How Akilah Releford built a million-dollar natural skincare brand from her dorm room

Abu Mubarik July 28, 2021
Akilah Releford is the founder and CEO of Mary Louise Cosmetics. Courtesy Akilah Releford

Akilah Releford is the founder and CEO of Mary Louise Cosmetics. She started it as a side hustle from her dorm room at Howard University. Initially, her ambition was to follow in the footsteps of her father and become a surgeon.

However, she soon discovered that she had a passion for something else. She found herself being more excited about mixing up organic DIY skin-care recipes and sharing her creations with her floormates than working on her organic chemistry assignments, she told CNBC Make It.

One night, she made a Twitter thread about her beauty hacks and tricks. What she thought she was merely sharing out of excitement soon went viral with over 30,000 retweets (shares). She later received hundreds of messages in her DM, mostly from girls, asking her which products they could make at home. It was at this point that Releford discovered that her love for makeup was not just a hobby but she could turn it into a business and make extra income.

She founded Mary Louise, a vegan, organic, and cruelty-free skin-care company. Indeed, she turned her DIY cosmetics into a million-dollar brand.

Releford knew to be on top of her game, she must deliver quality products to her customers. At the time, her main customers were college students. The first two products she sold were a $30 Miracle Serum and a $32 Mississippi Mud Mask.

“The ingredients were high-quality but easy to source, which kept my cost down and made them more affordable for my peers. We still sell them today,” she told CNBC Make It.

She started her business by investing $600 of her savings from her part-time job at Zara to buy a domain name and her first batch of inventory. She also taught herself how to create Facebook ads and Google Shopping ads to start to reach new customers.

In order not to overrun her meager budget, she watched her personal spending while cutting back on expenditures like girls’ trips and lunches out with friends.

She launched her website over the winter break in December 2016. She subsequently announced her venture on Twitter. Releford started recording study stream of sales and between December, when her website went live, to January 2017, her company generated between $20,000 and $30,000 a month from those online sales.

When COVID-19 struck, Releford’s business was not spared either. With a suggestion from her surgeon dad, she went into making hand sanitizers. “We made a 2-ounce hand sanitizer spray and gel that retails for $6. And our customers have stuck with us, and continued to tell their friends,” she said.

Mary Louise has sold over 1,000 units of hand sanitizers online and 2,000 units offline. “We also developed essential oil hand and body soaps to go with our hand sanitizers to help our customers to keep their hands clean and moisturized at the same time. We have donated proceeds from each unit sold to several Covid-19 relief funds,” according to her.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 28, 2021


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