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    The Lip Bar (TLB): Melissa Butler (2020)

    Starting a business requires determination and the ability to adapt. Success may not come immediately, but with innovation and perseverance, entrepreneurial dreams can be realized.

    enJuly 03, 2023

    About this Episode

    While working long hours as a Wall Street analyst, Melissa Butler started making lipstick in her kitchen as a hobby. But it soon turned into an obsession, costing thousands of dollars. She was frustrated by the lack of diversity in the cosmetics industry, and as a Black woman, wanted to create lipstick colors that complimented her complexion and style. So in 2010, she launched The Lip Bar, with bold colors like green and purple, and boozy names like "Cosmo" and "Sour Apple Martini." Undeterred by a disastrous appearance on Shark Tank with her partner Rosco Spears, Melissa was motivated to pitch her lipstick to Target, and in 2016, launched a new color on Target's online store. Today, The Lip Bar—rebranded in 2021 as TLB—has expanded to stores nationwide and is now the largest Black-owned makeup brand sold in Target stores.


    This episode was produced by James Delahoussaye, with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    Edited by Neva Grant, with research help from Daryth Gayles.


    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • The cosmetics industry has become more accessible, allowing for the emergence of new brands that challenge traditional beauty standards and cater to underrepresented demographics. Determination and innovation are crucial in navigating the industry's rapid evolution.
    • Melissa Butler's strong upbringing and unwavering determination enabled her to rise above challenging circumstances, highlighting the power of resilience and the pursuit of dreams.
    • Melissa's story showcases the power of pursuing personal passions, embracing diverse opportunities, and being willing to step outside of one's comfort zone for success.
    • It is important to find a career that aligns with your values and allows for personal identity and genuine satisfaction, rather than solely pursuing financial stability.
    • Exploring creative outlets and allowing oneself to experiment and learn continuously is crucial in mastering a skill and finding personal fulfillment.
    • Embrace unexpected opportunities and be open to change. A small mistake or deviation from the original plan can lead to groundbreaking breakthroughs and new possibilities.
    • Creating a successful lipstick involves a careful balance of ingredients, attention to detail, and dedication to perfecting the formula.
    • Melissa's unwavering commitment, dedication, and willingness to seek feedback were key factors in successfully turning her passion for lipstick into a thriving business.
    • Melissa Butler founded The Lip Bar to provide representation for black women in the beauty industry, starting with 12,000 units of lipstick and a goal to sell all of them within a year.
    • Financial planning, resourcefulness, and a strong support network are crucial for entrepreneurial success.
    • Starting a business requires determination and the ability to adapt. Success may not come immediately, but with innovation and perseverance, entrepreneurial dreams can be realized.
    • Melissa Butler's decision to move her lipstick business to Detroit showcases the importance of adapting to changing narratives and seizing opportunities for growth, even in unexpected locations.
    • Melissa Butler's unconventional approach of bringing her product directly to customers through The Lip Bar truck demonstrates the power of creativity, partnership, and providing unique experiences to generate sales and finance entrepreneurial ventures.
    • Facing adversity and criticism can be an opportunity for growth and refining one's approach, leading to success in business.
    • Sharing your story and connecting with customers can greatly impact the visibility and success of your brand, as demonstrated by Melissa Butler's experience with The Lip Bar on Shark Tank.
    • Proactively highlighting the uniqueness of your product and creating win-win situations can lead to exponential growth and opportunities in the retail industry, even for small businesses.
    • Subtitle: The Challenges Faced by Black Women Entrepreneurs and the Importance of Support and Investment  Supporting and investing in businesses owned by women of color can help reduce the wealth gap and provide opportunities for economic growth and resilience.
    • Building a non-transactional relationship with customers based on quality and shared values can result in sustained sales and growth, even during challenging times.
    • Melissa Butler acknowledges the role of hard work, intelligence, and luck in her success, highlighting the importance of aligning with the universe for positive outcomes. She humbly admits her lack of expert makeup skills.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Rise of White Label Manufacturers and the Changing Landscape of the Cosmetics Industry

    The cosmetics industry has seen a significant shift in accessibility over the past two decades. Previously, entering the industry required extensive experience, connections, and financial resources. However, with the rise of white label manufacturers, the barriers to entry have significantly lowered. As a result, there has been an explosion of new cosmetics brands, driven by the immense value of the beauty industry. Melissa Butler, the founder of The Lip Bar, recognized the opportunity to challenge traditional beauty standards and create products for underrepresented demographics, specifically black and brown women. Her brand's success story includes overcoming challenges, such as a failed appearance on Shark Tank and a decision to relocate the business. Overall, this conversation highlights the power of determination and innovation in a rapidly evolving industry.

