Vivrant Beauty: Could This Be The Sephora For Women Of Color?
Words: Angela Johnson
A lawyer turned beauty entrepreneur created a beauty shopping experience just for us.
Shopping for beauty products can be more frustrating than fun for women of color.
Beautifully packaged products call to us from department store cosmetic counters and drug store aisles, only to end up in a product graveyard at the back of our medicine cabinets after failing to live up to our needs.
New York City attorney Desiree Verdejo knows this struggle all too well; as a self-proclaimed product junkie, she often found herself disappointed by the selection at the makeup counter.
“When you look at the big box stores, the people doing the purchasing aren’t necessarily using the products,” Verdejo says. “Things aren’t curated.”
Verdejo saw a need for a one-stop shop for beauty products geared towards women of color. After years of research and planning, Verdejo opened Vivrant Beauty (220 Saint Nicholas Avenue), a Harlem, New York boutique dedicated to hair, makeup, and skincare products that embrace the diversity of women’s complexions and hair textures.
And while she knows there are plenty of places to buy lipstick and shampoo, Verdejo sees Vivrant Beauty’s competitive advantage as the ability to give her customers an enjoyable shopping experience created with them in mind.
“I’ve been reading blogs and talking to other women, so I know the kinds of things people are looking for,” she says. “I’d love to sell you a bunch of stuff, but I’d rather sell you things you actually need so that you’ll keep coming back.”
Verdejo spoke to mater mea about what inspired her to leave her law career behind, and what she believes Vivrant Beauty can do to help women of color look and feel their best.
You started your career as a lawyer. How did you make the jump into beauty?
Well, it wasn’t exactly a jump. It was more of a slow transition. I’ve always been interested in skin care. My obsession started because I have crazy skin, so I have to pay attention to ingredients. I spent about two years doing a lot of research, and I even started a beauty blog to learn about products and trends. Then I started writing a business plan [for the store] just to organize my thoughts. But when I started talking to people about my idea and looking at space with realtors, that’s when it started to feel real.
I also had to convince my husband that this was a good idea. [Laughs] It can be hard to admit that you chose a career path that wasn’t necessarily the right fit, especially if you’re sacrificing some of your salary. But at the end of the day, it’s all about doing what you’re passionate about.
How did you decide on the name Vivrant Beauty?
I wanted a name that had good energy, something you would want to say all the time. Something that was alive and energetic. And you know, you can’t help but think about the Q-Tip song!
How difficult was it to secure the funding and support to launch Vivrant Beauty?
Securing the finances was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome. The process was pretty long and involved. I saved and invested some of my own money, but I also had to acquire a business loan, which required months of paperwork and requests for my business plan.
Then, I had to go back [and] provide support for some of the quotes in my plan. Taxes and financial documents had to be reviewed. It was difficult to try to convince a loan provider to give me a chance, especially when not many people were doing what I was trying to do and [when] it was outside of my field. For about three months, there were a lot of emails every day!
What makes the Vivrant Beauty experience different than shopping at any other beauty retailer?
The store has it’s own vibe. It’s a clean, welcoming atmosphere, designed for conversation. You can chill for a while and read ingredients. Also, the selection of products is welcoming to women of color. I’ve never found one place where I could get everything I needed for my hair and beauty regimen. Now, I think Vivrant Beauty is that place.
How do you choose which brands you partner with?
I would say the process has evolved. I started out looking for products that worked well and had good reputations with stylists. I wanted to offer a range of products for women of color. We have some great independent brands, like these gorgeous nail colors from Mischo Beauty, a line started by a woman of color out of Washington D.C. But we also carry mainstream brands. I care a lot about packaging and aesthetics. I like to include things that look cohesive on the shelves. And now, I’ve also started responding to what’s happening in the store. People come in asking about certain products they’d like to see on the shelves.
What do you think are the most important beauty products every woman must have?
Every hair texture needs a good deep conditioner. Davines has a great one formulated for dry and curly hair. In the makeup bag, I would say a nice mattifying foundation, and mood-changing lip color—whether that’s toned down or turned up!
Who are some of the people you admire in the business?
I’m always impressed with people like Tory Burch whose image and brand are synonymous. When so much of your personal identity contributes to your brand’s success—that’s something no one else can emulate. I aspire to be authentic.
What’s in the future for Vivrant Beauty?
I think Vivrant Beauty has great potential. I want people to be impressed, comfortable, and excited about the brand. The e-commerce side of things is difficult, and I’d like to perfect that. Until I feel 100%, I don’t even want to think about what’s next. So I’m going to stay in my lane and get things right. It’s only been six weeks [since launch]; I want to get people in the door!