627 Tisha Thompson:

The beauty industry is being revolutionized by the growing demand for clean, non-chemical ingredients … … that are both healthy and effective – for all skin-types. So, it’s a lucrative space for innovators like the newcomer African American entrepreneur we meet today.

MELINDA

I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who is a 15-year clean beauty veteran – and the first woman of color to land a deal with Sephora for a clean makeup line.

A successful makeup artist turned beauty business maven, Tisha Thompson is the Founder and CEO of LYS™ Beauty with more than 15 years’ industry experience in clean beauty product development, brand management, marketing, finance, and operations. Today she shares her journey and what it took to get LYS launched in during the pandemic with a groundbreaking deal with Sephora.

I can’t wait to introduce you to Tisha! First…

A mom of two and undisputed go-getter, Tisha Thompson dedicates much of her time traveling around the world to discover emerging beauty trends, source healthy ingredients, and innovate new practices to develop clean products that are equal parts effective and inclusive.

A year ago Tisha launched LYS™ Beauty, and became the first African-American founder of a clean beauty line to land a big contract at Sephora. It’s a massive accomplishment, and let’s just say, about time!

When Tisha’s not at the baseball field with her two sons, you can find her testing products in her lab, conceptualizing beautiful packaging, or brainstorming strategies to break down the barriers in the beauty industry.

So much to share today, so let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Tisha Thompson.

Melinda Wittstock:

Tisha welcome to Wings.

Tisha Thompson:

Hello. Thanks for having me.

Melinda Wittstock:

I’m excited to talk to you. You recently launched your first business, and what’s that been like?

Tisha Thompson:

It’s been really exciting, A lot of work, but really exciting. And, yeah, I’m just really eager to get going. We just launched, we’re still brand new, not even quite a year old, but it’s been fun. Very fun.

Melinda Wittstock:

I’m on business number five, so I know all about the ups and downs along the way. It’s not for the faint hearted, not easy. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had so far?

Tisha Thompson:

My goodness, I would say, definitely balancing that work-life balance as an entrepreneur and as a business owner. There’s no punching out. You’re on 24/7, which is good, because you own your business and it has its ups, but that’s something that I think I’m working through. Really creating that balance of knowing when to turn it off, and not on, literally, all the time. But, yeah, that’s a challenge.

I would say, also, what’s been really exciting and a lot of people have been telling me it’s a good problem to have is really inventory challenges. We launched with stronger demand than I think we realized and planned for. And so just kind of always chasing the inventory and that’s kind of been a major challenge that I’ve been facing as well.

But I think launching a brand in a… we’re still in COVID, but [inaudible 00:02:00] in a little bit of a post-COVID world, coming out of a chaotic 2020, I would say, has really posed some challenges that maybe brands may have not experienced beforehand. A lot of macro issues, obviously, wearing face masks is not the most ideal scenario as a makeup company. And so those are kind of some of the things that we’re working through. But, yeah, overall it’s still been an awesome journey so far.

Melinda Wittstock:

So how are you distributed? Are you sold mostly online or are you in stores?

Tisha Thompson:

We are actually exclusive to Sephora. Right now, we’re on sephora.com in the US and Canada. And you will be able to see us in stores very soon, which is exciting. And then we also sell on our own site, so we do have a D2C site as well.

Melinda Wittstock:

And so what was it like to get the deal with Sephora? What did you have to do? Take us through that?

Tisha Thompson:

There’s a pitch process. You do outreach and you pitch the brand and you share what your vision and goal is for the brand and your products. You meet with the team there, and they assess if your products make sense in their world. And it really aligned nicely, because our synergies within the clean space, Sephora’s very instrumental in pushing clean beauty, and they’ve got their clean beauty seal, and they really have aligned a program that really have strict formulating guidelines that they require their clean brands to adhere to, and so that aligned with us. As well as their focus on diversity and inclusion, and for me being a woman of color and really being the first brand for them to ever be founded by a woman of color, focusing on-

Melinda Wittstock:

Really? You’re the first.

Tisha Thompson:

We’re the first.

Melinda Wittstock:

In 2021, you’re [crosstalk 00:04:15]-

Tisha Thompson:

In 2021, we’re-

Melinda Wittstock:

Oh, my God.

Tisha Thompson:

… the first brand to have the clean seal across our entire brand, as a makeup company to be sold at Sephora. Isn’t that wild.

Melinda Wittstock:

That is wild, but what an accomplishment. I mean, congratulations-

Tisha Thompson:

Thank you.

Melinda Wittstock:

… on being the pioneer there, but-

Tisha Thompson:

Thank you.

Melinda Wittstock:

… gosh, it took a long time, like that’s shocking to me.

