Meet This Girl Delali Kpodzo

 
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On her company

I am the Co-Founder of We Are Onyx, which is a beauty destination, a subscription box and an e-commerce platform dedicated to black women. The idea behind We Are Onyx is to bring access to education, to product knowledge and to products in the beauty space for black women.

On the black beauty space

Even though black women spend three times more than every other demographic of women on cosmetics, including hair, skin and makeup products, we are underrepresented in the market. When you open the average magazine, the first face of a beauty campaign is likely not going to be a black woman.

I wanted to bring equity, strength and power to the black female consumer through We Are Onyx. I hoped to create an environment where black women could see themselves as beautiful, honored, perfect and definitely not an “add-on.”

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On being a citizen of the world.

I’ve lived all over! I was born in Accra in Ghana, then my family moved to Germany for about three years, then we moved to England for a year, then we lived in Canada for six years and then, finally, I moved to the United States.

On her career path

In high school I was convinced I was going to work in the movies. I wanted to be a movie director, so I went to USC and enrolled in the Film program. And while I was there,  I got some very good advice from a very famous producer who told me that that I shouldn't waste my time studying film production, and that I should spend my time in college learning how to learn and learning how to work with people. 

This advice came at the exact right time because I had already been doubting my major. I ended up transferring to another school and I did my degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs - I focused on International Relations, specifically in the Arab world.

After college, I went to business school.  I came out of business school having studied International Business and Marketing, but I still felt this entertainment industry bug kicking around in the back of mind, so I ended up taking a job at CAA working in International Film Finance and Talent Management.

On how she got the idea for We Are Onyx

It was 8:00 PM on a Saturday night when my hair stylist canceled on me that I was suddenly faced with the realization that I didn't know how to wash my own hair.

I sat down and I thought about it. I realized that from around the time I was 12 or 13 years old, my mom had transitioned me to a salon experience and I never left. From speaking with other black women, I realized that so many of us made that transition and never left. When it came down to it, so many of us black women didn't actually know how to manage our own beauty. Keep in mind, this was back in 2012 before the Natural Hair Movement had hit the mainstream market.

So here I was on a Saturday night, age 30, having gone to business school and worked several high-powered jobs, unable to figure out how to manage the very thing that was growing out of my own head. I thought that I should probably figure that out and that's essentially where the idea for Onyx came from.

My first action was to share my idea with a colleague. We partnered up and dove into the beauty space head first. We brought on board a full fleet of interns, to whom I owe my life to at this point, and then we flushed out our business plan and took it to an angel investor who, gratefully, was very interested in the idea and wanted to jump into this space with us. 

On why she created We Are Onyx

I created Onyx out of necessity, I personally needed this service and it didn't exist. I realized from talking to a lot of my girlfriends that they all needed it too - everyone was seeking not just help and support, but also community. It wasn't just about going to the store and finding what you needed, it was about being able to talk about beauty with other women and trade experiences.

When I set out to create Onyx, there was this narrative surrounding black beauty that a) it was complicated and b) it was extra. Beauty at the time wasn't all that much concerned with women who were on either end of the skin-color spectrum - brands were neglecting both women who were super fair and those who were much darker skinned.

On what she’s most proud of

I'm extremely proud that you [ThisGirl’s founder Kitty] know about this company. I'm extremely proud that anyone knows about this company, because the world is huge and there's so much out there and there are so many products and services. There are so many subscription boxes and so many different ways to consume content and products and engage and shop. The fact that there are thousands of people who know about Onyx and are excited to receive our box and are telling their friends about it…to me, that's a miracle.

On what it’s actually like to run your own business

Running a business is very emotional and it can take a huge toll on you mentally if you're not careful. When it’s your company, you take everything home with you. For a long time the conversation around self-care was one that almost felt superfluous, or you know, trendy. Realize that it is critical. You are not going to make it without self-care. You are going to burn out. You shouldn't be sitting behind your computer for 17 hours a day, no matter how many emails come in - I promise they will still be there tomorrow. You have to triage and you have to take time for yourself. When you are a founder, you pour so much of who you are into your business that there's almost nothing left for you.

On the Onyx box products she has fallen in love with

Some of my favorite skincare products have come from companies like Urban Skin RX and Specific Beauty who focus specifically on women of color and our specific skincare concerns. I love their products, and I use them every night. In terms of makeup, I've fallen in love with brands like Ittse Cosmetics, which is an indie brand, but they make phenomenal products that are easy to work with and have amazing color payoff - I love their blushes and eyeshadows.

On what’s coming next

I think that brands like Onyx, Fenty Beauty - all the brands who are engaging diverse consumers - are just the tip of the iceberg. We're still in that space where the Black model, the Asian model, the Latina model are still the token models. The reality about the United States is that the demographics are changing and the beauty industry still has a ways to go to reach equal representation both in regard to products and the executives who conceptualize and create these products. 

Women of color exist! And they have buying power and choices now. If you are not addressing them, you are losing out. And once they become loyal to other brands, you may never get them back. So, what I think what the smartest beauty companies are doing, is focusing on welcoming women of color into the fold and committing to them now. There's a lot more that I want to do in regard to helping beauty brands make a transition towards genuinely and authentically opening their products up to women of color.

Her advice to a girl on her way

I would say take strategic, measured and calculated risks every chance you get.

I took a chance to start a business, which was something that didn't come naturally to me and was totally terrifying. But I took the plunge anyway and that has spiraled off into a whole other narrative of my life that I may never have opened up if I hadn't taken that initial risk.

I feel compelled to share that it wasn't a blind risk. We had financing, we had an office, we had our business plan, an army of interns, we had, through friends and contacts, graphic designers who would make our logo and packaging. We had things in place before we quit our day jobs. So that's what I mean by measured and calculated. You have to be intentional. You have to have done your research.

Photographed by Sasha Reiss in Los Angeles, September 2018.

More: Meet This Girl, Los Angeles, Beauty

 
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