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Interviews

Wes Sharpton Is Breaking Down And Dismantling The Definition of Beauty

The following is the abridged interview with Hairstory hairdresser Wes Sharpton. Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore facilitated the conversation, and Sharpton was quick to own the narrative.

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Tess Aurore: So, Wes: Who are you?

Wes Sharpton: I am, at the end of the day, a queer kid from Oklahoma. My friends and I would always joke: I’m the original country queer. And that’s where my story started.

wes sharpton in b&w restin ghis face on his fist, small smile on his face as he stares at the camera

Growing up, were you that brainy kid? The cool kid? A jock?

Well, I always felt I was smart, but not necessarily in an academic sense; rather, I had an awareness of the things around me, I had some ‘people’ smarts.

Arguably the most important smarts to have.

I think many people in my position had to get smart and quick! And we had to move in a way for survival, right? We had to be a little strategic for our own safety, like, ‘who do I need to align with to be protected?’ 

Someone’s status was your shield, in a way.

Yeah. I also remember being in school and changing the paths that I would take to get to different classes because I didn’t trust that I was safe in a familiar routine. I thought ‘if I am in this space and I keep doing the same thing every day, someone’s gonna notice my path to get to class and that’s gonna make me vulnerable to being beat up, or something like that.’

I can’t imagine having to think like that, so strategically, just to exist.

It sounds awful, but it was just the way that we had to navigate the world in that place, at that time. 

You didn’t have the easiest time growing up, that’s what I’m gathering here.

Growing up gay, poor, having learning disabilities… These are all challenges, but there is a gift in these obstacles.

Which is?

Imagination.

Imagination is crucial to have.

You know, the idea of seeing and training your mind to imagine something that isn’t quite there yet, in reality, is such a valuable gift. I could have a bigger vision of myself than others could, because I could imagine things that had not existed in the world yet, as we know them. 

What was your main imagination?

I just had an inkling in my mind: ‘there’s gotta be a place. There’s gotta be a place where not everything is like Oklahoma. I’m not gonna always have to change paths. I’m not always gonna have to switch gears. I can have a routine one day without fear.’

wes sharpton holding a camera and smiling at the camera in b&w

And you escaped to fashion.

For me, my “otherness” was in the fashion world, which I believe I gravitated to because it wasn’t a place I belonged…

What do you mean, didn’t belong?

I never felt beautiful. I never felt pretty in my own skin. And I thought, if I can’t really have it myself, at least I can be a part of it. At least I could have a piece of something beautiful.

That’s heartbreaking.

Then I was invited to a hair show, which is really where people stand on a platform and cut hair. I thought, ‘dang, these people are cool…. Maybe there’s a space where I could do this.’ And then I started to cut hair. I ended up in New York, where I trained and worked at Bumble and bumble for many years.

The original country queer enters the big city.

Yes, but I really didn’t love fashion much once I was in the thick of it.  A fashion set is not as amazing as people assume it is, there’s a lot of standing and waiting and then ‘go.’ There’s a lot of pressure. So I really started to lean into hair cutting and worked for years in salons, which led to how I got started with Hairstory.

Hairstory took off immediately. It blew up. You must have been so thrilled.

It’s funny, the thing about life lessons is that they’re continuous, and one of the biggest lessons I learned was actually earlier on, pre-Hairstory. Some of my work had ended up in VOGUE, which, as a child of the nineties, was a big deal.

Wow, what an achievement.

Yes, yet despite this incredible achievement, I wasn’t totally fulfilled. In that quick moment of being in VOGUE, I went, ‘oh, this won’t fix you.’

Quite the realization to have after something so monumental happens.

See, I thought, when I got into VOGUE, that I would be whole. And that would mean that I had made it and showed everybody and did the thing. But it’s not it. I realized then that I needed to do some internal work, and that I’d need to align myself with things that I really loved and really believed in. I remember taking that moment and going, ‘okay, cool. This is great that this is going on in your life, but it won’t fix you.’ 

b&w wes sharpton walking down the street, looking behind him at the camera

You know, it’s the kind of thing where you have it all, and that’s when you want less of it. Or none of it. Like, you get everything you wish for and it doesn’t matter. You’re still not happy.

