I love good reality-TV shows—especially competition shows—and I thought Shark Tank had all the makings of an ideal series to keep me on the couch for weeks at a time: this perfect marriage of American Idol meets Business School Thesis Defense, where entrepreneurs with tall dreams pitch their businesses to a panel of potential investors in hopes of getting the proper financial backing. But it lost me pretty quickly when I recognized how consistently resistant the judges were to reward entrepreneurs who were not White men—and how condescending they were in their interactions with women, especially women of color. Especially, when I witnessed an absolutely infuriating encounter with contestant Melissa Butler, a Black woman, who was asking the judges for a $125,000 investment, with an offered a 20 percent stake in her company, the Lip Bar, a vegan lipstick line specifically designed for Black and Brown women. Butler had rightly pointed out that women of color are consistently taught to shy away from bold shades, because they’re not created for brown skin.
There was one woman on the panel, Lori Greiner, and she expressed a legitimate concern with buying cosmetics online—that the color you see on the screen does not always accurately reflect the color that shows up at your front door. But the male judges shrugged off her product, and went on the attack, demeaning both Butler and her partner, Roscoe Speres. One judge compared their lipstick colors to that of a corpse, while the others laughed. Robert Herjavec proclaimed that he would not want his young daughters wearing anything with a martini glass as its logo. Daymond John, the only judge of color, sneered, “You’re never going to create anything new in this world. You know, it’s lipstick”—which seemed particularly ironic coming from a man who created FUBU, a hip-hop clothing line, during the 1990s, when hip-hop clothing lines were at their most ubiquitous. But the most toxic, searing insults came from Kevin O’Leary, who brashly informed Butler and Speres that there was no place in the cosmetic market for them, and if there were, a larger company would just “add a purple,” and “Crush you like the colorful cockroaches you are.” (This from a man who told Business Insider, “I don’t have a single company run by a man right now that’s outperformed the ones run by women.”)
My heart went out to Butler and Speres. To men like Daymond John, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, it would seem the Lip Bar is another silly lipstick brand for women to hide behind while they prowl the streets, tempting poor helpless men into making bad decisions. But to women like me, the Lip Bar is a reminder of a fretful history of trying to navigate my ethnic features in a Eurocentric system. It represents every time Iman and Naomi Campbell had to mix their own foundation because there was no such thing as dark foundation. And every time I went in a store and found bleaching cream placed oh-so-subtly next to the mocha-toned concealer. It’s the rise of natural hair care lines like Kinky Curly, Miss Jesse, Carol’s Daughter, because girls like me couldn’t use Garnier or Suave, no matter how lovely their strawberry-scented shampoo smelled, no matter how hard I prayed to become a bouncy and shiny-haired redhead in their carnival-lit commercials. The Lip Bar is the Return of the Jedi against every time I tried on a blue lipstick and it came out crackhead-ashy, bright purple looked like Kool-Aid residue, and red turned to 1920s bug-a-loo Minstrel. If any judge on Shark Tank had been privy to these type of experiences, or understood our demands as women of color, whose lives are the antithesis of Eurocentric beauty, Melissa Butler and Roscoe Speres would have no doubt left Shark Tank with a financial backer.
I decided to visit The Lip Bar online, to test their product. I found it nicely designed and easy to navigate. The range of colors was definitely exciting, but at $20 a pop and no prior experience with this line, there was only so much risk I was willing to take. The package arrived about a week later in a black box dawning the company’s logo:
After the inside the package, each tube has a beautiful black lattice-like case with the company’s logo scrolled on its side:
The lipstick goes on smooth, and my experience with the colors did prove Lori Greiner right, that none of the shades looked quite like what they did online, but regardless, all of the colors turned out great!
My first try was Kamikaze, a light blue that I prayed didn’t come out the crackhead-ashy I was used to seeing. Although not an everyday look, I was pleasantly surprised that the blue even presented as actual blue on my lips.
I next tried on one of their best-sellers, Purple Rain, because guys, look, how can I not buy a color named after a Prince song? I expected a very pronounced purple, and was surprised at how pink it came out, but I loved it. The first light toned lipstick I have ever loved on myself.
I tried on Sweet Shiraz third, which looked a brilliant brown, but came out a very nice red.
Last, but not least, I bought my first black lipstick, Night Owl. I’ve tried on various black lipsticks before, and they all seemed to come out this deathly color that made me look like a stinky-breathed zombie. I wanted a black lipstick that popped (and didn’t make it look like my breath smelled) and this one did not disappoint!
I love their product. I have an eye on Amaretto Sour, Vesper, and I’m rooting for a neon-green shade soon! We, as women of color, who understand what it is like to live as the antithesis of Eurocentric beauty, have to vote with our dollar. Women and minority-owned businesses that cater to us will never be able to thrive, waiting around for ol’ Daddy Warbucks, because the general market doesn’t give a damn about us until we make them. So to Melissa Butler, and all the other women of color out there trying to break into the market: I may not have $125K, but #IAMCOLORFULCOCKROACH! Put out a great product, and you’ll always have a customer in me.