Elle Johnson Is Dedicated To Everyday Luxury Skincare For On-The-Go Women
In 1931, Merle Norman began selling cosmetics sophisticated for her era to regular women out of a single studio in Santa Monica, Calif., where the motto, “Try before you buy,” conveyed the paramount importance of customer service.
Nearly 90 years later and across the country, LaVonndra “Elle” Johnson has adopted a similar model for her namesake brand, showcasing high-end skincare out of a 400-square-foot space in Concord, N.C., designed for busy customers requiring a bit of tutelage – but not overkill – on proper skin maintenance. Eventually, in the vein of Norman, Johnson hopes to expand locations throughout the U.S.
“I would like to have one in Orlando, Miami, D.C., New York and LA. It would be something like Merle Norman, where you would go into a store that was completely branded with its own brand,” says Johnson. “My goal eventually is to have a comprehensive beauty line under my brand, and go into cosmetics, a full range of skincare and even maybe perfume.”
Elle Johnson is laying the groundwork to reach that goal today. The brand premiered in 2017 with Clear 3, a three-step system consisting of Chamomile Face Wash, Botanical Firming Toner and Jojoba Moisturizer for combination and oily skin, and Botanical Cleansing Lotion, Botanical Firming Toner and Mango Facial Crème for normal and dry skin. The Clear 3 kit is priced at $56, and individual products retail for $24. (Norman also kicked off her company with a three-step routine.)
“I’ve tried watching makeup tutorials and YouTube videos, and I’m that girl who gets lost at step two. I wanted something that didn’t feature a million products,” says Johnson. “I wanted it to be simple for the woman on the go or someone just starting out with their skincare regimen.”
“I would like to have one in Orlando, Miami, D.C., New York and LA. It would be something like Merle Norman, where you would go into a store that was completely branded with its own brand. My goal eventually is to have a comprehensive beauty line under my brand, and go into cosmetics, a full range of skincare and even maybe perfume.”
A straightforward, botanically-driven approach helped Johnson’s skin. Throughout her adolescence, she dealt with excessively oily skin and blackheads. She tested everything she could think of to keep the oil and stubborn blackheads at bay. She polished her face with scrubs. She slathered it in Proactiv. She turned to Vaseline, a universal remedy in her household. Finally, a cousin, Kayce Jones, recommended she try natural remedies, and they seemed to be effective where other solutions had failed.
Influenced by her skin-saving experience, Johnson incorporated natural ingredients such as chamomile, aloe vera and cucumber into Elle Johnson’s products. “I’ve been able to gain control of my skin by using the correct products and by making sure I’m doing my regimen twice daily, and I’m exfoliating a couple of times during the week,” she says. “I don’t really have blackheads anymore, which is amazing to me because I hated them so much in middle school and high school.”
No longer in middle school or high school, Johnson, now 38-years-old, developed Elle Johnson to be luxurious without the exorbitant prices of luxury goods. The brand’s bottles are gold, clear and white, and “Elle” is written in script with a flourish on them. “When I was researching and getting the products formulated, especially for women of color-owned brands, a lot of the brands I learned about had a rustic or African feel with reds, greens and oranges,” says Johnson. “I didn’t want that. I wanted the brand to have a department store look and feel.”
To get Elle Johnson off the ground, Johnson invested $7,500, and she’s currently attempting to raise $7,000 for product extensions, distribution and marketing through a crowdfunding campaign. “I feel that my brand has the potential to grow much faster than I anticipated and, as I begin bridging relationships with retailers and marketing outside of my region, the issue of scaling continues to come into play,” says Johnson, discussing the reason for the campaign. She adds that she favors “creating a better price point based upon the increased volume so that I can increase distribution and awareness of the brand.”
“I’ve tried watching makeup tutorials and YouTube videos, and I’m that girl who gets lost at step two. I wanted something that didn’t feature a million products. I wanted it to be simple for the woman on the go or someone just starting out with their skincare regimen.”
With scaling in front of Elle Johnson, Johnson’s objective this year is to hit roughly $30,000 in sales. The brand is sold at a single shop, Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center in Charlotte, and Johnson’s plan is to build its distribution at small shops prior to spreading the brand’s own locations and pursuing larger retailers. Retailers like Trellis Beauty, The Detox Market and Aillea are distribution targets.
Johnson wasn’t always in the beauty industry. From 2009 to 2014, she owned a clothing boutique called Elle BJ. After five years, the stress of running the boutique while being a single mother caught up with Johnson. She decided to write down a list of entrepreneurial possibilities she’d enjoy that could afford her greater work-life balance and evaluate those possibilities.
“Skincare was definitely at the top of that list,” says Johnson. “I still wanted to have a business and fulfill that void in my life. When you get into this, you’re in it.” Skills she honed as a clothing boutique proprietor, particularly involving branding and customer service, carry over to her beauty brand. Johnson says, “I have learned how to step back and take notice of what a consumer likes more than what my personal preference might be.”
She doesn’t regret her choice to enter beauty and launch Elle Johnson for a second. “I was excited about the boutique and loved it, but this feels different because I’m actually creating it,” says Johnson. “I look at it and see it grow, and I’m super proud of it. I’m not putting a tag on a dress that I ordered wholesale and everybody else is selling it, too. This is my identity, my mark and stamp.”