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Ami Colé Creates No-Makeup Makeup for Melanin-Rich Skin

"We knew that our customer really wanted the my-skin-but-better look."

Diarrha N’Diaye, a Glossier veteran, is launching a multitasking beauty brand called Ami Colé that centers around people with melanin-rich skin.

Ami ColéAmi Colé will launch in June with three products: Skin-Enhancing Tint, $32, Lip Treatment Oil, $20, and Light-Catching Highlighter, $22.

The lineup aims to give customers even, glowing skin with products that are vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, alcohol-free, paraben-free and gluten-free. Products are housed in recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging.

The line was built for and around Black women with melanin-rich skin, but is also meant to work on a wide variety of lighter and deeper skin tones. It will be sold on the Ami Colé website starting May 17, and with Thirteen Lune starting June 1.

N’Diaye, who is Senegalese American, named the brand after her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Senegal and has run Aminata African Hair Braiding in Harlem since the ‘80s. N’Diaye said growing up and spending time in her mom’s salon shaped her sense of beauty

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Diarrha N'Diaye
Diarrha N’Diaye, Ami Colé courtesy of Ami Colé

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“A lot of beauty secrets and exchange were happening there, but even more interestingly, most of the employees there were straight from Senegal. This was their first foray as working women in America. My mom creates this safe haven for them. You have women who didn’t speak English, but something happened, there was a synergy that was so beautiful,” she said. “I just thought, that was beauty — people coming in with their Moesha and Brandy braids and getting them done. But I realized, once you leave that bubble, the world thinks of beauty differently. I’ve always been chasing that high, trying to get that safe space of beauty and feeling comfortable and also seeing myself represented, and that was not a reality.”

When N’Diaye worked at Sephora during her college years at Syracuse, she found the shade ranges and storytelling lacking, and the sense of beauty was different from what she grew up around at major corporations like L’Oréal, where she worked doing social media strategy. Even a more modern start-up, like Glossier, left N’Diaye with the sense something was missing, she said. 

“It was very clear that Black experiences and Black beauty were very much in the peripheral view and not really celebrated in their true glory,” N’Diaye said. “Are you going to everyday people to talk to Black women who are dancing and brunching on the weekends, or are you going to the Golden Globes?” 

For Ami Colé, N’Diaye wanted to meet the needs of everyday people, who — like her —wants to use makeup but still wants to look like themselves, she said. “I wanted that look, that no-makeup makeup look.”

At that point several years ago, N’Diaye said her shade wasn’t available in existing tinted moisturizer lines. When she asked women around her neighborhood what they were doing to achieve the no-makeup makeup look, they told her they’d been “hacking” it by adding oil to foundations, she said.

After talking to her online community via Instagram and asking 400 women to fill out an in-depth survey on shades, shopping, pricing and more, N’Diaye started working on creating a skin tint specifically with deeper skin tones in mind. She hired product development specialists who had worked with Fenty and Nars to help create shades, using information from the surveys.

“We knew that our customer really wanted the my-skin-but-better look. We knew a skin tint that was not too greasy, not too oily or clogging your pores, or sheer frankly — we knew that wouldn’t work for this customer because hyperpigmentation is an issue — and oily skin is an issue as well,” N’Diaye said.

Ami Cole’s makeup lineup includes skin care ingredients like baobab seed extract, hibiscus extract and pumpkin seed extract. The Skin-Enhancing Tint comes in six shades meant to work with different undertones in melanin-rich skin, and the Lip Treatment Oil comes in a sheer, rosy taupe. The brand’s Light-Catching Highlighter has a translucent base meant to work across skin tones, especially deeper ones. 

I envision [the customer] as a woman who enjoys being herself, with a true joy in going to the mirror and feeling confident in what she looks like,” N’Diaye said. “For me specifically, being a darker skin tone, I know how important it was for me to feel confident even to function in society. For me to be able to walk out the door and feel like, ‘OK, I look my best self, I feel my best self.’ That’s was crucial to how my day went. That is really important for this customer.”

N’Diaye has raised more than $1 million in pre-seed funding for Ami Colé from high-profile individuals, including Katherine Power, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Hannah Bronfman and former Glossier president Henry Davis, as well as Glossier investor Imaginary Ventures, Greycroft and Debut Capital, an early-stage firm focused on investing in Black, Latine and Indigenous founders.

The fundraise took a year, N’Diaye said, and many prospective investors didn’t understand the need for a variety of beauty brands focused on women with deeper skin tones. 

“We had Uoma beauty and Mented Cosmetics coming up at the same time, and every new brand actually became another reason not to invest in our brand. It was very odd,” N’Diaye said. “I’ve had people tell me — I kid you not — why not go to Emily Weiss, and just create a Black version of Glossier under Emily Weiss. Or call Sheena from Kosas, and create a Black extension.”

But for N’Diaye, building a brand that centered around and celebrated melanin-rich skin was crucial.

“It was tough being a darker skin tone when there was no Duckie Thot,” she said. “For me, Ami Colé is about sparking joy in those communities and putting those people in focus, and not in the peripheral, of beauty.”


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