Black Woman Owned is a limited series highlighting Black woman business owners who are change-makers and risk-takers in their respective realms. As founders, these women dare to be bold, have courage in being the change they wish to see in the world and are unapologetic when it comes to their vision. These Black women aren't waiting for a seat, they are owning the table.
With hyperpigmentation being one of the most talked-about concerns for melanin-rich skin, it almost comes as a surprise that something as revolutionary as Hyper Skin took the beauty industry by storm only two years ago. The star product of the brand, Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum, is a zealous vitamin C serum designed to brighten skin and tackle dark marks and hyperpigmentation. What sets this buzzworthy serum apart from the sea of products on the market, is that at its core, Hyper Skin was created to be more than a band-aid for hyperpigmentation, it was formulated to be a solution. And we can thank its founder, Desiree Verdejo, for that.
Beauty and skincare have always been personal to Desiree. As a boutique owner of the Harlem-based, Vivrant Beauty, from 2015 to 2018, Desiree found herself within a beauty boom of Black-owned businesses sprouting within the market and wanted to curate a space for these brands to thrive and reach their core community. Although she was surrounded by a limitless selection of brands that could serve as a remedy to her hyperpigmentation, she knew she needed more than what the market was offering. "For so many years, we've been told, 'You can make this work.' But that isn't sufficient at this stage," Desiree shares.
Courtesy of Desiree Verdejo
Guided by the principle of "we deserve," Desiree decided that it was time to create a product that not only spoke her most difficult customer to please, herself but also connect with Black and brown customers to finally have their needs spoken to directly. She expressed, "I want to see myself, I want to see a product that speaks to my specific concerns, I shouldn't have to search for that and make it work in a space where there are so many options."
Hyper Skin offers something different. It fills a gap within the skincare space for women who have gone long overlooked, allowing their skin needs to be brought to light in an intimate way. "The community that we're building is an enthusiastic one. They feel like space is being created for them and so that energy is pliable, it's exciting, the industry is paying attention to that." In doing so, Hyper Skin is bringing realness back to real skin.
And yes, you can, in fact, believe the Hype.
xoNecole: How did you know it was time to launch Hyper Skin? What space did you hope to fill with the brand?
Desiree Verdejo: Being in my store [Vivrant Beauty] and being with so many different women of different skin tones highlighted how we have certain skincare concerns as brown-skin folks and there's such a disconnect between what we're experiencing and what brands are on the market. Talking to my customers and hearing what was bothering them and driving them to our store, made me realize that what the skincare industry was creating — we're saying dark spots, they're saying, "Here's some anti-aging stuff," — there's just a disconnect between our skincare needs."
I had a light bulb moment where I decided that we need skincare created that speaks to the clinical needs of brown-skin people. At the time when I started down the path of creating Hyper, I was still in my boutique [Vivrant Beauty] but I had just had a baby and my own skin was going crazy because I was dealing with all this hormonal acne and this dramatic hyperpigmentation from that. It was a personal moment that emphasized that this was something that was missing and my customers just affirmed that. So I went down the path of creating formulas and ultimately got really excited about the void that would be filled by Hyper, and just decided that I would pivot from my beauty boutique to Hyper Skin because I knew that story needed to be told clearly.
"I was dealing with all this hormonal acne and this dramatic hyperpigmentation from that. It was a personal moment that emphasized that this was something that was missing and my customers just affirmed that. So I went down the path of creating formulas and ultimately got really excited about the void that would be filled by Hyper, and just decided that I would pivot from my beauty boutique to Hyper Skin because I knew that story needed to be told clearly."
Courtesy of Desiree Verdejo
Before you took the plunge into entrepreneurship, it took you two years to actually leave your career as a lawyer. What was that "in-between" season like for you?
Yeah! I feel like on the internet and social media people are like, "Yeah, just do it [start the business], but the truth is it's not easy to leave a comfortable career. In New York as a lawyer, there's a great salary, there are great benefits — definitely a comfortable scenario, so it did take me a while to save and be mentally ready to make that transition. At the time, I was doing little things like meeting people, networking in the beauty space that I was trying to enter, exploring brands, and looking into real estate in New York.
And the same is true for when I made the transition to launching Hyper. There's always this middle space and even if you're in another career, there's always stuff that you could be doing personally and financially in terms of the business to move the needle closer to turning making that business into a reality.
Having struggled with skin acne and hyperpigmentation since you were a teenager which is such a pain point for melanated women, how has your relationship with your skin evolved over the years in acceptance? Where do you think you are when it comes to your skin and just embodying your imperfections?
One of the things that I've accepted is that skin is cyclical. It may be at a clearer point, then mid-month you might have a breakout, so for me, it's all about education and accepting the realness of skin. For so long, we've just seen airbrushed skin and models who have won the genetic lottery and the truth of the matter is hyperpigmentation and dark marks are not flaws, these are all normal features of the skin. I think I have come to accept that with my own personal skin and that's something that I've tried to breathe into the brand.
