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Black Girl Sunscreen Founder Shontay Lundy on Her Rising Beauty Brand

The sunscreen label, which received a $1 million investment from a private funding source in May, is the only indie Black-owned brand carried by Target nationwide in the sun-care category.

After Beyoncé included Black Girl Sunscreen in an index of Black-owned businesses on her web site this summer in honor of Juneteenth, the California-based brand sold out immediately.

“In January, when we did our forecasting, we would have never thought that we would have sold through six months of inventory in a month,” said creator Shontay Lundy, who launched Black Girl Sunscreen in 2016.

Selling out is nothing new for Lundy, whose two products — BGS SPF 30 and BGS Kids SPF 50 — “fly off the shelves” at Target. It’s the only indie Black-owned brand carried by the retailer nationwide in the sun-care category.

“Our supporters go and buy all of the inventory, not just one bottle or two bottles,” Lundy said. “They buy four or five.”

The brand also sells at indie online retailers like Blk + Grn, which carries all-natural Black-owned products, as well as small brick-and-mortar shops. Growth for the brand has been “consistent” since it entered the market, due to its own e-commerce, but also in large part because of the success of distributing with niche retailers. Then, entering Target — the “big-box retailer,” as Lundy put it — in 2019, gave Black Girl Sunscreen “validation.”

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Priced at $18.99 and $9.99, the brand offers sunscreen that’s free of the white residue often left by most SPF lotions. Black Girl Sunscreen uses natural ingredients like avocado, cacao and carrot juice for moisture, antioxidants and vitamin C, and avoids potentially harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate.

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“I didn’t have to think about it twice,” she said of the name. “I wanted a sunscreen that rubbed into my skin complexion. I have darker skin. I’m going to call it Black Girl Sunscreen, because I am that. I am my own customer.”

The brand reached new heights in May when it received a $1 million investment from a private funding source. “Black females are a very underrepresented demographic when it comes to raising capital for their brands,” shared Lundy.

The effects of the movement to support Black-owned brands has been “insane,” Lundy added. And these days, her team of 12 is working to meet demand while facing disruptions in the supply chain due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Do I want to be sold out during peak season? No, that’s not OK to me. But is it something I can control? Not right now.”

Lundy, a native of upstate New York, was living in Miami when she decided to leave her corporate job and drive cross-country to California to start Black Girl Sunscreen. “I hit this glass ceiling, you know?” she said, calling from her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “I’ve always been a risk taker.”

Shontay Lundy
Shontay Lundy Courtesy

What made you decide to start the brand? Was there an aha moment?

Shontay Lundy: [I was] hiking a lot. And I had a diverse group of friends that would offer sunscreen to me that would not rub into my complexion. I searched online and couldn’t find anything that rubbed into my skin complexion. It wasn’t an aha moment. It was an oh s–t. There’s really nothing on Google for Black girls? There’s nothing on Google for ethnic skin? There’s really no one talking to us? No, apparently not, because it leaves this crazy, white cast. That’s the number-one reason Black women and women of color were not protecting their skin at that time.

Why has it taken so long for a product like yours to enter the market?

S.L.: For years, we’ve been left out of several conversations, not just the sun-care conversation but from a cosmetic standpoint. Dark isn’t valued as beauty. Society has been conditioned that dark doesn’t burn, doesn’t tan. That’s a reason. The next reason is there’s a lack of diversity within the brands of sun-care companies. When we look at the traditional sunscreens, who’s on their board? Who’s in product development? It’s not a Black person, because this would have come about a very long time ago. There’s no one in that room to speak up. There’s no diverse representation at the table. Those are the top reasons. And from a visual standpoint, when you look at our lighter skin counterparts, I would say, after being in the sun and there’s no application of SPF, you see the redness. On darker skin, you don’t see the redness. You don’t see the burn. It’s not until you get home that you see the peeling and then the realization comes, “Oh I got sunburned.”

How did your idea for the brand come to fruition?

S.L.: I’m talking directly to our consumer, to our market, in a very direct and human way. And when it comes to sunscreen, the ingredients, the inactives are extremely limited on what we can use. So, then it becomes, what’s the story? What’s the story behind your brand? Who are you targeting? What has separated us from others is we’re really, unapologetically clear about who we’re talking to. And that’s how we made it come to fruition.

When did you begin to see growth?

S.L.: It’s just been consistent growth. This past year, having the corporate validation with the big-box retailer happening in 2019 definitely brings a set of new eyes and consumers to the brand and a validity. Our traction has been really steady ever since we have come to market. It’s more about the awareness. How many people can you get in front of? How many ads are you running? I was self-funded for a very long time. It wasn’t until May that I secured funding for the brand, so we had to do a lot with a little. In 2020, we announced that we were the first Black indie brand to have permanent placement in this big-box retail, which is a huge accolade, because first of all, sun care is dominated by traditional conservative brands, and second of all, there’s not a brand talking to people of color, Black women specifically. The fact that we’re able to compete in that space with one or two [stockkeeping units] speaks volumes.

