Katonya Breaux is the founder and CEO of Unsun Cosmetics, a privately-funded, L.A.-based brand dedicated to offering beauty and skin protection in the newly categorized “all inclusive” arena, meaning products have been designed for all skin tones and genders. “I struggled for years to find a clean sunscreen, without chemical sunscreen agents, that didn’t leave my skin ghostly white, or tinted ones that didn’t leave my skin gray or purple,” said the 53-year-old New Orleans native (and mother to singer and artist, Frank Ocean.) Unable to find what she wanted, she left her 20-year-old, self-started construction company for a completely different business lifestyle. Since inception three years ago, the brand has doubled its revenues each year and is sold at Credo Beauty, Dermstore, and now Target. Just in time for summer, and with an exclusive limited-time partnership with the mass retailer, the brand will launch EVERYDAY, a diffusion line focused on clean and safe sunscreen. Somehow, Katonya found time to talk to with CEW Beauty Newsfor our 5 Minutes with… feature.
BN: What do you think today’s consumer is looking for from a brand?
KB: Authenticity. They are interested, more than ever, in who the founder is and what the brand’s story is truly about. We aim to stay authentic and consistent not only in our messaging but in our product quality – and we feel (and hope) that it resonates with our shoppers.
BN: What have you found most challenging in creating your voice within an already cluttered beauty arena?
KB: Being compared to brands that ultimately have a different product. Yes, while we both produce sunscreen, the deliveries are vastly different. There are many brands that promise no residue and are able to achieve that because they use chemical sunscreen agents, while Unsun is formulated with clean sunscreen agents such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The comparisons are apples to oranges, and that’s been our biggest frustration.
BN: What have been the biggest challenges in launching a category specifically aimed at women of color?
KB: The timing of the launch of Unsun coincided with a general shift in marketing to women of color in general. Black women have always spent serious dollars in the beauty industry but just weren’t spoken to directly, if at all. Had we launched four or five years ago it may have been very difficult to garner the type of brand awareness we’ve recently received. People are interested and we are happy to see the shift.
BN: Are we making progress in the beauty world for women of color?
KB: There is definitely progress being made. There are brands creating products specifically for us and brands creating space for products with us in mind. The larger companies still have a lot of work to do but I see a future where this conversation will not need to be had.
BN: What is a key component to launching this line?
KB: To educate people of color that their melanin only offers little protection and that sunscreen is something that they need.
BN: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?
KB: That your brand is only as strong, progressive and authentic as your team. Building my team will only be about this lesson.
BN: What’s your greatest accomplishment thus far?
KB: Navigating as a newcomer in the beauty arena in the short amount of time we have been in business, has allowed for many successes. From sale increases and wholesale accounts to garnering amazing press and growing our social media presence. We have accomplished a lot and still have more to go.
BN: What’s a specific business mistake you’ve made?
KB: I’ve literally built this brand alone and finally made my first hire this year. I feel that this was a mistake. While there have been amazing milestones for Unsun in our short lifetime, we could have achieved so much more, easier, if I didn’t put so much on myself and brought in a team earlier.
BN: What beauty product (not your own) is your favorite?
KB: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic! I think this product is amazing, and I have been using it for years. There are many mornings where it’s only this and my mineral tinted sunscreen.
BN: Best advice for newbies entering the business today?
KB: Plan, plan, plan. It seems easy and glamorous to call yourself a ‘Founder’ or ‘CEO’ but running a business is challenging and requires firm commitment and a realistic view of what that looks like. Ask questions of anyone you think might have answers, people are more willing to help than you would ever believe.
BN: What’s something no one tells you when starting a business?
KB: That you are usually the last to be paid.
BN: What’s a mantra you live by?
KB: This will sound so trite and simple but it encompasses so very much: Be kind.
BN: If you were to write the note found in a fortune cookie, what would it say?
KB: Today, you will learn to love yourself.