WCW: Inclusivity in the Beauty Industry with Auja Little of Beautyocracy
Frankly's #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) series features some of our favorite female founders who are focused on providing goods and services that improve the lives of women and girls.
Today, we have the honor of speaking with Auja Little, Founder and CEO of Beautyocracy. Beautyocracy is a marketplace for discovering diverse and inclusive indie beauty from across the globe.
Welcome, Auja! We are so excited to hear from you, especially given Beautyocracy's recent launch! Let's start by learning a little bit more about you.
Of course! So I'm a Southern girl through and through, raised in Texas and North Carolina. That being said, I call Washington, DC home now, but I split my time between DC and Palo Alto as I'm finishing my last year of my MBA program at Stanford.
Congratulations on your final year!! Before starting your MBA program and Beautyocracy, you were in commercial real estate. What prompted the switch and how did you know it was the right time to make a move?
Going from real estate to beauty was really driven by an intense frustration. I wanted to solve a pain point that existed for myself and so many other women of color. I felt like traditional retail was failing me. I hated that I was spending money with retailers who relegated me to a separate aisle or made me feel, as a black woman, like a second fiddle in their marketing.
The way society positioned Black women in beauty dramatically influenced how I valued myself growing up. I didn't really grasp onto my self-confidence and embrace my natural beauty until my early 20s, and it happened because I found indie brands by Black founders who helped me to re-instill that confidence in myself. I wanted to build something better that could truly embolden other women of color to step into their power.
The move to entrepreneurship was always a part of my grand plan. I was working on a startup idea my senior year of college and had been accepted into an incubator, but I didn't feel that it was the right time to pursue my own thing. I chose the corporate path instead. Entrepreneurship came back into the immediate picture as I was applying to business school. When I dug deep on what I wanted to achieve in the next stage of my career, I knew I had a big idea that no one else would be able to execute on the way I had envisioned, so I set out to do it myself.
I love that - if you want the job done right, do it yourself. Speaking of DIY, you're our first solo founder on #WCW. What's it like to run a company completely on your own?
Whew! Honestly, probably not a choice I would have made if I had one. I think there is a lot of value to having a co-founder. I just wasn't able to find the right partner in the process of customer validation and idea development. So, I chose to launch solo!
There are pros for sure - I execute decisions with no pushback, I maintain a huge chunk of equity, and I don't have to worry about internal founder disputes ruining the business. However, I do lack another individual challenging my ideas and improving upon them. I'm also time-constrained on the amount of PR I can do and the number of tasks I can complete. Most importantly, there isn't that mutual emotional support there.
Going solo simply means I have to be more strategic. Hiring and bringing on an early team is critical to our continued success, and I lean on a community of other founders who are at a similar stage and can support me through the good and bad.
What advice do you have for young women who want to be CEOs?
I've had the good fortune to work at a number of small companies before starting Beautyocracy, and I've seen both terrible and excellent examples of leadership. Plenty of people can be CEOs, but few people can really be leaders. Strive to be a leader. If that means running the ship like it did for me, you should be ready to embrace the fear and know that you are 100% worthy of the title. Don't doubt your abilities, there will be no shortage of people who will do that on your behalf. Remember, you - by virtue of being you - are the competitive advantage. Grasp onto that, get out there, and execute on your goals.
Great advice! Let's switch gears and start talking a bit more about your company. Tell us about Beautyocracy!
Beautyocracy is a marketplace for discovering diverse and inclusive independent beauty from across the globe. We help women of color shop a curated selection of vetted up-and-coming independent brands and improve their beauty routines. And, we fill a gap in retail to help independent brands gain exposure and grow. We have an intentional focus on intersectionality and highlighting the cultural nuances between women of color. This means we’re uniquely positioned to authentically cater to a wide range of women and source the best indie brands to meet their varying needs. Because we believe beauty is better when it's diverse, inclusive, clean, and simple.
Can you share more about your own experiences with the beauty industry as a woman of color?
The traditional beauty industry is dominated by Eurocentric standards. There has been and continues to be systemic underrepresentation of Black and brown women in advertising, product innovation, and upper-level management at major brands and retailers. Marketing often leans towards light-skinned models, reinforcing colorism in the community. Black influencers are often paid less than their white counterparts for the same campaigns.
Before brands like Fenty Beauty, I'd spend hours looking for a foundation that was sort of close to my skin tone - no major brand was clamoring to serve the varying tones of Black and brown skin. I could never (and still don't) buy sunscreen from the drugstore because it would leave a white cast.
The DTC movement has opened doors for innovative brands to serve the needs of women of color, but inequities in the beauty ecosystem mean BIPOC-owned brands -many of which are bootstrapped - don't make it to major retail shelves. It's a disservice to women of color everywhere, especially when those brands are authentically solving their community's unique needs.
You're working primarily with up and coming indie brands that have awesome products but smaller followings. How are you supporting these brands as they look to grow?
We have plans to be international, acting as a channel for up-and-coming impressive indie brands to reach a global audience of BIPOC. We want to be more than a platform - I want to build an ecosystem where we incubate new brands, help existing founders access capital by providing funding, and assemble resources to help founders level up and redefine the beauty industry alongside us.
It's clear that there is so much conviction behind your vision. What's the next step towards that goal?
We have an awesome brand partnership in the works with Wearwell, a sustainable clothing company, that we're launching in September. We are launching our ambassador program in September, as well! It's an opportunity for micro-influencers and members who love what we do to share their feedback on products, try new brands before they hit the platform, and share that love with their network! We'll be posting more details on our Instagram page in the next few weeks.
I know that I've really used quarantine as an opportunity to up my skincare game. What tips do you have for our readers?
Beauty starts from within, so my first suggestion is to drink more water because chances are you aren't drinking enough. Believe me, it will do wonders for your skin. Also, wear a clay mask while you work from home! You'll feel so productive, taking care of business while you take care of your skin. Also, now is the time to experiment with new products. If you don't know where to start, take the short routine builder quiz on our site and you'll receive a full routine built for your skin type and concerns.
You can buy from Beautyocracy's curated selection of clean, indie skincare products at beautyocracy.com. Be sure to follow them on Instagram @beautyocracy for updates on new products and the Ambassador Program!