August is officially National Black Business Month and PAPER is showing love to some of our favorite Black-owned businesses throughout the entire month. Our dedicated series, Booked x Busy, is all about shining a light on the entrepreneurs and brands that embody Black excellence.
One in four Americans live with chronic skin conditions, like eczema, hyperpigmentation or psoriasis. But that's about to change thanks to Topicals, a skincare brand that wants Gen Z to embrace its flaws and is quickly becoming all the buzz when it comes to inclusive beauty.
Recently launching its two signature products, Like Butter and Faded, Topicals' clinically backed line is compatible with all skin tones and contains targeted formulas packed with key ingredients that address dry, stressed out, discolored and inflamed skin. Available online and at Nordstrom, the brand is not only transforming the taboo around imperfect skin, but it's creating a community around authentic skincare conversations, too.
Topicals features real-life womxn in campaigns with their skin conditions on full display. And because chronic skin conditions can take a toll mental health due to society often associating them with embarrassment and shame, Topicals is donating 1% of profits to various mental health organizations; it's already donated and partnered with groups like Sad Girls Club.
Topicals is founded by Olamide Olowe and her bestie Claudia Teng. At 23, Olowe is the youngest Black woman ever to raise more than $2 million in venture capital funding. With support and a co-sign from Hollywood cool kids like Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji and DJ Hannah Bronfman, Olowe and Topicals are in the skincare game for the long-haul.
PAPER had a chance to kick it with Olowe to chat about what it's like to be a young beauty boss, the power in creatives of color collaborating, and the importance of being the CEO of both a business and your life.
Skin is something that often is glorified as having to be flawless. Why is Topicals deciding to upend that tradition in beauty?
We're all about celebrating and embracing our skin and its conditions. That's why it's important for us to showcase people with their skin conditions to change the idea that you need to have perfect, clear skin to feel beautiful and confident. At Topicals, we like to say that "YOU make skin look good," not the other way around.
Can you both briefly share an experience you had with "bad" skin?
Olamide Olowe: I have post-barbae folliculitis, which is another term for ingrown hairs. I grew up very self-conscious about it so much so that I wasn't comfortable wearing a swimsuit until my first year of college.
Claudia Teng: Growing up I dealt with severe eczema to the point I was in and out of hospitals. Teachers used to send notes home to my parents because they noticed I was more concerned with itching rather than interacting in class. I also would skip out on sleepovers because I felt embarrassed about having to bring my topical steroids.
"For women of color, there's a huge lack of funding and resources to help jump start your business."
Can people without eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions use your products?
Yes, they can. Our ingredients generally help to improve your skin's moisture barrier or brighten your skin tone so even if you don't have a skin condition, you'll enjoy using Topicals products.
What are some of the challenges for starting a Black-owned business from scratch?
For women of color, there's a huge lack of funding and resources to help jump start your business. It was definitely no walk in the park, especially when it came to investors. I was turned down from over 100 different investors since I began reaching out back in August 2018 until I was able to secure the investors I have alongside me today. I feel fortunate though to have the group of people supporting us that we do. It was important to me to have strong, Black women on our cap table, and we were able to do that.
Where did you find the strength to take the leap and launch your own skincare company?
Claudia and I have a great support system. Claudia's mom is one of the certified dermatologists behind the science of our products. My father is also an entrepreneur who has launched several businesses. Claudia and I have made numerous connections with people with similar interests who believed in our mission. Having each other side-by-side with the same passion to change the way we look at and care for skin conditions has really helped us make this happen.
What is it like to have a squad of influential Black women in the industry backing and believing in your vision?
When Black women support Black women, magic happens! I'm so grateful to have the most influential Black women backing our vision to transform the way people feel about skin.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
Our brand is all about being inclusive and listening to our community even when it's not about skincare. It's important to support one another especially during these times.
As women of color, what does representation within the beauty industry mean to you?
Growing up as women of color with skin conditions, we began to notice that many of the products didn't serve us and our skin conditions. Historically the skincare industry has not been inclusive, not only when it comes to representation but also when it comes to formulation. 75% of dermatology clinical trials are conducted on lighter skin tones, which results in a lack of understanding of how certain ingredients affect darker skin tones.
Topicals is donating a percentage of profits to various mental health organizations. Why is it so important for you to give back?
We're all about building an inclusive community that has real and authentic discussions about skin. Chronic skin conditions can often lead to serious mental health issues. At Topicals, we're about self-care and that includes taking care of your mental health. I've experienced the mental health effects of dealing with my own skin conditions and that's why we've built a brand that encourages and supports those who may be experiencing the same thing — even if it's not entirely related to skin.
"We are creating a new kind of cool that's rooted in empathy for yourself and others."
How did you come up with the names of your two hero products, Like Butter and Faded?
Everything we do at Topicals is rooted in fun. Chronic skin conditions have been way too serious for too long so when we were thinking about naming the products, we didn't want to call out the skin conditions themselves, but rather focus on the experience that the product provides.
What's the inspiration behind the packaging?
When you have a visible skin condition, you grow up using prescription products that are usually kept under your bathroom sink. We wanted to design products that you could showcase right alongside all of your favorite brands on your shelf, hence the bright packaging.
You just hit the market. Who are some of your favorite celebrities you'd love to have get their hands on Topicals?
You've been able to already secure a major retail partnership at Nordstrom. What other shelves would you like to see Topicals on?
Our goal is to always be where our customers are. This can be online, in-store or in a different country. We'd love to partner with any retailers that will allow us to continue doing that.
You are both the co-founder and CEO of Topicals. How do you balance being a beauty boss?
I lean on my amazing support system who always has my back. I'm the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants, so I don't take the immense privilege I've been afforded for granted. I'm a voracious reader, so I always keep my finger on the pulse of cutting-edge research in the e-commerce, health and wellness industries to better create new and exciting experiences for our community. I also pray a lot. Building a business is a very mentally taxing exercise, so meditating and praying help to keep me grounded.
Skin conditions can sometimes have a negative effect on our self-esteem. What advice do you give to someone not feeling their best?
At Topicals, we embrace that perfect skin doesn't exist, that's what makes it even more beautiful. By creating a community of people who buck the status quo, we are creating a new kind of cool that's rooted in empathy for yourself and others.
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
Thanks to you, the world can love the skin it's in. What's next for Topicals?
You'll continue to see us transform the way people feel about skin through products, experiences, and social impact. Stay tuned for more!
Photos courtesy of Topicals