I think the more that you have in life, you also always have a dream of simplifying your life at the same time. I’d be like, okay, I’m doing this stuff, then also having daydreams of maybe I could just open up a juice bar on a beach or something – something that requires zero effort. I was really leaning into a little bit of that fantasy of thinking, ‘it’s time to wrap this show up. Maybe it’s time to do something different.’ And then Hairstory came into my life, a brand that is fully supportive of the hairdressing community.

How were other brands not supportive of the hairdressing community?

A shift came when online e-commerce became a thing. Everything was available in Sephoras and Ultas, and then online. When this happened, salon clients could find everything on Amazon, so it caused a lot of problems for hairdressers, who made their money not only in the chair but via product sales in-salon. As e-commerce grew, we were almost abandoned by haircare companies who had previously said they were ‘pro the hairdresser.’

Because why invest in something like the hairdresser when you have the internet? That’s sarcasm, of course.

Plus, hair care companies all say the same thing: that hairdressers don’t know how to retail. But this isn’t true! It’s that our entire business is built on trust. We’re intuitive at our job and we have a personal connection with our clients that doesn’t align with pushing for retail sales. 

So Hairstory came along and enticed you, because it was about the community.

The CEO, Eli Halliwell said, ‘I’m gonna give hairdressers affiliate links. Hairdressers’ clients can shop online and hairdressers will reap the rewards.’ And so I thought, ‘here is someone who’s bringing something new and fresh that also allows us to participate, respects our work and allows us to be considered.’ And it was really [hairdressers] being considered, which was bigger to me than the idea of the link. 

Which was revolutionary. I mean, affiliate links, you can throw that term out now. But back then, it was this new thing.

Definitely, As well as this new business model, I was also drawn to what Hairstory was selling – a new concept in a space that’s historically always been the same, shampoo, conditioner, detangler… What reinvention could happen from there? The one thing that energized me the most was a big idea. You know, anybody who is ‘othered’ in their life, the opportunity to be a part of something that you feel is bigger than yourself is a deeply satisfying thing.

b&w photo of wes cutting hair

I feel that way, absolutely. And that gives me my first question: what is your definition of beautiful?

I don’t know that I’ll ever have that ability to say, ‘this is beautiful,’ because I don’t know that I’ve dismantled all of the messages that say what isn’t beautiful yet. My job is to try and dismantle a little piece of that in hopes that other people down the road either have to do less dismantling or hopefully – one day – have to do zero dismantling.

I just wonder what the world would look like if people thought they were enough already. And so that is what it is. So I would love to be like, I think this is beautiful and this is beautiful, and I would love to give you a clean, pretty PR answer, but I don’t know that it would be the truth. 

We’re not looking for PR answers, we’re looking for the truth at QUILL. Cereal box answers aren’t interesting.

I was thinking about this the other day: you always have a choice to be as honest as you want. And sometimes your honesty means that you have to be vulnerable about the way that you view yourself in the world and maybe why you’re motivated to change that for others. So, I don’t know.

Second question: do you ever think you’ll be enough? And I’m asking this because I think about it, too.

At the end of the day, I think that what we really want is just to be seen, because I think the idea of being seen means that you have value, and if you have value, then maybe someone could value you. And that is because when it comes down to it, you’d like to imagine for yourself that if you could be seen, that you could also be loved.

We want the baseline. Like you’re good, right? Like you’re here, you exist. You deserve to exist. You can be recognized. We want that as a baseline and everything else, as far as enoughness goes, maybe it’s just doing the work to unravel why we have tricked ourselves into believing that we’re not enough.

Sometimes challenging yourself to be like, ‘what if I did this incrementally better?’ There’s never an end to mastery, right? There’s only just the journeys along the way. That’s the joy of the whole thing. And so in some spaces, I want to be enough, but I also want a healthy challenge to still be better

I think for me, enough will never be there because there’s always growth. There’s always growth.

As a community, we are sometimes a little harsh on ourselves, and I think we’ve got to remember to let people learn and grow. And we’ve got generations of experiences that are new, and queer people are learning. I didn’t have access to some of the things that are around today, so I didn’t have a language around some things. It’s cool that we can grow together.

And I would say, just be gentle. Remember people are largely on your side. I think sometimes we get a little bickering amongst ourselves and we get overwhelmed by things outside of our group that we’re not addressing and that are not moving us forward. So I think that can be something that we have to be considerate of; to be kind to ourselves and let people learn.

