Nyakio Grieco launched her namesake skin-care brand in 2002, and learned firsthand how challenging it can be as a founder of color in the beauty space. So in 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the increased attention that the movement brought to the beauty industry’s diversity problem, she decided to do something to change it.
Along with her dear friend Patrick Herning (who previously founded plus-sized fashion brand 11 Honoré), she created Thirteen Lune, a radically inclusive beauty retailer where 90 percent of carried brands are founded by people of color and the other 10 percent are founded by allies.
Less than two years later, Thirteen Lune now carries 150 brands, and in 2021 became the flagship beauty retailer in JCPenney (it’s slated to be in over 600 JCP stores by the end of 2023). Greico isn’t interested in creating another ethnic aisle—she wants to illuminate the creators that have always been sidelined and siloed, and show that Black and brown founders make products that everyone can use. The cherry on top: she just launched her second beauty brand—Relevant: Your Skin Seen, and it’s sold right alongside her fleet of brands at Thirteen Lune.
Grieco and I spoke last week, hours before the launch of Relevant, to discuss her journey in beauty and how Thirteen Lune is changing the space for the better.
Well+Good: How did you get your start in beauty?
Nyakio Grieco: Twenty years ago I created my first brand, Nyakio Beauty, based on family beauty secrets that were passed down to me by my Kenyan grandparents. My grandmother was a coffee farmer and taught me my first beauty recipe when I met her for the first time in Kenya when I was eight years old. My grandfather passed away before I got the chance to meet him, but he was a medicine man. My whole life growing up here in the states, my mom would use the rituals of her father—using oil to fight oil, to treat the skin, to treat ailments, to treat your hair. I felt that the continent of Africa was very underrepresented in premium beauty when I was at the ripe old age of 27. So I decided to quit my job and make my grandmother’s coffee scrub and my grandfather’s oils. And that’s how it began.
W+G: What led you to create Thirteen Lune?
NG: The journey of being a Black female founder in the beauty industry has been wonderful. There have been many wins, but it’s also been deeply challenging. And in the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, I was on all the lists: top Black-owned, Black-founded brands to shop and follow. At that point, I’d been a beauty founder for 18 years and I had never—in my life of Nyakio—received as much attention as I did that month. While it was beautiful and I was excited for people to discover the brand, it was built on the precipice of this really difficult time for all of us. I just found it so strange that this is what it takes for people to discover us.
I took my pain and I turned it into purpose and just started shopping those lists. As a Black female founder, it often felt like a very lonely journey. And I couldn’t believe how many other people there were who I could have been reaching out to and supporting and receiving support from. Part of me was just thrilled to know that it wasn’t quite so lonely. But it was so ridiculous because as we were seeing these incredible initiatives, like the Fifteen Percent Pledge and Pull Up for Change, happen, my dear best friend Patrick and I were like, “This is crazy. How come it takes this much work to try to get to 10 brands, 13 brands when I’m sitting here on a list with a thousand?” And so we decided to co-found Thirteen Lune to create the first of its kind, truly inclusive beauty retail platform.
“I took my pain and I turned it into purpose.” —Nyakio Grieco, founder of Thirteen Lune
W+G: Tell me all about Relevant.
NG: I started as an indie beauty founder who was doing customer service, shipping, receiving—all the things. And with the creation of this new brand, it really is a culmination of the last 20 years of key learnings, but also an opportunity to show that when you give a Black woman the runway, the support, and the opportunity to create whatever she knows she can create, she’s going to create the brand of her dreams. And that’s what I think is the most healing part of Relevant: Your Skin Seen. There was no one telling me “No budget for you, you can’t do that.” I got to work with whatever chemists I wanted and I chose chemists of color because they know our skin the best. It’s so emotional for me because it’s just time.
When you are a brand founder, you’re so single-brand focused and it’s just all-consuming. But what I’m so grateful for today is that I’m not doing it by myself. I get to do what I love to do, but I get to elevate others in the process and they’re going to get to success a lot more quickly. I’m so grateful for all those moments that I did have because I know how to help them better. They’ll make their own mistakes. We all do. But it’s just so much fun to amplify others and to use your experience to take up more space in this industry alongside your fellow brother and sister founders. It’s really powerful. And so that’s the best part. I’m such a people person so of course, I’m launching my second brand alongside 150 other founders at my retail store.
W+G Why did you decide to launch with sunscreen?
NG: I was seeing our melanoma numbers crawl up in the wrong direction within Black and brown communities. There are still many people that feel that Black and brown people don’t need sun protection and it’s just nothing I would ever subscribe to. So I did a deep dive into why is it that many Black and brown people aren’t prioritizing wearing sunscreen. And it was what I assumed, based on experiences that I had had with purple casting and white casting on the skin, but more importantly, it was just feeling like it was an extra step, especially when you talk to our male counterparts.
So I thought rather than create a sunscreen, I’m going to create a One & Done Everyday Cream ($38) that is your primer, that is your moisturizer, that is your serum, but plus, it’s got your SPF 40 protection that doesn’t cast on the darkest of shades. And I’ve never been able to have my own proprietary complex—that was on my nerdy bucket list. So I wanted to create a complex based on all my years of experience and working with many chemists over time, but also tying it back to those that I love, my grandmother and my grandfather who inspired me. That’s why in my complex, we have green tea because of the effects of caffeine on the skin, and I use Buriti oil and Kigelia oil to tie back to those African oils that come from cradle civilization that are also so beneficial.
W+G What’s next for Relevant?
NG: We talked about runway and girl, I took it. I’m going to play in categories I’ve always wanted to play in and never had the opportunity to. And so of course we started in skin care because that’s where my heart is, but I’m already working on expansions in fine fragrance and in some color. So I’m really, really excited for all the places that Relevant will take me.
“We just desegregated the beauty aisles, I was not into seeing it happen again.”
W+G What’s the most important thing that retailers need to do to support founders of color?
NG: During the movement of 2020, I was seeing all these tiny brands race into giant retailers. And my biggest fear was, A, I didn’t want to see the Black walls recreated. We just desegregated the beauty aisles, I was not into seeing it happen again. And B, being in fear of what’s going to happen to these brands when they come off that wall, when they have to pay for their own marketing and other needs. How are they going to survive?
I can only speak on behalf of what we are building at Thirteen Lune, and as a retailer, I’m prioritizing making sure these founders can sleep at night and that they’re not having to live in fear of, “How am I going to be able to win at shelf because I can’t be like that other person?” We work diligently to make sure that they are covered in all of the scary things so that they can focus on supporting and building incredible businesses. I’m very happy to help to create that space.
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