The disparity that women face in America is a multifaceted issue.
On one hand you have discrimination across the board, like the glaring wage gap (even though women are more likely to have a college degree than men), but there is deeper tier of discrimination that women of color face.
Whether it’s from the media or in our history books, women of color seem to always be overlooked.
And while characters like Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope on Scandal and Nicole Beharie’s Lt. Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow are a breath of fresh from the typecast of mainstream television, and putting Harriet Tubman on the twenty dollar bill, gives women of color the proper recognition they deserve, major steps still have to be made.
Which is why Melissa Butler’s fight for the representation she did not see in cosmetics for women like her shows a fortitude that women anywhere who feel like they’re aren’t valued.
Melissa Butler is a black woman from Detroit who quit her job as an analyst on Wall Street to launch Lip Bar. Not because she was especially into cosmetics, or always had a dream of entering the beauty industry, but simply because she felt like she had to do something about not finding products that complimented her the way she would like.
According to Butler, women of her skin tone simply aren’t represented by cosmetics makers, as she once said,
“I started growing frustrated with the beauty industry altogether because first of all, why can’t I find a nude lipstick that looks good on me? Furthermore, why do the lipsticks only come in nudes, reds, and pinks. It became this quest of I want to find products that are natural but also look good on people who look like me. And it was literally impossible to find.”
When you consider that women of color have the deepest pockets when it comes to makeup — shelling out $7.5 billion on beauty products every year, and spending 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare as other consumers, you would think these companies would pay more attention the consumers that are the largest part of the marketplace.
When Melissa explained her motivation behind this business endeavor, she spoke on the importance of combating the gross disparity.
“I’m still not that really into makeup, which is very interesting. I’m passionate about the purpose of the brand more so than the product of the brand. The product is kind of the afterthought.”
For years, L’Oreal and Estée Lauder were household names in beauty.
In an industry where brands often categorize tones as either ‘general’ or ‘ethnic’, shopping can become a task for any women whose ethnicity is not met by such general descriptors.
Lip Bar is a vegan, gluten-free, and paraben-free lipstick company that specializes in lipstick colors that are more live than you’re standard brand.
Represented through the bold color line-up, Lip Bar was born as a way of challenging tradition and giving women the courage to be who they are.
In the first two years, Melissa made $107,000, enough to quit her job in 2013. But it wasn’t until her failed appeal to ABC’s Shark Tank to make her business take off.
While she saw her bold looks as an opportunity for women of color, and women everywhere, to express themselves, members of “The Tank” felt otherwise, giving harsh criticisms as “I can see a massive market share in the clown market” and referring to Melissa and her business partner as cockroaches.
Since that episode aired last year in February, their website has seen 30,000 hits and another 120,000 within the first two weeks of the premiere. Lip Bar is now worth nearly half-a-million dollars with the business still on the incline.
By recognizing the opportunity that her unfortunate misrepresentation in the cosmetic industry had instead of allowing it to define her.
Not only does she have a diverse pallet of lipstick to choose from, but through owning and running her business, she is able to use the company simultaneously to shed light on self-esteem issue that many women of color face.
For the Lip Bar campaign ads, Melissa went with dark-skinned women to address the self-esteem issues directly linked with complexion.
This not only adds to the appeal to a neglected audience, but simply through their representation as models, let them see that women who look like them can be confident in who they are.
The workforce, history, and cosmetics are not the only areas where women of color face misrepresentation, but Melissa has shown that it does not have to stay that way.
When you see your disadvantage as an opportunity, it allows you to open new doors for yourself, and others like you.