Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I am Ezinne Iroanya-Adeoye, founder and CEO of SKNMUSE! SKNMUSE is a premium beauty brand dedicated to elevating the beauty experience for Black Women. We currently make Body-Care products, rich textures of creams and oils that cater to your soul’s vessel with a candle line to serenade your senses. Our cuticle oil is rated to10 by ELLE USA, however, our Devine Body Oil is the true showstopper.
As a new brand, one of our main priorities is building and maintaining a strong community, so customer retention is extremely important for us. We currently have a 40% customer retention rate with a 169% increase in revenue! Last year we made less than $35,000 in total revenue. This year we made $30,000 in our first quarter alone.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Pre-covid I traveled a lot for work and when I went through TSA, I’d say a prayer because I never knew if I’d be able to get through with my shea butter. Sometimes, my precious homemade mixtures didn’t make it, so my options would be, use the hotel lotion and still get ashy ankles or carve out time from my already tight schedule to run to the store for products that only kept me moisturized for 6 hours before my ankles got ashy again.
If something falls through, I take a moment to evaluate my missteps, write down what I could have done better and then I close the chapter. I don’t dwell on it, I learn from it and move on.
The irony of this is that at this point I had worked in the beauty industry for over a decade, working for Lancôme, Nordstrom, and Dior. 10 years I had dedicated to this industry and yet I was still having to just make do with this inconvenience.
For decades women that look like me have had to just make do, whipping formulas in our kitchens and using beauty products that never quite meet the bar. We experience hyperpigmentation, inadequate hydration, and lack of representation. Even though we spend twice as much as others, we are yet to walk into a Bloomingdales or Nordstrom and see counters that authentically cater to us…
And this is why I created SKNMUSE, a brand that understands that luxury is all about servitude. Every industry must be able to authentically cater to all groups of people, especially the beauty industry. For me, beauty is culture, it is the first relationship you have with your self-esteem, your first introduction to your self-care. The beauty industry must be capable of fostering a positive space that elevates your self-worth authentically. Everyone deserves this.
A lot of people let fear stop their growth, fear of not having or knowing enough, fear of judgment and failure. The moment I stopped letting fear lead me was the moment I started taking steps towards creating my brand. I launched this brand for less than $1000, so I had to invest a lot of sweat equity. I had to learn how to do a lot of things on my own; web design, formulation, social media, and the list goes on. There were lonely days, days when I had to sacrifice more than I wanted, days when imposter syndrome would cripple me.
However, with every unfamiliar arena, I competed in, I always gained knowledge, regardless of the outcome. So I say that to say, yes fear is real and sacrifice is uncomfortable, but you owe it to yourself to take at least 30 steps towards your dreams.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Before we launched, we spent summer 2019 doing a lot of research. I went to my home country, Lagos Nigeria, and spent weeks securing the right supplier. Then when I got back to the U.S.A I began working on the formulation. I remember thinking my first formula was the best thing since sliced bread and I couldn’t wait to get feedback from testers. Until everything I had anticipated went wrong LOL!
The formula was greasy on the skin and a tester commented how one of the scents smelt like PLAYDOH!!! LMAO! In addition to that, our preferred packaging was out of our budget, so our prototype looked horrendous. In summary, it was not giving what it was intended to give and we had to go back to the drawing board.
Fortunately, as much as I hate being wrong, I love feedback. I took the feedback and went back to the kitchen to work. Now I can confidently say we have one of the best Shea based Body Products in the country, it is 100% organic with soft scents and most importantly, it is non-greasy!
Describe the process of launching the business.
We launched NOV. 2019 through a pop-up at a Christian women’s convention (Yes, lol). I remember the night before, I came back from my FT job at the time and had to hand pour 60 jars of body butter and balms, made from love and ambition in my kitchen in Inglewood. Our CCO hand cut each label and delicately placed them on every jar, it took us ALL NIGHT!
We drove an hour out to the convention with my best friend, set up shop, and waited nervously, no high expectations but extremely hopeful. It was the best experience! Halfway through, there was actually a line at our table and by the end of it, we had sold 50% of our inventory, making 5 times more than what we invested into the pop-up.
