“I am Radiant”, “I am Magnificent”, “I am Amazing”
These aren’t excerpts from a motivational speech but shade names from makeup company, Plain Jane Beauty. After sharing a few of their all natural, organic makeup shades on the Makeup for Melanin Girls Instagram page, there was an outpouring of support for the brand, so I reached out to the founder Lake Louise and below is the magic that transpired!
Your shade names always get a ton of positive feedback on social media. What prompted the idea behind staying away from typical shade names?
The beauty industry, like Hollywood, is very political and has had the influence to define the “standard of beauty”. We often define ourselves by the images we see around us. And if we don’t see images that reflect ourselves, the question becomes,
“Do I even exist in the eyes of society? Do I even matter?” Is there something wrong with me?
As a former high school teacher and university professor, language and words are important to me. I really wanted to change the messaging around beauty and this was my first step.
The standard naming protocol has been to call the lightest shade Fair… so what that says to me is the darkest shade is UnFair… these are those subtle and not so subtle ways self-hate seeps into the lives of women.
Traditionally, when a woman purchased her foundation she would say, “I am Beige” or “I am Medium Tan”. How uninspiring. You are not beige. Who wants to be beige? . It seems like a small shift but it’s not. I have noticed how it changes the body language of a woman when I say “You are Vibrant” or “You are Radiant”.
How many times, during the course of our day do we demonstrate that type of self-love? It is powerful and it matters.
I used to hear from women who told stories of how they had to custom blend their own shades of foundation.
They had to become “amateur chemists”, concocting potions in their bathrooms, trying to get the hue right. And it was expensive for them because they had to purchase several different products just to get the results of what one should do.
We continue to add shades and reformulate the browner shades so that we are able to offer and clean, safe and non-toxic makeup options for all women.
Black Owned Beauty Companies can feel pressure to conceal their blackness in order to succeed. Have you felt this pressure as well?
What an interesting question. That is a real thing and I am very aware of it. I don’t feel the need to conceal it. But at the same time, it is not part of my branding.
I don’t want my ethnicity to be the focus of the brand… I want the focus to be on the fact that I am creating products that are not polluting our bodies and that I am creating high quality natural, organic, safe and non-toxic cosmetics.
A primary focus of my company is transparency – in our ingredients, values and business practices. I found that when I view the “About” section of various company websites, it’s very generic. It says absolutely nothing about them. There is no human being or essence of who the company is.
Since we don’t have the marketing budget that the larger cosmetic brands have, it has taken longer for the word to get out about our brand. We are very grassroots in our approach to business. We launched Plain Jane Beauty six years ago!!
6 years ago I created foundation shades that included darker skin women that was also organic, safe, non-toxic, and nourishing to the skin. And to this day, there is no other natural and organic cosmetic brand that has an organic liquid foundation in darker shades.
I’m not interested in shifting my approach in order to make others more comfortable in order to try to become “more successful” by “concealing my blackness”. But I also have a different definition of success. I don’t define by my bank account. I define it by my joy. As long as I enjoy what I’m doing then I’m successful.
By being authentic and committed to my core values, both as a woman, a person of color and an entrepreneur, people find their way to our company and products. Everything falls into place.
If you try to manipulate the process in pursuit of the almighty dollar, it no longer becomes authentic or transparent and that is not something that fits into my personal or professional ethos.
Your product is natural and organic makeup correct? What exactly does natural makeup entail?
I can only speak to what “natural” entails for us… Since it’s not regulated it can be whatever someone wants it to be… However, for our brand it means that we use naturally derived safe and nontoxic ingredients.
It also means that there are some things we want to do but can’t in terms of product development because the ingredients required are too toxic. For example, matte lipsticks or matte primer. Certain ingredients are needed for the product to be matte and we won’t use it.
It entails using ingredients that will not suffocate the skin such as dimethicone, and other silicone-based derivatives, which is in everything from shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer. Just check the ingredients of any skin care or makeup product in your bathroom and you will see it listed up at the top of the ingredients list.
Dimethicone is what gives the product a silky feel but it can wreck havoc on the skin in the form of clogged pores, which leads to breakouts, acne and ultimately scarring because it doesn’t allow the skin to breathe. Then we pile on the makeup to cover it.
