Brown Girl Jane Is Set To Generate $2M In Sales This Year Without Spending On Ads
For more than 10 years, Brown Girl Jane co-founder Malaika Jones worked on Wall Street in a financial industry she describes as a world’s away from beauty and wellness. But the demands it placed on her and the skills it gave her were catalysts for her entrance into beauty and wellness. “It taught me strategy and how to see white space,” says Jones, who was formerly in investment banking and bond trading at JP Morgan. “I recognized that there was this huge hole in the market, and I also knew that we had the ability to fill it.” The we she refers to is Jones, her sister Nia and media personality Tai Beauchamp, a trio that in January last year launched Brown Girl Jane. Since then, the brand with CBD skincare and sexual wellness products, tinctures and candles has roughly doubled its assortment, and rolled out to Nordstrom and Birchbox. Bloomingdale’s is soon to come.
This year, bootstrapped Brown Girl Jane is on track to profitably generate $2 million in sales. Its early traction is thanks in large part to a community it’s fostered via various programs and its “You Good, Sis?” Instagram series featuring big names like Tracee Ellis Ross. One of the programs Brown Girl Jane has orchestrated is the #BrownGirlSwap Grant Competition, which is going into its second year in partnership with Shea Moisture and offering $150,000 in grants to 12 Black women-owned beauty and wellness brands. Discussing the grant program, Jones says, “We were just trying to figure out a way to be intentional and address how we could make a mark and a change where we were in our own space. We’re so excited that this is going to be a multiyear partnership and our hope is that it grows and is able to touch more people every year.” Beauty Independent asked her to elaborate on the origins of Brown Girl Jane, its move beyond CBD to a variety of hero ingredients and how it’s built an engaged following without spending on digital advertising.
Why Is Brown Girl Jane the brand you wanted to start?
It’s really the brand I wished existed for me. I spent most of my life and career before this really achieving and working to accomplish things and check off boxes. I spent a long time on Wall Street and, along the way, thought I was doing everything right, and looked up and had no plan really for myself or my wellness. I certainly hadn’t made myself a priority. I felt like a lot of women of color and women who were always pouring into others felt the same way, and that we should have a collection and really a community that centered and supported us as we were doing all of the things. That was really the the background and the north star for Brown Girl Jane: How can we create and craft a beautiful brand that offers solutions to the things that everyone experiences on a daily basis?
After leaving Wall Street, you did consulting work. And how did that inform the brand you created?
A lot of our colleagues at the time were leaving Wall Street and wanting to start their own businesses, everything from hedge funds to consumer product goods companies. I spent some time advising and helping to strategize, and realized then that I had a knack for strategy. It’s just wonderful seeing a business being built, whether you’re an entrepreneur or you’re a consultant on the sidelines. I was able to be an integral part of helping other people build their businesses, but also spent a lot of time listening to people around what was important to them and finding common threads.
Around that time, there were conversations around not only their business, but you talk to people about their lives, things that they’re balancing. I started to hear common threads around lack of balance and lack of solutions. So, not only on the business side did it help me with the strategy and just learning how to build a foundation of a business through helping others, but I also was able to hear the common stories around lack of wellness. Entrepreneurs a lot of times end up juggling the most, so that was illuminating as well.
The pandemic hit two months after Brown Girl Jane launched. What was that like? Did your strategy change?
The strategy was always about coupling the collection with the community. I know that when we talk about wellness, particularly women of color, that it’s never just about one thing. It’s also about the solution, which may come in the form of a product or a toolkit. Also in that toolkit is the people around you—it’s your family, it’s your sisterhood, it’s a community. So, that was always an integral part of how we wanted to approach the brand.
After COVID, it just highlighted the need. Wellness moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have, and we were all forced to confront our wellness and our priorities in a way that was sort of inescapable. We not only ramped up the community element with things like the #BrownGirlSwap initiative, which turned into its own movement, and other founder-to-founder partnerships that we’ve done, but we really dug our heels deep into purpose work. That has been amazing because I think it was such a part of our brand from the beginning. It’s also really anchored us in how we want to move forward. I don’t think any of us will ever be the same after the pandemic hopefully draws to a close soon, but it certainly has illuminated and highlighted the need for these sorts of support systems.
How many products did Brown Girl Jane have at first, and how many does it have now?
We first came on the market with four products. We had our two tinctures, Balance and Rest, our sexual wellness oil Yoni and our body butter Heal. We have since added our Glow Facial Serum, two home fragrance candles that have mood-boosting technology, we added our Gelée, which is our take on the gummy, and we are launching very soon a body oil and a mood fragrance collection. So, we’ve probably doubled the number of SKUs we offer in the year.
The wonderful thing about having such an engaged community, and forming these initiatives and community-led events is that it allows us to really get close to our tribe, listen and learn about what women and men want, and in what form and how. Being able, as a young company, to really pivot and be innovative around offering solutions that a lot of folks have just never seen before and certainly haven’t seen presented in a way that we aim to speak and interact with our audience is important.
Have you found that men make up a big part of your brand’s customer base?
Our latest figures look like men make up about 15%. It’s substantial considering that our marketing is very women-led. What we have found is that our message has resonated with all sorts of people. Our tribe is probably 50% or 60% women of color and, then, 40% white women and men. That really was eye-opening to us because I think that a lot of times we view things in terms of a niche, but the solutions that we offer and the way that we speak, and the way that we engage with our community is something that has proven to resonate with more than one type of person—and that’s always been our goal.
How do you think about Brown Girl Jane’s distribution strategy?