You’ve mentioned that Hyper, as a brand, is personal. Not feeling seen by brands or finding products that served your particular needs seemed to serve as a compass for you. How has creating a product that spoke to your needs first been a benefit as a business owner?
What I'm noticing is that in this [beauty] space, there are — and will continue to be — brands that try to speak to Black customers, brown customers, etc. But for me as someone who's always dealt with acne and hyperpigmentation, it's been important to not just show brown faces but to show and celebrate real skin and to show real results. As someone who has been on the other side of the aisle, I know that feeling. [We] have our messaging be really clear so you don't have to be a skin expert to understand how our products work and what our expectations are.
So many skincare lines are created by dermatologists, estheticians, models, and celebrities with perfect skin, but ours being created by someone who is my most difficult customer to please, myself, I think that's influenced all areas and that's what our customers are drawn to. It's something they haven't seen in the market for their own skin. So many brands will create a dark mark corrector but not show dark marks in their ads, or create a hyperpigmentation product that's the number one concern for Black people, and not show brown skin. I think it resonates with our customers that this is created for them for that reason.
As I look over your career, it’s very clear that you are a gap-filler. You’re able to see what’s missing in the market and you fill it. What are your guiding principles in trusting your gut to fill and create new spaces?
I think my guiding principle is: "we deserve." As a Black woman that's a lover of beauty, for so many years, in so many categories, we've been told, "you can make this work." But the "you can make this work" isn't sufficient at this stage. Because I was in the beauty space, I also realized that skincare is a crowded market, but because it is crowded, people expect to be spoken to directly. I want to see myself, I want to see a product that speaks to my specific concerns, I shouldn't have to search for that and make it work in a space where there are so many options. My principle is we deserve and we deserve to be spoken to directly and be catered to and for our issues to be solved. When that wasn't the case, I felt motivated to create those solutions and options.
"I want to see myself, I want to see a product that speaks to my specific concerns, I shouldn't have to search for that and make it work in a space where there are so many options. My principle is we deserve. We deserve to be spoken to directly and be catered to and for our issues to be solved. When that wasn't the case, I felt motivated to create those solutions and options."
Courtesy of Desiree Verdejo
What are your current go-to skincare products? How does your skincare routine look these days?
It's a hard one because we are in development and I am using a few things that we are developing. Outside of that, I do use SPF. It's a go-to! I am a Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen stan like so many other people. I am loving exploring so many of the Black-owned cosmetics brands that are on the market, Range Beauty, I love! I just ordered by Ami Cole which is like a no-makeup, makeup brand. That's what I'm loving right now, those are the highlights of my routine. Shout out to those Black brands!
"The community that we're building is an enthusiastic one, they're like, we love your serum, what's next? And it's because they feel like space is being created for them. That energy is pliable, it's exciting, and the industry is paying attention to that."
Courtesy of Desiree Verdejo
You've experienced a number of career pivots on your path. What advice would you impart to a young woman who's looking to take the leap into entrepreneurship or needs guidance about their next career chapter?
There's nothing that has helped me more in pivoting careers, problem-solving as a founder, or scaling my business than being surrounded by dynamic people from a broad range of backgrounds. I'm a community-minded person, I give a lot and people have poured so much information and support into me. I would advise young women at any point in their careers to surround themselves with people in their areas of interest. Social media platforms like Instagram, Clubhouse, and LinkedIn and in-person and digital events really allow you to get in front of and to keep up with people so use that access to your advantage.
Grab your very own Hyper Clear Vitamin C Serum here! And to keep with all things Hyper Skin, click here!
Featured image courtesy of Desiree Verdejo
Originally published on June 28, 2021
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Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
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'Queen Charlotte' Star Arsema Thomas Worked At The United Nations Before Landing Her Breakout Role
Actress Arsema Thomas (Arséma Adeoluwayemi Hamera) may be new to the acting scene, but the star's standout performance in Netflix's limited series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story is already leaving a lasting impression among many.
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, a prequel to Bridgerton, follows the young queen's life as her marriage to King George of England sparks an epic love affair and a societal shift.
In the drama, Thomas portrays the role of a young Lady Agatha Danbury, a close friend and confidant of Queen Charlotte, and it also depicts Lady Danbury's journey.
The series showcases the struggles Lady Agatha Danbury experienced in her lifetime. The list includes being forced to partake in a loveless marriage to a former African king Herman Danbury, becoming a widow, and possibly losing her estate and title following her husband's death.
Since Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story debuted on Netflix earlier this month, it has dominated the streaming service's top ten charts and piqued fans' interest in the show's stars, including Thomas.
Although many may not know a lot about the Atlanta native, who goes by she/they pronouns, and how she became one of the breakout stars in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, still, with the recent promotional tour Thomas has been doing for the show, she has shared some shocking details about her life.
Thomas' revelations within the past several months include details about her educational pursuits, previous work experience, her African culture, the steps she took to prepare for her role as Lady Agatha Danbury, and many more.