It means using safe and nontoxic preservatives. All products need preservatives, don’t let anyone say that they don’t. However, preservatives come in many forms and there are natural ones too. Essential oils are preservatives. Organic extracts work as preservatives, which are natural and safe unless of course you are actually allergic to a particular plant.
Ultimately, it means using ingredients that are safe and nontoxic for the body which then will also not pollute the earth when it is washed off and goes down the drain.
Today’s consumer is more concerned about natural and organic products. Do you think some companies use the “natural” moniker falsely?
Yes, absolutely. Companies are doing the same thing with the term “vegan” and “cruelty-free”. Many people confuse “vegan” and assume it also means natural and non-toxic. So there are now a lot of companies out there touting how vegan their products are but meanwhile their ingredients are completely toxic.
I will try not to turn this into a science lesson, but just to name a few ingredients: dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclomethicon, paraffin, mineral oil and petroleum (i.e. Vaseline), are all vegan, but I wouldn’t put it on my skin ever .Take a look at the ingredients on any of your makeup products and you will see some of these.
These ingredients trap everything under it—including bacteria, sebum, and impurities—which can cause breakouts and blackheads. Prolonged exposure to these types of ingredients can actually increase skin irritation and sensitivity.
Here is an example of an ingredient list of a foundation from a brand that touts how vegan they are:
cyclopentasiloxane, octyldodecyl neopentanoate butylene glycol, polyglyceryl-4 isostearate, dimethicone crosspolymer, PEG/PPG-18/18 dimethicone, mica, dimethicone, silica, phenoxyethanol, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, stearic acid, aluminum hydroxide, sodium dehydroacetate, caprylyl glycol, phytantriol, hexyl laurate, triethoxycaprylylsilane, sodium chloride, hexylene glycol, lysine, tocopherol, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, nylon-12 fluorescent brightener 230 salt, polyvinylalcohol crosspolymer
I will put honey and beeswax all over my face and take a bath in milk before I touch a product like that.
Where do you think all the break-outs, acne, skin discoloration, inflammation come from?
When you put toxic chemicals on the skin that sit on the face all day and doesn’t allow the skin to breathe, it suffocates the skin, which leads to congestion and problem skin. So in order to cover it up we pile on more toxic makeup… Then we go to the doctor and get prescribed a toxic topical medication in order to address the acne… a vicious cycle.
It’s no secret that the Beauty Industry has grossly underserved Black women. What do you think will help to rectify this in 2017 and the role of your company in this challenge?
First let me say: I’m not under-serving Black women, so it’s not a challenge for me! (laughter)
What will help is for Black women to spend their money with companies who have their interests and needs in mind. It may mean that we need to do some research and be more mindful about the purchase choices we make.
If you thought there were no shade ranges in the conventional department store brands, it’s even worse within the natural and organic beauty industry. We are talking 6 shades max! These are natural brands that also distribute on an international level as well.
At the end of the day, companies are all trying to make a profit and while my company has created a business model with clear intentions to be inclusive from the get-go, others have been slower to appreciate the value of such a fierce commitment to inclusivity and recognizing all shades of women.
With African American women spending more on beauty and hair care product than any other ethnic group it just doesn’t make any business sense why companies would leave brown skin women out of that equation and as I’ve noted above, other businesses are getting on board, but it’s been slow going.
But now that they see the money they are losing, well, my guess is they are starting to shift their priorities. And that’s fine. There is room for all of us. But we take pride in the fact that we were one of the first and we’d like to believe that we have served as an industry leader, motivating others to join in.
One of the things that sets us apart is that we really go into detail about our products on our website and explain why we use certain ingredients and avoid others. Educating our customers is one of our core missions. I guess it’s the teacher in me!
That is perhaps the most direct way in which we continue to serve our customer. It’s not just good enough that they buy product from us. I want them to be fully informed about the purchases they are making, not just with us but everywhere.
I want to empower them so that they can share that knowledge with others. And by doing so, it comes back to us tenfold because an informed customer will find their way to us and our products. Our customers are our most influential sales people and we are so grateful to them.