Dorion Renaud was first introduced to us in 2008 on BET’s College Hill: Atlanta. Soon after, the Beaumont, Texas native saw great success as a model, gracing the pages of Vogue magazine, and as an actor, starring in Bounce TV’s hit sitcom, In The Cut. Recently, Dorion has added the title of 'entrepreneur' to his ever-growing list of accomplishments and successes over his decade-plus-long career. With the launch of his skincare line, Buttah, he has taken the beauty and skincare industry by storm, providing Black men and women with attainable solutions to their pressing skincare concerns and resulting in an all-around even skin tone.
From embarking on a quest to address his own skincare challenges to being a successful Black skincare founder with products in Macy’s, it’s safe to say that Dorion Renaud’s foray into the beauty space has left and will continue to leave a lasting legacy.
The Buttah founder sat down with xoNecole to discuss what made him go into the beauty industry, common challenges Black people have with skincare, and what inspired him to pivot from the entertainment industry into the entrepreneurial realm.
xoNecole: When did you realize that you wanted to create a skincare line?
Dorion Renaud: In high school. For one, I suffered from hyperpigmentation. I would pick at my skin if I had a pimple or something. But it wasn't the pimple so much that bothered me, it was the dark spots that it left. So I began looking for resources in my small town of Beaumont, TX and getting procedures in places where I shouldn’t have gone to get these dark spots off of my skin.
I realized there were many young people around me with those same issues. And when I got in front of the camera at about 18 or 19, I realized how much makeup was needed to cover the dark spots. It was an insecurity that I had. When they took the makeup off me, whether it be for TV or modeling, I wished that I either had makeup to cover the spots or a skincare solution.
When I was in Harlem, I found some shea butter and I started using it all over my body and my face and saw that my skin was clearing up. I thought it would have broken me out due to the fats in it, but it actually worked with my skin. And so as I started matriculating in Hollywood and doing more work on camera, it had always been a goal of mine to perfect my skin or try to keep it as clear as possible.
Soon after, everybody started asking what I was doing, and it was really just a gentle cleanser, a vitamin C serum, and the shea butter from Harlem. When I learned that there were so many people who were embarrassed to ask–especially men–what I was doing for my skin, I realized that skincare in our community wasn’t something that we were educated on properly. We were somewhat ashamed to ask for help in that area. So I wanted to create a line that was easy and efficient and that people could feel proud of. And at the top of 2018, the idea for Buttah came to me, with it launching later that year.
xoN: What was the process like creating the products?
DR: It was pretty strenuous, but for a very short amount of time. I had to learn a lot and educate myself on different ingredients. So I worked with a chemist and we got our shea butter directly from Ghana. There was a lot of trying the products and testing them to make sure they had a shelf life. Just so many things that I had no idea about before getting into beauty and skincare because I never thought I would have my own skincare line.
I always knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur. But I never thought I'd have to focus on formulas and ingredients and what they could do to your skin. So I had to dive deep into the problems that we as Black people had with our skin and the most common problems. As I learned more, I began addressing them first so that we could be a solution-based brand. Then we added other things that people can use to enhance their skincare routine.
xoN: What are some common issues that you found when it came to Black people and skincare?
DR: Hyperpigmentation is definitely one of them. The dark spots and unevenness on the skin as well as sun damage. I think a lot of Black people overlook what sun damage can do to your skin, so we developed a Mineral Tinted Sunscreen for that. But in general, breakouts and cystic acne, and discoloration were what most people complained about.
We're not an acne-based company. I was an adult dealing with adult acne and the after-effects of it. I [also] had a hard time finding products that kept me moisturized all day and used shea butter on my body because lotions were drying out 30 minutes after applying it. So I think finding moisture and ingredients that give us that even tone was important because that's where a lot of people were struggling.
They say, “Black don't crack,” but we can crack if we don’t take care of our skin.
xoN: So, what is your current skincare routine?
DR: I love to use our Tea Tree and Aloe Scrub. It's both a mask and a foam cleanser. I like to use that because I like to work out and I'm active during the day. A lot of times, you think you can’t scrub your face every day, but ours is so gentle, I tend to use that most of the time. Then I follow it up with the Vitamin C Serum which regenerates the skin and helps with fine lines and wrinkles, and my CoCoShea Revitalizing Cream. At night, I'll put the toner on just to get my face clean and fresh, and let my skin breathe.
