Lesley Thornton is the founder of skincare line KLUR with a vision to cultivate a brand that reflects the values of clean, ethical and inclusive beauty. Unlike many businesses that are co-founded or founded through external capital, Thornton is the sole founder of her company.
Thornton is an esthetician and formulator. She worked full-time as an esthetician and skincare educator. She has spent nearly a decade helping people to achieve skin wellness. Thus far, she has been at the service of over 2,500 clients.
From an early age in Compton, Thornton’s mom got her involved in pageants and fashion shows to keep her out of trouble. And so she grew up involved in the beauty industry, doing classmates’ hair for cash and later taking up makeup.
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“I just knew that I loved beauty stuff. I grew up in a mostly Asian community, so I was pressing Asian girls’ hair. There were no flatirons. There was no YouTube. My dad was watching the football game in the living room and I was in the back pressing girls’ hair,” she remembers fondly, according to Essence.
At age 18, she got her first makeup job and later took up positions at Laura Mercier, Estée Lauder, and MAC where she honed her skills. In 2010, she started Klur with $5000 of her own savings. Today, her products are one of the most sought after in America.
“I saved, scrapped, and saved dollar by dollar until I had enough for another formula and so on. I don’t know if bootstrapping is for everyone,” Thornton told Mogul Millennial on how she founded her company. “To this day, I have no financial backing, no angel investors, not even a go-fund-me.”
Many businesses usually start through research to understand the market dynamics but not Thornton’s. She didn’t plan it. “It all happened organically, one thing led to the next,” she said.
One of the trademarks of a successful entrepreneur is networking and building relationships. Thornton was not oblivious to this fact when she started her entrepreneurial journey. Over the last five years, she attended beauty trade shows and skincare conferences.
“I made relationships with anyone who I thought might know someone in manufacturing. This was over five years, so I made a lot of good connections. If I didn’t know something I asked if I didn’t know the source of an ingredient, I had a contact that did,” she recounts.
Thornton worked with several labs to develop her skincare products. But through trial and error, she managed to eliminate those she didn’t feel comfortable working with, even though some are great manufacturers.
As a CEO, Thornton does not take a salary, contrary to popular opinion that founders take a huge paycheck when their firm shows promise. According to her, all the money she makes is reinvested.
“Most people believe that as the CEO, you’ll have this colossal payday. Investors will flock, and you will sell your company for a billion dollars,” she said. “This happens to the 0.1% of people who start a business, and the media loves to prop-up this tiny percentage because it makes for a good story. When the reality is the majority of businesses fail in their first 5 years, and most Black-owned companies don’t even make it off the ground,” she added.
Touching on her biggest learning curve as an entrepreneur, she noted that she built her company on servicing the needs of others first. “I had to learn to transition from being a facial studio, maintaining a personal clientele daily, operating solely in the digital space, and working with consumer goods and manufacturers,” she said.