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How This BIPOC Founder Ensures Vegan Skincare Is Accessible For All

Akilah Releford of Mary Louise Cosmetics did an exclusive Q&A on her vegan, Fair Trade cosmetics company. She shares her thoughts on entering the sustainable entrepreneur space and more.

Written by
Anna Shuster

After starting Mary Louis Cosmetics in her dorm room in 2017, Akilah Releford's journey turning a Fair Trade, vegan skincare company into a brand that's grabbed the attention of Destiny's Child star Kelly Rowland (among other honors) is a testament to how we can all turn our passions into our business.

For over five years, Releford has been providing raw and ethically sourced clean skincare products for everyone who's ready for that transition. Her hustle has garnered Mary Louise Cosmetics thousands of superfans, reviews, and mentions. Mary Louise Cosmetics was even selected to go through the highly competitive Female Founders Alliance Ready Set Raise fundraising program with one of Brightly's cofounders, Laura Wittig.

Akilah Sat Down with Brightly to Share 5 Tips on How She Started a Clean Skincare Line

We asked Releford to talk to us about her journey and for some tips on entering the sustainable business space:

1. Can you tell us how you entered the all-natural skincare space? What bumps have you encountered along the way?

My love for natural skincare was inspired by my love for DIY skincare recipes I used to discover on YouTube and Pinterest in high school. I started Mary Louise Cosmetics in my dorm room at Howard University after my floormates kept asking if I was selling the DIY masks I was making in my room.

I hit some bumps in the road while looking for a manufacturer. In the very beginning, it was very challenging to find the right contractor and make that transition. However, I know now that it's important to take it slow, feel out your options and be super picky when finding someone to make your products. 

2. What is it about clean beauty that you love over the alternatives?

I have eczema and chronically dry skin. This alone made it super important for me to find products with ingredients that I knew were gentle and wouldn't irritate my skin. I'm also a fan of texture and aromatherapy when it comes to skincare... and I believe I can experience those things a lot better using clean beauty products. Using clean beauty is also about feeling good about knowing that your products are sustainably and ethically sourced.

Feeling good is the secret! 

3. Do you have any suggestions for new people looking to try clean beauty? Do your products work differently depending on skin type?

Don't focus on finding the right skincare products right away. Finding a great skincare routine is a journey and will take some time. It's also important to note that your regime should also change with the seasons. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious to accomplish your skin care goals is normal, but don't become too obsessive... have fun!

At Mary Louise, we offer different products for dry, combination, and oily skin types and we encourage our customers to play and experiment with products in their own way. 

4. Can you tell us how you source your ingredients for your products?

All of our products are made in the US, but our ingredients are sourced from all around the world. Having the cleanest and most unrefined ingredients is super important to us and we go through quite a bit of trial and error to find the perfect combination of ingredients.

Along with having pure raw materials... it's also critical to ensure that the materials meet Fair Trade practices and are grown and manufactured ethically.

5. What is it like owning a cruelty-free vegan cosmetics brand as a Black woman? Do you have any advice for other Black female entrepreneurs looking to enter the sustainable business space? 

Owning a cruelty-free brand as a Black woman has been the experience of a lifetime! I believe skincare and the passion for a more sustainable future has the power to bring people together regardless of gender or race/ethnicity.  On this journey, I've been able to connect with so many people from all walks of life who share the same values I do.

The most important piece of advice I would give is to start now! There will never be the "perfect" time to start your business or side hustle. Working on a passion project for just an hour a day can transform into something amazing! 

Sustainable Skincare Accessibility is Personal

One of the most important things at Brightly is accessibility to the eco-friendly products you desire. It's what keeps our Scout community buzzing and what has driven us since day one. Taking some time to look into Mary Louise Cosmetics and other small businesses allows you to know exactly where your money is going and feel good while you're at it.

Whether it's voting with your dollars at sustainable Black-owned businesses or reading up on environmental racism, being a conscious consumer is so much more than just shopping for what you need. Intersectional environmentalism is vital to a truly sustainable lifestyle. Keep that in mind the next time you reach for your credit card. Can your money be better utilized somewhere else?