    Overcoming adversity and embracing ambition: Melissa Butler's journey from a tough neighborhood to entrepreneurial success.

    Melissa Butler's upbringing in a tough neighborhood and the influence of her hardworking mother shaped her determination to save herself and create a better life. Despite growing up in a dangerous area, Melissa never felt unsafe and never lacked anything she needed. Her mother worked tirelessly to provide for them, even if it meant living beyond their means. Melissa's high school, Cas Tech, was a college prep school surrounded by poverty and drug addiction. However, she never felt the need to leave Detroit and saw no fault in her hometown. Ultimately, after graduating, Melissa did leave Michigan, highlighting her ambition to achieve success and make a difference.

    Following Passions, Seeking Opportunities, and Stepping Out of Comfort Zones: Melissa's Journey to Success

    Melissa knew early on that she wanted to attend a historically black college or university (HBCU) to have the black experience and be surrounded by black people. Her cousin's clothing shop, where she worked in high school, inspired her interest in entrepreneurship and gave her independence. College to her was not just about higher education but also a way to make money. She switched her focus to business finance and aimed to work on Wall Street. She also recognized the rising influence of China and decided to learn Mandarin in Beijing to gain a competitive edge in the business world. Melissa's experiences highlight the importance of following one's passion, seeking diverse opportunities, and being open to stepping out of one's comfort zone.

    The Power of Human Connection and Individuality in Career Choices

    Melissa's experience abroad helped her realize the power of human connection beyond race and nationality. It opened her eyes to the fact that at the core, we are all human beings. However, when she returned to the corporate environment in New York, she encountered a different reality. Working on Wall Street for Barclays Bank, she felt disheartened and exhausted by the lack of individuality and constant scrutiny as a black woman. She realized that pursuing a career solely for financial stability wasn't fulfilling, especially when it came at the expense of her personal identity and well-being. This conversation highlights the importance of finding a career path that aligns with one's values and allows for individuality and genuine satisfaction.

    Melissa Butler: From Soap Enthusiast to Expert Craftswoman

    Melissa Butler discovered her passion for soap making as a creative outlet. She became intrigued by an expensive soap sold at Whole Foods and decided to make her own. Melissa dedicated herself to learning the craft by attending classes, researching online, and experimenting with different ingredients. She learned that glycerin soap was moisturizing but not as effective at cleansing, so she opted for the traditional method of using lye, despite its dangers. Melissa also explored innovative soap designs, such as ombre and incorporating dried fruit. Through this journey, she realized the importance of understanding the chemistry and safety aspects of soap making. This conversation highlights the importance of pursuing creative outlets and the value of experimentation and continuous learning in honing a skill.

    From Soap to Lipstick: How a Surprising Discovery Led to a Vibrant Lipstick Revolution

    Melissa Butler had a transformative moment when she accidentally discovered the possibility of making lipstick instead of soap for her business. This unexpected pivot opened her eyes to a gap in the market for vibrant and diverse lipstick shades. Melissa's personal frustration with the limited options for expressing herself through lipstick color inspired her to create The Lip Bar, a brand that offers unique and bold lipstick shades. This conversation highlights the importance of recognizing opportunities and being open to change, even if it deviates from the original plan. It reminds us that sometimes, the most significant breakthroughs can come from unexpected moments or mistakes.

    The Meticulous Process of Creating High-Quality Lipstick

    Creating a successful lipstick involves finding the right balance of ingredients. Melissa Butler's journey in lipstick making required countless experiments and batches before she found the perfect formula. All lipsticks have a base composed of wax, oil, and pigment, but the specific types and proportions of these ingredients determine the color, texture, and longevity of the product. Too much oil creates a soft feel but may lead to breakage, while too much wax affects the spreadability. Achieving the desired color requires a delicate balance. Additionally, Melissa faced challenges in obtaining the necessary lipstick molds, which were expensive and limited in availability. This conversation highlights the meticulous process and dedication required to create a high-quality lipstick.

