When Stevonne Ratliff first concocted skincare products out of her kitchen, she didn’t think it would turn into a business.
Living as a student in Brazil, Ratliff was looking to treat a skin condition. And when she discovered that she was allergic to mineral oil, a common ingredient used in mass-produced skincare products, Ratliff decided to make products of her own.
“I always had challenges with my skin with discoloration, so I researched the best natural ingredients that could help heal my skin,” she says. “When I lived in Brazil, I encountered a lot of natural ingredients like different berries and fruits, and I incorporated those into my skincare line. Back then, there weren’t many resources like manufacturing if you were a small business, so I just started in my kitchen.”
In 2009, Ratliff launched an Etsy shop that took her beauty brand, Beija-Flor Naturals, to new heights, filling a gap for natural skincare products catering to natural hair, especially for women of color. And with the success of her online store, she decided to take on her business full time.
While other beauty brands turn to labs to formulate their products, Ratliff does the opposite: She creates the recipes herself and sells the products online and out of Concept Forty-Seven, her event space and boutique in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California.
“I try to make it on my own and get to the raw materials that you’re using for your line because not all oils and butters are the same,” Ratliff says. "I personally know the density of cocoa butter because I work with it. I know shea butter, I know what different oils smell like, and I know the properties of these ingredients. If a lab says they'll substitute cocoa butter with shea butter, I’ll know it will change my product. That’s really important and saves you money at the end.”
The beauty founder notes the importance of outside funding to grow your business, a lesson she learned the hard way.
“It was in my sixth or seventh year of business where I was like, Wait a minute I need to be funded,” says Ratliff. “I didn’t really pursue outside funding. It didn't really occur to me. From day one, I had a cash-generating business. When you have a cash-generating business, you just say, 'Oh I have enough cash. I’ll just put it back to my business.' But that’s a trap. You need to get funds outside of your business to help grow.”
Ratliff, a recipient of a Hello Alice COVID-19 Business for All Emergency Grant through the Stacy's Rise Project, is currently looking to expand her business by developing new products and working with retail partners to distribute the brand.
And with a decade of entrepreneurial experience under her belt, Ratliff recommends that beauty founders take advantage of the resources available for founders like networking groups and funding opportunities.
"Ten years ago, there were very few resources for small businesses," says Ratliff. "Make sure you learn as much as you can. Learn about your products, learn how websites work, learn how marketing and finances work. Learn and take advantage of every resource that you can before launching.”
Do you run a Beauty & Wellness business like Ratliff? Check out our Beauty & Wellness Industry Resource Center for resources, how-to guides, and more to help you succeed in the wake of COVID-19 and beyond.