“The Lip Bar didn’t start from a place of me loving beauty or being a makeup artist,” revealed Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar. “It really started because I was frustrated with the beauty industry.”
Butler, 30, born and raised in Detroit, sits at her desk in Ponyride, Detroit’s incubator space for artists and entrepreneurs. Surrounded by the vibrant and colorful decorations adorning her space in the concrete corridor of Ponyride, she reminisces about her journey to business ownership.
As a graduate of Cass Technical High School, and business finance graduate of Florida A & M University in Tallahassee, Butler spent her early career as a stockbroker on Wall Street in New York City.
A little over a year in the “Big Apple,” Butler admitted that she had second thoughts about her career choice, thinking, “This isn’t the life I thought I’d be living.”
“I could basically see my future right next to me in my coworkers,” said Butler. “And I decided instead of becoming what I didn’t want to become, I would change my future. And so I decided to start the Lip Bar.”
Health and economically conscious, Butler wanted to pursue a holistic approach to her lifestyle but found a huge gap in the makeup industry, with a lack of high performing makeup and diversity in lipstick shades.
With a do-it-yourself attitude, Butler started making lipsticks in her kitchen. Consulting cosmetic chemists and conducting industry research, Butler created a vegan, gluten-free, all natural collection not tested on animals. Her products contain Shea butter, avocado oil, coconut oil and vitamin E, creating a wearable shade that lasts 10 hours.
In response to the generic reds, pinks and nudes that most beauty brands boasted, Butler created vibrant shades of purple, blue and green, naming her products after cocktails like Amaretto Sour, Gin-Ger & Tonic and Whiskey Sour.
Butler quit her job on Wall Street about a year and half after the Lip Bar launched, believing, “I’m going to give 100% so my business can give me 100%.”
After appearances on Ebony, Essence, and Marie Claire, along with selling on Urban Outfitters online platform, Butler decided to boost her business by appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank, a TV show where entrepreneurs can pitch their potential businesses or ideas to investors with the possibility of gaining an investment.
Butler, along with her high school friend, Rosco Spears, the creative director of The Lip Bar, pitched their idea of colorful lipsticks but didn’t get a deal.
The Sharks, notorious for their criticism and brutal honesty, told the pair that they’d be “crushed by the beauty industry,” said investor Kevin O’Leary.
Earlier, O’Leary had referred to their business as, “a massive market share in the clown market.”
“They told us it was a terrible idea; that no one wanted these bold colors, not understanding that we are that indie beauty brand that are in the trenches, talking to our customers,” said Butler.
Their main pitch was an idea of a mobile beauty trunk that would travel the United States and provide direct exposure to The Lip Bar’s potential clientele.
“That was our answer to not having a beauty counter,” said Butler. “Beauty is a very hands-on and intimate purchase and we needed to allow our customers to experience the product first hand.”
This was also tossed aside by the potential investors, concluding the pitch with five resounding “I’m Out’s” from the Sharks.
“People always ask me, ‘how did it make you feel.’ In that very moment, it felt like defeat because they were very cruel to us,” revealed Butler. “But after the show aired, we got so much love and support and it really helped us build our internal community. So it was a good moment to say ‘aha! We still did it.’”
Butler explained their Shark Tank episode (now aired over 10 times due to its success) was viewed by seven million people, generating 30,000 visits to their website the night the episode aired, with an additional 120,000 visits the following two weeks. Butler said they were able to convert 70% of that traffic into customers.
The Lip Bar ended up building the mobile truck, with $14,000 from crowd funding and a $10,000 grant from Skype via The Bethenny Show, traveling around cities like Chicago, Toronto, D.C., Atlanta, Hampton and Tallahassee.
After hearing stories about an up-and-coming Detroit scene, Butler moved her Lip Bar headquarters back to her Motor City roots in November 2014.
“I decided that I wanted to be a part of the story of Detroit rebuilding itself. I wanted to (literally) bring the beauty back to Detroit.”
As of Oct. 2016, The Lip Bar launched on Target.com, with hopes of selling in stores in 2017.
Today, The Lip Bar is featured in the Woodward Avenue retail store Détroit is The New Black, selling a selection of shades that consumers can try on and purchase on site.
Their best seller is a red liquid matte color, called Bawse Lady, made with a deep, blue-based red that looks good on any complexion.
The Lip Bar also boasts affordable pricing, averaging $10.90 – $11.90 in cost.
“We challenge the beauty standard through our very affordable pricing because cosmetics that are all natural are not affordable,” said Butler. “We think you shouldn’t have to compromise affordable with natural or responsibly-made beauty; it should be a privilege.”
The Lip Bar website features a wide array of colorful shades, with a “try on” option that allows you to sample shades based on your skin tone.