"Senegal is all about teranga, which means, 'Come in, you're welcome,'" says founder and CEO Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye on the inspiration behind her industry-disrupting business.

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Diarrha Ndiaye founder of Ami Cole
Credit: Courtesy of Ami Cole

In a time of beauty filters and face editing technology, embracing what is natural feels not just surprising, but subversive. To quietly emanate a love for your skin—just the way it is—falls right in line with the skin care boom we're smack in the middle of, while simultaneously contradicting the tweaks and twists available to us with just a few taps of our fingers. As someone who knows these platforms well (she helped the great Jenna Lyons kick off her Instagram presence), beauty alumnus Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye loves a slight enhancement here and there, but her goal is to give that to us in real life. Enter her new beauty brand, Ami Colé: From start to finish, the line is a celebration of melanin-rich skin, from someone whose legacy is steeped in the transformative and unifying power of Black artistry.

Born and raised in Harlem with roots in Senegal, N'Diaye-Mbaye has spent countless hours in her mother's braiding salon, which she has owned for over three decades, watching Black women twirl in and out, transformed by the magic hands of the artisans inside. "That's our beauty mecca," she tells MarthaStewart.com of the welcoming space. "I've always been around that, so I've been fascinated with how Black women come together and talk about beauty. It's a safe space that my mom has been able to create." Beauty in the real world, however, looked less Black and Brown—where was the melanin and diversity that she had found in her neighborhood, in so many enclaves of New York City? "Once I left that bubble of Harlem, [a place of] Black beauty, I came into the real world and realized that there was something missing," she says.

ami cole products
Credit: Courtesy of Ami Cole

N'Diaye-Mbaye decided to forge her own path inside the industry she loved so much. Her goal? To help the beauty sphere reflect more of the real world, which she took on by cutting her teeth at some of the biggest brands of the age, including L'Oréal and Glossier. She already had the knowledge of how a beauty business was run firsthand from her mother, but through her work, she was able to identify what women like her really needed: a beauty brand that boosted their natural features and complexion while also prizing wholesome ingredients.

So, N'Diaye-Mbaye​​ created one: Three years in the making, Ami Colé is "a compilation of all my experiences," says the founder and CEO, and named after her original beauty muse, her mother, who she also credits for her work ethic. Harnessing the power of Senegal's landscape, the product line—which launched with a trio of must-haves including a skin-enhancing tint ($32, amicole.com), light-catching highlighter ($22, amicole.com), and lip treatment oil ($20, amicole.com)—is packed with ingredients like baobab seed extract and other nourishing native ingredients. "We're all about the art of celebration," says N'Diaye-Mbaye. "We know we all need these sparks of joy, so we do that through our products. We're honing in on what's inside of them, which are these non-toxic formulations that really help you see you. So none of the products that we offer are made in the art of transformation. We're really about your skin, but better."

ami cole group of women
Credit: Courtesy of Ami Cole

Yes, Ami Colé​​ uses the word "clean," but N'Diaye-Mbaye is aware that "clean beauty" is a convoluted space with a lot of greenwashing; she opted for a standard-based model to navigate that landscape, ensuring the brand was EWG-certified and free from endocrine-disrupting ingredients. This was an incredibly important choice, she says, since many studies reveal that products commonly used by Black women contain harmful ingredients and can have adverse effects on their health. "​​We're not in the business of making people feel bad—we're not telling you to throw away your other products," she says. "We're just helping you along the journey of looking for even better material." For that reason, the tint quickly became a bestseller; it comes in six shades that work on dozens of complexions and gives skin a quick and natural boost (while still being breathable, lightweight, and nourishing). The highlighter imparts a glowy sheen, as does the lip oil, which is hydrating and softening.

Ultimately, the process of creating Ami Colé was a labor of love. N'Diaye-Mbaye and her team tested the products on close to 400 women, and asked them what they were already using, how they define their skin tones and undertones, which formulations they already love, and which they've disliked thus far. All that input drove their initial assortment, though there's so much more to come. Along with its own e-commerce site, Ami Colé is now being sold on goop and Thirteen Lune, so it's only a matter of time before women of color all over the world fall in love with N'Diaye-Mbaye's brainchild—an homage to Senegal, a brand that puts Black and Brown women first, and the ultimate tribute to a matriarch with melanin.

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