Arsema On Her African Heritage
Thomas, who is Nigerian and Ethiopian, is the daughter of diplomats.
The 28-year-old's parents, consisting of an Ethiopian mother and a Nigerian father, worked in the government to improve Africa's economic development.
Due to her parents' professions, the actress moved around a lot and lived in various countries like Kenya, Benin, Comoros, Uganda, and India, which exposed her to social issues. In an interview with Teen Vogue, Thomas opened up about having conversations about politics and government at a young age.
"Dinner table conversations were about politics, about African governance. I realized that in a lot of the countries I lived in, the effects of colonialism and imperialism were so blatantly obvious. That became the driving force for what I thought I should be doing as an adult," she said.
Later Thomas would ultimately reveal that her parents' work had inspired her to become a "doctor or something" because she wanted to make them proud.
Arsema Attended Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University
Prior to pursuing acting, Thomas revealed to Shondaland that she was a college graduate.
In 2016, she received her bachelor's degree in biophysics from Carnegie Mellon University. Following her graduation, Thomas interned at a mobile health clinic and a refugee camp in Kenya for over a year.
Around the same time, the star would continue her education by getting her master's in epidemiology and health policy at Yale University. Thomas disclosed that despite the educational success that she has achieved, acting became her main priority when she realized that this is something she could envision herself doing "100 percent of the time." This decision led Thomas to relocate to Paris, South Africa, and then to London to study drama.
"I packed up everything and moved to Paris because I wanted to do acting 100 percent of the time," she stated. "It was always something I had wanted to do, [but] I didn't think I would be able to. I thought it was going to be a hobby or a thing that I'd have to suppress in myself for the rest of my life."
Thomas would land her first role in 2021 as a guest star on the television series One Touch. Shortly after, she would participate in the 2022 film Redeeming Love as the character Rebecca. The rest would be history because, around that time, Thomas would receive the life-changing role of Lady Agatha Danbury in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.
Arsema On How She Prepared for Her Role In Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
When the opportunity for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story came along, Thomas took various steps to transform into Lady Agatha Danbury.
The actress, who has admitted to never seeing Bridgerton in the past, told Cosmopolitan UK's Up Close series that because she wasn't familiar with the fictionalized character, she decided to find things that she thought Lady Agatha Danbury would resonate with.
It includes reading books about women by well-known female authors who have made history in their own right, creating a Spotify playlist with music that Lady Agatha Danbury could listen to, and having waist beads made for her character.
"There was a lot of stuff I needed to get into this role because the character is fictional. So I read a ton of books about women or by women, that I thought that Agatha Danbury would resonate. So I read 'Ain't I A Woman' by Bell Hooks. I read Angela Davis' autobiography. I read Assata Shakur's autobiography, 'Tar Baby' by Toni Morrison, 'Eyes Are Watching God,' and 'Vaga Bonds' by Eloghosha Osunde. I made an extensive Spotify playlist, and I got waist beads made for Agatha," she explained.
Further in the interview, Thomas mentioned that she had waist beads made for Lady Danbury and wore them throughout the filming process because it helped ground her as she portrayed the character whom she described as entirely different from who she is as a person.
"It was a Nigerian woman threading these beads, and I asked her to thread beads specifically for this character, and I wore it throughout the entirety of filming," she said. "Because it was just kind of was a physical grounding point to this woman that is really, really actually far from who I am as an individual."
Thomas shared that talking to her grandmother, who had a similar background to Lady Danbury, such as having an arranged marriage at a young age, also helped her prepped for the role.
"I also talked to my grandmother a lot. I didn't realize how similar she was to this character. Because she was also married off when she was quite young," she revealed. "It was really interesting to kind of talk to someone in my life who I've known, who’s gone through something that is essentially the stripping away of their freedom, and someone who doesn't have any resentment or harbored anger towards the situation."
Arsema Worked At The United Nations
Thomas' work experience is an interesting one. Despite interning at three different health organizations, she previously worked at United Nations Population Fund, according to her Linkedin profile.
United Nations Population Fund's site states that the organization is part of the United Nation's "sexual and reproductive health agency." The gathered information on Thomas' profile says that she was an associate for the company from 2017 to 2018.
Some of Thomas' responsibilities included conducting "policy analyses" for United Nations Population Fund's sustainability and "supporting the regional desk specialist" in the program's division.
Arsema Speaks Five Languages
On top of Thomas' overwhelmingly impressive resume, the actress also speaks five languages.
According to the African publication Bella Naija, Thomas speaks English, Amharic, Yoruba, French, and Spanish. Although Thomas hasn't publicly talked about what inspired her to become multilingual, many can assume it is because of the various locations she has lived in throughout her life and her interest in learning.
Thomas may be a rising star now, but with the facts provided above, the actress has displayed through her work ethic and drive that she can soon become a household name.
Thomas' latest work Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, is now streaming on Netflix.
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Feature image by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images