded beauty brands that make products for everyone. 90% of brands are Black and Brown owned. 10% are ally brands who champion these relatively undiscovered brands and have an ethos of inclusivity, both in their product offering and company culture. By coming together, we can shift traditional retail so that Black and Brown owned beauty brands that serve everyone, are prioritized and placed on a bigger stage.
The partnership with JCPenney is huge, it is actually how I became aware of Thirteen Lune! What does the partnership mean for your brand?
I am so glad that this partnership helped you find us, that was our goal exactly! Through this partnership we’re able to help our brand partners expand their distribution and engage with a wider audience nationwide, as well as spread awareness and education about Thirteen Lune as a platform and introduce new consumers to all the wonderful brands we carry.
Black skin is very different. How does Relevant: Your Skin Seen address our unique challenges?
I believe in science-led and -backed formulations but bringing in heritage ingredients as well because I say the proof is in the pudding; it’s my story. We all have melanin and Relevant: Your Skin Seen is a melanin-safe brand made for all.
I had the opportunity to learn so much over the last 20 years and work with amazing chemists. Even if they weren’t working on the formulas for my brand, I really took advantage of the chance to learn. I would see these new acids and exfoliators come to market that were touted as safe for all skin tones. Because of the experience I’ve had, not only with my own skin but in this industry, I knew when I turned it over and read the ingredients and the levels of acids that it wasn’t melanin-safe. I thought, who doesn’t want a great peel? Who doesn’t want the experience of being able to benefit from these ingredients at safe levels? The same goes for sunscreen. I wear sunscreen every day. I always have, but it’s been a real challenge for me over time to find sunscreens that are noncomedogenic and that don’t cast white or purple on my skin as a person of color. As I would look at how melanoma numbers are going up in Black and Brown communities, it makes perfect sense because we’re not being marketed products that feel good to us or luxurious. Everybody wants to look like themselves after they put their sunscreen on. They don’t want to transform into something they don’t like, so they’ll opt out as a result.
So Relevant: Your Skin Seen is a couple of things. As I said before, it’s the first time that I, as a Black female entrepreneur have had the runway, the autonomy, the support, the access to data, and the opportunity to create the brand of my dreams. I believe that all people deserve to be seen. It’s a running theme in my life, and it has been long before Thirteen Lune and Relevant: Your Skin Seen. How can I bring something to market that will better help others to see themselves and feel considered and feel appreciated and feel nurtured and treasured? That is at the heart of Relevant.
For my thesis in grad school, I focused on beauty and fashion magazines and their lack of diversity. I looked at different years, comparing the coverage we received. There seemed to be an uptick in coverage when something occurred in the Black community or in pop culture. In the years when there weren’t as many “significant” events, there was less coverage. How do you hope the industry will move past these “one-off” celebrations of Black beauty and support of Black owned companies?
We hope the beauty world, other industries and the world in general, will look past diversity as a segmented opportunity, and instead realize that you can build a profitable business, do really well in the world, and do the right thing at the same time.
I say this to my kids and I say this to my staff: We are not here to break down an old paradigm. Old paradigms are going down swinging, hanging on to their last bit of relevance; we are here to usher in a new paradigm. Think about all the paradigm shifts that came before us and all the work that was done before us so we could even be sitting here having this conversation.
What are the brands we should be looking out for? Are there any products we should consider as we approach spring and summer?
Relevant: Your Skin Seen has an excellent go-to product for year round but especially spring/summer. One & Done Everyday Cream with SPF 40 is a fantastic moisturizer, serum, primer and mineral sunscreen in one. I love what Ami Colé is doing with their simple yet chic and effective range. And, Pattern Beauty has a stellar offering for hair.
Nyakio and Thirteen Lune’s success is a lesson in knowing your worth, seeing the beauty in your community and staying on your path no matter how difficult it is or how many times you have to start fresh. Check out Thirteen Lune online or visit them in person at a JCPenney near you!
Ashley Fern is a Brooklyn based writer. She is a health copywriter by day and holds an M.S in Publishing. Her interests include exploring health, wellness and beauty through the lens of Black women.