The past several weeks have been a whirlwind for Karen Young, the founder of grooming brand, Oui the People. Just last week, research firm, Spate, announced the brand is one of the top-searched Black-owned beauty brands on Google, up 1,150 percent. “It feels like we were throwing a party with a small gathering and then we woke up and suddenly, we’re at a rave,” said Karen, who employs a full-time team of four. The brand launched in 2015 with its Rose Gold Sensitive Skin Razor ($75) and extended its offerings to include a shaving gel ($64), body oil ($65) and bikini line sheet mask ($8). Here, Karen speaks to Beauty News about her inspiration behind the brand, connecting with customers, how the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted her and her business and advice for newbies entering beauty.
Beauty News: How did you get into the beauty industry, and what was your inspiration for Oui the People?
Karen Young: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Fordham University, and after spending several years working with top luxury fashion brands, I fell in love with sales and the ability to drive a brand’s success at retail. I then started my own business focused on home goods with beautiful pieces that reflected what I knew from the fashion industry, and after I closed that business, I received an opportunity to join Estée Lauder. The women in my family have simple approaches to skin care, so when I joined Lauder, it exposed me to a different psyche in terms of a customer profile of women who shop for beautiful and efficacious products, similar to a beautifully designed dress. It occurred to me that I absolutely hated shaving and there was no luxury experience within that category, so I built out a beta test to understand that market and explore if I could offer a product that met the needs of consumers who wanted to combine efficacy with luxury, wrapped in the package of a razor.
BN: What inspired the brand name?
KY: We launched as Oui Shave but we changed the name to Oui the People less than a year ago, because we wanted to build out beyond the shaving category. As I got to know our customers, I discovered the razor was just a vehicle towards body care, a greater opportunity and white space for us to be in. Additionally, we have a number of customers who identify as non-binary so I wanted the name to have a significance that was welcoming and inclusive.
BN: Talk about how you’ve been impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement, personally and as a brand.
KY: I honestly had to take a minute and pause. It was a turbulent week to experience as a Black woman in this country and as a Black founder. All of it slammed into me at once and I decided that we needed to be reactive as a brand, and not just add to the noise. My background in psychology never left me and I’m always thinking about how to have conversations with our customers and treat them as valuable individuals. I made a video for our community and spoke to them as if they were in front of me. I talked about a range of things from experiencing racism in the workplace to how people should be aware of biases to do better in society. I thought about taking it down, but people got so much value from it and connected with what I spoke about. Instagram has been the most communicative medium and that’s where we have been posting a lot.
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BN: How have you been marketing the brand?
KY: We have primarily done paid ads and are in the process of building out an influencer program this year. Much of how we have built the brand has been organic through fantastic reviews and press mentions. I think the product stands out in its category because we are able to have conversations around various facets, such as sustainability and skin care issues, including ingrowns, irritation and razor burn. We have doubled our Instagram following overnight and I still go on and thank every single person who has posted about the brand and respond to questions.
BN: How much have sales increased since launch?
KY: We have doubled sales YOY, and certainly in the last couple of weeks. When we learned that we are the most-searched Black-owned beauty brands, it was an amazing feeling because we built the brand with integrity, from product to packaging.
BN: Has your supply chain been impacted with this newfound fame?
KY: As a small business working largely on profits, and putting the profits back into the company, we weren’t sitting on a ton of inventory so we’ve all had to snap to ‘attention now’ mode. Everyone has stepped up to meet the demand. We are consistently shipping and hoping to get caught up by July.
BN: As a small business, were you impacted by COVID-19?
KY: We were really lucky that our suppliers, manufactures, labs and warehouse were deemed essential businesses because of the types of products they handle, so there hasn’t been any interruption to business at all. The brand has actually been growing through the pandemic and I think it’s because we align so well with self-care right now.
BN: How are you funding the brand?
KY: The company is primarily self-funded but we raised pre-seed funding from angel investors in 2019.
BN: What advice do you have for newbies entering the business?
KY: Start with one core differentiating product that you can truly have a conversation around and build something you know people need. Before launching, we tested the market for a couple of years and built up a customer advisory board, which we continue to consult as we launch more products. Beauty is so crowed and fragmented so we have taken the slow and steady route to growth. Be as authentic as you can and think less about what works for other brands and more about what works for your customer.