KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson Founded Mented to Solve the Nude Lipstick Dilemma for Black and Brown Women
Mented is raising the bar for premium makeup brands by celebrating women of color. From manufacturing lipsticks in their apartment when they launched their cosmetic line in 2017 to becoming one of the most sought-after beauty lines for Black and Brown women in stores like Target, Ulta, and HSN, co-founders KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson filled a gap in the beauty market—a space that was often not originally designed with people of color in mind.
Their venture grew out of friendship—the Harvard Business School graduates gravitated towards each other, realizing they shared a passion for retail and consumer goods. They promised each other that if they came up with an idea that they both liked, they would try to pursue it jointly. Ultimately, the powerhouse duo did just that: Over a casual glass of wine, they talked about their concerns within the beauty industry. A predominant issue? Current lipstick offerings didn't have enough pigment to actually show up on their lips, let alone be complementary with their skin tones. They were specifically at odds in their search for the ideal nude lipstick—and this gap prompted the development of Mented. "As we discussed the possibility of developing a new line of nude lipsticks for women of color, we discussed the importance of product pigmentation. We just kept saying pigmented, so I suggested naming our company Mented, and Amanda loved the idea," Miller explains.
They wanted to send a clear message via their product line: "Everyone deserves to be able to find themselves in a world of beauty, regardless of skin tone," they say. The co-founders decided to concentrate the brand's efforts on nude and neutral lipsticks for women of color. And while the pair had no prior experience in the beauty sector at the time of their company's launched, they did have a combined 20 years of being let down by it—which, they explain, compensated for their lack of market expertise. "I believe our experiences of feeling left out taught us what we didn't want, which enabled us to create a brand that spoke directly to us as customers," shares Miller.
Despite the fact that the beauty pioneers established their brand sans a manufacturer, they swiftly evolved to the luxury brand that they are today—mainly because a great number of prominent women impacted by a decided lack of options found a haven in their brand. "We started gifting lipsticks to YouTube and Instagram influencers, and they loved them so much that they started posting and sharing them with their followers," note Miller and Johnson.
As for the other main drive to launch their business? As a child, Miller noticed how few high-end brands spoke to women of color. "It seemed like we were confined to drugstore products, which is fine. We've all tried them, and I still use some of them. However, I believe that at some point in your life, you want to feel like the items you're using are of high quality, are thoughtfully designed, and have an ingredient story you can be proud of. It was critical for us to be able to communicate with customers about the quality of our products." As a result they developed a vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic, and paraben-free product range. "We wanted our customers to know that we've invested a lot of thought, effort, and resources into creating the best products possible."
After four years in business, Miller and Johnson have grown their multimillion-dollar brand into a full-fledged line that includes foundation, eye shadow, blush, bronzer, nail polish, and makeup accessories. Their High Brow Pencil ($15, mentedcosmetics.com), Skin by Mented Foundation ($30, mentedcosmetics.com), and Gloss for Grown Ups collection ($50, mentedcosmetics.com) are among Miller's personal signatures. "One of my all-time favorite products is our brow pencil. I don't have thick brows, so everything you see in photos is thanks to the precision tip approach we developed with our pencil," she says. "The cream-in-a-stick foundation formula is another one of my favorites, since it's easy to apply. It's hypoallergenic, contains grapeseed oil and hyaluronic acid, and it feels just like your own skin."
Most importantly, the pair is listening to their base as they scale. After receiving an overwhelming response to expand to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe, Mented is doing so. One of the most recent products to be released in response to customer demand is the Long Live The Lash Mascara ($18, mentedcosmetics.com). The natural formula lengthens the lashes without the use of problematic ingredients. "We honed in on our angle and decided to add almond oil to nourish the lashes," they note.
While Mented's overarching goal is to provide more beauty options for women of color, the brand's focus is straightforward—clean and simple everyday beauty. "When we first launched, there weren't any brands that could offer all of the things we focused on from day one," Miller states. "You'd find a brand that focused on clean beauty, everyday beauty, or women of color, but never all three at the same time—and that's what set Mented apart from every other cosmetic line."