by Jamaica Gayle | August 14, 2020
Historically, people of color have experienced underrepresentation in the beauty industry, from difficulties finding matching makeup shades to a scarcity of products that cater to diverse hair textures.
In 2017, Kimberly Smith founded the e-commerce site, Marjani Beauty, to help fill that gap. Dedicated to women of color by people of color brand makers, the goal of Marjani is to build a one-stop-shop experience.
“We wanted to create something different from what is normally experienced in the market as pertained to women of color, especially black women who were shopping for beauty,” shares Founder and CEO Smith.
Less than two years after launching the beauty website, Smith and her best friend, Amaya Smith, decided to open a brick and mortar store. “We came together to create something more than a retail location. We wanted it to be a true community space,” says Smith.
The Brown Beauty Co-op was born in December of 2018 as a storefront beauty boutique in Washington, DC.
The pair founded the Co-op with three objectives in mind. First, it is a physical location that allows customers to experience beauty in person and gain education about the products. Second, it acts as a space for community events. The founders produce their own events and offer the space to other organizations to generate beauty, lifestyle and wellness events centered around people of color.
Third, the Co-op supports brand incubation. “As we continue to meet new brands, some are retail-ready and some are not. Sometimes they don’t have the resources or the information to move to a business-to-consumer model. The incubation is through workshops that we have created. They provide different opportunities for brands to showcase their businesses through popups, Instagram Lives and other initiatives,” Smith explains. She adds that they also plan to add advocacy efforts in the future.
Like many brick and mortar stores, the Co-op closed their doors for several months during the pandemic. However, the absence of in-person interactions did not stop the business from continuing operations and staying productive.
“We had an online presence before the pandemic and we interacted a lot with our community on Instagram. With the doors being closed, we’ve had to take it to another level because we wanted to stress that the premise behind these businesses is not just transactional,” says Smith. “We have had to find new ways to build community and continue to communicate with everyone. Even as we are growing and adding new members to our network, they’ve never been to the Co-op. They don’t know what it was when it was open, so we need to be able to translate that experience into something virtual.”
Both businesses have moved many of their events online. “We host a ‘Virtual Happy Hour’ every Thursday where we feature and highlight the brands in the store or have other experts talk about mental health or their experiences with beauty.”
The video conferencing platform, Zoom, has become crucial to the operations of Marjani and the Co-op, enabling virtual classes, beauty consultations and private parties.
Further, they regularly use their social media platforms to elevate black and brown entrepreneurs, emphasize the importance of supporting black-owned businesses and advocate for social justice.
Another method of combating shifts in business has been an increase in online marketing. “Everyone is at home on their computers or phones. Fortunately, right now Facebook ads are less expensive than they have been in a while and we’ve taken advantage of it. We have more Facebook ads and Instagram ads running,” shares Smith.
Even though Smith started in the e-commerce space, the focus had been on the new store more recently. The COVID-19 crisis shifted the founders back to an emphasis on e-commerce, with Marjani and the Co-op both promoting online shopping, curbside pickups, and virtual consultations.
“Since returning to a focus on e-commerce, I’ve seen an increase in international sales. We’ve been shipping to Spain, Canada, the UK and Australia. We’ve really been trying to expand the reach,” she says.
Marjani Beauty and the Brown Beauty Co-op are continually utilizing their digital platforms to remind their community, in Washington DC and around the world, of the endless virtual ways to support small businesses and stay connected during this time.
“This is a learning process and a wake-up call for everyone to understand how best to support small businesses and businesses that are black and brown-owned,” Smith concludes.