By Kaylan Wate, Howard University News Service
Best friends Kimberly Smith and Amaya Smith met around seven years ago at a sorority meeting in Washington D.C. The two bonded over their love for happy hour and now share a business dedicated to serving the hair and makeup needs of women of color.
Brown Beauty Co-Op is the “brainchild” of Kimberly and Amaya, according to their website. Marjani, Kimberly’s makeup brand, shares ownership of Brown Beauty Co-Op with Amaya’s Product Junkie brand catered to natural hair.
Before birthing the idea of Brown Beauty Co-Op, Kimberly built and branded Marjani, a makeup brand devoted to women of color.
“Like most black women, I experienced trying to shop for foundation and not being able to find the right match,” she said, “or going somewhere and being matched, someone telling me that this was my correct shade, only to leave the store and realize I looked crazy. That is something I wanted to tackle with my business.”
To expand Marjani Beauty, Kimberly participated in pop-up shops in Washington, Atlanta, New York City and Miami as well as trade shows catered to women of color.
In March 2018, Amaya and Kimberly first proposed the concept for Brown Beauty Co-Op. They “thought that [they] would combine our businesses to make a one-stop shop beauty experience,” Kimberly said.
Brown Beauty Co-Op launched on Dec. 8 of that same year.
Kimberly’s training as a lawyer made the opening of Brown Beauty Co-Op’s first brick and mortar location easier.
“We were very strategic in choosing Dupont Circle,” she said. “We wanted to open an upscale beauty boutique and so with that, we needed an address that matched what we were trying to do.”
The popularity of the area and high foot traffic attracts local workers and visitors alike.
“Women will just come in and say, ‘thank you,’” Kimberly said, “‘something that was needed’ or ‘about time.’”
Neither Kimberly or Amaya has an educational background in beauty. Amaya works in political communications. She has also been a ‘naturalista’ for over 20 years.
Amaya’s side of the business stemmed from “wanting to create a space for all of the curly girls.”
Not only does Brown Beauty Co-Op serve as a retail space and community space for women of color, it also acts as an incubator and an event space.
The incubator element of Brown Beauty Co-Op focuses on mentoring other startups.
Kimberly encourages those with business ideas to “just do it.”
“Don’t wait for things to align,” she said. “If you have a good idea do it because someone else will do it before you do.”
Kimberly spends some days shopping for and testing new products. This happens to be her favorite part of the business.
Naturally London is one of the brands that Brown Beauty Co-Op supplies. Founder and avid runner Chris Cabrera started her footcare business from home. The growth and expansion of Cabrera’s business inspire the Brown Beauty Co-Op.
“Every business has growing pains and obstacles,” Cabrera said. “We are thrilled with our evolution.”
Kimberly also appreciates the learning she’s done so far.
“I learn something every day,” she said.
Aspects of retail business like taking inventory and understanding what customers want are some of the “challenging but rewarding” skills Kimberly gains working in her store.
Peak hours occur around lunch and on the weekends.
“Groups of women will come on the weekend before drinks or after brunch and make this a meet-up spot,” Kimberly said.
Brown Beauty Co-Op also uses its space to host events. They have produced beauty events, like AJ Crimson makeup artist meetup and demo. Outside organizations are able to host events there as well.
“[Events can be] anything that we feel will be of benefit to women of color, not just limited to beauty,” Kimberly said.
Brown Beauty Co-Op creates and provides a space for women of color who continuously struggle to find products for them, created by people who look like them.
“This business is really personal to all of us, not just me and Amaya as the business owners,” Kimberly said.
Such positive beauty experiences for women of color continue to be prioritized as more women embrace their natural appearances.