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Civil Service: Shopping Within Range

The Brown Beauty Co-op cofounder Kimberly Smith left a career in law to create an inclusive shopping experience for women of color.

A few years ago, attorney Kimberly Smith left a beauty retailer, frustrated by the lack of options for Black women. “I remember thinking it would be really cool if there was a store where we could freely talk about our makeup concerns and needs, and not just be relegated to particular parts of the store,” she said. In 2018, she left her job as a lawyer to cofound the Brown Beauty Co-op with business partner Amaya Smith.

Beauty Inc: What white space in the retail landscape did you see when you cofounded the Brown Beauty Co-op?

Kimberly Smith: I started Marjani three years ago, a web site focusing on skin care and makeup for women of color. My business partner, Amaya [Smith], has expertise in natural hair. She always wanted to have an education-based brick-and-mortar store, so we decided to create a one-stop shop. We wanted to foster community, make it an event space, have people come and network, but really connect with other people in a disarming place specifically for Black and brown women. We stock independently owned brands founded by Black and brown people.

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Beauty Inc: What is your philosophy on making a sale?

K.S.: If you’re shopping at a boutique, you’re shopping for experience. The sale is important, but it’s more important to me that you want to come back over and over again. Someone’s taking the time to educate you on the product, and it works, you’re not just throwing it in a drawer and not using it. We go through a consultation with everyone, because we want to understand how you feel about beauty. I want to understand the psychology behind why you’re shopping, so I can help you become a lifelong customer.

Beauty Inc: How has the coronavirus impacted your clients’ shopping habits over the past year?

K.S.: Sales plummeted in March. We’ve been doing weekly virtual happy hours and have moved to virtual consultations, either by phone or video. Customers can set up an appointment, and we try to do the same things we would in-store. We also started doing shop-by-appointment and curbside pickups. We even had a curbside pickup party, so people could come pick up their pre-ordered purchases.

Beauty Inc: How has the movement to “buy Black” impacted your business?

K.S.: June was a crazy month, and there was a lot of buying Black. Our concern is with retention; we don’t need just a onetime purchase. We talk about retail activism: doing a onetime purchase doesn’t really help anyone. The big concern is, how do you sustain that growth?

Beauty Inc: What types of products do your customers consistently return for?

K.S.: Skin care. Repeat customers are buying the same products, and that’s a category I’m very keen on growing. I’m focusing on adding [products] to cover the concerns Black and brown women have, like hyperpigmentation. Hair is also key. We have a smaller selection of brands, but they’re brands customers come back to. Pre-coronavirus, it was more foundation, because we have five brands that make shades for Black and brown women. Now, that has shifted totally to skin care.

Beauty Inc: What are your top five best-selling products?

K.S.: Hyper Skin Hyper Clear Brightening Vitamin C Serum, Nuhanciam Anti-Dark Spot Power 4 Factor Serum, Shaffali Lavender + Turmeric Facial Cleanse, Maréna Beauté Blush Tarou in Terre Rouge, and Shaffali Pineapple + Peppermint Facial Exfoliant.

Beauty Inc: What’s your most memorable sale?

K.S.: The first time an Indian woman came in and shared her story about not finding the right foundation. I felt like other women were experiencing what I did. When we matched her with a foundation, she was so surprised to find something that actually matched her skin tone. That was confirmation that this isn’t just a Black woman thing, every woman with medium to dark tones is having these issues. It was confirmation that we are really onto something.

For more from, see:

Voices of Fashion’s Black Creatives on the Work to Be Done

Voices of Fashion’s Black Creatives on the Work to Be Done, Part 2

Inside Deciem’s Virtual Consultations