Today’s beauty world today is very different from when I first entered as an influencer in the 2010s. More importantly, there’s more competition than ever, thanks to the rise of the indie beauty niche — where my brand Kawaii Girl Cosmetics (KGC) resides. Still, one thing I’ve learned along the way is that there’s plenty of space (and lots of different faces) for any beauty brand. This is especially true if you’re a brand with a mission.
The choice to start my own beauty business felt like a natural one. After all, I’d already launched a marketing consultancy in 2009 and had been working with Japanese artists and brands in Japan since 2010. Yet, in 2016, when I finally got the courage to start a new entrepreneurial path, I had no idea I’d put so much of myself into it with maximum transparency.
Pivoting from marketing to beauty
Marketing is in everything, including beauty, especially when you’re a small business owner wearing multiple hats. However, in late 2015, I wanted to do something more than launch and promote other businesses through my marketing consultancy. I wanted something of my own.
This was also when I was putting a lot of effort into my bridal influencer platform, The Anti Bridezilla. As my influencer work grew, beauty felt like a natural segue. After all, what bride doesn’t care about skincare or their wedding day makeup?
As I started featuring more beauty content on my website and Instagram, brands began to notice. I joined a lot of beauty rosters like E.l.f. Cosmetics, Erborian, Derma’e, Kevyn Aucoin, Pixi Beauty, Buxom Cosmetics, Cure Aqua Gel, and more.
Finding my people
The funny thing about my love affair with makeup is that I’ve always been a less is more kind of girl. Don’t get me wrong: I can create a cut crease and contour my cheeks beyond perfection. But on a regular day, that’s not my thing. I love a nice “your skin but better look” — but accented with the perfect pair of lashes and a good wing liner.
No, not those caterpillar lashes. Just solid lashes that have staying power, and make you look like you put in the effort even when you don’t. This became my mantra and a driving focus behind product development, especially later on when I gave birth to my daughter and had significantly less free time.
Still, whenever I’d go to beauty media events or even spend time with friends or family, I heard one refrain repeatedly. “I can’t wear makeup because I can’t do [insert trending makeup technique] like they do on Instagram.” After hearing this for two solid years, in 2016, I realized that this was the type of person I wanted to help.
Breaking barriers through beauty
In 2017, I launched KGC with a simple lash collection — the Tokyo Lashes. However, simply making beauty accessible to the “everyday” person wasn’t the only thought driving me to start KGC. As a Black woman who was always told I “didn’t act Black,” I’ve always felt like makeup has been a true form of self-expression.
In a world that often made me feel otherized or like an anomaly for not fitting into mainstream stereotypes of what I “should” be, those things didn’t matter when I rocked a makeup look on my Instagram channel. Likewise, if I was drawn to a softer makeup look that relied less on contour, excessive lip lining, or dramatic brows (and aren’t we glad the Instagram brow phase is done!), I could simply just exist.
This is where KGC’s core ethos came from. We’re a makeup brand that believes in speaking truth to power through the medium of makeup. We encourage authenticity above all else. Beyond best practice style tips, we don’t dictate how to use our products. We’re a safe space where any Kawaii Girl Beauty, regardless of gender, can share their beauty looks, makeup tips, and simply exist without judgment.
Weathering the storm
As an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Even though I knew this, I wasn’t exactly ready when life threw me a curveball. As I was starting to get real press with KGC, calamity hit. In the summer of 2017, I found out I was pregnant (yay!), and then immediately lost my main marketing client — whose funds I had been using to prop up my self-funded beauty business.
Suddenly unemployed and pregnant, I had to table KGC because my priority was ensuring my husband and I were financially OK with a baby on the way. Shortly before giving birth to my daughter in March 2018, I pivoted from marketing to writing. It allowed me to work remotely, paid well, and was less demanding. But it wouldn’t be until 2019 that I would feel mentally, emotionally, and professionally ready to relaunch KGC.
In late 2019, I was preparing to travel back to Asia for a production sourcing trip in early 2020 for the relaunch. Enter COVID-19. So while this was another setback, I had other pressing issues on my mind.
Succeeding against the odds
Fast forward to the summer of 2020, when I took matters into my own hands. If I couldn’t go to Asia and the factories here and abroad were still closed — or operating at reduced capacity — I would make the makeup myself. In October 2020, KGC returned with our New York Collection, handcrafted multifunctional loose shimmer powders for the eyes, lips, and face.
This was our first foray into color cosmetics. Incidentally, we also gained Leaping Bunny cruelty-free certification and pivoted to an entirely vegan brand. This time, things were different. Top-tier media started to notice us, garnering press in major outlets like Forbes, 21Ninety, USA Today Reviewed, and more.
More importantly, in 2021, stores (both online and in-person) started to carry us. We started collaborating with beauty-first social platforms like SuperGreat, built an influencer network, and even enjoyed placements in several beauty subscription services.
KGC expanded into beauty tools in 2022 with the Indy Beauty Tools Collection, and we’re now launching yet another color cosmetics collection, The San Francisco Collection. And the biggest feather in our cap? Big box retailers and major e-commerce platforms started noticing us and inviting us to pitch KGC for review.
One step back for many steps forward
Entrepreneurship isn’t linear. More importantly, sometimes bad things happen for a reason. Losing my job and becoming unemployed and pregnant were some of the lowest and most depressing points in my life. Still, through it all, I refused to give up.
Building a business isn’t for the weak — no matter the industry. But if you can do it for a reason other than making money, you’re more likely to stick with it. Especially these days, with equity firms sniffing around for investment opportunities and more international channels opening up, I’m mindful of the legacy I’m creating for my daughter.
What started as a business that wanted to democratize beauty in the West and give a voice to all beauty lovers is no longer just my dream. It’s a reality with Kawaii Girl beauties around the globe who love our brand story, our products, and what we represent. My only hope now is that I’ve built a company I can pass down to my daughter.