My Passion For Beauty Led Me To Start A Cosmetics Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Dr. KeShawn Haynes, a chemist, and I am the CEO and founder of KLH Industries, LLC, a small manufacturing company in the Atlanta area. We manufacture the cosmetics brand ELLIE Cosmetics.
ELLIE Cosmetics is a line of color cosmetics that includes Bright Eyes Eyeshadow, Glassy Lips Lip Glosses, Classy Lips Lip Sticks, Glamour KRAANS, Compacts, and Liners. We have four collections, with 50 colors each. We also sell compacts (customizable), liners, and primers. We have had hundreds of customers, many of that continue to buy from us. We sell to everyone interested in being their best self through beauty.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I went to college, my major was chemistry, pre-med. I realized after a semester that I enjoyed chemistry more than anything else.
At this point, I made it my mission to find out all I could do with this degree. I knew it would be entrepreneurial. Once I started working in my chosen field, I quickly realized I was not cut out to work for others.
I went to my first vendor show and sold everything that I took with me.
I began doing research and brainstorming ideas for products. Then it clicked, I have always loved beauty, the industry, fashion, and everything that comes with it.
Even though I was shy, I knew this was it. I thought long and hard about what could separate me from the others. I eventually came up with a product that is not only a gel (very different from other products on the market), but it is also made with naturally sourced ingredients, vegan, and cruelty-free. We were able to tap into this market because we listened to consumers who were purchasing competitors' products.
It took me 6 months to come up with a viable product. I did some market research and testing. Finally, I sat on the product for almost four years before stepping out and delivering the product to the market. It took me four years to launch the product because I didn’t feel I was ready. I thought I needed more money or that I needed validation from those who felt I couldn’t do it. I am very glad I finally stopped listening to the naysayers.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Designing a product that will withstand growth and changes in the market is a long and arduous process. First, I had to develop the concept. What was I looking for in a product? I knew I wanted something different, but with vivid colors, and natural & safe ingredients that consumers were searching for in a product.
Once I had the concept, I searched for ingredients that fit the idea. Researching various products and companies and speaking with vendors to choose just the right materials. When choosing my raw materials, I never thought about cost, it was all about choosing the right materials. I put quality and safety above cost.
Next, I spent hours mixing and testing to ensure I had a homogenous, stable, and beautiful product. Also, it needed to be reproducible.
Packaging was another issue altogether. I wanted a color for packaging that was different from what I was seeing in the market. I landed on silver, which initially was a metal product. The company where I source the packaging has since started selling only a plastic version of my initial packaging. Therefore, I will rebrand soon with all-new packaging.
I am the manufacturer. I make every product I send out. Through the years, I have worked for several private label companies. I did not feel comfortable sharing my intellectual property, nor did I trust them to use the chosen ingredients or deliver the same quality product I developed.
I started up everything using samples that I received from the vendors. I purchased about $150 of packaging and hoped for the best. I went to my first vendor and showed and sold everything that I took with me. I made back my money, plus some. I reinvested all proceeds back into my business, just as I continue to do now.
I was incorporated long before I had the idea. Along with an EIN and a local tax number as well. I knew I would have a business one day. Starting the business has been the most liberating experience I have ever had.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Before launching the business, I participated in a few vendor shows. I wanted to make sure I had a viable business and product. I needed to set up a website, figure out how to accept payments, and start the foundation for a consumer base, test the market. I created my first website and continue to update and maintain the website. I am responsible for creating all content for social media, as well as coming up with marketing strategies.
“To increase sales and retain customers' sales, I try to run a clear marketing plan.”
Since the beginning, my website has undergone several iterations, including my logo. I am responsible for all aspects of the business at the moment. I am working on bringing on others.
My business up to this point has been funded by me. I made the difficult decision to bootstrap my business as long as I possibly could. I did a small crowdfunding through KIVA, where I raised $1,500 to buy necessities. I also won a small pitch contest, with a prize of $7500. I continue to apply for small business grants as well.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that funding is difficult to acquire. Bootstrapping is not always the best choice for funding. It can slow the growth of the business.
At the moment, I do not think I am ready for loans. I think I need to have a little more consistent revenue before I head in that direction.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To increase sales and retain customers, I try to run a clear marketing plan. My mantra for the business is to be BEAUTIFUL, GLAMOROUS, and CONFIDENT. I want women to be the women they know they are….#beautydefined, We want women to feel empowered, and to be their best selves.
I use all of the social media platforms, where I am currently running a live series on Facebook called ELLIE Cosmetics Beauty Bar, She Speaks, where I bring on women and we discuss beauty from their perspective. I also try to have posts featuring products, be informative, and be conscientious about current events.
I have found that social media has a big impact on business. It helps to build brand awareness and to increase sales. I do utilize advertising on social media platforms, where I have seen a tremendous increase in brand awareness and sales.
For my SEO strategy, Wix, my website host provides tools to help optimize SEO. I also used a company that helped with my SEO.
I have utilized vending opportunities at events as another way to sell and build brand awareness. Lately, I have not found them to be as profitable or advantageous as social media.
I am still working on interpreting my marketing strategies. I have found that videos are probably best. But, when I post clean photos of my models and product photos, I get a lot of traffic. I guess it depends on the day. It changes over time and I haven't been able to pinpoint what the catalysts for the change are.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are not doing that well right now. I am hoping this will change. I am currently in charge of every aspect of the business. Operations are my strong suit, but marketing is not. I think I do an alright job with marketing, but there are certain aspects I do not like.
Social media is at the top of my list. I would like to employ a social media person to handle social media, influencers, content creation, and social media advertising.
At the moment, I can honestly say that I do not know what the future of the brand is. I do know that I see the brand expanding into skincare, adding more to the existing color collections, and possibly adding fragrances as well. Funding is still a challenge for my business; expansion takes money.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned that people will take advantage of you to make a dollar. I employed a digital marketing firm to help me improve my social media, and overall brand awareness. They gave me their idea of the plan and did not deliver. They were paid for phase 1 of the project, in advance. I did not hesitate to pay them. I felt they knew what they were doing and could be trusted.
I also took it upon myself to learn all I could about marketing. I know that this is extremely important for a business. Close to being as important as the product itself.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Wix for my eCommerce business. I know it does not do well with SEO, but it includes so many other tools that were important to me. One is the ease of setting up products in the store and updating them. Also included are a wide range of marketing tools, analytics, forms, and organizational tools.
Klayvio is even integrated as a third-party app.
I use square and affirm for secure payment collection. Social media advertising platforms for advertising.
Canvahas been an invaluable tool for content creation.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read magazine articles, blogs, and books on entrepreneurship, marketing, and on self-improvement when I see a topic I might be interested in or feel I need to learn more.
Honestly, I can’t think of one most influential books. I can say the Steve Harvey Show convinced me to step out on faith; to trust that I am enough, and to value my ideas and myself.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be organized, take constant notes, and go back and read over them. I would not suggest trying to wing it. Read books and articles. Watch Youtube videos on certain topics. Ask for help. Align yourself with like-minded people and people who will support you and your venture. Be transparent in your decisions. Never give up on yourself. Businesses come and go, you can always let go of an idea if it is not working for you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now, I am not looking to hire. There are some areas where I need help, but I am not in a position to pay anyone for their services at the moment.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can always learn more about the business at
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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