MadameNoire Featured Video

For many tween girls, wearing makeup is the first rite of passage into womanhood, one that begins with a bit of lip balm or sparkly gloss and blossoms into a cabinet full of eye shadows, bronzers and lipsticks in every tint imaginable. Paula Hayes recalls a similar adolescent experience, and it was a fascination with her mother’s makeup drawer that ultimately inspired her to create Hue Noir, a new line of
cosmetics developed specifically for women of color.

Luckily for Hayes, her natural love of beauty and beauty products was also dispensed with a passion for science. The self-described “geek” was a biology major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, when the first seeds for her business were planted. “When they would teach us how to make something in my organic chemistry class, I would hold up my tube of lipstick and ask, ‘How do you make this?’” she said.

After graduation Hayes started working in product development, first in food and beverage, and later for fragrance and cosmetics companies. Out of curiosity and a desire to find products that wouldn’t aggravate her own sensitive skin, she began tinkering around with different lotion formulas once she finished her other obligations. “It ended up being a natural fit,” said Hayes. “So when I got tired of making products for other people, I knew that I still loved making products and I just decided to make my own.”

The road to Hue Noir, which launched in Hayes’s Los Angeles kitchen in 2006, was long but strategic. As an African American with darker skin, Hayes was disappointed by the lack of viable makeup options in the marketplace for her complexion, as well as the fact that, of those that existed, the trueness of the shade often left much tobe desired. And as a product developer, Hayes also understood how bottom lines – via additional production and marketing costs – could quickly usurp a company’s  efforts to make cosmetics for the minority set.

Much like her decision to market her products to a niche segment of the overall beauty market, Hayes has been careful to take calculated steps regarding the growth of her brand. Early on she received numerous (unsolicited!) investment offers from friends and colleagues who saw the vision and potential of Hue Noir, but she declined them all. While most entrepreneurs would be thrilled to have even one source of external financing during the cash-strapped start-up phase, Hayes instead opted to dig into her own piggy bank – to the tune of around $60,000.

“I knew the way I wanted to go about putting my business together, and,” she explained, “I knew that if I got other hands in it, they were going to want to take it indifferent directions.”

Hayes is also eschewing a mass distribution plan in favor of a more targeted approach that sells her products in select salons and boutiques, as well as through her website and private parties. Forgoing big box retailers – and the accompanying exposure – can be a risky decision, but it’s one Hayes makes with confidence.

“I really want to make sure that Hue Noir is controlling how our brand is being placed out there, especially because we’re so young,” said Hayes. “Early messaging is really important to me, and I want us to have more control over that while we’re building the brand.”

It may seem as though Hayes has an abundance of self-assuredness, and she does. But that mindset, like the 40-plus lipsticks, lip glosses, tinted lip butters, and eyeshadows in her current collection, has been years in the making. In an industry in which most brands are little more than marketing arms for private label manufacturers, Hayes has chosen to ignore colleagues and mentors who discouraged her from making her own products and sourcing her own raw materials. She is forging her own path, and she advises other would-be entrepreneurs to do the same.

“Do not let naysayers or your own personal fears dictate your future,” she said. “There were tons of people who told me that I couldn’t do what I was doing, but I had a great idea and I just needed to be doggedly persistent in moving it forward. And I’m glad I did that.”

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