Let people grow.

Read the Full Profile on Wes Sharpton Now

b&w photo of wes sharpton looking at camera straight on

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Interviews

Courtnei Lee Is Nothing But Honest, And It’s Ridiculously Refreshing

In her interview with QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore, OYT Cosmetics founder Courtnei Lee speaks five years ago to now, trans representation, being an LGBTQ2S advocate, and her goals as a business owner and human being.

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Tess: Why don’t we just start with, who are you? You just founded this amazing business. What led from, let’s say, five years ago, to now, with OYT Cosmetics?

Courtnei: Five years ago was the very start of my transition. I think I just got to a place in my life where at that moment, it was life or death. It couldn’t be put off anymore. I’d spent 25 years living in the wrong body, but I was too terrified to do anything about it because of the weight of society that I felt like came with transitioning.

I can’t imagine how stressful that decision was.

It’s hard when you’re a trans person and you’re reflecting within yourself and you just feel like this scared girl that doesn’t know where to turn. 

Just based on where we’re at today and at least what I saw five years ago, there wasn’t much trans representation.

There wasn’t any representation, really. And if there was representation, it was in a very comedic, degrading way. I had no language to try and understand myself for the feelings that I was having. So I’m grateful to where things came to because there was representation being created by the time that I decided to transition. You know, there were actresses like Laverne Cox from Orange Is The New Black, and all of a sudden, there were faces popping up that I could look at and say, ‘oh, my God, there’s other people like me.’

I remember that being such a huge deal, the amount of people who felt that they were seeing themselves, finally.

Right. My other business partner has also been a friend of mine throughout my life, and he was brave enough to transition early. So I had a trans friend, but from a very different experience. 

And everyone’s transition is different. No one has the same transition.

It’s not a baking recipe. We’re trying to understand who we are as people, and we’re complicated individuals that deserve the time to sit with ourselves and really understand what that means, but it’s never going to be the same as the other person.

And of course, there’s the lack of representation for the non-binary community.

Definitely. One of my good friends, Skyler, is somebody that right falls in the middle and is completely non binary and doesn’t identify with either gender. They went through a transition from female to male thinking that that’s what they had to do as a trans person because that is the lack of representation for the non binary community.

There’s a whole chunk of a community missing. Not because they don’t exist, of course.

We’re still missing a huge piece of the community, which are people that don’t want to just completely transition in a binary way. And everyone’s transition is so unique. Skyler just needed to find somewhere comfortable within themselves and what they wanted to identify with. 

Plus, things like surgery, that’s very invasive.

It’s something really harsh to put your body through. And while for some of us, that’s something that becomes a decision that could save our lives, for other people, it’s not something that affects them that way and they’re happy with their body the way it is. 

Do you ever get tired of explaining this? I can imagine educating others about yourself is exhausting.

I’m exhausted. [Trans people] are in this constant state of trying to explain ourselves to [cis people] so that they get it, rather than just telling them, ‘we don’t fucking care if you get it. This has nothing to do with you. This is our body and our lives. And you can educate yourself if you want to understand it, but it’s not our responsibility to do that for you.’

It’s not your responsibility. At all. But you’re advocating regardless, even through OYT Cosmetics.

So, actually, when I started the company in 2020, it was C.L. Essentials, which is Courtnei Lee Essentials, and I wanted to be loud and proud about developing products directly made for trans individuals. But C.L. Essentials as a whole was just delivering to the masses. So any person that liked to consume makeup and beauty was able to buy it. And there was not really any advocacy besides if you were actually following me, and knew that I was an advocate.

What changed?

Well, when Kas and I decided to partner up, I said, ‘I think it’s a good opportunity for us to rebrand,’ because what we want is to disrupt the beauty industry and create space for LGBTQ2S people within it. And I think that that movement has to be bigger than me and has to be bigger than Kas. So we rebranded to be a lot more LGBTQ2S-forward.

And now you’re loud and proud.

You know, I think, as LGBTQ2S people, we are tiptoeing in and around where we can to try and place little pieces of ourselves. To be like, ‘okay, this is for us, and we fit in here. Okay?’ And then cis people are like, ‘okay, you can have that. You can have this.’ But we don’t need anyone to tell us where to be or what we can or can’t do.