What made Target the right retailer?

S.L.: They asked us. When you Google us, whatever key word you put in, we’re going to come up. I think every search they did, Black Girl Sunscreen came up. We’re pretty visible as well on socials. With that being said, the partnership was pretty seamless. It wasn’t a dream of mine to go full-on retail, because you don’t really know what’s going to happen. But for them to reach out and ask, it was like, “OK yeah, we’ll do it. It’s going to take us to the next level.” And it did so well. It did well because of a combination of things, the name, the empowerment to it, our marketing strategies. We are truly female-owned and Black-owned. [There’s also] the buying power of the Black community, the support of the Black community. There are just so many reasons. And then Black Girl Sunscreen does what it says it’s supposed to do, first and foremost.

What can you share about the funding you received this year and how it has helped scale the business?

S.L.: Black females are a very underrepresented demographic when it comes to raising capital for their brands. It’s tough to see, because I know we’re extremely hardworking and passionate about the products and services that we’re providing. Securing that capital was a win for us all, really. I feel like we’re on the rise. There’s a lot of investors that do have their eyes on minority-owned businesses, female-owned businesses, Black-owned businesses, because they see the moves that we are making and that we are speaking to our demographic in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Black Girl Sunscreen
Black Girl Sunscreen

What role does sustainability play in the brand?

S.L.: Sustainability wasn’t at the forefront in 2016. It just wasn’t. What was important to us was eliminating as much toxic ingredients are possible. Again, we’re very limited here in the U.S. with ingredients. In 2016, oxybenzone had not been banned yet. It’s still not banned completely here in the U.S. Black Girl Sunscreen was definitely progressive when we took out oxybenzone from our formula. That meant a lot to us, because we got a lot of pushback from manufacturers that we were shopping to produce the formula. Their feedback was, “No, we’re going to include the oxybenzone, because that’s how it’s been for 20 years. You don’t know any better young girl.” What was important to me was, number one, removing the white residue, and number two, eliminating the oxybenzone and being clean. Right now, as we progress and certain issues comes to the forefront, it’s, “OK, how can we do things differently so we’re checking all the boxes for so many different consumers?”

What made you release a kids product?

S.L.: The kids product is so near and dear to my heart. It also speaks to another consumer: the moms. When Black Girl Sunscreen had a baby, that’s how we say it, we thought about not just speaking to Black kids. We thought about talking to biracial, multiracial kids. The difference is a higher SPF. Children have more sensitive skin. And we added chamomile, which is soothing for the skin.

BGS Kids SPF 50
Black Girl Sunscreen Kids SPF 50 Courtesy

2020 has been a challenging year. How has the brand been affected by the pandemic?

S.L.: In March, it felt like doomsday for many businesses. It was all hands on deck. People typically wear sunscreen for travel. And now tourism is scratched for 2020. Where is sunscreen going to be used now? Well, you’re taking that walk. You’re taking that hike. If you’re homeschooling your kids, you have to create some sort of recess for them. You should still be wearing your SPF. We converted Black Girl Sunscreen from a nonessential to an essential in March, April. And then May came, and we had Minneapolis happen, which was horrible. The next day, there was a [significant] article published [on the brand], and it was bittersweet because here we are mourning a man’s death, [George Floyd], and Black Girl Sunscreen in getting love from the beauty community, from the business community. It was tough. We couldn’t relish in the moment, which was a pretty big moment, especially for Black women and small businesses. Then the movement of supporting Black businesses was insane. It was insanity. Juneteeth, we were on Beyoncé’s web site. It sold us out completely. We were doing really well with inventory, but [then came] that Beyoncé crowd, the Beyhive. I will say, she’s been the only celebrity that has done something like that.

How has it been managing production with demand so high?

S.L.: I think people are understanding. None of this could have been written. It was just so unpredictable. What we are able to do is to tell our customers what’s really going on and just be transparent. “Hey, we’ll be fully stocked on this day.” In January, when we did our forecasting, we would have never thought that we would have sold through six months of inventory in a month. It’s great, but it’s very stressful. There’s peaks and valleys. My mantra is never get too high, never get too low. We’ve been sold out in the big-box retailer before several times. It just flies off the shelves. Our supporters go and buy all of the inventory, not just one bottle or two bottles. They buy four or five. It’s become the new normal for me. Do I want to be sold out during peak season? No, that’s not OK to me. But is it something I can control? Not right now.

2020, even though it was doom and gloom, it has been record-breaking for Black brands. People want to shake hands that wouldn’t respond to your e-mail before. And now they’re in your inbox or your DMs or calling you. It’s a catch-22, because you want the exposure. You want the opportunity. But at the same time, it had to come with this. We don’t know how long the heightened awareness of shopping Black and supporting Black is going to last. But what we do know is that now people have been exposed to products that they may love and may continue to buy. That’s really the best outcome from this.

Are there new products in the works?

S.L.: We have some newness coming. The no white residue is no longer good enough. We just want to make sure we’re able to accommodate all skin types. That’s what you can expect from Black Girl Sunscreen.