“Every time we’d go shopping for makeup, we felt like we were boxed into a 'fierce' corner,” says KJ Miller, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Mented Cosmetics, “Everyone wants to put brown-skinned women in bold, bright colors, but as professionals, we needed an everyday look for work.”
One day, KJ and her Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Amanda E. Johnson, talked about how they’d been looking for the perfect nude lipstick shade for years. That’s when it clicked — part of the reason it’s so hard for black and brown women to find themselves in the world of beauty is because they’re left out of even the most basic trends. Finding your nude shouldn’t be a headache because every skin tone and lip tone should be represented.
That’s where Mented Cosmetics comes in.
Mented is a line of cosmetics that is embracing the natural beauty that women of color possess and giving them the chance to play with and explore makeup that works for them instead of always worrying if their shade will be included or (more than likely) not. It’s a beautiful thing and has been embraced with open arms by beauty influencers, enthusiasts and even casual makeup-wearers alike. One glance at the brand’s Instagram page that highlights so many kinds of beauty, and the one thing all these unique women have in common is their poppin’ shades of Mented Cosmetics.
And the two founders find joy in what they’ve created.
“I grew up playing in my mom’s makeup all the time,” says KJ, “so the best part of running a beauty brand is that I get to do that full-time.”
“I love 3 things,” says Amanda, “I love working with my best friend, she is beautiful and bright and we laugh all day. I love the autonomy of running a business even though it can be an emotional rollercoaster. And I love the creativity of thinking of new products and new marketing campaigns.”
Their passion is clear, and even after the challenges that come with creating a business, helping your product stand out amongst the saturated beauty industry and more, their success reflects that their passion is true and that they’re serving an audience who has been yearning for the answers they provide.
This is reflected in the newest news surrounding Mented, that Amanda and KJ became the 15th and 16th black women ever to raise $1M in capital to grow their business. They only began placing orders for their lipsticks in January of this year, but their hard work bootstrapping paid off when they were pleasantly surprised with the amount of interest in their pre-seed funding.
But what went into this hard work? We talked to the co-founders about their day-to-day routines, how they ended up on their current career paths and what fuels them outside of work. Check their stories out below!
21Ninety: What is your morning routine like?
KJ Miller (Co-Founder and Co-CEO): Every day I wake up, walk ten blocks to work with my best friend, and set about the business of helping women of color find themselves in the world of beauty. On a tactical level I run Product Development, Operations and Fundraising, so on any given day I’m in the lab working on new shades, on the phone with suppliers, answering customer service emails, and corresponding with our investors.
Amanda Johnson: I’m the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Mented Cosmetics. I manage our marketing, finance, and team development efforts. I love the mix of creative and analytical thinking that comes with running a business.
21N: How did you end up on the career path you're currently on?
AJ: I’ve tried a little bit of everything. I’ve been an investment banker, a digital marketer, and a business development manager. In following my passions, I’ve found entrepreneurship as the perfect mix of all the things I love.
KJ: I’ve been in retail my whole life, so founding a startup in the consumer product space felt like a pretty natural extension. I worked as a buyer for four years and then in retail consulting after business school. I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I launched several startups on my journey to Mented... Thankfully none of those worked out because this is the one that was meant to be.
21N: What advice do you have for those interested in starting a cosmetics line? What do you wish you would have known?
KJ: I think the most important thing is that you’re clear about the problem you’re solving. There are so many makeup brands out there, so if yours is just another brand (and your last name isn’t Kardashian) you may have a difficult time making a splash. And there were plenty of things we didn’t know, but I think that actually ended up being a strength.
AJ: KJ and I don’t have a cosmetics chemistry degree and we didn’t work in the business before starting Mented. I think identifying a clear need and being brazen enough to follow our dreams is what it takes. Just keep going and keep trying.
21N: How do you start your mornings? What’s your routine?
KJ: The first thing I do when I wake up is work out because if I don’t get it out of the way in the morning it’ll never get done. Then I usually work for a while, grab some coffee and head to the office. I use Cetaphil moisturizer and Neutrogena sunscreen every single morning — black might not crack, but I’m not taking any chances.
AJ: I’m not a morning person. So I prefer my mornings pretty quiet and slow-moving. I meditate and get dressed while listening to podcasts, including The Daily, The Read and LeVar Burton Reads. KJ listens to How I Built This, Startup and Side Hustle Pro.
21N: How do you stay motivated throughout the day?
AJ: I love our Mented community. We receive the most amazing messages from customers who have fallen in love with the product and love seeing beautiful brown women in our ads. Those messages motivate me to keep going because I know we’re on to something.
21N: What products do you use throughout the day (if any)?
KJ: If I’m wearing makeup the one thing I always have on me is Mented #5 - it’s my perfect nude lipstick.
AJ: In the summer sunscreen is really important, but otherwise I usually just blot my oily skin.
21N: What’s your nighttime routine?
AJ: At night I try and be gentle to my face. I use Cetaphil face wash, Fresh Rose Floral Toner, Neutrogena Hydro Boost, Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution Serum, and Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream.
21N: What’s one tip that’s changed your day-to-day life?
KJ: If there’s even a small part of you that wants to be an entrepreneur, figure out a way to do it. Make it your side hustle. Save up your coins. Test it with friends. Do whatever it takes because I promise if you try it and it fails, you won’t regret having taken the risk.
AJ: Follow your passion. Life is both too long and too short. You have to live every day in a way that makes you happy.