Feven and Helena Yohannes are beauty entrepreneurs of Eritrean heritage based in Los Angeles in the United States. They founded 2·4·1 Cosmetics, a line of hypoallergenic lip and eye makeup, which made it into Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2020.
“2.4.1 Cosmetics is a clean and classic collection of cruelty-free, paraben-free, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and fragrance-free lipsticks and lip glosses, eyeshadows, and liquid and gel eyeliners, each with a name that has special meaning,” according to Instyle.
The sisters launched their business in 2019 after four years of incubation. The decision to venture into the beauty industry arose out of the challenges they encountered in getting cosmetic products that suit their skins.
“We started looking at the beauty industry and how the people who are heavy-hitters and who are making the decisions about the kind of makeup we are wearing don’t really understand our experiences. They are making decisions not valuing us and more valuing the dollar,” Helena told Forbes Africa.
But soon after Feven and Helena started 2·4·1 Cosmetics, COVID-19 struck. The pandemic slowed the momentum that came with the launch of their cosmetic products.
They now found themselves competing with producers of toilet paper and hand sanitizers. What is more, the compulsory wearing of masks also meant that people had relegated the need for makeup to the background.
However, the sisters have the Black Lives Matter movement to thank for the rebound of their business. The movement drew attention to the struggles of the black community with the police and the criminal justice system. The movement also drew attention to the struggles of black businesses in raising venture funding and expanding the capacity of their business. This drew global attention to black businesses, including theirs.
Starting 2·4·1 Cosmetics is not the first venture for the sisters. They had in the past unsuccessfully launched a wedding app and lifestyle blog.
The resilience of the twin sisters actually reflects the struggles of their family and the mystery of their survival as fresh-born twins. Their father miraculously survived a landmine with his comrades which made him flee from Eritrea to Sudan. Their father was a freedom fighter in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
In a refugee camp in Sudan, Feven and Helena Yohannes were born and survived at the time many mothers died during childbirth given the lack of proper healthcare in the refugee camps.
“So, we were born in the camp. I came out first and then 15 minutes later, my sister came into the world,” Feven said. “It was the biggest shock in the refugee camp…. Our house was made out of mud, grass and sticks.”
Their parents won the Green Card lottery which gave them the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. They first settled in Memphis before moving to Rochester, New York.
According to the twins, it was the struggles of their parents that made them become hardcore entrepreneurs. It is difficult for Black-owned businesses to get venture capital funding so the sisters decided to self-fund. Today, they 100% own their own company.