A Trailblazer Of Socially-Conscious Beauty, LXMI Founder And CEO Leila Janah Passes Away At 37
Leila Janah, founder and CEO of skincare brand LXMI, passed away last Thursday due to complications from Epithelioid sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. She was 37.
Janah’s beauty business arose from her dedication to improving society. In 2008, she started Samasource to provide meaningful work that pays people above poverty wages. Today, the for-profit specializes in machine learning training data, and its operations stretch across seven countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Costa Rica. Samasource estimates it has moved more than 50,000 people out of poverty. In 2013, Janah established the non-profit Samaschool to teach low-income earners digital skills that enable them to secure higher-paying freelance jobs.
Janah launched LXMI, which is pronounced “luxe-me,” in 2015 following a trip the year before to Northern Uganda, where she became acquainted with Nilotica or East African shea butter. Described by Janah in a 2016 WWD article as “natural Vaseline,” the nutrient-rich ingredient would become central to LXMI, and the brand’s sales of products containing it help sustain women that harvest, produce and export the shea butter in yet another extension of Janah’s pursuit of fostering enriching employment. In addition to Nilotica, LXMI sourced Kigelia and cape aloe from women’s cooperatives in South Africa.
“A lot of the chemicals that we’ve been bombarding ourselves with in personal care products, literally slathering on our faces and bodies, are known to be linked to inflammation and chronic disease,” said Janah, speaking to Vogue Australia in 2018. “I became interested in an alternative for that, while also giving work to low-income women and supporting conservation incentives in wilderness areas through fair trade and organic suppliers.”
LXMI was set up to be a Samasource of sorts for the luxury goods market and fuel Janah’s non-profit enterprise. She explained to WWD that she donated a third of her stock in LXMI to her non-profit, making it a co-founder of the brand. LXMI’s humanitarian purpose and ethical supply chain stood out, and Sephora selected it to be a member of Sephora Accelerate’s inaugural class in 2016. It was the first brand from the Sephora Accelerate program to break into Sephora. LXMI premiered at Sephora and on QVC nearly four years ago.
“It is a little scary because there are so few brands that have this [socially-responsible] approach, and there are a lot of eyes watching us within the retail environment. So, my No. 1 goal is not to fuck up so royally that people will say that’s what happens when you bring a social impact brand into a store,” she told WWD at the time of LXMI’s Sephora and QVC debuts. “It isn’t only about us being successful and profitable—obviously, that would be nice—but it is really about this category growing.” Talking to Fast Company the same year, Janah said, “I don’t have a Mother Teresa complex. I’m a pragmatist.” A Harvard graduate and the daughter of Indian immigrants, Janah was author of the book “Give Work.”
“Her passion was palpable. Her smile was magnetic, and she was truly incredible. A life lost too young, but a legacy that will live forever.”
Prior to the kickoff of her Sephora Accelerate class, she mentioned in a Sephora press release that her biggest challenge was being underestimated by investors in terms of scaling a business. Investors, though, definitely caught on to her entrepreneurial talents. LXMI was backed by Unilever Ventures, NEA, Sherpa, TOMS Social Enterprise Fund, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, former Avon CEO Andrea Jung, former Sephora chief merchant Margarita Arriagada, and founding Yahoo CEO Tim Koogle.
Today, LXMI’s assortment spans 10 products, and its bestsellers are Pure Nilotica Melt and LXMI 33 Face Oil. The Detox Market, Violet Grey, Harvey Nichols, Amazon and Sephora’s e-commerce platform stock the brand. Its website is its main distribution channel, according to LXMI.
Romain Gaillard, founder and CEO of The Detox Market, says, “I met so many amazing founders over the past decade, and Leila was one of the most remarkable social entrepreneurs that I have ever encountered. She was invested in a mission to make the world a better place. It is absolutely revolting to see such a beautiful soul leave us.” Lisa Mattam, founder and CEO of beauty brand Sahajan, and a peer of Janah’s in Sephora Accelerate’s 2016 class, says, “The world lost a person of hope, a woman of change and an inspirational leader. In the time I spent with her, I can tell you she was boundless. Her passion was palpable. Her smile was magnetic, and she was truly incredible. A life lost too young, but a legacy that will live forever.”
In a statement, Sephora says, “The beauty industry has lost a wonderful partner, entrepreneur and friend. Leila was magnetic. Through her passion for social good, she was an inspiring and fearless leader in whatever she put her energy towards. Her ‘give work’ ethic inspired many of us and directly helped thousands of people with ripple effects reaching far beyond that. She will be greatly missed.”
Asked by Beauty Independent about the future leadership of LXMI, Anna Bjorkenvall, managing director of the brand, responds, “We are more committed than ever to continuing Leila’s work, and to ensuring her legacy and vision is carried out for years to come. We are working through the practical handling of this situation, including the transfer of leadership, while supporting her family. We will continue to keep our community informed on the latest proceedings.”