Pound Cake has arrived.
While the brand technically debuted its range of lipsticks, which provide the same red hue on varying skin tones as opposed to employing one “universal” shade, in 2021, Pound Cake has been on a hamster wheel-like victory lap ever since.
To recap: The brand’s debut line, dubbed Cake Batter, was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2022; Pound Cake launched online and in all 10 Credo locations; completed Ulta Beauty’s inaugural MUSE Accelerator Program, and won the $1 million grand prize for Pharrell Williams’ Black Ambition pitch competition.
Founded by chief executive officer Camille Bell and chief branding officer Johnny Velazquez, Pound Cake is an anomaly that seeks to demonstrate what should have always been the beauty industry norm.
“We need to create different variations of the same color for specific skin and lip tones, so that when applied to those specific skin tones, everybody gets that one desired color,” said Bell, who first grasped the need for a brand like Pound Cake during her undergraduate years in the 2010s, when she noticed certain lipstick shades often looked different — or didn’t show up at all — on her.
“I started doing some market research by asking friends who are my skin tone or darker than me, ‘Hey, is this happening to you? Is this a problem that you face?’ and they were like, ‘Yes, all the time,’” Bell said.
A self-described “beauty outsider” yet unyielding DIYer, Bell embarked on her mission of bringing forth true inclusivity through Pound Cake shortly thereafter.
“I didn’t work in the industry for years and then decide to create a brand. I created Pound Cake because I was experiencing a problem and I wanted to set out to solve it,” Bell said.
But while the brand’s recent symphony of hard-earned accolades tell a story of triumph, Pound Cake’s mission wasn’t always met with such enthusiasm or even understanding.
“We’ve had so many ‘Nos’ throughout this entire process,” Bell said. “The first big yes we got was Glossier’s [Grant Initiative], but in most of the pitch competitions we entered, the judges were mostly white men who told us that what we were out to solve wasn’t really a problem, even though we had the market research to show that it was.”
A 2017 Indiegogo campaign by the brand ultimately raised $20,000, which, combined with Glossier’s $10,000 prelaunch grant in 2020, was enough to get the brand on its feet.
Still though, to scale required additional funding, which entrepreneurs of color are less likely to receive than their white counterparts. Musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams sought to tackle this disparity in launching Black Ambition, an organization that provides funding and mentorship to Black and Latine businesses across the consumer goods and services, media, tech, entertainment and health care industries, in 2020.
“Black Ambition is a vehicle for impact,” Williams wrote exclusively in an email to Beauty Inc. “We want to continue to lay the foundation for more incredible Black and Latinx entrepreneurs to have access to resources that they need to take their idea or business to the next level.”
Bell applied to Black Ambition in February, and in August received an email that Pound Cake had been selected as a semi-finalist for this year’s pitch competition. From there, Bell was paired with Rob Robillard, chief merchandising officer at HSN, who served as a mentor to her and six other beauty and footwear entrepreneurs, who all met biweekly for the following 12 weeks.
“It’s very difficult to bootstrap a beauty business,” said Robillard, who previously served as senior vice president of marketing at L’Oréal Paris and chief executive officer at Living Proof. “Camille’s idea is about transforming the way of delivering color cosmetics for everyone. It isn’t a niche idea at all — it’s a big idea.”
Black Ambition’s 2022 cohort dwindled from 250 semifinalists in August to eight finalists, each of whom delivered a four-minute pitch to a panel of judges in November in Virginia and took home varying sums of prize money, with Bell taking home the grand prize of $1 million.
“When you think about the support that Black and Latinx founders need, the capital part is most important,” said Felicia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition. “Some organizations keep founders over-mentored and underfunded — in reality, both of those things need to happen equally, at the highest level.”
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The support provided by Robillard and other Black Ambition mentors includes access to high-level networks that mentees can leverage as they forge along in their careers.
“Relationships, particularly in beauty, really matter — sometimes they can even mean the difference in getting a retailer to call you back,” Robillard said.
“Patience and grit are key — those are the main things that I learned about myself throughout the Black Ambition process,” said Bell, who was also awarded $50,000 for completing Ulta’s MUSE Accelerator Program, and who plans to use the funds to grow the Pound Cake team, and unveil new innovations in 2023.
“We’re launching three new products next year: two are still in the lip category, and one is a face product, and they’re all going to follow that same model as Cake Batter,” Bell said. “We’re approaching color the way the industry’s approaching foundation — we feel that if we’re going to highlight and include marginalized folks in our brand, it’s important that we’re also talking about what’s happening in these marginalized communities.”