It’s this weird sense of control over our community. Like, we’re the Other, and the heteronormative world gets to dictate what we “get” so as to keep this heteronormative world in place.

Which is why we want this to be disruptive, where we’re saying, ‘this is just as much our space as it is anybody else’s. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re gender fluid, we’re whatever you want to call it, and we’re not going anywhere. We deserve this space just as much as any straight, white, cisgendered, six-foot-one, gorgeous model does.’

What drives you to be this outspoken of an advocate? Because, you know, you could just donate here and there, or make little acknowledgements. But you’ve started a company that is branded FOR trans people. There’s no subtlety here.

To be an advocate, you have to put yourself out there and armor up as best as you can and know that the impact that you’re making for the community that’s standing behind you, specifically our youth, our LGBTQ2S youth, you’re being a barrier for them to be able to walk through this and not have to go through it to the extent that you are.

It’s about normalizing it, in a way, in a heteronormative world. 

Yeah. We’ve come a long way from the point where we had no ability to have representation and to be on TV and to be having these conversations, and we’ve fought really hard to be at this place. So I think for all of us as communities of minorities, whoever we are, whether we’re a person of color, whether we’re an LGBTQ2S identifying individual, we’ve come to a place now where we have space. 

There’s still plenty of discourse within our community.

There’s fat shaming and racism within our communities, and those are the things that we need to make sure are not happening and we’re not tolerating within our communities, and that we’re all standing up for each other. If we start going in between our own groups and spreading hate and harassment, it’s only going to divide us further, which works against us in the long run.

We really have to band together. The Other has to band together and use the minuscule power we’ve been given.

Now we just need to use it and stay together.

Courtnei, what is most important for you to accomplish in the near future?

I think my hope is to be able to create safe work environments. It’s my number one priority. I think so many LGBTQ2S people have had the worst working experiences, working under transphobic, homophobic bosses.

I was a part of a homophobic work environment. Post about Pride all day, silence the rest of the year.

It’s lonely and it’s hard and it’s aggravating, and on the outside, you’re just trying to fit into this heteronorm work environment.

Visibility is important to you.

I want to create representation for our youth to be able to see on TV or walking down the street or on a billboard, so they know that their experience is valid and they have a family and a team, even if maybe their family isn’t supporting them. They don’t need to turn to self harm or a substance to try and escape that.

If you could sum it up in one sentence? Big ask, I know.

I’d say… “I want to help create a healthier environment for our LGBTQ2S youth.”

Courtnei, you’re a doll. Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

Read The Full Profile On Courtnei Lee Now

black and white photo of courtnei lee in neutral makeup smiling with her mouth open and hair in loose blonde waves

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Interviews

Michael Ayre And Luke Jordan Are Changing The Buyer Experience (In The Best Way)

Tess sat down for an interview with Michael Ayre (he/him) and Luke Jordan (they/he) of new “Home of Diverse Brands,” SheHeThey. This conversation took place prior to the successful June 21st launch of the company, which solely features minority-owned businesses.

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Tess: I’m going to start with a simple question: what are your backgrounds? How did you meet? Tell me about you personally.

Luke Jordan: I’ll start. So, I have a background in branding design. I’ve worked in multiple design and brand agencies across the UK from the Northeast, which is where we’re originally from. But – to put it in the nicest possible way – I don’t enjoy working for people. [laughs] I find a lot of the time their values are completely different to mine and I never feel like I fit in. I always feel very limited by people’s leadership skills and ability.

So you’re more of a free, entrepreneurial spirit. 

LJ: Yeah, exactly. I also own a second company called Studio Potts, which is – have a guess – design and branding. And I also do training as well on the side, helping small businesses to understand how branding works in their business, and how to develop the business further as well.

And what about you, Michael?

Michael Ayre: I actually worked in recruitment for a few years before moving into the prison service.

I didn’t see point A leading to point B, not going to lie to you. What did you do in prison service?

MA: I worked with high risk men who wouldn’t engage in education work, wouldn’t accept visits from family, wouldn’t leave the cells, so they really were kind of the highest risk, but also the furthest away from being rehabilitated.

Sounds exhausting. How long did you do that for?

MA: I did that for six years.

Wow.