It is a day I have engraved in my heart.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Honestly, our strongest retention strategy is community. Building a community that believes in our brand’s mission is priceless because as we scale we know we will always have a core, to support and hold us accountable. We pay particular attention to the customers who have been with us since our inception. If they continue to be satisfied, then we are too.
We also pay close attention to visually telling our story as we grow. As an eCommerce beauty brand, our online presence is usually the first point of contact for potential customers. Since they can’t feel or smell the products, as they would walking into a Sephora, we ensure that we always appeal to your visual senses. Every social media platform we host exudes “oohs and aahs”, our website’s aesthetic is equally impressive and our campaigns have become a highlight! Click here for the 2021 beauty campaign.
We have been able to showcase “black luxury” in the most authentic way, representing the modern Black woman the right way. Representation is something the bigger brands sometimes fail to acknowledge and even when they do, it becomes a show of tokenism. With Sknmuse, we do it through lived experiences, storytelling from the point of the consumer, we listen, observe and then execute, and I know this is something that our market demographic strongly aligns with because we have been blessed by a free press.
Featured in ELLE, BET, The Cut, and even by Beyonce herself. Whenever we get a press feature, we make sure to celebrate it like it’s a grammy. Allowing our community to recognize the impact their reviews are having on us.
We have been able to showcase “black luxury” in the most authentic way, representing the modern Black woman the right way.
DTC and Social Media are our strongest channels. Word of mouth works phenomenally for our market niche because Black women rely heavily on peer-to-peer recommendations.
Per press, it has all been organic. I usually tell people we've been spoilt by the free press because we've never had to fish for it. It just comes organically. However, we just hired our first publicist so I am excited to see the growth from this. With every feature, we've been able to see an increase in foot traffic on our website. But nothing has been as impactful as the feature by Beyonce' and Glossier.
Lastly, we deliver an experience! As a beauty brand, we want to be your go-to for all things self-care. So we take extra steps through our community Zine, created to stimulate your mind and our playlists, to give you something to groove to throughout the week.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
SKNMUSE has always been profitable, I invested less than $1000 into it and as of now we are on track to hit our first 6 figure year! We were born in the pandemic, bootstrapped our way through all this uncertainty. So many small businesses didn’t survive Covid, but we did and I am always in awe of that fact.
We're currently averaging 7-10k per month. 80% of our sales come from DTC and 20% from wholesalers around the country. You can find us in select stores in the US and we’re currently gaining international inquiries. However, we take our time and evaluate market opportunities before saying yes. We must be able to operate efficiently as we scale.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think my most important lesson is realizing that everything won’t always go the way I envisioned. Learning to prioritize what is a must-have vs. is nice to have. As an entrepreneur, there are so many ideas you want to execute, so much advice you get from everyone else and your to-do list is never-ending. I have learned to be still in chaos and take the tides as they come because this journey is unfamiliar.
There is no such thing as a “Loss”, only lessons to be learned. So if something falls through, I take a moment to evaluate my missteps, write down what I could have done better and then I close the chapter. I don’t dwell on it, I learn from it and move on.
Most importantly, I have learned to take care of myself first. If I am unmotivated or tired, my entire team can feel it and we can’t operate at our best. It is important to prioritize myself along this journey, after all, I am in the business of self-care. So I should continuously practice what I preach because my to-do list will always be endless.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Asana has been the most efficient when working with my team. Especially on big projects and Shopify is just priceless, especially when it comes to capturing data and analytics. For social media planning, we use Planoly, which helps us strategize and schedule posts for Instagram and Facebook. Last but not least, Canva has become our go-to for creating our Zines.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The Mastery of Love by Don Ruiz Miguel, made me a better human,
- Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo, has helped me understand imposter syndrome
- Business of the beatpodcast by Kendra Bracken, it's where intersectionality and beauty meet for me.
- My GRID110 founder community, I always feel supported by them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Stand in your truth and the world will make room for you.
Where can we go to learn more?
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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