Tisha Thompson:

Yeah. And it’s exciting for me, and what I think for most women of color who have brands out there, it’s exciting to see the expanded opportunities. Sephora has committed a 15% pledge and with that goal is to make sure that they expand shelf space to brands founded by people of color. And I think that that’s exciting. I think it’s time and it’s really important. And shocking to me to see how few brands have that space across retail distribution, and to see those kind of walls coming down and the opportunities being extended to more brands is just really an exciting time.

And so we kind of checked a lot of boxes for them, and I’m really excited that we have the opportunity to now take the brand into so many more consumer’s eyeball, get more eyeballs, I should say, on the brand by having Sephora… Which, they are the premier beauty destination, and so, yeah, it’s just been a really awesome opportunity, for sure.

Melinda Wittstock:

So what was the spark that led you to found this after 15 years in the clean beauty area, like around product development, brand management, marketing, finance, operations, I mean, you’ve lived it. You’re a trained makeup artist, what was the moment where you said, “Okay, that’s it. I’m doing it myself.”

Tisha Thompson:

What’s interesting, because I feel like I had a seat at the table to see so many spectrums across the industry. So to back up a little bit, it’s interesting, people are like, “You were in finance and accounting, an accountant, and then you were a makeup artists, help explain.” So I had a passion and loved makeup. I had military parents that are really strict and really wanted me to go to college and get “a real job.” Not be the starving makeup artist. And I would be the first generation in my family to graduate college.

And so that was something for them that I knew would make them extremely proud. And so I went to school and I didn’t have a clue what to major in, but I knew one of my favorite teachers was a teacher that I had taken an elective just because… I was always kind of good at math, but I had taken accounting as an elective.

I think it was like probably the only elective open. And I’m sure a lot of people are like, “No kidding. Nobody wants to sign up for an accounting elective.” But I took it and I adored my teacher and that was my senior year. And when I had to declare a major, I just did accounting, and I didn’t know any better. And I’m going to school for accounting and I get out of school, and I’m practicing as a staff accountant, but on the side, I’m doing makeup and I’m a makeup artist. I worked at MAC Cosmetics for a while as an artist. And I did the freelancing and bridal. And so it was a way for me to fuel that creative outlet that I really had.

And I landed an awesome job at a company that sold and owned makeup brands. And I had no clue that that’s what they did. The ad was not a very… HR rep did not represent the company very well at all at the time. I just applied to this accounting position and I get there day one and I’m thinking, oh my goodness, I am in the wrong job. I know I applied for this job, but I’d love to be in your marketing side. And they’re like, “You’re an accountant, get away from us.” But I worked my way up. Eventually, they had a position open the marketing side of the brand, and I took a demotion just to fuel that side of my career. And I just wanted to be a sponge and learn everything I could.

And I literally dedicated 15 years with this company from the ground up, and I learned everything. It was like industry bootcamp. The only thing they focused on within their organization was clean brands. And this was like way early, before clean was a thing. And I learned product development. I had the business [inaudible 00:09:09], so I had the finance and ops side. I got all that, but I was able to learn product development and marketing, and then when social media came about, and really from the ground up learning and working through that and just all the things ins and outs about marketing.

And so I learned everything. And when I was there, what I realized really having this front row seat in the industry and going to all these industry events and just being a part of everything, I never really saw myself, when I looked around the room. I never felt represented. I was always like extremely frustrated with just the products in the industry and how lack of diversity was kind of taken into account. And so it was always a frustration for me.

And when I had the full autonomy at the time, when I finally got promoted into a VP position and I had the autonomy, that was my sole mission. Every meeting, every conversation, every product launch, everything was about diversity and inclusion. Everything was like, does this work on everyone? Can deeper skin tones wear it? Did we take this into consideration? Expanding shade ranges, that was like every conversation.

And it just became this thing that fueled, is really focusing on kind of that underrepresented community and not just about skin tones. It also then became about representing so much more, people who weren’t included like plus size women. I’m proud, like I’m healthy. I’m healthy, I focus on my health and wellness, but I’m not a size two. And so I was like, well, where are the models that look like everyone else?

So it just became this constant passion of mine to constantly focus on the underrepresented communities in whether it was marketing campaigns and serving and consumer outreach and research. And so I spent so much time in that and feeling that passion that I just said, “I am really interested, and these are all the things I want to do.” And it just became this I, I, I, I all the time. And when you work for another brand that has its ethos, it’s got 20 plus years and it’s this… you have to work within the confines of that organization.

And so I just made the decision that this is what I want to do. I want to be able to create, a line and a product that really as a catalyst in helping reach new communities, that haven’t really felt represented, give people that level of confidence to really see themselves and feel included and really just love themselves. And that’s essentially why I created LYS Beauty. And that’s what it means, it means to love yourself.