MA: Yeah. And now I work as a relationship manager, supporting businesses of all shapes and sizes.

So you have an expert in design, and an expert in the human psyche. How did you two come together with this business plan?

MA: Way back when we first met, actually, we said someday, we wanted to run a business together. Once we knew we were serious, we knew that we wanted to be self-sufficient. We’ve come up with all sorts of ideas about what kind of business that we want to have.

So SheHeThey started… where?

MA: We came up with the concept of SheHeThey because we went looking for SheHeThey. I think we were buying something for a friend and we were online and we were jumping from website to website and we were on the fourth or fifth page of Google still looking for that gift. And then that got us thinking, well, if these amazing businesses are hard to find, is there not an opportunity to create a platform where they are easy to find?

When we started to do some digging around minority owned businesses and the representation that they have and actually the chances that they have really opened up our eyes to the fact that if someone is a minority or they have a minority background, then their chances of being successful are slashed at all levels. And we just thought we had to do something about it. And that’s where SheHeThey came from.

Entrepreneurial and mission-driven.

MA: We felt like we had a unique idea, or a ‘unicorn idea’ as it’s called. We felt like we had something fresh and new, and we knew that it had the potential to go global. So we then did months’ worth of research to see if there was anything like SheHeThey out there. We looked at the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the other side of the world. There were a lot of marketplaces that were dedicated to a specific minority group, but not dedicated to people who embraced equality and had the foundation behind the business.

So you’re filling a gap. And it’s not excluding products – it’s about the business owner themselves.

MA: We said, from day one, it wasn’t about the products that a person sells, it’s about the person that sits behind the business. And that is a driving force behind everything that we do.

So, the launch is coming up, are you okay?

Both [grimacing]: No.

Alright, that’s fair. But you took a year to do this. That must have helped, rather than just throwing it on the internet a month after concept.

Michael Ayre: It took a lot of research, a lot of number crunching. So we just didn’t put ourselves under any pressure. We knew that if we were going to do this and we were going to dedicate time, effort, love to it, that we wanted to do it right. That’s not to say we are perfect, because we aren’t and we will hit a lot of highs and lows and bumps along the way, but we’re giving ourselves the best chance that we can to get things right the first time.

Like QUILL, you’re dealing with sensitive topics. Disability, race, gender disparity, the LGBTQ+ community…

Luke Jordan: Exactly. What we are trying to create is so sensitive, and I think there’s a responsibility to make sure that, sure, it’s not going to be perfect, but it at least needs to be done right and respectfully. And I think that requires a lot of time, dedication, commitment to learning the language, to understanding different people, to connecting with different people.

Speaking of these sensitive topics, I want to congratulate you: you’ve embodied inclusivity, in my opinion, starting with the name.

LJ: Well, thank you. The name itself, I love it so much because I think it is an inclusive name and I know that there are other pronouns out there, but it encapsulates everybody. It acknowledges the fact that it’s not a gender binary and we can break free of that. And that is this literal foundation of SheHeThey, no matter what other minorities you represent. It’s just an inclusive term in itself, which is amazing.

Now, on a personal level, with QUILL and your personal outspoken activism; how will SheHeThey play a role in activism as well?

LJ: I’d like to think that everything that we’ll be doing will be a form of activism in the sense that we absolutely will not be doing what the UK government is doing – excluding trans people, nonbinary people, etcetera – for obvious reasons.

It’s absolutely horrible, both where you two are and where QUILL is, the political climates and the oppressive agendas against the LGBTQ+ community.

LJ: It just comes back to that point of: it’s allowing somebody to simply exist and acknowledging that their existence is perfectly valid and they don’t need to explain themselves to anybody. They shouldn’t have to fight for their rights.

And yet.

LJ: And yet. So we will absolutely be doing our part to make sure that we’re in these places to support trans people and anybody else who needs that support.

MA: We won’t be afraid to have an opinion because SheHeThey, I think, will grow to a point where people will look to us to see what SheHeThey has said. It will outgrow us, and we will have to bring other perspectives in with other people with lived experiences.

Which just adds to your dedication to inclusivity – not assuming experiences.

Michael Ayre: No, no. Which is why, while it’s us, what we want to do is create partnerships with organizations, charities, individuals, and make sure that we are getting different perspectives that are different to our own, so that we aren’t solely the only voice coming out of SheHeThey.