We overlay the same sort of criteria for retailers as we do to our formulators. It’s really wanting to align with the mission of the company: How do you treat the people who work for you? What sort of standards are evident in the company? Are you able to add value to a product line in terms of geography or scale? To put it simply, we want to like the people we work with, from A to Z. With retail, we’ve been fortunate to be able to be selective around the sort of partners that we work with, and want to have relationships that will last and that feel supportive on both ends.
We love online because it allows us to really get to know our tribe, and it allows us to touch every part of the process. Everything from the way our mailer boxes are designed to the notes inside and the photographs are intentional. There’s something really special about being able to craft that process, so that will always be a focus of ours. We also are lucky and grateful to be partnering with other retailers who have large distribution and aligned missions. The combination of the two allows us, obviously, to touch more people, but still have a good hold on the customer experience, which is super important to us.
How has the wellness CBD space evolved since Brown Girl Jane launched, and how have you adapted to the changes?
It’s definitely evolved. Like I mentioned before, wellness was an afterthought for so many, and it’s wonderful to see more and more people taking their own wellness super seriously. In terms of trends, what’s been really wonderful to see is that people are becoming smart about ingredients, clinical studies and efficacy. Those are things we’re really anchored in.
On the CBD side, it’s sometimes a monthly shift, and I expect that to continue. There are so many factors in play legislatively. We love CBD, It’s so effective and can be used so many different ways, which is super unique. While that was the hero ingredient in our first collection, Brown Girl Jane is a wellness and beauty brand. There will be other hero ingredients, and there will be other forms. We tell our tribe that everything is not for everyone, so we want to be able to provide solutions in different forms. We are currently working on other hero ingredients and other forms that are innovative and disruptive in the space while still having a CBD line.
Are the CBD products the bestsellers?
Our tinctures remain our bestselling item right now direct-to-consumer. A lot of our customers had never tried wellness things before, so it’s super exciting to be at the forefront of introducing them to something that can just make their days and nights feel better. That’s resonated a lot. With our retail partners, it’s really our home fragrance and our beauty serum. That is another nice thing about having the mix of the two distribution strategies, the ability to offer consumers in different spaces the same thing, but you see them gravitating to different things in different spaces. That’s been great for the brand so that we can diversify.
What has worked for Brown Girl Jane from a marketing perspective?
We’ve done no paid marketing. All of our marketing and all of outreach has been organic. We do is really try to be creative around content, around community engagement and also being reflective of what’s going on. I spoke about the #BrownGirlSwap, which is an initiative that asks everyone to swap out five of their everyday beauty or wellness products for those made by Black women founders. That last year turned from an initiative to a whole movement that was then powered by Unilever. We also had something called the Black Beauty and Wellness Summit headlined by Halle Berry and Jill Scott, which is returning for the second year. That brought together enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, beauty lovers and wellness lovers to talk about all things Black beauty and wellness, business building and everything in between.
Thinking outside of the box and trying to engage people in spaces and in conversation on a consistent basis has been really our most effective marketing tool. We also have a weekly show called “You Good, Sis?” that is hosted by my co-founder Tai on Instagram every Friday. She talks to some of the most beloved women around about everything wellness and just checking in on one another, everyone from Tracee Ellis Ross to Kelly Rowland to Yolanda Adams. It allows people to see how alike we are and how we’re, at the end of the day, all searching for the same solutions and are in the same sisterhood. Those sorts of things have been incredibly wonderful tools for marketing. Sometimes, we’re all overloaded with ads, so what we try to do is really be inventive around how we’re talking to women and how we’re engaging.
You recently announced the second edition of the #BrownGirlSwap Grant Competition in partnership with Shea Moisture. What have you learned from brands that have participated in the competition?
We know that less than 1% of venture funding goes to Black [women], but sitting on the side of a grant competition and looking through 1,000 applicants who are just so creative in creating products and knowing that the funding has historically not been there for us was something to see and reminds us why this is so needed. We know that this is just the beginning because the need is so great.
It’s very clear that brand building and entrepreneurship are on the rise, which is wonderful, particularly for people who have been excluded from these industries for so long. Now, in a lot of the cases, the barrier of entry is a bit lower, and it’s wonderful that people see the possibilities, and are starting a brand and filling a gap. At the same time, the brands that will last are the ones that are really at the forefront of innovation and are super intentional about differentiating themselves. What I have seen also, is that the competition for these spaces in the beauty world is fierce, even in the indie space.
How have you been able to finance Brown Girl Jane so far?
We are self-funded. Being self-funded has made us laser-focused on what works, on being nimble, on pivoting and on listening because you feel like you have to get it right. And that’s part of the reason we’ve had no formal ad spend or marketing spend. The upside is it forced us to get super creative and super disruptive around how we tell our story. So, we are bootstrapped, but we’re also profitable. That said, we are growing so quickly that we have started to internally explore funding because we know that the opportunity for us to grow and scale is there, and it’s tougher for a self-funded brand to take advantage of some of the things that are right in front of us.
Where do you see the brand in five years? What are goals you have for it?
We aim to really be at the forefront of serving the multicultural audience in the wellness and beauty space. When we’re trying to come up with wellness solutions, it doesn’t ever mean one thing, so that will mean that our SKUs will continue to grow and continue to come in unexpected spaces. We believe that there is a wellness opportunity across categories. There is an opportunity to introduce or infuse wellness in beauty, skincare and fragrance and, certainly, in supplements in a way that hasn’t been done tailored to women of color. We’re super excited about not only being a part of redefining what wellness solutions can look like, but continuing to grow our community through the Black Beauty and Wellness Summit and other initiatives that really focus on sisterhood and on the community aspect of what it means to feel whole and feel supported.