Starting a Natural Lip Care Biz in Brooklyn

Dionne Davis mixing some ingredients for her line of lip care products. (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

Dionne Davis mixing some ingredients for her line of lip care products (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

When Dionne Davis thought of starting a line of lip care products, her aim was simply to offer a variety of colors flattering to women of all skin tones.

But, after researching some of the ingredients that go into many popular lipsticks and lip glosses, she says her mission became twofold.

“I actually found a lot of disturbing factors that were included in lipsticks. Some of them were carcinogens and parabens, which are linked to cancer, and others were just icky,” Davis explained.

“I said OK, I no longer want this on my lips and I no longer want this on my children’s lips or anyone’s lips for that matter.”

The 42-year-old started using ingredients including shea butter, jojoba oil and vegan waxes to create lip tints and conditioners out of her East Flatbush home.

Starting a natural lip care line, Davis believed, could help make people more conscious about what was going on their lips and eventually into their bodies, and give them a wide range of color choices.

The mother of three was ready – she had the data she needed, and the all-natural formulas for her products. But what she didn’t have was enough capital to launch her lip care line.

Joining the Trillion Dollar Women’s Investment Group (TDWIG) in the fall of 2014 changed all that, Davis said.

“This group actually was the stepping stone for me to start my natural lip care line ‘Darker Shade of Ebony’,” Davis said. “The funding I received allowed me to step out and purchase products that I might not have been able to because of my salary, other bills and certain obligations.”

The initial $1,200 loan Davis received through TDWIG was put toward another business venture, and after paying that off over several months, she put all her efforts into getting “Darker Shade of Ebony” started, and marketing her products.

“I knew that it was time to take on the mission of making my all-natural ‘lippies’ and teach people the importance of using cosmetic products that are overall healthy for you, not harmful,” said Davis who works as an administrator at the SUNY Downstate Health Science Center in Brooklyn.

The second $1,200 micro, or small loan Davis received through Grameen America — a leading microfinance organization that provides funding to the TDWIG group — allowed her to pay for several business expenses. These included bulk ordering initial ingredients, creating a website and fees associated with vending at local events across Brooklyn.

“The micro loan gave me the finances needed upfront. Without it I would not have been able to get out there and get going right away,” Davis said. However, she says being a part of the now 20-member Trillion Dollar Women’s Investment Group has given her a lot more than just financial support.

Dionne Davis (third from left) and members of the Trillion Dollar Women's Investment Group with "A Darker Shade of Ebony" lip care products (Photo provided by Dionne Davis)

Dionne Davis (third from left) and members of the Trillion Dollar Women’s Investment Group with “Darker Shade of Ebony” lip care products (Photo provided by Dionne Davis)

“I am able to get the moral support and sometimes you really need that especially when you start to doubt yourself. When we meet up every week I don’t have to say anything to them, I just get that reassurance to keep going to keep pushing forward,” she said.

Davis says she sees her membership in this group as a blessing and refers to many of the other women in the group as her marketing managers due to how much they support her and promote her business.

Since officially launching “Darker Shade of Ebony” in March, the entrepreneur says the Brooklyn community has been receptive and customers especially appreciate that they can customize the products.

“I actually call it building a lippy so they can actually create from the base and go up… They tell me what they like, pick the base, pick a color, pick a flavor and so on,” she said.

In addition, Davis explained that customers are often pleasantly surprised that her lip care line includes products for men and children as well. She is now regularly booked for local beauty events and has seen an increase in online orders from other states.

She thinks the microfinance model is a very important tool for people who want to start small businesses, but may not have the financial means to do so. More importantly, Davis says this group is about women’s empowerment and gives each group member a platform to follow her entrepreneurial dreams.

“We don’t have to wait on anyone or get someone’s approval. It [microfinance] allows us to have a voice and be heard and to take a stand and do what it is our hearts desire,” she said.

This story is the second in a three-part series on the Trillion Dollar Women’s Investment Group and how microfinance is helping fuel small businesses for women in New York City. The final installment will focus on group member Ingrid Stewart, a licensed aesthetician who was able to start a mobile spa with the microloan she received.

Melissa Noel is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Voices of NY, and Ebony Magazine. This article was written as part of the Business Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and funded by a grant from News Corp. 

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