Love that. So, what are you feeling as the launch date comes up?

MA: For me, personally, it makes me feel excited, full of pride. There’s no fear attached to SheHeThey. I think as long as we stick to our values and we try and do good, then surely there can’t be anything bad that comes out of this. And you know what? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. That’s okay. But at least we’ll give it a good old try to try to make the world better.

Luke Jordan: For me as well. Just pride. For me as well, it’s a lot of pride, and I don’t know what the right words are, but I just think it’s so incredibly important. … I just think it’s an important message to get out there. An important platform.

You have pride, but no ego.

Michael Ayre: There’s no ego attached to what we do, because if there was ego attached, we wouldn’t be the right people to do this.

What are you hoping to get out of SheHeThey, ultimately?

MA: We now know that we are the people to create this platform, because we’ve identified a need. So, the first thing we want is to create this cycle of positive consumerism and we do see that in our branding. Because what we want to do is offer a space for those people who’ve been looking for something like us, just like we were, or who are learning and learn through SheHeThey and then start to come back and buy things from people who are underrepresented, who are in the minority. And then those businesses are starting to grow because they’re more visible.

That’s very entrepreneurial, but let’s get personal. What do you want to get out of SheHeThey for yourself? You can be selfish.

MA: For me personally, we want to disrupt the industry. So we want to look at other brands and say, you don’t do what we do, so you need to do better and really start to challenge these mainstream brands who make millions, hundreds of millions by feeding into the mainstream narrative. And that has to stop because, look at all of these amazing businesses that sell with SheHeThey, look at the diversity that we represent, and look at these amazing entrepreneurs who you basically have trampled all over.

And you, Luke?

Luke Jordan: To me, it’s about healing the narrative. It’s about healing our society. Society has been fine tuned to only give opportunity and reward a certain kind of person and that needs to be healed. We need to acknowledge that everybody needs representation, everybody is just as needed and wanted, and should be visible, and should be able to be successful, and should be able to thrive. For me, that’s what I hope people get from it.”

Thank you both so much, and I can’t wait for the launch!

Both: Thank you!

Read The Full Profile On Michael Ayre, Luke Jordan, & SheHeThey

luke potts (left, they/he) and michael ayre (right, he/him), founders of shehethey. luke is licking michael's face


Follow Michael Ayre and Luke Jordan on Instagram, and SheHeThey’s website and Instagram.

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Interviews

Jayla Roxx Knows One Thing: She Doesn’t Know Everything

Jayla Roxx sat down for an interview with QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore. They discussed BatMe! Cosmetics‘ release, Roxx’s role as a leader in the LGBTQ+ community, and what’s next for the industry icon.

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Tess: First of all, congratulations! Monday was a big day for you.

Jayla Roxx: Oh my God. It’s been a long time coming. I told y’all I was going to be back. I wanted to make sure that I had the proper time, the planning. I knew what I was going to put out, X, Y, and Z. And believe it or not, I’m already sold out, and it’s not even been a week. Thank you.

Well, you did disappear for eight months…

I think my plan kind of worked about, not even teasing anything, just dropping it. So everybody’s like, “this may happen again. So I’m going to buy 20 pairs, just so I can be stocked up before the migration.” I’m like, thank you, but we’re here to stay for sure. We’re here to stay and we ain’t going nowhere. 

When you and I were talking the first time, you made it clear that this is a resurgence. This isn’t a restart. You’ve been around, you didn’t go anywhere.

I didn’t. I just needed to figure out what the best formula was. And now I have an amazing team that helps me design. We have a new design on our lashes. We have a newer DuraFLEX band, so it ensures longer-lasting wear. I listen to the people and I want to make sure that they feel seen and heard within their products.

batme! lashes from the velvet collection by jayla roxx

We also talked community, and you brought yours back. Though, like you, they didn’t go anywhere. Most brands relaunch and have to start up again, and you’re sold out.

I appreciate it. Even some of the Drag Race girls have been buying their stuff, so I’m like, oh, thank you. It just shows that people respect me and the brand. So that’s why I said, when I stopped almost eight months ago, I didn’t lose any Instagram followers. They didn’t say, “oh, fuck this.” They were just like, “okay, we’ll wait patiently.” And they have, so I’m super excited for them to show their new looks.

