In 2015, while a contestant on Shark Tank, Melissa Butler, 32, was told The Lip Bar, a non-toxic and vegan lipstick brand with an array of bold, bright, and highly-pigmented lip colors, would never succeed. The investors suggested that if there was actually a demand for green lipstick, it would exist.
On the show, investor Kevin O'Leary said, "The chances that this is a business are practically zero. You only have so many minutes on Earth, don't waste them trying to sell lipstick." Meanwhile, Daymond John added, "You are never going to create anything new in this world. It's lipstick."
Butler dismissed the rejection and continued creating lipsticks in her kitchen while building her brand. Now, four years later, Butler's organic, affordable lip products are available in Target stores nationwide. The entrepreneur says she was disillusioned with the beauty industry’s lack of diversity, reliance on chemical ingredients and high-priced products, so she decided to create change.
In 2011, while working on Wall Street, she began working on the Lip Bar in her kitchen. She created lipsticks by melting dyes together with vegan ingredients like shea butter and avocado oil and freezing them in sets in her fridge. Though she was disappointed by her experience on Shark Tank, she appreciated the exposure. She also learned not to talk to people who aren’t willing to listen.
“Nothing about that experience made me want to quit. What I didn’t realize was that it inspired a lot of people. I’ve never even thought about stopping because at the end of the day, I’m the pilot of my plane. What I’m doing is really steeped in purpose,” she says.
The Lip Bar launched on the Target website in 2016, and in stores in February of 2018. Last July, the company brought in its first outside investment from the New Voices Fund, which invests in enterprises owned or managed by women of color. The fund is backed by Unilever. Butler, who moved her operations from New York to Detroit office, now has a staff of eight employees, and her products have been worn by stars like Taraji P. Henson.
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Butler says she’s not passionate about makeup. Rather, she's a minimalist who believes a pop of lip color can give women the confidence to take on the world. She also wants to promote inclusivity and remind women that they don't have to settle for anything. “You are beautiful just the way you are. You don't have to transform to look like the next "It Girl." You don't have to do anything but be you, because you are enough. Simply put, I think every woman deserves to be represented,” she says.
At first, The Lip Bar was only available in 40 Target stores, but the product was so successful that within six weeks, the brand expanded to 450 stores. All The Lip Bar products are paraben free, cruelty free and mineral oil free. They also use no petrochemicals. Butler, however, says the liquid matte has silicone in it to achieve the matte effect that customers wanted.
Currently, the brand’s most popular color is Boss Lady, a deep blue-based red that works on all complexions. The brand also carries an incredible 16 nude shades. According to Butler, “Nude lipstick, especially for women of color, has always been very difficult because it comes off almost chalky. It’s never that perfect shade. My nude is different than my sister’s nude. It’s different from my mother’s nude. If we have that much variation within my immediate family, how could I really have four or six nudes? Even with our 16, I feel like that’s not enough. I feel like we could go further and deeper.”