But all of our products are used differently, depending on the climate, where I'm going, and what my skincare needs are. Every part of our system at Buttah is for something. So I even use our Charcoal Mask at least once a week to get all that gunk out of my skin and renew it.
xoN: Your line is in Macy's, JCPenney, and Ulta. How was the process of getting into retail?
DR: We're also in Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, and we're getting ready to launch in Saks Fifth Avenue, which I'm very excited about. It was a process. Fortunately for me, it started taking off during the pandemic. I was at home with a lot of time on my hands to think about the creativity of it, how to make it look and feel a certain way, and be specific to certain retailers. Once we got on HSN and QVC–which was amazing–it allowed me to not only talk about the products but educate people on how to use them. Then retailers started reaching out to us.
Getting into retail is a bit of a process. You have to first have to have the finances to get into these stores. I know a lot of people have dreams of being in retail but they often don't have the money to fulfill their orders. So we had to dive in and restructure as a company because it was costing a lot to go into these retailers. And also make sure that each retailer had the right products and campaigns because every retailer had separate campaigns. Along with going in and training the employees in each store, which is something that I do, I go in and educate them so that they give people the proper education when they come into the stores.
Retail was a totally different game. Once I got the art of direct-to-consumer down, then we went into retail. But I tell people all the time that I'm learning as I go. Because this has been such a fast process, I'm learning the dos and don'ts. A lot of times, a brand will be successful online but won’t do as well in retail, so you have to transition how you promote it and transition how you market it specifically for retailers.
xoN: You said that you always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Did being in the spotlight after 'College Hill' inspire you to pivot from TV to business?
DR: I think it inspired me to understand that I could use my TV presence as a way to grow an audience in different arenas. I was also tired of relying on the entertainment industry to pay my bills. I was looking for something that was for me. In doing television shows and acting, I was always waiting for a “yes” from someone, or always waiting for somebody to tell me what lines to say and what to do. I mean, I'm 34 now and shot College Hill at 20, so I kind of felt like a puppet. I was just doing whatever the industry told me to do to stay successful.
I wanted something that I was in control of and how successful it was, and that it wasn't in somebody else's hands. I think having fame at a young age allowed me to see it and not get too excited about it because I've had it, I've lost it, and I've had it again. And you tend to place value on things that are more purposeful outside of just being in front of the camera. I realized after every season of In The Cut ended, I felt empty. I felt like I needed to find another gig or was hoping that we would get picked up again, and I didn't want to put all my value into that anymore.
Now I still do it. But I'm able to do it through Buttah. I’m able to model through Buttah, act through Buttah, and host through Buttah. And it's so much more fulfilling to not have to have someone telling you what you're doing wrong, or what you can do better to make a show better. It feels more organic this way.
I felt like some of the things that I had done, although they were entertaining, weren't reflective of who I was as a man, as a human, and as a businessman. And I wanted to do something that really showed the world that I mean business. I'm not just here to make people laugh or go on a reality show or take good pictures, but I have purpose behind my name.
"I wanted something that I was in control of and how successful it was, and that it wasn't in somebody else's hands. I think having fame at a young age allowed me to see it and not get too excited about it because I've had it, I've lost it, and I've had it again... I wanted to do something that really showed the world that I mean business. I'm not just here to make people laugh or go on a reality show or take good pictures, but I have purpose behind my name."
Courtesy of Dorion Renaud
xoN: Looking back over your career, what have been some of your greatest lessons?
DR: Wow. You know, stay patient, stay in it. You have to have perseverance and really know what you want out of this. And also listen to the audience. Don't focus so much on your peers and the people around you because the audience will stand by you and support you. They will also let you know when they don't like something. Sometimes your peers can give you a false identity of who you are because they see you as somebody that they're in proximity with. So listen to the supporters, listen to those people out there, and do your education.
Do your research and get educated on whatever field that you're going into and really know your stuff. Because when it starts to happen for you and you’re successful, if you don't know what you're talking about, you're going to instantly be exed out.
For more of Dorion, follow him on Instagram.
Featured image by Manuel Hernandez
Racquel Coral is an experienced lifestyle writer focusing on self-love, growth, body positivity, and profiles of Black-owned businesses and community heros. Her work can be found here, and she can be found on all social media platforms @withloveracquel.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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