All love?

Yeah. Well, I got cussed out a little bit. They’re like, “finally!” but it’s all out of love. Honestly, it makes me feel like Rihanna when they keep asking her for an album. She’s like, “leave me alone. I’m going to continue to sell my underwear and makeup until I decide to release the album.” And that’s how I am. She’s a Pisces too. I’m a Pisces, and we just do it when we want to.

I’m going to include an entire analysis on Pisces.

I’m interested in it too, so let me know what you find out.

I’ve got you covered. So, you are releasing these amazing lashes – would you call it a collection?

Yes. “Velvet” was just one pair originally, but now we have two or three different redesigns of that same pair. So now I’ve created that to be this full collection. And they’re customizable. You can cut them, you can shape them however you want.

It gives people a sense of individuality.

Exactly. So people can feel like, “well, I’m wearing those too, but you’re not wearing them like me.” This just gives everyone a customizable way to find themselves within those products and be able to truly stand out.

Would you say you put yourself into the products? Most creators do, but I’m curious about how it goes for you.

I always try to make sure that I stay true to my word: if I’m not wearing it, I’m not selling it. So people already know this is the look. If I’m selling something that makes people look good, then people will trust my instinct. Honestly, I’m glad that I did the resurgence because not only did the products go through a resurgence, but so did I.

batme! cosmetics eyeshadow donut palette by jayla roxx

How so?

Back when I started, there were people who didn’t identify as any [gender], but they didn’t have the language for it. Nor did I have the language for it. But as we push forward and realize there’s over – since I do casting and stuff, now – over 15 different genders, I’m like, “well, shit. I have a lot of learning to do.” You know what I mean? And that’s kind of why I took that break: to also learn about the people that I’m talking to. 

Isn’t it interesting how our language has evolved in the community? I mean, we went from LGBT to LGBTTIQQ2SA, and I have no doubt it’s going to continue to grow and evolve.

Right? I can’t say LGBT because that’s still marginalizing people. So I changed gender-less to gender-free. So it’s a gender-free cosmetic brand now because there’s nothing “less” about gender. We have to be free with who we are regardless of how we show up. So when I say made for everybody, it’s for everyone.

That’s one thing that I really appreciate you saying, because when we had our first conversation, I said to you, “well I was researching trans beauty owners and I couldn’t find any. So how do you say, ‘I’m trans and I’m awesome and buy my shit?’ You went, “ah, no, it’s about the quality, and I just so happen to be trans.” And I really debated putting that in because I was like, do I want to put myself in that position? And I went, “fuck yeah I do,” because here I am claiming I know this community and I just made a total mistake.

I’m glad that you were able to put that in there because I was really like, oh, she’s being vulnerable. And that’s one of the things that people really, really, really, really, really, really don’t want to be: vulnerable.

It’s scary to admit you don’t know something when you’re supposed to know so much. You get that.

Definitely. I can honestly say that, as a trans person, I don’t know everything. I have to do my due diligence and be non-ignorant as a person who is a leader of tomorrow and a trailblazer. I can’t do that without knowledge and without knowledge, there is no power. So I think I will always be willing to learn.

That comes back to what I said about how you know who you are. That’s so important in a leader and in a trailblazer and in someone who owns a business. You have to be sure of yourself and be sure that you are capable of and open to learning. I think you’ve done an incredible job at opening the door and starting conversation.

Well, thank you, I’m glad we’re having this interview.

jayla roxx in blue dress posing

Final question before I let you go: I know the release was literally four days ago, but I have to imagine that you’re also looking toward the future already, especially with it being sold out.

Oh my God, please don’t make me do it. Don’t make me do it.

Your mind must be racing.

Oh my God. I don’t know where to go from here. I was like, “well, maybe we can do this. We can do that.” Then I just realized people don’t really want extra shit. They just want to buy the lashes, be happy, and go about their day. So I think we’ll just go with that. Right now I’ll just leave the lashes as they be. And then once I start to see people wanting more and expecting more, then I’ll do more.

You’re just basking in what is. Because people want it.

Yeah. They just want it. So I’m like, okay, let’s just want it. I don’t have to do the whole, “oh, let’s do this, and let’s have flowers.” No, girl, they just want the stuff, just give it to them clean and simple, straight to the point.

