How Melissa Butler Left Wall Street to Transform the Beauty Industry With The Lip Bar
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry, so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: Melissa Butler, founder and CEO of the POPSUGAR Beauty Award-winning brand The Lip Bar.
I grew up playing in face masks with my mom. She’s always been really into skin care, so every weekend, we would do them together. I was also a big lip gloss girl, but I remember as a kid being nervous and thinking, Oh, my lips are too big, so should I even wear this lip gloss? But I got over that and really stepped into this idea that I’m my own beauty standard — if these are my lips, then they’re perfect just the way they are. My relationship with beauty at first was just about trying to fit in, but as I got older and reached high school, I had more confidence. I’ve never been that person to think that you have to wear makeup in order to be pretty, but I’ve always believed that you can use it to make yourself feel a little more confident to take on the day, and that’s how I still react and respond to the beauty industry.
When I decided to start The Lip Bar, I was working on Wall Street. I think like most kids who were fresh out of college, I was really trying to understand what it meant to be an adult. What does it mean to live in this big city? How should I be showing up for myself? How should I be showing up for my community? I was also frustrated with the beauty industry and with this idea that beauty was linear. I saw the beauty industry telling this story of transformation and telling women that you need to look a certain way in order to be beautiful — I thought that was BS. Looking at that, I felt like I was the perfect person to disrupt things because I didn’t live by anyone else’s beauty standards. I’ve always beat my own drum. I’ve had this idea that you should create your own beauty standards. I thought I was enough.
There’s no perfect time to quit your full-time job to focus on your business. A lot of people ask that question, and it really comes down to what you’re most comfortable with. Are you comfortable with taking the risk and knowing that it might not work, or do you want to be more comfortable knowing that you have a steady paycheck and that you can pay all of your bills? I came to the realization that what I was doing was incredibly important, and I really wanted to impact my community. So, I made the decision to quit my job not because we were making so much money, but because I felt if I ever want my business to give me 100 percent, then I have to give my business 100 percent.
It took years for us to grow; those first four years in business, we didn’t make money. I didn’t pay myself a salary, and I didn’t pay my partner and creative director either. But we really believed in it.
When I first started the company, I wasn’t thinking about other parts of the face, which is why I called it The Lip Bar (TLB). Ultimately, we had so many customers coming to us and thanking us for creating products that worked on their complexions. We started leaning into our customers so much because TLB, by and large, was built as a community-based business, so we’d always had that authentic relationship and connection with our community. I created this brand to solve problems, and a big problem that I saw within the industry was that makeup had gotten really complicated. I thought, We need to make makeup easier, so that the everyday woman can see herself in it and also have no fear in terms of trying a product.
Community was an important part of my ability to be successful as a business owner. It’s always been about community; living in New York City gave me that. Working on Wall Street gave me that. Going to an HBCU gave me that. And now having a business — all of it has been steeped in community.
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