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From Day One, Mented Cosmetics Co-Founders KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson Have Had Melanin in Mind

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When KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson decided to create a cosmetics line with melanin in mind in 2015, there was no Fenty Beauty, there was little innovation for women of color, and there was certainly no accessible, inclusive shade range. In fact, the idea for Mented Cosmetics (short for pigmented) sparked because Johnson had been looking for the perfect nude lipstick for her dark skin for more than three years.

“Once we had our big light bulb moment to create nude lipsticks for women of color, we quickly went into planning mode,” says Johnson, who serves as the company’s COO. “KJ was a consultant at the time, and I had come from an investment banking background, so planning and strategy is what we do.”

The Mented Method

“We aren't makeup artists; we aren't influencers; we aren't celebrities; we aren't owned by a huge conglomerate,” adds Miller, Mented’s CEO. “We’re just two regular girls who had a problem and worked really hard to solve it, not just for ourselves, but for our customers, too.”

It’s that perspective that sets Miller and Johnson apart from other brand founders. They have felt their customer’s pain points from day one. They can relate. In a sense, they are their customer. “We know what they mean when they say, ‘Wow, I've never had a lipstick that looks this good on me,’” says Miller. “We felt that feeling when we first made our lipsticks.”

Rather than going with a manufacturer, most of whom require high minimum purchase orders, and frankly, didn’t understand their mission, the duo took matters into their own hands. They YouTubed, learned how to make lipstick from scratch, and spent every weekend experimenting to find their formulas.

Within a few months, they had perfected their nude lipstick line for women of color (six shades ranging from a warm pink with brown undertones to a dark chocolate brown). “We spent the rest of that year sending those products out to influencers because we wanted their feedback,” says Miller. “What we found, along with loving the lipsticks, was that they were willing to share them with their audience. At that point we didn’t even have a website you could shop, but they were just so excited about the shades that they were posting about us and tagging us. Luckily, we did have an Instagram account.” Thanks to the beauty influencers who couldn’t help but share the word, when the capsule collection was finally for sale in January 2017, there was some serious pent-up demand.

Their Catapult Into Success

Mented has come a long way from the handmade lipsticks in the kitchen of Miller’s Harlem apartment. The duo built Mented, which now includes products ranging from foundations to bronzer and even nude nail polish, on the promise of inclusive, everyday makeup for real women. “If we can put women of color at the forefront, if we can talk about all hues, and create products for every type of pigmentation, then we’re living up to our promise and doing our job,” says Johnson. And it was those women of color that have helped grow their brand into the powerhouse that it is.

“Our community has been so enthusiastic and supportive as we’ve built this brand,” says Johnson. “Black women in particular have been there with us from day one. It has been women who have helped grow this brand and have been so incredibly supportive that someone is finally seeing them and telling their stories in the world of beauty.”

Since their launch, the beauty industry has had a major shift toward inclusivity, one which has only shone a bigger spotlight on Mented and their mission. Their rapid growth (the brand is now in 300 Target locations, just launched on ulta.com, and is in your IPSY Glam Bag) is proof that you can’t ignore an entire portion of the population and still be a successful brand in 2021. “That fact that the industry is catching up to a mission we’ve had since day one has lent to our brand’s credibility in a lot of ways,” says Miller. “We’re not new to this, we’re true to this.”

Want more Beauty Through the Black Lens? Learn about dermatologist Adeline Kikam's (a.k.a. @brownskinderm) strive for wellness in skin of color, see how Ndeye Peinda is breaking the stereotypical beauty mold, and hear about Kindra Moné’s journey to clear skin.

Feeling inspired and want to try out some Mented Cosmetics in your own beauty routine? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your very own IPSY Glam Bag. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
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Maddie Aberman
Maddie is the senior manager of editorial at IPSY. She’s been covering beauty and wellness for more than nine years. Her work has appeared in Allure, Cosmopolitan, Popsugar, Women's Health, Good Housekeeping, and Seventeen, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated March 5, 2021 12:00 AM