Earlier this month, The Lip Bar owner Melissa Butler and creative director Rosco Spears appeared on an episode of ABC's Shark Tank to pitch the vegan, gluten-free and paraben-free lipstick company, along with a mobile food-truck like vehicle that would allow Butler to get her products directly to consumers. Butler and Spears were completely shot down and walked away without an investment in the hand-crafted products. Despite being terribly criticized and even called “colorful cockroaches” on national TV, Butler, who quit her job as an analyst on Wall Street to launch The Lip Bar, followed her dream of creating the truck. On Feb. 21, the Detroit native celebrated the brand's 3-year-anniversary and launched the Lip Bar mobile in the Motor City. Customers came by the droves to try on colorful shades and tour the vehicle.
We caught up with Butler, (who was rocking The Lip Bar’s “Spice” lip liner and “Kiss Me” lipstick, FYI) about her experience on Shark Tank, life as a Black cosmetic company owner and her plans for a Lip Bar mobile tour.
EBONY: What Inspired you to create The Lip Bar?
Melissa Butler: It was started out of my frustration with the beauty industry and the frustration with my job. I used to work in Wall Street and I absolutely hated it. I felt like I was just wasting my time and that I didn’t go to school and spend four years in college and take out $50,000 in student loan debt to sit at a computer desk and make someone else money. I said okay I’m going to start a business, but I wasn’t necessarily good at anything and I couldn’t figure out what that business should be. I said okay I’m a product junky. At the time, I was using these very expensive hand-crafted soaps. I thought well if they’re so awesome because they’re hand-crafted and natural then I can make them myself. I started making soap and that was going to be my business. One day I called my supplier and I was looking for pigments. He asked me if it was for soap or for lipstick. I said, “Uh, lipstick.” I had no idea how to make lipstick, but when he said lipstick that was it for me. I got the pigments delivered, I read tons of books and I just started experimenting.
EBONY: What was it like transitioning from Wall Street to The Lip Bar?
MB: It’s interesting because Wall Street is so structured. Right now I create my own schedule, but I’ll say that I’ve worked harder on The Lip Bar than I’ve worked anywhere in my life. I wake up working and I go to sleep working. You know that everything is completely on you. If you mess up, then it’s your fault. Even if someone on your team did it, it’s your fault. Even if you get something right, it’s on you. It’s tough. The transition was difficult, but I think that my Wall Street background allowed me to create some sort of structure with my own work day.
EBONY: What was your experience like on Shark Tank?
MB: It was actually awesome. They were jerks on the show, but you have to remember that it’s TV. It’s literally reality TV. So at a certain point, you have to realize that they’re trying to increase their ratings. We’re pitching for like an hour and then they chop it down to about seven or eight minutes to make good TV, but it was good because it made us run our show a little more tight. It made us validate the reason for existence because they were right. It is a saturated market. But I’m a firm believer that people buy what you believe and not what you sell. At The Lip Bar we believe that beauty shouldn’t compromise health. We believe in wellness and in self expression through beauty. We believe in challenging the standard of beauty. I don’t think that there is another company out there with that message. I think that’s why we stand out in addition to our natural ingredients. It was interesting being on there, but we had to take everything that they said with a grain of salt.
EBONY: What’s it like being a Black owner in the cosmetic industry?
MB: Whenever I meet with anyone trying to get distribution or just networking within the industry, because I’m Black it’s like immediately, “Is this for women of color?” I could be showing them a picture of a model, an Asian woman or White model and they’ll ask me is this only for women of color. And I’m like no, “That’s why she’s there.” This is for any woman who wants to express herself through beauty. Do I have a more compassionate approach to my products because I’m a woman of color? Absolutely. Do I know the struggle of not being able to find a nude lipstick that works for you? Absolutely. Of course, I make sure that my products are suitable for women of color, but I think that you don’t have to be a certain complexion to wear my lipstick.
EBONY: Your lipstick colors are really bold. What would you say to women who are afraid to step out and wear bright colors?
MB: I would tell them not to be afraid simply because they’re afraid because they’ve been conditioned to believe that they can only wear certain colors. Like oh I’m dark so I can never wear a pink or red. I only have to stay in the nude family. So I always approach it like who told you that you can’t do this? I think you always have to buy colors and wear colors that are going to match your undertone and complexion but I don’t think that limits the actual color. It just limits the undertone. You may not want to wear a red red. You may want to wear a blue red. You may not want to wear a Barbie pink, you may want to wear a deep pink. But I don’t think that there is any color that any woman can’t wear. Just ease into it and have the confidence to rock it. That’s what it is.
EBONY: What’s your favorite color?
MB: They change. I make all the colors by hand. I fall in love with each color individually. As of late, it’s been more like the burgundy/black/red colors. It used to be “Purple Rain,” which is our best seller and by far everyone’s favorite. Then “Whiskey Sour” had a good run. So it’s all cyclical.
EBONY: What’s the plan for the The Lip Bar mobile tour?
MB: We’re going to have a few different phases of the tour. We’re going to have a Northeast tour with New York, Brooklyn, Philly and D.C. We’re also going to have a down South tour where we do Tennessee, Atlanta and then down to Miami. Then we’ll do California and Las Vegas. We’ll start when the weather breaks. Hopefully, mother nature is nice to us.
Glennisha Morgan is a Detroit-bred multimedia journalist, writer, photographer and filmmaker. She writes about intersectionality, hip-hop and the women in it, pop culture, queer issues, race, feminism and her truth. Follow her on Twitter @GlennishaMorgan or at www.GlennishaMorgan.com.