Redefining Clean Beauty to be Inclusive: Interview with Aja Frierson, Founder of Habit Cosmetics
In 2013, Aja Frierson launched Habit Cosmetics as just a nail polish line. Her colors were refreshing and daring and could be worn by people of all ages and skin tones. Flash forward to present day, and she has expanded her line to also include organic makeup featuring show-stopping multi-use colors that include good-for-you ingredients that also feel great on your skin.
Kinder Beauty is excited to feature Habit Cosmetics twice this fall—the Gatsby highlighter in our Halloween collection, and the Multi-Use Color in one of three shades in an upcoming November beauty box.
In our latest founder feature, Aja Frierson talks to us about her inspiration for Habit Cosmetics, how she feels the clean beauty industry can improve, and her top picks for you this fall!
ABOUT HABIT COSMETICS
What was the inspiration for developing Habit Cosmetics?
I became obsessed with nail polish when I was still working for Skechers in 2011. I was a fashion industry colorist and I used to paint my nails for stress relief.
There was never any brand that had what I was looking for in a product. I’m drawn to colors that are a little weird and I [also] need multi-tasking formulas. We’re all busy!
In what ways does your team’s diversity make you stronger?
Everyone from every walk of life has different opinions and perspectives, which is really important to [produce] a well-rounded product. No one has all the answers. I may have a great idea but maybe I missed a blind spot. The women I work with can point that out. Having a more diverse team makes you a stronger brand and company.
As the founder of a Black-owned brand, in what ways do you feel the beauty industry fails women with darker skin tones and thicker hair textures?
[A lack of] inclusivity has been an issue for a while. There has been a necessary evolution over the last few years; everyone talks about Rihanna and Fenty, [whose impact] has reflected there was a problem and has started to change things. But even now if you go into a CVS, there are limited shade ranges. It sends a message when you can’t find anything that matches your skin tone.
You get diversity through having more founders of color, but also through brand [collaborations] and giving attention to brands that do work to remedy the problem and are more conscientious about it.
What have been your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
Funding is one of the main challenges, having to bootstrap everything. [Another] is wanting to work with really high-quality factories; they all have minimum orders. The ingredients I want to use are more expensive. All of those things have been a challenge in terms of executing the vision.
What have been some of your biggest wins as a small business owner?
Being able to be in business since 2013 has been a huge win and just growing to where we are now. My biggest win was being able to launch the organic makeup line last year that took about two years to produce. I always had a vision of expanding beyond nail polish. Also, being able to find a factory that is willing to work with recycled plastic—that took years! Almost every factory didn’t want to compromise their molds; plastic degrades each time you use it and other companies aren’t asking for it either.
How has the pandemic affected your business? Did it prevent exposure at expos? Did it affect your sales?
Beauty tends to always do well in economic uncertainty. Whether that holds true or not, we have seen a lift in sales online.
On the negative side, 50% of our business is wholesale and that took a hit. A lot of things are falling through. I was planning to work with Ipsy later this year. We had signed a contract in March. A week later, our budget changed. Our orders for our existing shades have also been delayed due to staffing issues because of COVID-19; [the manufacturer] has to make sanitizer to be considered an essential business.
How would you describe the Habit Cosmetics customer?
I would say that’s two fold. They like makeup because it’s fun but don't want to use ingredients that harm themselves or the planet. [Our customers are] people who want to look their best but don't want to spend a lot of time getting ready and who do seek out products that multitask.
How can your community support you during the pandemic and beyond?
If not through sales, just spreading the word about our brand if you like what we’re doing.
What is clean beauty to you?
Clean beauty is using products that make you feel good with ingredients you don’t have to second guess.
In what ways would you like to see this industry change and improve?
The clean beauty industry is very homogeneous. People don't see their faces represented in advertising and imagery and if they’re not being marketed to, they’re not going to feel like the brand is for them. Everyone wants healthier products for their family and themselves.
I would [like to see brands] championing diversity in an authentic way, which comes from programs that are supportive of people of color as founders at the helm of different brands.
I would also [like to see brands] embrace sustainability but it’s a thorny issue. We’re still just taking baby steps. Habit Cosmetics has a recycling program in the works!
It’s naive to start a brand and think you can do everything sustainable because there are a lot of trade-offs, but there’s not a lot of brands even attempting to start. I would like to see brands take baby steps to dip their toe into sustainability and what that means for their components.
What does Habit Cosmetics do differently that makes you stand out among the rest of the clean beauty industry?
I would say there's no brand that’s focusing on sustainability to the extent that we are. Our bedrock is non-toxic, cruelty-free, and vegan formulas, but we also have sustainable packaging using recycled plastic components, reusable glass, and bamboo. Our boxes are sourced through sustainable forestry. We do all of that.
We created a niche for ourselves by having the overall best products, not just focusing on trend relevant colors. I feel like other brands focus on colors being flattering, but they need to have something that’s timeless. We choose colors that are flattering for the widest spectrum of skin tones as possible.
AJA’S TOP PICKS
For new customers, which shades of nail polish, highlighter, and multi-use colors would you recommend?
Going into fall, Velvet Underground is my favorite. It looks beautiful on everyone.
For year round, Mod Squad. It’s a beautiful nude rose shade.
For going into the holidays, Gatsby and Hollywood Babylon are beautiful highlights.
What are your best sellers and what are your personal favorites?
Red, pink, and skin tones are best sellers year round. Tandoori is a really beautiful red rock color that’s trending really strongly right now. Cavalier as well, a vibrant shade that was sold out for months.
Where can our readers follow you?
Follow us on Instagram @habitcosmetics and newsletter sign-ups would be amazing!
Use code KINDER15 for 15% off any order on HabitCosmetics.com.
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