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.
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!
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith went to social media to share their Thanksgiving holiday with followers. The pair were surrounded by family and friends Thursday, and both posted how grateful they were to be with the ones they loved. Yet this comes on the heels of Pinkett Smith’s whirlwind of negative opinions and critics forecasting her book would be a flop.
Despite the negative feedback she received, Worthy, Pinkett Smith’s memoir, still debuted at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list on October 25. The greatest backlash she received was centered around her relationship with Smith and the fact that the two had been living separate lives since 2016.
The commentary about their marriage overshadowed the reality that this book is ultimately about her journey to self-worth and the path she’s had to take in order to get there.
Social media comments about her book tour ranged from, “Me counting all the times Jada woke up and chose to embarrass Will Smith,” to podcasts like The Joe Budden Podcast saying, “Take me out the group chat,” which was a sentiment shared by many celebrities and fans alike. Yet, a point made by comedian KevOnStage proved that even though people say they don’t want to know about the Smiths, they’re secretly interested and want to know more.
Since the Smiths were wed in 1997, people have been fascinated with their marriage, and rumors about their marital arrangement have always been a topic of conversation. People continue to speculate that the pair is gay and swingers, and even new allegations have come out that Smith and Duane Martin shared an intimate relationship at one point.
However, despite their consistent united front throughout their marriage in recent years, Pinkett Smith has borne the brunt of backlash in the couple’s relationship, from her entanglement with August Alsina to Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to the recent truths she’s shared about the couple’s marriage in her memoir.
Individuals are consistently running to the internet to support Smith and villainize Pinkett Smith, from podcast guests saying things such as “She doesn’t like Will, she likes the lifestyle” to deeming her “mean” or "manipulative" because of her facial expressions and demeanor.
Likewise, when you have hosts of daytime talk shows such as Ana Navarro saying, “I think she’s having a relationship with her bank account,” insinuating Pinkett Smith only shared stories about Smith to increase her book sales, it begs the question of where was this same energy when Smith released his memoir?
In Will, Smith discusses both of his marriages and how, in relationships, because of his upbringing, he needed constant validation and praise from his partners to feel secure. He also shared the reality that Pinkett Smith never wanted to be married, just as she never wanted the huge estate they share in California, but he wanted to give it to her despite her feelings about it.
Smith admitted to creating this family empire that only further boosted his ego and what he wanted his legacy to be instead of actually asking his family what they wanted or needed. People praised him for his vulnerability and said his book was an inspiration.
So how is it that one book about a person’s family, upbringing, and journey to self is praised, and another is villainized? The glaring thought that comes to me is, does likability often trump accountability?
People love Smith and his “good guy” persona; he’s always been an attractive, charismatic man that people can relate to, so even when he speaks about the way he mismanaged his marriage and family, it’s seen as growth. On the contrary, because Pinkett Smith doesn’t constantly fawn over him and shares how miserable she was in their marriage, she’s the villain.
People still blame her for not stopping Smith from smacking Rock at the Oscars and share their sentiments about how she embarrassed Smith with her entanglement with Alsina. Though this is a celebrity couple we’ve all followed for years, the question must be asked, how much accountability must Black women be subjected to in relationship to their partners' actions?
Why is it that the media is more interested in the marriage between Smith and Pinkett Smith than her childhood, or the fact her memoir consists of writing prompts, meditations, and methods for other women to find their sense of worth?
Could it be that the larger society doesn’t value Black women having the tools to find their own sense of worth? Or is it that Black women are expected to accept whatever is given to them regardless of how they feel or what they want?
The exclusive interview with Eboni K. Williams (@ebonikwilliams) and Dr. Iyanla Vanzant about if she would date a bus driver seems to have a lot of people talking. You can watch her response tonight on #theGrio. Catch the full interview, here: https://t.co/ctxE0zKFWj pic.twitter.com/BhIO52T2fg— theGrio.com (@theGrio) May 2, 2023
When Eboni K. Williams shared that she wasn’t interested in dating a bus driver, the internet blew up with individuals saying that Black women need to be less selective with their dating prospects. The commentary around this conversation shed much light on the reality that this demographic is expected and invited to settle in love if they actually want a life partner.
Black women aren’t often given the space to find their joy, fulfillment, or even self-worth because of the responsibility they’re forced to acquire in order to support their families and communities. Yet, “high value” Black men speak vehemently about Black women’s masculinity and inability to submit. We’re often inundated with podcast guests sharing that they’re not impressed by our success and are uninterested in our aspirations.
Black women, from a young age, are taught to place their community first and cater to the men around them regardless of what they do or how they behave.
We see this when young girls are told to put on pants when male relatives come around, we experience it when domestic violence survivors are encouraged not to press charges against their perpetrators, and we even see it when Black women face backlash for dating outside of their race.
The way Pinkett Smith has been treated since sharing the truth about her life and journey of discovering her self-worth is another example of how the world isn’t receptive to Black women being their most authentic selves.
It’s another example we can hold up to illustrate how Black women are expected to be magical but not human.
Even with this article, I’m sure there will be many who want to argue why Pinkett Smith was wrong in her narrative, but at the end of the day, it was her story to tell, and no one has more authority to share her lived experience than her.
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Featured image by James Devaney/GC Images