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Tisha Thompson Is Making Clean Beauty Accessible For All

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There’s a gap in the beauty industry, and Tisha Thompson is on a mission to fill it starting with her new company LYS BEAUTY. This good-for-your-skin makeup brand includes vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainably packaged products that all retail for less than $30. The brand launched in 2019 and has already joined Sephora’s shelves as the first Black-owned clean beauty brand, but it’s no wonder this cosmetics company is such a hit. Thompson is a trailblazing clean beauty veteran with more than 15 years of innovation under her belt, and she’s using her industry expertise to service women of color.

In an age where “clean” beauty is all the rage, and there are more foundation shades than ever, women of color are somehow still not granted access to innovative products that feel as good as they look. After working behind the scenes and rising in the corporate beauty ranks, Thompson knew that she wanted to build a company that put her community first. Her story is not just one of entrepreneurship, but of risk-taking and self-confidence. So, what can your life look like when you take a chance on yourself to create your own dream job? Thompson has a pretty good idea. Keep reading to discover clean beauty through her lens.

Taking a Step Back to Go Forward

Well before Thompson was a beauty founder and before she even discovered her passion for product development, she was a self-proclaimed military brat who traveled all over the world. “I was never really girly, so I never saw myself as pretty, which made adolescence pretty challenging,” says Thompson. “Since I was moving constantly, I was always reinventing myself. In high school, I started experimenting with my hair and makeup and felt a natural talent there. Soon I began doing my friend’s hair and makeup, and it became a creative outlet for me.”

Even though Thompson’s beauty skills were shining, her Army veteran parents longed for her to be the first in her family to graduate college. So after high school, she majored in business and accounting. She felt empowered by the financial knowledge she was gaining that wasn’t often discussed in the African American community. Still, she couldn’t ignore her creative itch and continued to work at makeup counters while growing her portfolio with photoshoots, music videos, and bridal makeup.

By a twist of fate, it was her accounting career that first brought Thompson to a beauty brand, albeit in the finance department. Her eyes lit up on her first day when she saw the products on the wall and realized she wasn’t just going to be doing accounting at a branding agency, she would be working with PÜR COSMETICS. Thompson saw this as her big break into the beauty industry. “I stalked HR for like two years,” she remembers. “I kept telling them, I’m a makeup artist, and I really should be on the makeup team. I used that time to learn the bookkeeping, operations, and logistics of a beauty business until one day, a marketing coordinator position arrived. It was entry-level, but it was my chance.”

Thompson left her high-level accounting role to become a marketing coordinator. The rest is history. Eventually, she climbed the ranks and was promoted to a vice president position. In this role she was able to oversee the brand’s launch of a foundation with 100 shades from ideation to completion. Talk about inclusivity!

“We had almost 120 models to shoot in two days to make sure every shade was represented,” says Thompson. “It was a huge endeavor, and after that launch, I knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” Fueled by inspiration, Thompson took a leap of faith to develop her own brand that would expand this diverse product development approach to every single SKU. She called it LYS BEAUTY.

Making Her Own Rules

Even though they are just starting out, her five-person LYS BEAUTY team has made quite the wave. She credits social media for playing a large part in the brand’s growth. “This new digital landscape allows me to tell my story how I want to while also dedicating my time and energy to my community—which is why I started the brand,” says Thompson. “I want to help women of color feel represented in a significant way. I want to be able to show up for them and provide content that they will appreciate and enjoy. Social media allows brands, like mine, with a smaller voice to be heard and reach people in a niche, specific way.”

“Growing up, magazines and TV all perpetuated one look, but in 2020 it’s like the floodgates opened,” she says. “I was probably 21 years old before I saw a woman like me in a magazine when Queen Latifah had her first COVERGIRL campaign. It feels good to know this new generation of Black girls will grow up seeing themselves. We are here, we need to be represented, and we are no longer being quiet or sitting back and waiting. I’m really excited that my community is getting the opportunity to be seen.”

Thompson feels empowered by today’s zeitgeist that challenges the status quo. In college, she pledged the historically black collegiate sorority Delta Sigma Theta where she and her sorority sisters stressed the need to let things roll off your back. Thompson recalls: “It was a mentality to be cool and steady in the face of stress, so that we didn’t get labeled as an angry or overbearing person. At the end of the day, as Black women, we feel like we have to be the strong ones, always holding it in. I’m loving seeing those walls come down, and now I see Black women being our authentic selves and taking up space. That’s what my brand is all about.”

The Business of Diverse Beauty

LYS is all about good vibes and positivity, but building a beauty brand is no easy feat. Thankfully, Thompson learned a lot from her professional time spent in the industry. “I learned that the most important thing is relationships,” she shares, “Build positive relationships in every aspect of your business because you can't do it alone. You need to have other people around you that can help you grow. I also learned the value of financial stability and how to have longevity to be profitable within the business operations of a company. And of course, I learned so much about development and clean beauty.”

For Thompson, it wasn’t just important to have ingredients that were nontoxic, but she also wanted them to be friendly to common skincare needs. “I struggle with acne, so if I don't put the right products on my skin, it’s going to go nuts,” says Thompson. “I was able to get into the labs and manufacturing facilities to learn about [cosmetic chemistry], and it influenced a lot of my decisions about how to formulate my brand.”