And it’s really this kind of gentle reminder to kind of protect the relationship you have with yourself and know that you are enough, and that, yeah, you should just really embrace and embody everything that you stand for. And so that was the catalyst. And I just, yeah, took that leap and I felt like I had learned enough and I had seen enough, and been around enough and I had the connections and the contacts after 15 years that it was the right time for me to do that. So that was a long way of saying, hopefully, that.

Melinda Wittstock:

But that’s, how wonderful. And so there you are, the pandemic is starting to wreak its havoc, how did that impact your launch, given your timing with this?

Tisha Thompson:

I will say the pandemic itself ended up not being too much of a challenge for us, because what rose from the pandemic actually benefited us in a way. In the sense that, a lot of the civil unrest and a lot of the challenges that we had within our country during the height of the pandemic, really did, I think, shake the country to really open up some of the eyes on some of the injustices, and some of the challenges, and some of the systemic things that needed to evolve and really start to move the needle in this country. And so I really think that it was a pivotal year, I think for us, in that we were already in development since late 2019, but it really fueled so much excitement for everyone involved, specifically, Sephora and our suppliers, to really just move fast, move forward and just continue to move forward and thrive.

And so when we launched in February, it was actually Black History Month when we launched, and we had teased quite a bit leading up to it. And just, the response was extremely overwhelming. And things worked out, and I really believe things happen, and we just happened to be launching at a time that I think the country was really focused on supporting and rallying and getting behind BIPOC brands. And so it worked out for us.

Melinda Wittstock:

Amazing. Amazing. So, gosh, you mentioned before that, when everyone’s walking around with masks-

Tisha Thompson:

Yes. Yes.

Melinda Wittstock:

I just found myself for a year and a half really just like, “Why am I putting on lipstick again? Wait, what? No place to go. I guess, maybe more emphasis on the eyes.”

Tisha Thompson:

Yes. Exactly.

Melinda Wittstock:

Did it change your product line at all?

Tisha Thompson:

No, because I actually ended up launching a lip oil, ironically, and a foundation. And I think that our focus is… Sorry about that. Our focus is really clean products that are really good for the skin. So I do think that really having that wellness approach to our products really help, because the consumer is looking for that. They want products that work really well, that are really good for the skin overall. I think we’re in a time, where, because of the pandemic, people are really focused on their health and wellness. And then that’s not just in makeup in all categories.

And I think, because we have that as a pillar and a focus, if anyone was looking or contemplating or making the decision to purchase makeup at that time, they were focusing on makeup that was better for their skin overall, so that worked out for us. And then our lip product is a treatment. We don’t have color lip. And I was strategic in not launching that at that time, and just held off, because I knew, it would pose a challenge. And so maybe that’s something we’ll revisit in the future, once things settled down a bit more, because I still think we’re in a 50/50 mask world. So we’ll see how things shake out.

Melinda Wittstock:

So let’s talk about clean beauty, so what makes your products clean?

Tisha Thompson:

We focus on an approach of really a strict formulation list that really takes a skin first approach. For us, we look at potentially harmful or potentially known to be harmful chemicals, and we don’t put them in our products. Not only do we focus on the Sephora list, which they’ve done an extensive amount of research in identifying and listing certain products that shouldn’t be within cosmetics that they would deem to be more clean, if you will. We’ve gone even a step further. So we don’t use silicones, we don’t use fragrance, we don’t use PEGs.

We focus on really, instead of filling the products with any sort of fillers or those sorts of ingredients that may not necessarily be required, whether people use them for different reasons, whether it be longevity or just to make a product smell pretty. We focus on using other ingredients, more naturally derived ingredients, or maybe fruit extracts or ingredients you may find common in skincare to replace those ingredients to make the product more beneficial in the long run. Because we’re in our makeup, eight, 10, some of us 12 hours a day, if not more.

And so, for me, it was important to have products that I could be confident that the most sensitive of skins could wear, and not compromise their skin, if possible. And that was my vision and approach to clean. And that’s how we formulate and how we approach clean for our brand.

Melinda Wittstock:

Wonderful. So what are some of the ingredients? I noticed in your bio you say you traveled around the world sourcing things. What are some of the key, without giving away all your trade secrets, what are some of the ingredients that make it really stand out and good for you?

Tisha Thompson:

Our foundation, for example, we use ashwagandha, which is an Indian ginseng. Essentially, it’s a powerful herb that, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it helps combat skin stress. It’s good for soothing the skin. If you have sensitive or irritated skin, it’s good for maybe you have rosacea, so it’s just a calming, really good, soothing ingredient. You see Indian ginseng or ashwagandha commonly used in teas and coffee-

Melinda Wittstock:

Yes, I have it in my tea.

