How a Retail Buyer and a Banker Launched a Cosmetic Company Rooted In Inclusivity
Foundation, concealer and powders are the make up products that we normally associate with trying to match our individual skin tones. But KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson of Mented Cosmetics believe that skin tone should be considered when choosing lipstick as well.
We sat down with these two badass women to learn more about the history of their brand and why they felt that nine nude shades of lipstick (plus lipgloss and nail polish!) would give underrepresented women visibility within the cosmetic industry.
How did the two of you meet?
We met at Harvard Business School in the variety show. We quickly bonded over our shared love of theater and all things retail.
Tell us more about Mented's mission and values as a brand. How do the mission/values relate to you in your personal lives?
Amanda: Mented is about being a home and voice for women of color. We like to say ‘We See You, We Hear You, We Celebrate You’. We value the community we’re servicing and we’re creating products and a brand around that promise. I truly believe that you have to do it for yourself and your people, if you won’t who will? Creating a business and being a role model for entrepreneurship and inclusion is important for the legacy I want to create.
KJ: We firmly believe every woman should be able to find herself in the world of beauty, and that sentiment guides everything we do as a brand. Every product we create is made with the goal of ensuring that women of color have a home in the beauty landscape. On a personal level, inclusion and access are incredibly important to me, and have been key themes throughout my career. I'm always seeking to make the spaces I'm in more hospitable to underrepresented groups, and I love that with Mented I get to do that not just for our customers, but for our employees and partners as well.
What did you do before Mented?
Amanda: I started my career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and after 2.5 years I left and went to Time Inc’s consumer marketing group to work on acquisition and retention marketing. After graduating from HBS in 2014, I ran the digital business development group at Barneys New York where I created digital experiences for some of our offline brands and services.
KJ: I've been in retail my whole career - I spent two years as a jewelry buyer for Sears and Kmart, then two years as a womens apparel buyer at a small ecommerce company in NYC. Post business school I spent another two years in Deloitte's retail consulting practice, leading efforts in merchandising, inventory management, direct marketing and supply chain optimization.
What inspired you to start the company?
KJ: I've known for a long time that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it wasn't until Amanda and I started talking about our challenges in beauty that I felt the passion that would ultimately lead to me pursuing Mented full-time. We are both beauty enthusiasts, and during our conversations it became clear to us both that we were being treated like afterthoughts in the world of beauty. We created Mented because we want women of color to feel celebrated, not outcast, by their beauty brands.
What moments have you been most proud of in your journey with Mented?
KJ: I am incredibly proud of the incredibly diverse workforce we're creating - we've hired a strong team of Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Indian women, spanning every function from marketing to modeling to manufacturing. I love that this little dream of ours is not only impacting our customers, but allowing us to expand employment opportunities for people of color.
Amanda: There have been so many moments where KJ and I take a step back and are wowed by what we’ve built. One moment that sticks out is our recent interview on Cheddar TV that was filmed live on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. How many women of color entrepreneurs get to tell their success story in the very center of wealth creation in this country? It was a proud moment and I hope we see many more entrepreneurs of color have that moment.
How do you make the co-CEO partnership work? (Help us dispel the stereotype that Black women are too catty to work together!)
KJ:Communication! We go to great lengths to make sure we're being open and honest with one another, and we respect each other greatly. It also helps that we have clearly delineated roles - I run product development and I oversee fundraising, where Amanda runs marketing and our digital experience.
Amanda: Black women can and should work together. We are stronger as a collective unit and that is certainly true for KJ and I. We have clearly defined roles and we enjoy mapping out strategy together. Since we both want success for Mented we can put ego aside and do what’s right for the company.
What are you most looking forward to in the future as you continue to grow your company?
KJ: Running Mented has been challenging in many ways, but it's made me so much stronger as a leader and entrepreneur. I'm excited for all of the challenges to come, because I know they will continue to strengthen me on both a personal and professional level.
Amanda: Mented has been an exciting rollercoaster of emotions and mental fortitude. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my stamina, and my passions. I’m excited to continue on this journey and learn more.
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