Each month the subscription beauty boxes that Jasmine Harris ordered would arrive at her home.
But she'd have to throw a lot of the products out.
"If it was makeup, the coloring would be off," Harris said. "Lipstick, the shades would be inappropriate for my skin tone, or hair products that were not made for kinkier textured hair, like mine."
After a few too many experiments, she concluded "subscription boxes weren't thinking about people of color."
The experience galvanized Harris, along with her mother and sister, to create a new subscription service aimed at the multicultural market. The Burnsville family named their new company HuesBox.
"We want to connect people with products made for their skin tones and hair textures," Jasmine said.
"This is by people of color, for people of color — not just African-Americans, Africans," said Robin Harris, Jasmine's mother. "We're talking about Asians, Hispanics and American Indians because it's this missing component of other boxes that are out there."
The company launched over the weekend with its first shipment. More than two dozen newly subscribed customers will receive boxes containing sample personal care and beauty products.
Subscription e-commerce has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. Just about anything — from arts and craft to dog treats — can be ordered online and delivered regularly to your doorstep.
Industry success comes from buying in bulk, said Sucharita Mulpuru, chief retail strategist for the ShopTalk retail conference. And personal care companies have huge growth targets making a push for the multicultural market less of a priority, she said.
"I think what that means for this company in Minnesota is it's a market opportunity," Mulpuru said. "It may not be billions of dollars, but there's absolutely a demand for it, and it's a unique niche that's not being addressed now."
But at its core, Hues is social enterprise. It will only feature products made by vendors of color, especially small operators without big marketing budget. As Hues accumulates subscribers around the country, it will give those obscure brands greater exposure, Robin said.
"What you'll see in our box you won't see in a store," she said. "These are small business vendors who are looking for a way to get their products out and their voices out into the broader community."
For example, in the first box, Sailor Girl Soap and Supplies, a Native American company on a reservation in Idaho, made the lip balm, and Butters by Jay, an African-American-owned business in Brooklyn Center, produced the whipped Shea butter.
Butters by Jay owner Jasmine McConnell, 28, works full time as a construction site superintendent but makes the bath-and-body products out of her home.
"New customers from the exposure would propel my business to the next level and help me reach my goal of doing this full-time," said McConnell. "This is huge for my business."
The busy Harrises funded Hues out-of-pocket as a side business. Robin, the human resources director for Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, ran for Burnsville City Council a couple of months ago. Jasmine is a sociology professor in Philadelphia. Jenae also teaches, along with running an event planning business and participating in beauty pageants.
Hues has 10 vendors and are in talks with a dozen more from around the country.
"It's awesome to see a spike in entrepreneurship in communities of color," Jenae said.
But finding these businesses has been challenging.
"Often vendors of color, just starting out, don't have the resources to have a website or don't know about search engine optimization if they do have a small website to get their businesses in a Google search results," Jenae said.
In addition to lack of resources, some vendors lack business know-how. But the Harrises are mentoring some these vendors on marketing and branding for a potential partnership.
"If you're a small business owner from a community where there's not a lot of successful entrepreneurship," Jenae said, "it makes it all the more difficult for your business to be visible and for people like us to find it."
Each Hues box will feature four to six sample-sized products about a specific theme. Customers can pay $12 a month or subscribe for a lengthier delivery option. Subscribers will be able to buy full-size products from Hues' or the vendor's website.
The boxes will also include beauty and wellness products rooted in different ethnic traditions. For example, first box's theme is "detox" and includes a feminine hygiene tea used by Native American, Latino, African and Asian women, Jasmine said.
"There's cultural overlap between communities of color, some of our regimens are the same," Jasmine said. "It will also be an opportunity to reconnect and share lesser known traditional practices with each other."
And the Harris' hope the products will generate conversation about health.
"We'll have products to reduce stress and boost mental health — topics not discussed often in communities of color," she said. "One of our goals is to generate those conversations and that's why it's important that this is not just a makeup box."
The women have big plans, like creating a health and beauty community online for people of color and branch into kids and men's boxes.
But it's just the beginning. Hues vendors and founders are competing against businesses big and small who are hoping just the right box will help them find loyal customers. They're hoping their unique products and social mission will win them a following.
"It's very exciting to see all of this take off," Jasmine said. "And to see people of color working together on different levels to help each other."
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