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Recalculating: Three Women Became Beauty Leaders When Their Careers Took a Detour

The beauty category offered options to women who started fast-growing companies.

Life-changing experiences often inspire career changes. For three women — Cashmere Nicole, Sterling McDavid and Dawn Fitch — very different events led them to become beauty entrepreneurs.

Two weeks ago, Cashmere Nicole received $3 million in funding from Unilever Ventures, the venture capital and private equity arm of Unilever (which has also invested in Ren Skincare, BlowLtd, Nutrafol and True Botanicals), to help expand her brand indie brand called Beauty Bakerie.

Nicole was a single mother at age 16 with little money. Although she had a licensed practical nursing degree, she followed her dream to start a beauty business to not only set a good example, but also provide for her daughter. She earmarked breast cancer as a cause she wanted to support with her business — at first because she liked the color pink, she said. “A year later, I had breast cancer and that became my story.” With a desire to make “better not bitter,” beauty products after her breast cancer battle, Nicole tweaked her formulas. “After my cancer scare, I was afraid of everything I was putting on my body, thinking maybe it was the lotion [causing her cancer].”

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She was recovering from breast surgery when Beyoncé Knowles heard about her story and used one of her items, Lip Whips. Knowles and Nicole established a personal relationship. “With someone like Beyoncé behind me, I got fired up,” she said, adding it gave her the confidence to build her brand.

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Career Path Reboot: Women Who Left Careers to Start Beauty Brands
Cashmere Nicole just received $3 million in funding from Unilever Ventures.

Today, the bakery-inspired line includes 120-stockkeeping units ranging from liquid lipsticks, setting powder and highlighters to eyebrow gel, eye shadows and eyeliners. Price points start at $14 and top out around $40. The digitally native brand has an Instagram following of more than 400,000. Beauty Bakerie is launching in 10 doors of Forever 21’s new chain Riley Rose, on QVC U.K., HSN, in Sephora SEA and in 40 of Wojooh’s doors in the United Arab Emirates by the end of the year.

With the funding, which was closed on the investment platform CircleUp, Nicole said she’ll increase marketing, digital spending and inventory she feels is needed to secure retail growth.

“We have been impressed by Beauty Bakerie’s e-commerce-led model and consistent digital growth as well as the strong engagement of the brand’s Millennial consumer base. I look forward to working with Cashmere and the management team to build upon the company’s momentum and many growth opportunities,” Anna Ohlsson-Baskerville, director at Unilever Ventures, said.

Career Path Reboot: Women Who Left Careers to Start Beauty Brands
Sterling McDavid

A very different backstory is behind the creation of The Starling Project, a socially conscious line of fragranced candles founded by Sterling McDavid in 2015. “I started my career on Wall Street and had a true 180 [degree turn] after doing pro-bona work [with solar power] in Vietnam with UNICEF. I came back and gave my two weeks notice,” recalled McDavid, who wanted to put her time and effort into helping others.

Seeing the impact solar panels could make, she had the idea to sell luxury candles to fund solar projects. She did a deep dive into researching candles and fragrances to bring out a quality product she could retail for an accessible cost. The result is a 6.5-oz. candle priced at $55. She insisted on the candles being sustainable, including everything from recycled glass and packaging to soy wax and a cotton wick. The candles are made in the U.S., while benefitting under-resourced communities globally.

Career Path Reboot: Women Who Left Careers to Start Beauty Brands
Holiday Candle

This year she’s launching the first holiday candle to the collection in response to consumer request. The candles, offered in six day-in, day-out scents, are sold online at as well as specialty retailers such as Forty Five Ten, The Greenwich Hotel and Random Acts of Creativity. To date, the Starling Project donated $150,000 to UNICEF, which fully funded a solar project in Chad, Africa. In 2017, the brand sets its sights on Rwanda, where The Starling Project will provide solar energy to benefit hospitals via sales of its candles.

Career Path Reboot: Women Who Left Careers to Start Beauty Brands
Pooka Pure & Simple

Dawn Fitch had her dream job at Sony Music when one day on her way to work she had a tingle in her back. While physicians couldn’t figure it out, Fitch decided to take her health into her own hands. She examined her bath and body products where she saw ingredients “I couldn’t even pronounce,” she recalled. She launched Pooka Pure & Simple, a line of naturally inspired body care, fragrances and hair products to offer consumers better options. “What you put on your skin goes into your system,” she said. At first, she sold her products at festivals before she was connected to Whole Foods, where her brand is sold in select doors. “I went into Whole Foods one day just for the excitement of buying my own brand.”

Career Path Reboot: Women Who Left Careers to Start Beauty Brands
Dawn Fitch

After numerous misdiagnoses, Fitch found out she had multiple sclerosis. That ramped up her effort to further tweak her ingredients, adding turmeric and ginger to her signature body butters.

“Pooka helped me get through my diagnosis,” she said. “Now I am connecting others with auto-immune diseases and holding workshops to help people learn how to make their own products.” For 2018 she plans to expand into the specialty and department store channels.