Melariche (pronounced as ‘Mel-uh-reesh’) came to Jackie Taiwo when finding the right foundation colour for her complexion became incredibly difficult. Less than a year later, the site boasts four makeup brands and six skincare brands.
Emeline Nsingi Nkosi speaks to the founder of the future “Sephora for women of colour”.
Who is the woman behind Melariche?
An African-American woman originally from New York, Jackie Taiwo (34) graduated with a degree in Engineering. Taiwo worked in the world of Corporate Finance for a few years before pursuing a joint law-business degree. It was in her second year that she got hired by an international law firm willing to relocate her to London after graduation.
Realising her path was not in the corporate world was a difficult one to face. Handing in her notice and entering the unknown is what Jackie describes as her bravest moment. With the support of her husband and four-year-old daughter, she decided to launch Melariche, a unique online beauty store for women of colour.
What is your first memory of makeup?
I had a conservative upbringing so my first memory of makeup was not until I had left home for my first year of college. I knew it would be futile shopping for makeup at local drugstores so I asked a friend whose skin tone was similar to mine where she shopped and what products she used.
She recommended MAC which, in 1999, was one of the few brands that had foundations for deeper skin tones and also hired black makeup artists to work at their counters.
How did you feel?
I remember being completely blown away by their offering though and had no idea where to start. I just purchased what was advised and ignored makeup for a few years. It wasn’t until beauty bloggers who looked like me started popping up on the scene with tutorials that
I felt confident to really experiment and try different looks. In the US, I lived in major cities where Sephora was never too far away, which was encouraging as the store has so many options allowing you to explore different products and brands in a pressure-free environment.
What was it like growing up in the US as a young black woman?
Growing up African-American was amazing. I love everything about our culture, spirit and resilience. From very early on, I was encouraged to take pride in being black and to be proud of our history of overcoming incredible hardships.
My mother, in particular, was a great example of this; she was born during the height of Jim Crow on the same land [in rural Georgia] where her grandparents were enslaved. Like so many African-American mothers she worked incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot to provide me and my siblings with opportunities that were not available to her growing up.
How is your experienced of the inequality burdened on by society on a career driven black woman?
I was lucky enough to have been raised in a very diverse suburb in Long Island and attended school with people from a mix of ethnic and racial backgrounds. In a way, I actually feel I was sheltered a bit from the realities of the world and had quite the culture shock when I attended college at a predominately white institution. From college onwards, my education and career choices always left me in spaces where I was one of few black people and also one of few women.
I found these environments incredibly challenging to navigate so I constantly sought out ‘safe spaces’ where I could feel comfortable to express myself the way I was able to do growing up. I immersed myself in various organisations for black women and ethnic minorities. I think these sorts of professional and educational organisations are sometimes frowned upon in the UK, but I found them crucial to my wellbeing as a black woman in America.
Which year did you decide to start your Melariche and which year did you launch?
I started planning Melariche back in December 2015 and launched in August 2016.
Why did you start your brand?
The lack of diversity in the beauty industry is nothing new. I think every woman of colour has probably complained at some point about the need for more choices. My research was showing that women of colour really felt disrespected and undervalued, which are quite strong emotions.
So I wanted to create a retail brand that caters specifically for us, that unapologetically celebrates the beauty and diversity within this community. I want women of colour to feel appreciated and valued when they think of Melariche.
When I first started discussing my plans, many people questioned why I was not creating a store that caters to all women and said that I would be alienating white women. I understood their concerns, but it was important for me to stay true to the community that was utterly lacking in representation and that I felt needed the most love.
How did you move from idea to conception?
Starting a business is incredibly daunting, but I think my legal and corporate background gave me great training in project management and how to break down complex problems into small bites. As an entrepreneur, you usually have tons of ideas buzzing in your head which can get quite overwhelming to the point where movement can seem impossible.
Very early on, I decided it was important that I did not get ahead of myself and made a list of the do-able tasks I needed to get done each month, sometimes breaking it down week by week to make sure I was progressing in order to get to an August launch.
A few things didn’t go as planned, but putting the roadmap on paper helped ensure I did not veer too far off course.
How did you survive financially at the beginning going from Lawyer to entrepreneur?
I am currently self-funding the business through savings and my husband’s salary is sufficient to support our family’s day-to-day living costs.
It was a big decision for us to invest in Melariche, because my husband and I would be homeowners by now had I not given up my legal career. So, it’s a sacrifice, but I love that for once my work is something that I am passionate about. You can’t put a price tag on that.
Where did you look for advise?
I attend a lot of networking events with other like-minded women to get inspiration and advice on how to stay motivated and to spark creativity. I’ve met so many amazing women on this journey who constantly show me that sky’s the limit.
Do you have a business partner?
Not right now.
Two of the brands are exclusive to your brand, how did you find them?
An important part of our mission is to be a retail platform that connects consumers with black-owned beauty brands that are making high-quality products suitable for women with melanin-rich skin. I knew the brands were out there, I just had to find them.
I searched online, became active in beauty groups on social media, attended beauty trade shows and engaged in a ton of networking. I came across Maréna Beauté through a Facebook group and discovered Biolissime at an event at which they were exhibiting.
Tell me a bit more about Maréna Beauté and Biolissime…
Maréna Beauté is a makeup brand out of Sweden, started by a Senegalese born makeup artist. What really struck me by the company was their attention to branding, packaging and presentation. Instead of launching with an entire makeup range, they first focused on developing foundation, powder and blush of premium quality to meet the needs of darker-skinned women.
Biolissime is a French brand founded by Bintou Camara of French-Guinean and Gambian origin and was developed after extensive research to find safe effective ingredients that clear hyperpigmentation, dark spots and acne scarring. Both brands were very excited about the Melariche concept and are eager to break into the UK market.
How did you go about securing Iman for the site?
Before approaching major brands, I created a PowerPoint proposal explaining Melariche and what our unique selling points would be as a retailer.
I wanted to make a good first impression and show that I had a serious well-thought-out business plan. The response from brands was mixed but often quite positive. IMAN Cosmetics was very open to hearing more about our plans and I was thrilled when they agreed to come on board.
How many brands are you stocking now?
We currently have four makeup brands and six skincare brands. We’re planning to expand the offering soon.
Have you had any hurdles?
I think the biggest hurdle for me is time. There are never enough hours in the day! I have a 4-year-old and expecting my second in February, so life is busy to say the least and it can be really frustrating to have an idea that you want to execute but can’t because time won’t allow it.
How did you overcome it?
My husband is quite supportive and steps in whenever asked and I’m planning to hire interns soon to take over some tasks. Ultimately though, I simply had to accept that I am not superwoman, and should not pressure myself to ‘have it all’. It’s literally impossible! It’s a struggle I’ve heard many women discuss so I know I am not alone.
Is there anything that took you by surprise that you hadn’t anticipated?
I did not anticipate how emotionally attached I would become to the business. Every win, every loss, I feel so deeply. It’s like having another child!
What advise would you give to any budding beauty entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, your vision and stay true to that. Also, nothing comes easy. There is no such thing as an overnight success. There is no substitute for passion, effort and hard work.
What is your vision for the future?
My dream is to have a number of Melariche stores on the British high streets and to be in a position where I can give back by using the Melariche platform to encourage young girls around the country to be confident and beautiful in their own skin.