Friends since they were students at Harvard Business School, KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson found themselves lamenting a problem many women of color shared — finding appropriately pigmented cosmetics.
“Cosmetics brands have used a single model type — a white woman with pale pink lips — forever,” Miller said. “For women of color, those products didn’t show up on us at all or we would have to ‘chemist’ our way through to make them work for us.”
The duo spent their teen years mixing and matching drugstore shades of foundations and concealers and lipsticks. Now, adults armed with business degrees and a passion for beauty, the women set out in 2015 to create products for women of color.
“[They are] are a huge demographic and outspend white female counterparts by up to 80 percent,” Miller said. “Clearly, we have the money to spend. The term ‘niche’ here is such a misnomer.
After trial and error in a household kitchen that served as product-development lab, the concept of Mented Cosmetics took shape, along with the line’s first two lipstick shades. The name is short for pigmented.
Today, Mented offers a full line of vegan, non-toxic and paraben-free nude lipsticks and lip glosses created for women of color, all manufactured in New Jersey.
Mented has a handful of competitors including Maybelline, Iman Cosmetics and Laura Mercier that also have begun catering to the beauty desires of women of color.
The differentiator, Miller said, is that her company focuses on “everyday beauty.” Mented sells lipsticks and glosses in nude shades to suit a variety of skin undertones for wearing day or night.
To fund the company’s growth, Miller and Johnson eventually raised $1 million in venture capital. Miller and Johnson raised $400,000 in pre-seed funding by the time they officially launched the company in March 2017. They closed on another $600,000 in funding by the end of last summer.
Mented’s lipsticks include Nude La La, Pretty in Pink, Foxy Brown, Dope Taupe and Mented No. 5. Mented lipsticks are priced at $16.50 and are available only online. Earlier this year, Mented launched its first eye shadow palette.
“In most eye shadow palettes, there is a beige shade but it looks like chalk on me,” Miller said. “Those products are supposed to show up as beige on beige skin. But I need it to show up beige on brown skin. Mented everyday wear is nudes and neutrals for brown skin tones.”
Mented relies on word-of-mouth to market its products.
“For so long, women of color couldn’t walk into a store and get the assistance they needed and deserved; the associate they were talking with just wasn’t familiar with their skin tone,” Miller said. “So many of us turned to YouTube and Instagram and found the women who look like us and started to do what they were doing.”