working girl: meki adefris

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Meki Adefris was your typical beauty junkie until she turned a passion and robust knowledge of makeup and hair products into a business that recognizes how unique every woman is and thus how unique her melange of beauty products needs to be as well. Beauty subscription box Our Shade of Brown caters to women of color both on the consumer end as well as the business end by providing an avenue for new companies to reach a typically overlooked demographic and by allowing women of color to finally find products that are just right for them.

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Name: Meki Adefris

Age: 39

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Profession: Founder, Our Shade of Brown (formerly My Shade of Brown)

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How did you get started?

My corporate background was in marketing and public relations, but I’ve always had an unrelenting passion for anything beauty related – skincare, makeup, haircare. My bathroom and my dresser is absolutely filled with every kind of conceivable beauty product you can think of! I’m THAT girl – have a question about the best gel liner? I got you! Keeping lipstick stains off your lips? Easy. Best deep conditioner for you hair? No brainer. The more I bought, the more I started realizing that apart from my love of beauty, there was also something else driving the purchases. I would often buy multiple items to test which ones worked best for me and from that I would recommend to friends and family. I was like a personal tester. I ended up with all the products while my friends would end up with the products that were just right for them.

Just as I had grown frustrated with working a corporate gig, the subscription based model of delivering products was really taking off. Some girlfriends and I were sitting around one day and started a “what if” conversation. What if I took my love of beauty products, curate a list of those products specific to brown women, and get samples into their hands so they don’t end up with a bunch of stuff they’ll only use once? They can try it, and if they love it, they can buy it. We emailed a few friends about our idea, they emailed their friends and soon we realized there was a genuine interest in women wanting a beauty sampling service catered specifically to them. From that Our Shade of Brown was born.

What’s an average day like?

An average day consists of scouring beauty trade publications to see what’s new in the world of cosmetics, and also looking through mainstream magazines as well as niche ones to keep up to date on what’s going on in beauty and fashion. I’m on my computer most of the day, checking email and fielding inquiries from brands. I do a lot of research on brands that align with our mission of providing women of color products that were made with us in mind. One of my favorite parts of the day is speaking to small brands, who without a service like ours, wouldn’t have the capacity to reach thousands of women who are looking for products like theirs! Currently, my days are anything but average! We are undergoing a re-branding effort so things have been kind of crazy! We are adding some new staff and we have officially changed our name from My Shade of Brown to Our Shade of Brown! “Our” being more inclusive and really speaking to US brown girls from around the globe!

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Why do you do it?

I do it because I love it. I love connecting women who love beauty to products that are amazing and are really made with us in mind. A lot of the time, the products and brands we feature are created by women of color, and that, to me, is empowering. It’s a wonderful circle of support!

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

Hmmm, well lets talk about the ups first! It’s so gratifying to work on something and you get an email from a customer telling you how much she’s been looking for a service like ours. It’s also so wonderful to help brands reach women who actively want to engage with their product. I’ve actually built personal relationships with some of the women who create these products and their stories are so inspiring, not to mention their products are kick ass!

There are some downs that come from not being able to do everything we want right now due to capacity issues. Sometimes the brands we want to work with are so small they don’t have the capacity to produce what we need, so we have to turn them down. We are also in that space where we are growing and we want to stay true to our mission of supporting and exposing these amazing niche brands, but increasingly we are being approached by very well known brands, which we are really excited about, but it’s that balancing act of keeping the spirit of Our Shade of Brown alive.

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Your greatest achievement so far?

Feb 2014 will mark our 2nd year in business and that makes me incredibly proud. I’m grateful for all the support, the encouragement, and the belief in what we are doing!

What might be next for you?

I’m very open. We have already begun to do some consultative branding work for some of the brands we’ve worked with. We are on the front lines of what customers are saying about the products, whether it’s about the packaging, the actual product, or the price points, so I think beauty branding work is a natural progression. I also always have Africa in the back of my mind. I’m originally from East Africa, and there is an incredible explosion of opportunity there at the moment. Not too long ago a well known Western beauty company bought out a homegrown beauty company in Kenya. That’s pretty amazing. There is definitely a place for my background in marketing, beauty and my passion for empowering women!

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What are your top 5 go-to hair tips?

  • My absolute first rule is ALWAYS do what makes YOU most comfortable with your hair, whether it’s a short natural, a statement ‘fro, a relaxed head of hair, a weave, braids, locks, whatever. There is nothing more beautiful than a woman who is self assured about her choices. So whatever choice you make rock it with confidence!
  • “Kebey” – translation, butter. In Ethiopia young girls and women use unsalted butter as an all day deep conditioning treatment. It smells, it’s uncomfortable (because it melts so you need to use several shower caps!) but it does wonders for your hair! I’m not sure why, I spoke with a natural hair care guru once and she said it was probably the combination of protein and fats, but whatever it is, this has been a part of our culture for centuries. I should note, this is only ever done on non-relaxed hair.
  • When I’m having a bad hair day, I wrap my hair in a beautiful scarf or put it up in a high bun, and accentuate either my lips or my eyes, I instantly feel beautiful and glamorous!
  • Whether my hair is natural or relaxed, the one thing I’ve done consistently is wet my hair daily, and use a good moisturizer and oil to seal in the moisture. I mist a combo of water and jojoba oil daily into my hair and currently, I use Wave Nouveau’s Moisturizing Finishing Lotion to keep it soft and moisturized. I’ve literally tried all the new stuff that’s out and with the exception of some of Pantene’s products, it’s the best thing that works for my hair! It sounds counter intuitive for relaxed hair, but if you wet lightly at night and wrap it up, it maintains the straightness in my experience. It was always harder to find a good moisturizer that didn’t weigh down my hair when it was relaxed, but the next time I relax, I would definitely try Pantene’s new relaxed line, the products smell amazing.
  • Try to have fun with your hair. I personally have always loved the flexibility my hair gives me. I think we’re the luckiest women on earth, despite the images and stories that we are force fed. We can literally wear it short and curly one day, long and straight the next and anywhere in between any given time! We’ve mainstreamed weaves and braids. BRAIDS! That’s powerful.
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