3 Black-Owned Beauty Brands and the Women Behind Them
Words by The Folklore Team
It’s no secret that the beauty industry owes much of its success to Black women and culture. The influence of Black and Latina culture is everywhere in the sector, from nail art to hair extensions, even when people of color have been overlooked when it comes to representation in foundation and concealer shades for all skin tones, or hair products that work for all textures, for example.
The beauty industry in the United States, which encompasses skincare, color cosmetics, hair care, fragrances and personal care, is worth an estimated $50bn and growing but people of color are still less likely to be awarded capital funds to get their businesses off the ground.
Despite the challenges, many entrepreneurs of color are taking matters into their own hands and creating a space for themselves, and by extension, other women, with their own brands. Meet three of them below, and learn the stories behind their brands.
Former mental health clinician Maia Alejandro founded For TMRW in New York in 2021 but the inspiration for the brand began a few years earlier. In 2018, when Alejandro was pregnant with twin girls, she also learned that her cousin has been diagnosed with breast cancer. With an impetus for protecting their health and wellbeing, the cousins began to research and educate themselves about the many harmful and toxic ingredients found in beauty products marketed to women of color. This spurred Alejandro to create a clean beauty brand of nail polishes that adds to the wellbeing of women everywhere.
The name of the brand is inspired by the promise of good things to come, a “joyful vision for the future, and hope for an abundant world full of color.” The brand takes a mindful approach to creating its line of lacquers, specializing in non-toxic nail care that is vegan, cruelty-free and proudly made in the United States. All of its products are 10-free, which means they are free from the 10 most harmful chemicals commonly found in nail polish. The bottles come with custom brushes for quick and easy application, and are wrapped in packaging made from recyclable materials.
For TMRW is rooted in the concept of facilitating visual joy through color, to encourage women to indulge in self-care and beauty rituals that are safe and enjoyable. Inspired by art, design, photography and nature, For TMRW’s nail lacquers come in creamy, smooth colors designed for long-lasting wear.
Born to immigrant Nigerian parents, Detroit-based Chinonye Akunne developed a strong sense of pride for her Igbo culture at a young age. With a background in science—she studied Public Health and Environmental Health Science—Akunne gained plenty of experience in the prevention of exposure to harmful chemicals in the workplace, a skill that tapped into her passion for holistic skincare and the creation of Ilera Apothecary.
With an aim to protect and revive the skin and body, Ilera was established on Akunne’s Nigerian heritage, with a particular focus on keeping West African practices and philosophies alive by sourcing and using ingredients naturally found in the Earth for its body butters, face oils and body washes.
The brand prides itself on it sustainable practices, which include the use of renewable, naturally sourced ingredients such as “okwuma”, the Igbo term for shea butter, in a lot of its products. Other ingredients commonly found on the African continent and used in Ilera’s products include lavender, chamomile, coconut oil, cocoa butter and many more.
Chicago native Rachel James’ obsession with nails began at a young age, when she would give her mother manicures and pedicures after grammar school. Years later, after noticing a gap in the representation of medium to dark skin tones in the nail world, Chicago native Rachel James determined to use her degree degree in fashion merchandising as well as background in art, beauty and fashion to bridge the gap in the industry, leading to the launch of Pear Nova in 2012 in from her parents’ basement.
The brand’s mission is to make women feel safe, pampered and beautiful while celebrating all skin tones through healthy, luxury nail products. Drawing on the James’s love for art, passion for elegance and the strength of female pioneers the world over, Pear Nova produces gel nail lacquers with a classic color palette that’s cruelty-free, vegan friendly and 10-free from toxic parabens.
In 2019, James opened Pear Nova Studio in the West Loop as a place where women can gather safely, providing nail, lash and waxing services. The brand recently collaborated with TV show Claws—which is set in a nail salon—on a line of bold to celebrate the show’s final season.