Amy Liu

When Amy Liu launched the Clean Beauty Summer School in 2020, the objective was to support and mentor Black-owned beauty businesses.

Currently in its second incarnation, the program has expanded to include all BIPOC beauty founders, and qualifying criteria remains the same – applicants must prove they have a winning concept, know how to attract customers, and can provide financials. A video, required with application submission, must convey “passion for the brand, something that says that when people buy the product, they are buying your values,” said Amy, founder and CEO of Tower 28 Beauty.

The Clean Beauty Summer School initiative was launched to help provide support areas such as product development, digital marketing, and pitching retailers for beauty businesses. This year, some 200 founders applied. Eleven finalists were selected to receive courses from mentors such as Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, co-founders and co-CEOs of Glow Recipe, and Muffy Clince, Director of Emerging Brands at Ulta Beauty. Judges, made up of beauty pros such as Celessa Baker, VP of Marketing at Sephora, and Kristina Rudolfo, freelancer writer and consultant, will select one winner on August 6. The winning brand will receive a $10,000 grant from the New Voices Foundation, which works with women of color entrepreneurs; $20,000 worth of services through outsourced sales company Headkount; free PR and legal services; pitch meetings with top retail buyers. Finalists include Mango People, which makes a multi-stick, highlighter and bronzer using organic botanicals, and Clean Circle, a producer of reusable bamboo charcoal makeup remover pads.

“It’s about founders helping other founders,” said Amy. “And in creating a sense of community, when these founders hit roadblocks, they have people they can turn to.”

Mentors were able to share advice with new founders about circumventing inevitable challenges in the beauty business.

Divya Gugnani

“A big hurdle for new beauty founders is access to funding,” said Divya Gugnani, investor and co-founder of Wander Beauty. “While women receive only 2.2 percent of total venture capital money invested each year, women of color receive less than 0.65 percent. Often these founders also lack the network and know-how to build distribution channels.” Divya ran a course for finalists on fundraising, creating a pitch deck and mastering delivery.

Paula Floyd, founder of Headkount, said that in selecting the winner, she is looking for “someone who can lead their company through a hurricane…that’s when it’s most difficult to be a founder or CEO. To me, it’s the defining moment taking someone from a good to great founder. These founders ask questions, challenge themselves and listen…those who listen have the answers.”

Akash Mehta, co-founder of Ayurvedic-inspired haircare line Fable & Mane, has been mentoring finalist Blair Armstrong of body care and home fragrance brand Gilded Body.

“We’ve been brainstorming an array of ideas to propel her business as well as problem-solving around the hurdles that need to be overcome,” said Akash. Challenges faced by new brands include how to stand out online, using digital and content marketing to accelerate business and driving sales. “I’m always happy to pass on my learnings in building Fable & Mane and will continue to champion collaboration over competition,” said Akash.