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March 10, 2024
Indie Brands

Beyond the brand: Pound Cake

Hi Camille, thank you so much for sitting down with us to talk about keeping Pound Cake clean. I think other beauty brands should know Pound Cake’s origin story, please share…

I had the idea for Pound Cake back in 2015. I’ve always been an avid beauty lover and consumer, however, as much as I loved beauty, I was often disappointed in what color cosmetics offered. I would go into a retailer and pick out a color (blush, lipstick, eyeshadow), and the product either would not show up on my skin tone or it would look completely different than the color being advertised. After talking to some of my friends, they encouraged me to do something about it.

My journey started with booking Greyhound tickets to NYC to attend trade shows like the MakeUp in New York conference, where I could mingle and network with other beauty insiders. Since I had no money, I started signing up for local pitch competitions in Philly.

But, I wasn’t winning any of them. After a year of pitching and only winning one $500 grand prize, I decided to do an Indiegogo campaign with my now partner, Johnny Velazquez. We set the goal to $20k, unsure if we could raise that much from our small network of Black and brown folks. Thanks to someone picking up the story, we made a big splash on the news. Our little Indiegogo reached a lot of people, and we surpassed our $20k goal! 

Soon after, we found our first cosmetics lab in Utah, thanks to some Google research. However, after a year of receiving samples, we were out $7500 and had a broken formula. We went off to the next lab, this time in Canada. We thought we were making great strides, but the owners dropped us for being “too difficult.”
Defeated, Johnny and I began researching more labs that could give us a custom formula that was clean, vegan, cruelty-free, highly pigmented, and most importantly; one that we could own the rights to. Based on our past experiences, we decided to find two different labs and work with them simultaneously. Out of those two labs, we were dropped by one again, and were left with one lab. Together with them we finally created a formula that met all of our criteria.

At the very of 2021, we launched Pound Cake with an Allure Best of Beauty award and sold out within 48 hours. It was such a surreal feeling!

It sounds like you endured a really rocky road from inception to launch, can you tell us a little bit more about it? I’m sure other beauty brands are nodding along.

As mentioned earlier, we were dropped by multiple labs which kept setting back our launch date. We’re the only cosmetics company making products for people of different skin and lip tones, so nailing down a formula that was clean, vegan, highly opaque, very vibrant, long-lasting, comfortable, and lightweight was a process. A lot of labs don’t want to take the time and care to work on a new formula or creation with smaller brands. Because we were so small, a lot of labs didn’t have the patience to help us crack the code and develop products with dark skinned folks as the priority. We kept being told, “You’re being too picky” and “Customers won’t care about this…” and “No one is going to notice the color being off.”

On top of all of this, we were spending a lot of the capital we had worked so hard to raise, just to keep getting dropped. There were times we had about $500 in our Business Checking account and had to wait for another grant to come around to continue moving forward in the formulation process. Despite all of the challenges, I still wouldn’t change the time and care we put into the Formula!

In colored make-up for BIPOC skin, pigment often trumps keeping it clean. Why was it important to you that Pound Cake be vegan and as clean as possible?

We knew the beauty industry was headed towards a more vegan and sustainable space, and we wanted to be ahead of the curve. We worked hard with our chemist to ensure our products did not have any animal byproducts. 

Also, Johnny and I had conducted a lot of market research prior to the formulation process and found that products made for Black and brown folks contained more toxic ingredients than our white counterparts’. After seeing this data, it was our mission to ensure that our products didn’t contain harmful ingredients. This was difficult because a lot of clean products are not highly opaque–many of these clean products are sheer. To achieve this, we sourced the highest quality of clean, pigmented, and treated pigments from Japan.

Why is it so important to your community of customers that you’re Vegan and as clean as possible?

There’s a lot of beauty lovers within our community that feel like animals shouldn’t be hurt or even used in the process, but our community also wants to ensure that what they’re putting on their lips is rid of yucky ingredients that are otherwise harmful to us. I think when it comes down to it, our customers want to have a guilt-free shopping experience.

What was the moment you knew Pound Cake was winning?

The feeling of winning comes and goes on this entrepreneurial journey. We felt like we were winning when we were selected to be part of Glossier’s first cohort back in 2020. Then, when we finally launched online and sold out in less than 48 hours, we definitely felt success.

When we received TIME Magazine’s Best Invention of 2022 award, that felt amazing. When Ulta Beauty called us to say that they wanted to launch Pound Cake in their stores nationwide, we felt like we were winning. And then, of course, when we won a $1M grant from Pharrell Williams, we definitely felt like we were winning. Again, this feeling comes and goes with us, but when something amazing happens, my partner and I take time to really pat ourselves on the back.

If you could give any advice to indie beauty brands early in their journey, what would it be?

It’s OK to work a 9 to 5, full-time job while you’re building your beauty brand on the side. A lot of folks are surprised to learn that my co-founder and I worked full-time jobs up until the beginning of 2023. Yes, that’s correct! Last year was our first full year working full-time on Pound Cake.

However, it took time to get to that place because we’ve been bootstrapped. My second piece of advice is to focus on brand building and sales growth as opposed to all of the shiny accolades. As a beauty entrepreneur, you can sometimes get lost in the instant gratification opportunities.

However, a genuine and engaged community is what’s going to get you to the next level. There’s many brands on Amazon, TikTok, Instagram, etc., that are clearing millions in sales, but they’ve never been featured in a major beauty publication, and they don’t have any big beauty awards.

Would you like to share the spotlight? What’s another Black-owned clean and/or sustainable brand that you admire?

I admire a lot of Black-owned brands, so it’s super hard to pick just one! However, AbsoluteJOI Skincare stands out to me as a great clean and sustainable brand. Dr. Anne is a physician-researcher whose medical and public health training extends to Columbia and Harvard Medical Schools. All of her products are clean, effective, and use simple ingredients, ensuring women of every age can enjoy an elevated skin care experience that celebrates all ages and stages.

I can’t wait to check them out! We adore you and Pound Cake. We so appreciate you sharing your journey, Camille.

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