    From Passion to Business: Melissa Butler's Journey in Creating a Unique Lipstick Line

    Melissa Butler's commitment to her passion project was unwavering, even while working long hours at Barclays. She dedicated countless hours to perfecting her lipstick recipe and even sought feedback from friends and colleagues, turning them into her first customers. Melissa's clear parameters for her product, such as being vegan and using natural ingredients, set the foundation for her unique and wild color range. She knew she had found the right formula when people started requesting more of her lipstick. Despite initial skepticism, Melissa's determination became evident when she received a shipment of packaging, demonstrating her seriousness about turning her passion into a business.

    The Lip Bar: Creating Beauty Products that Represent Black Women.

    Melissa Butler wanted to create a nontraditional beauty company that catered to black women and filled the gap in the market for products that truly represented them. She found inspiration for her lipstick packaging from old Victorian bird cages, which she admired for their intricate craftsmanship. Melissa wanted her brand, The Lip Bar, to be where black women could be the default and feel represented. To start, she had to order a minimum of 12,000 units of lipstick dispensers and hand-pack each one. Despite the challenging process, Melissa launched with 12 shades and aimed to sell all of them within a year. She also applied the concept of naming each lipstick, similar to her soap bar collection.

    How Melissa Butler's Determination and Support Network Led to Entrepreneurial Success

    Melissa Butler took a huge financial risk to start her business, spending all of her savings and incurring significant costs for packaging, shipping, and other startup expenses. Additionally, she relied heavily on the support and help of her friends, who became her founding team. Despite limited resources, Melissa managed to attract attention from beauty editors and successfully hosted a launch party that garnered significant interest. Her determination and willingness to take risks, coupled with her youth and flexibility, ultimately led her to the decision to quit her job and fully commit to her business. This conversation highlights the importance of financial planning, resourcefulness, and the value of a strong support network in entrepreneurship.

    Perseverance and Resourcefulness: A Founders' Journey to Success

    Starting a business as a first-time founder in an unfamiliar industry can be both exhilarating and challenging. Melissa Butler, the CEO of The Lip Bar, shares her journey of quitting her job in finance to pursue her passion for creating a lipstick company. Despite not having a solid plan, Melissa's determination and belief that her business would succeed pushed her forward. She faced skepticism from her family, who thought she was crazy, but she was more comfortable with the idea of failure than regret. Melissa and her co-founder, Roscoe, faced financial struggles and had to make sacrifices to keep their business afloat. Their initial years were not profitable, but they focused on innovation and marketing to drive growth. This conversation highlights the importance of perseverance and resourcefulness in pursuing one's entrepreneurial dreams.

    A Businesswoman's Bold Move: From New York to Detroit

    Melissa Butler decided to move her lipstick business from New York to Detroit due to a combination of financial constraints and a changing narrative about the city. Despite the opportunities and connections available in New York, Melissa recognized that she could still grow her business without being in the fashion capital. Moreover, with the narrative of Detroit evolving, she saw an opportunity to be a part of the city's renaissance and ensure that people who looked like her, particularly black people, were included in the resurgence. By making this move, Melissa aimed to contribute to the new and positive image of Detroit and connect with the individuals driving its transformation.

    Innovation on Wheels: How Melissa Butler Took Her Lip Bar to the Streets

    Melissa Butler's innovative approach to reaching customers led her to create The Lip Bar truck and embark on a tour to bring her product directly to the people. Instead of waiting for the opportunity to get her products on store shelves, she brought the counter to her customers. By partnering with stores and finding creative solutions, like parking in front of Urban Outfitters, she not only attracted attention but also provided a unique and glamorous beauty experience on wheels. The truck's design and use of mirrors allowed customers to try on the lipstick and make purchases. Through these tours, Melissa was able to finance the trips and generate significant sales, showcasing the effectiveness of her entrepreneurial strategy.