Thompson’s ethos and values are engraved in the brand’s DNA: “LYS stands for love yourself. It’s an homage to my mission every time I log in at work. It’s a reminder to love who you are. Sometimes, beauty can make you feel inferior or less-than. I think makeup should be a form of creative self-expression. Makeup should never make you feel bad about yourself, and I never want to create a campaign that makes someone feel worse. I want people to be comfortable and confident, whether they have on makeup or they’re going out barefaced. I want my community to feel good about the products that they use and put on their skin, both in how they make them feel, but also in health and wellness.”

In fact, a 2017 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecologyfound that women of color are more likely to be exposed to harmful ingredients in their beauty products. The culprit: Lack of options. And it goes all the way back to a lack of representation in the clean beauty industry. “If you don't see a lot of people of color in CEO, VP, or other decision-making managerial roles like product development, then you're not going to see diversity unless the consumers fight for it,” says Thompson.

One of the largest barriers to entry for clean beauty is cost. The average price of a clean beauty product is $40, but that dollar amount can quickly double (even triple!) when you look at clean treatment options. To put that into perspective, one clean beauty product can take someone nearly six hours of work at federal minimum wage to afford… and that’s before taxes. Thompson caps all of her LYS BEAUTY products at $30, and many fall well below that price point. “Accessibility is so important to me,” says Thomposn. “Since I’m making products for people of color, I want to make sure they are as accessible as possible.”

Keeping It Clean

The truth is, there’s no industry standard for what it means to be a clean beauty brand, so LYS BEAUTY has been transparent about what “clean” means to them. There are about 100,000 chemical ingredients available to be used in beauty product formulation, and only about 10,000 are actually FDA regulated, leaving it up to brands to make their own choices.

“For me, clean is a two-pronged approach,” says Thomposn. “The first is eliminating ingredients that we have scientific evidence to be potentially harmful and not ideal for the skin; whether causing irritation or exasperating the very conditions people are using makeup to cover, like acne or rosacea. When you know better, you do better. So there are ingredients, like talc, that we know have correlations to cancer. There's no need for it to be in a cosmetic product. Parabens: there’s no need for them. There’s also simply no need to kill an animal for a makeup product, so we are cruelty-free. We also know that too much fragrance can become an irritant and that certain silicones are hormone disruptors. We have this information as an industry, so we are committed to doing better.”

She continues: “Secondly, I like to take a wellness approach to formulation. That means incorporating ingredients that are better for our skin. For example, to eat healthy, you might add a fruit or a vegetable to your lunch. I approach makeup the same way with added ingredients to improve the skin over time. Things like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, or even chia seeds for our lip products.”

Thompson is also committed to having a brand that reduces its impact on the environment. “All of our folding cartons and packaging are sustainable,” she says. “We use post-consumer recycled materials to keep sustainability as a part of our mission. Even though these goods can be 20 to 30 percent more expensive, we’re still determined to prioritize this for our community. Of course, we want to make money and be a viable brand, but I think it’s important for brands to step up and protect our environment. That’s why our brand provides confidence without compromise.”

Taking Diverse, Clean Beauty Mainstream

The growth of LYS has been extremely rewarding for Thompson. “The fact that we are the first Black-owned clean beauty brand at Sephora has been a really exciting, mind-boggling experience,” she says. “It's crazy to me that it's 2022 and still somehow we’re the first of anything at all, but I'm really excited that another glass ceiling has been broken and that now more amazing brands can get the opportunity and the shelf space they deserve.”

That level of notoriety also comes with added stress. Thompson feels the pressure to be a good representation of the category and really set the bar for brands to come. “For so long, we would hear things like, ‘dark shades don’t sell,’ so I am super passionate about proving those comments wrong,” she says. “It’s great to see that we have not just Black women, but all women showing up for us and supporting this brand that prioritizes women of color.”

LYS makes products for everyone, but women of color are still their main focus. “For decades, brands have made us an afterthought in development, so I wanted to have diversity in the front stages of ideation while creating shades, tones, and products that everyone can use,” says Thompson. “That's my philosophy. We don’t want to alienate anyone or perpetuate the same historical issues from the other side, but we want to show that you can be diverse and have a quality assortment. I’m excited to see more brands taking note. There is room enough for all of us.”

So what’s next for LYS? True to her expansion history, Thompson is taking the brand global. They just launched in the UK in December and will be hitting shelves in Australia soon. If you’re trying to keep it clean with your own beauty products, Thompson has some simple advice. First, do your research.

She says: “It’s important to research what it is that your end goal is before using any sort of product. There are certain preservatives that are necessary to avoid irritation and bacterial infections but don’t just follow buzzy trends. Research ingredients before putting them on your skin.”

Her next piece of advice for being a conscious consumer is to support the brands that are doing the work. If you don’t want to spend your time reading ingredient labels, then Thompson recommends becoming a patron of brands with clean beauty and sustainability closely tied in their mission: “Support brands that align with what’s important to you. For me, it is important to buy Black. I don’t discriminate against anyone else, but I want to make sure that I put dollars back into my community. Make sure the brands you support don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk as well.”

Though LYS is new to the beauty scene, the brand is already proving itself to be a leader in clean formulation, diversity, and sustainability under the leadership of Tisha Thompson. To read about more inspiring women of color paving the way, check out how celebrity stylist Lacy Redway is changing the beauty industry. Want in on all the IPSY Glam Bag fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. 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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Kindra Moné
Kindra Moné is a writer and content creator who works with brands and magazines to create culturally relevant fashion and beauty content. She is also the founder of The Moné Edit: a community and podcast at the intersection of style and wellness.
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Article Last Updated March 28, 2022 12:00 AM