Tisha Thompson:

Exactly. Exactly. So that’s a good ingredient that I absolutely love. Tumeric, so we use tumeric, and tumeric is another good antioxidant that’s extremely powerful. And you see that, again, people use in on the diet side, but on the skin, it’s really good for brightening. It’s good for, if you have hyperpigmentation or dark spots, it will make that kind of dull skin kind of glow. So tumeric has amazing for the skin as well. Hyaluronic acid, which everybody knows about hyaluronic acid, so just really good at infusing the skin with a great amount of moisture.

So, so we use niacinamide and we’re avocado oil. I mean, we’re kind of using things that I think people are familiar with, that are common enough that they get the benefits, but that they know have good for you properties to them.

Melinda Wittstock:

Right. Right, right, right. That’s wonderful. So I’ve always been curious how these things get sourced and how they’re formulated, right?

Tisha Thompson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Melinda Wittstock:

Talk to me a little bit, I’m just curious, what that process is, how long it takes to test things out, figure out-

Tisha Thompson:

Goodness.

Melinda Wittstock:

… what’s working, what’s not working? I mean, it seems it’s chemistry, right? It’s-

Tisha Thompson:

Yes.

Melinda Wittstock:

… something that’s going on in a lab.

Tisha Thompson:

Yes. And it’s interesting, because this is the part… I call it playing in the paint or cooking in the kitchen. This is the fun part for me. I love it. And pre-COVID, I used to really enjoy going to the suppliers and working in the labs. I remember I formulated a product in Korea and flew all the way to Korea just to work in the labs, and help them formulate the products. I mean, this is a hands-on process for me, all of our formulas are custom.

So with this being like during a COVID world, it’s just a lot of Zoom calls with the chemists. Literally, me on a Zoom with them in the lab, trying things, testing things out, playing with viscosities, figuring out what the best approach would be to formulate products, how we get them to wear better.

So it’s a process. In terms of rounds of formulation, the foundation probably took nearly 20 rounds. This is them testing something out, resending it to me, redoing it, and this could take months. I mean, six to nine months of a process just working on the formula back and forth.

For me, it’s also trying out different ingredients and seeing how it works best in the formula. For example, I’m working on a product that’s coming up, but I had a very clear vision of how I wanted it to look aesthetically, because some of the cool aspects of formulating, it’s still makeup, people still want it to be pretty, aesthetically pleasing, it needs to look good in the packaging. It needs to perform it. All of these things, it can’t… A lot of times we say it smells like science, but customers don’t like the smell of science.

They want it to just either be neutral or have a nice smell. And since we don’t really use these crazy fragrances in our formula, it’s making sure that we’re being conscious about the smell of ingredients and things like that. And so, there was an ingredient that I wanted that just made the formula more cloudy. And so you just have to work with those elements to understand, does the technology exist to where you can get it to where it could be clear? If not, then we look for different alternative solutions. And is there another ingredient that could do the same thing with the same function?

So there’s some science to it. And I would say, it’s like baking a cake or making your favorite recipe. It definitely, is trial and error and testing things out. But, yeah, that’s essentially how I approach the process. And I’m extremely hands-on with the formulation.

Melinda Wittstock:

Ah, that’s great. So, I mean, you bring so many, Tisha, I’m thinking of all the things you’re bringing to the table here, from your accounting expertise, to your makeup artistry, to all the formulation, all the science, all of that. I mean, it’s quite something, not everybody brings all of those things to the table.

Tisha Thompson:

Yeah. Thank you. It is a lot of hats to wear, but I always say, “It’s my passion. It’s what I love. And it’s something that I’ve dedicated almost two decades to.” And it just comes naturally, I think. So it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been having a lot of fun.

Melinda Wittstock:

That’s fantastic. So you mentioned that you’ll be in Sephora soon, so is that all over the country or any particular locations where it debuts first?

Tisha Thompson:

We’re still finalizing the details, but I hope all over the country, that’s the goal. And I think, as soon as we have that kind of finalized, we’ll definitely be like shouting it from the rooftops. But, yeah, my vision, my goal, I would love to be in every Sephora store, globally, honestly. And I’m a big believer of speaking things into existence. So there you go, I’ve put it out on the airways.

Melinda Wittstock:

Fantastic. That’s wonderful. So I was going to say, where can people find you and get it right now? What’s the best way to get your products?

Tisha Thompson:

Right now, the best way, is they can go to lysbeauty.com or they can go to sephora.com and they can purchase there.

Melinda Wittstock:

Fantastic. Well, Tisha, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.

Tisha Thompson:

Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Tisha Thompson
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