    Turning Rejection into Growth: The Lip Bar's Journey on Shark Tank

    Melissa Butler and Roscoe Spears, founders of The Lip Bar, faced rejection and harsh criticism on Shark Tank. Despite the negative comments, they chose to focus on their strengths and refine their story. Melissa believed that the bigger companies were slow to change, while they were fast to adapt, positioning it as their advantage. The judges' offensive remarks about their appearance and suggestion to enter the fashion business were disheartening, revealing the lack of consideration for them as businesswomen. However, this experience forced Melissa to think more about their company's marketing strategy. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that facing adversity and criticism can lead to growth and the opportunity to refine and strengthen one's approach.

    The Power of Personal Connection: How Melissa Butler's Story Boosted The Lip Bar's Success

    Being the face of your brand and sharing your story is crucial for success in today's market. Melissa Butler initially wanted to separate herself from her brand, thinking that The Lip Bar should stand on its own. However, she realized that customers are now seeking transparency and connection with business owners. Mark Cuban emphasized the importance of Melissa stepping into her brand and becoming the storyteller. When their episode aired on Shark Tank, the visibility of The Lip Bar skyrocketed, crashing their website with a surge of orders. Melissa quickly recognized the need to hire more employees and transition into retail. Through perseverance and reaching out to Target buyers for months, she eventually connected with a makeup buyer by highlighting her unique story, vegan products, and growing social media following.

    Melissa Butler's Proactive Selling Approach and Packaging Uniqueness Led to a Successful Partnership with Target

    Melissa Butler's focus on what her brand could do for Target, rather than what Target could do for her, played a significant role in gaining a partnership. Despite her initial assumption that her customers did not shop at Target for makeup, Melissa's persistence and enthusiasm led to a breakthrough. By highlighting the uniqueness and desirability of her packaging, she managed to capture the attention of a store buyer. Launching a new color exclusively on target.com allowed her to generate visibility by leveraging her existing audience and creating a win-win situation for all. The successful launch and subsequent buzz resulted in exponential growth, with her brand expanding to more Target stores. This success story emphasizes the importance of proactive selling and creating opportunities in the retail industry, even as a small business. External funding eventually came as a result of her accomplishments and reputation.

    The Challenges Faced by Black Women Entrepreneurs and the Importance of Support and Investment Key Takeaway: Supporting and investing in businesses owned by women of color can help reduce the wealth gap and provide opportunities for economic growth and resilience.

    Black women entrepreneurs, like Melissa Butler, face significant challenges in accessing funding and growing their businesses. Despite black consumers spending nine times more on beauty products than any other group, black beauty businesses are not well-funded. In order to reduce the wealth gap in the country, opportunities and funding need to be given to women of color. Melissa's experience highlights the importance of supporting and investing in businesses owned by women who look like her. Additionally, opening a brick and mortar store in Detroit allowed her to be a part of the city's resurgence and provide opportunities for high-quality makeup. COVID-19 presented new challenges, but the resilience of these entrepreneurs remains evident.

    Adapting, Connecting, and Sustaining: How Melissa Butler's Company Thrived During the Pandemic

    Melissa Butler and her company faced challenges during the pandemic, but were able to rebound by connecting with their customers and adapting their messaging. They were able to sustain their sales and even had their best month ever during the Black Lives Matter movement. Melissa emphasized the importance of not wanting charity dollars, but rather for customers to support her business because they believe in the quality of the products. They aim to have a lifetime value and a strong, non-transactional relationship with their customers. Despite their growth, they remain true to their values and offer a wide range of makeup options that cater to different complexions and allow customers to express themselves creatively.

    The Lip Bar's Vision for a World-Renowned Brand Synonymous with Inclusivity and Simplicity in the Beauty Industry.

    Melissa Butler, founder and CEO of The Lip Bar, believes that becoming a world-renowned brand would be the ultimate way to validate all the hard work and sacrifices made by her and her team. She envisions a future where her brand is synonymous with inclusivity and simplicity in the beauty industry, reaching customers worldwide. Despite acknowledging the importance of hard work and intelligence in her success, Melissa also believes that luck has played a significant role. She recognizes that aligning with the universe can drive positive outcomes. Additionally, she remains humble by admitting that despite being a beauty founder, she doesn't possess expert makeup skills.

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