Although she spends her days wire-framing for a tech company, She’Neil Johnson still finds time to work on her passion project after hours. The Howard University graduate knew that when she arrived to the Big Apple for her corporate job, she’d need to keep her creative juices flowing in order to sustain city life. In December of 2015, She’Neil launched Base Butter, a vegan beauty product for multicultural women interested in healthy living. Although the business is still in its infancy, Base Butter’s well-designed brand is receiving some attention on the internet and engagement through social media. In this interview with BAUCE, She’Neil discusses the challenges of launching a beauty product and shares why being a perfectionist can hurt your business’s growth.
Base Butter appears to be a versatile yet simple beauty product. How did you come up with the idea of the brand?
She’Neil: Base Butter is an all-natural, vegan multipurpose beauty product that we formulate for use on your lips, skin and hair. We really encourage our customers to think outside the box to find unique ways to incorporate our product with their beauty rituals.
I really started this idea in November of 2014. I had just graduated from college and moved to New York and started my full time career working at IBM. Growing up and even throughout college, I was very involved in extracurricular activities: I danced, I went to arts school and I had a very creative background that really fueled my energy and passions. When I started my full-time career, I was really just working 9-to-5 and coming home. That redundancy made me really want to start a passion project. I originally thought of the idea to make all-natural lipstick because at that time I was really getting into beauty. The lipstick wasn’t even going to be all-natural at first, but as I was trying to
figure out recipes to make lipstick at home, I realized the only recipes that I could make in my kitchen involved all-natural ingredients and so that really sparked my interest in natural beauty. Through research I realized that all-natural ingredients have the same, if not better, benefits than chemically-engineered ingredients.
Lipsticks? Wow – what happened to those?
She’Neil: Well as I started getting into a more all-natural beauty routine for myself, I sort of lost interest in the lipstick. I had imagined launching the lipstick line and I had done all this legal work to hold myself accountable and to follow through on my idea, but then I realized over time that it’s hard to follow through on things that you’re not passionate about anymore. So I went through a couple of months of feeling like I failed and wasted money but one thing I did have left over from the lipstick idea was all the ingredients I had purchased. I didn’t want them to go to waste so that’s when I began working on a good body butter for myself and thought, hey, I could sell my own lip balms and body butters instead of lipstick. This whole transition took a year.
I make vision boards for myself every year and a common theme I saw in myself for 2015 was trying to perfect everything and at the end of the day I wasn’t putting anything out there because I was scared to be judged and I wanted everything to be perfect. I finally told myself for 2016, I wanted to change that. Base Butter was going to be my first thing that I took a risk on and put out there even though I didn’t think it was perfect or “ready yet”. So I put together a timeline and started creating the logo, designing the website, pulling together the marketing concept and by the end of 2015, right before Christmas, I launched it. All in all, it came into being out of a personal challenge to myself to just put something out there and honestly since I’ve done it, my customers have really grown and molded the brand to be what it is today.
Base Butter is a relatively new brand with a minimalist design and clear brand concept. What growth have you experienced seen you’ve launched?
She’Neil: From the beginning up until most recently, the metric I paid most attention to is our engagement metrics. I just wanted to see if people are latching on to the idea, if they like what they see; most of our engagement is occurring on social media. We know have more than 1000 followers on Instagram and honestly I’ve been paying close attention to that growth. People are engaging with the brand, they are aligning with the lifestyle, they are liking the content we are producing, people are commenting. We also launched an email list and release a newsletter twice a week and we are seeing that people are engaging with the information we put out through that channel. It feels good to go to networking events and to hear people say that they have heard of my brand. It’s through engagement that people experience the product. Next quarter, I’m going to look more at our profit metrics, like sales. First I wanted to build our audience and our customers, but now that I believe that we do have a voice with our customers and our audience trusts us, it’s time to start scaling Base Butter and focus on increasing our profits.
Are you using different methods to promote Base Butter? Or has it all been organic engagement?
She’Neil: It’s all been organic. We haven’t done any direct paid advertising campaigns outside of a small test on Instagram and a behind-the-scenes campaign but almost everything we’ve built so far in relation to our customer base has been organic so that makes me happy!
What does your manufacturing process look like? Is every jar handmade?
She’Neil: We’re starting to make changes. Up until now, manufacturing has been in-home. It’s a handmade product and we would like to keep it that way. I’m at a place where we have higher demand and I want to outsource our manufacturing and maybe even the shipping. But I still want to keep that quality of a handmade, at-home product. Trying to figure out who I could source it out to. I don’t want it to be made in a big factory and the quality and insurance isn’t how I’d like it when I make it at home. I write little notes to everyone who receives an order and I want to keep that touch too.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge when it comes to creating a beauty brand?
She’Neil: The biggest challenge is that the market is so saturated. There are tons of all-natural butters you can chose from and the hardest thing is gaining loyal customers. Convincing people to pick our product over another is also challenging. In the beginning, I was trying to get everyone to like the product, but I realized that I need to speak to my niche audience. And I realize that’s what successful beauty brands do — they speak to their niche audience and they make sure they cater to them. They build customer loyalty and they provide content to educate them. You have to ask yourself, are you fulfilling a bigger purpose and need? Do your customers see themselves in your product? I think that’s a big thing for multicultural women especially — we are not used to seeing ourselves in the mainstream beauty industry and thus, we would rather pick a brand that is made by someone who looks like us or deals with the same issues that we deal with.
I would also say another challenge personally was opening myself up to my brand. Letting my audience know who I was and what my story was. At first, I wanted to keep my personal brand separate from Base Butter because I didn’t want people to think I was just trying to start a beauty brand to be famous. I didn’t want my face, my name or my story to be associated with it and I wanted the product to speak for itself. But I slowly realized that lack of huminazation was actually hurting the business because people wanted to know who was making the product and why. So I realized when my customers were able to see who I actually was and learn why I created it (the cold New York weather and discoloration had a lot to do with it!) I saw positive growth. It’s more than about meeting a bottom line and making money — I’m trying to fulfill a need.
The vegan lifestyle has become a super trend. Why do you believe it’s important for women to consider a healthier beauty regimen?
She’Neil: My major reason is health. I think it’s really important to know what your putting in your body and on your body. I’m really educated on the topic because my dad is a nurse, my sister is a vegetarian, and my best friend and roommate is a nutritionist. I’ve been surrounded by healthy living my whole life and caught on to why every aspect of what we consume is important for prolonging health. Not for immediate results, but for long-term benefits. To preserve your natural beauty, you have to start ridding your body of dangerous chemicals.
Another reason why it’s important is for the environment. We have this big environmental issue in America. There are a lot of companies using chemicals and testing products on animals and they are becoming extinct from it. Our consumption and bad habits are affecting mother nature and that’s a bigger reason why I try to use natural products that are plant-based if I can.
Let’s say there’s a young woman out there that wants to start her own beauty brand. What would be your advice for her so that she can launch a successful product?
She’Neil: My advice would be to not try to perfect it for so long. You are only successful as an entrepreneur if you’re able to be vulnerable. If you’re able to adapt. Being vulnerable means you are always open to criticism, you’re always open to things changing. Because the world is going to change, demand is always going to change, and if you’re not willing to be vulnerable and willing to adapt, you’re just not going to be successful. Thats something I had to learn. Because I was trying to perfect one idea and put it out there I wasted a lot of time.
Everyday I have to continuously learn new things: new beauty trends, social media tactics, and marketing strategies. There are always going to be new beauty products that need to be launched. Just know who your competitors are and who your audience is. Don’t take too long to put it out there and just be open to being adaptable and pivoting over time because you’re never going to have it right in the beginning.