How these two friends founded a multi-million dollar brand from their kitchens

Abu Mubarik November 08, 2022
Miller and her friend Johnson. Photo: 6abc.com

KJ Miller is the co-founder of the multi-million dollar company, Mented Cosmetics. She launched the business in 2017 after she and her friend, who is a fellow Harvard Business School graduate, were struggling to find beauty products that were suitable for her skin. 

The creation of Mented Cosmetics was in part to make beauty truly inclusive. She started her journey by watching YouTube videos and sent links to her friend Amanda Johnson to watch.

“I sent the link to Amanda and said, ‘We gotta do this; we’ve got to teach ourselves to make lipstick because we don’t want to pay all this money,’” she told Refinery29. The two first started nude lipsticks by hand in their apartments, precisely their kitchens, and later launched Mented Cosmetics, which has a specific focus: a makeup line for women of colour.

“Mented is short for pigmented,” Miller told 6abc. “We specialize in premium beauty for women of colour. We do really celebrate and prioritize women of colour because historically, we’ve been the ones who have been left out of the beauty industry.”

Five years down the line, Mented Cosmetics has grown to become a multi-million dollar venture, compelling Miller to move the business from her previous home in New York to Philadelphia. What is more, the company has also raised $4 million in venture capital.

Prior to launching Mented, Miller worked in retail buying and consulting, schooled at Harvard and piloted a few other business ideas. She became an analyst in a pilot program aimed at course-correcting a major department store chain.

“What I quickly realized was that the role had not been well-defined, no one in the organization really knew what it was, and I wasn’t in the best position to learn about retail,” she said.

She later pivoted into the fashion jewellery team as an assistant buyer. Two years later, she became the head buyer for a mid-size e-commerce company, prompting people to question her judgement.

“They were like, ‘You’re a buyer at a multi-billion-dollar company, now you’re moving to this small e-commerce company most people have never heard of. What are you doing?’ For me, it made perfect sense because I was a small fish in a big pond, now I’m a big fish in a small pond,” Miller said.

At this point, becoming an entrepreneur became more urgent for Miller. She enrolled in Harvard Business School and tried her hands on a few businesses. She first started with a mobile hair salon for Black women using hair extensions.

She later met her co-founder, Johnson. The two became not only close friends but worked together on a couple of school projects. Their friendship later transcended beyond school projects into entrepreneurship, leading to the birth of Mented Cosmetics. The brand has also moved beyond lipstick to include nail polish, a contour/concealer stick, an eyeshadow palette, and so on.

Mented Cosmetics is sold on its website and in hundreds of Target stores and over 500 Ulta Beauty stores. Products are also sold on Amazon, QVC and HSN. The company recently raised $4 million in venture capital.

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