I’m just saying, I haven’t seen a single TikTok ad.

There are no extra TikToks and Instagrams and stuff like that. They just buy the stuff, girl, because that’s what they want. We’re entertainers. We don’t care about the instructional videos. We don’t need that shit. We don’t need the extra brushes and lash curlers and blah, blah. We already have that shit. So I’m like, alright, let’s just keep it straight to the point. It’s user-accessible. Buy it on the way out.

I think a lot of people put on the bells and whistles, like you said, but the bells and whistles here are you, Jayla Roxx. You ARE the bells and whistles of BatMe!.

I always tell people, “it’s the most interested people that are the most interesting.”

You dropped that knowledge on me the first time we talked, and I went, “well, there it is.”

That’s how you know I haven’t changed my mantra: because I still say that to this very day. With everything that I do, it’s interest. And that makes me more interesting.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me. I’ll let you get to set. You’re a queen. I’m so, so proud of you. So proud of you.

Thank you so much, and I’m so proud of you, too. Talk soon.

Read The Full Profile On Jayla Roxx Now

jayla roxx makeup
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Beauty Interviews Makeup Profiles

Jeff Parshley Does It All In The Name Of Equality – And He Won’t Stop

Jeff Parshley is a man of many talents.

He co-founded the NOH8 Campaign; he created his own brand, NOW Nail Polish, which recently collaborated with TikTok-er Johnny Kritsberg; and he is an outspoken activist for the LGBTQ+ community.

So, naturally, the first question I ask is a big one: “Who are you, Jeff?”

Anyone else would stutter, but Parshley doesn’t hesitate. He launches directly into who he is. And apparently, it all started by accident.

And perhaps it did begin as an accident. Perhaps he did fall into becoming a founder, an entrepreneur, an activist, all by accident.

But clearly, Jeff Parshley knows who he is at his core. And it’s this knowledge, this comfort with himself, this belief in himself, that has led him to take on so many roles at once – and thrive.

So, how was it an accident? Well, it’s kind of a funny story, actually, and Parshley has given me the honor of telling it.


jeff parshley smiling at camera. he's holding his bowtie between two fingers with mint green now nail polish on

Parshley was born in a small town in New Hampshire, where there wasn’t much LGBTQ+ representation.

And while it’s hard for me to believe, Parshley says he didn’t know who he was at the time. He struggled with his identity before he eventually landed in West Hollywood.

There, Parshley became enmeshed in the LGBTQ+ community, joining rallies and protests for equality. The protests became more consistent, more passionate, as Proposition 8 – a proposition against gay marriage in California – was placed on the ballot in 2008.

“Even when it was up for a vote, we were thinking, ‘oh, there’s no way.’” Marriage equality was already legal; the idea of reversing such a fundamental right for the LGBTQ+ community seemed impossible.

But within 24 hours, the community had experienced a slew of bittersweet emotions: Barack Obama was elected president, and Proposition 8 had passed.

“[Co-founder Adam Bouska] and I started taking part in the rallies and the protests. … We got home one night and we were just thinking to ourselves, ‘how can we speak out beyond that?’ Because we felt like the protests were so powerful,” Parshley explains, discussing the collective positive reactions: people clearing restaurants, traffic stopping, tenants supporting the rallies from their apartment windows. “Everybody supporting the protests, it made us want to do more.”

Parshley recalls the numerous signs he saw reading, “I’m a victim of H8.”

“Proposition 8 was kind of labeled ‘Proposition H8’ here, because it was writing discrimination into the law. We started seeing profile photos pop up that said, ‘I’m a victim of H8,’ and [Bouska and I] related to that message and understood it.’”

However, you had to click on the profile pictures in order to identify the person holding the sign. Bouska and Parshley wanted to take it a step further – “we [wanted to] send that same message, but show our faces; put our faces to it and show who we were, show who the victim was, and show how we felt.” So, at one in the morning following a Proposition 8 protest, they pulled out a camera and snapped what are now iconic pictures of each other.

jeff parshley original noh8 campaign photo adam bouska original noh8 campaign photo

“We thought, ‘you know what? We should get other people to take these photos.’ …. We had a group of nine to start the collage, our closest friends. And we just said, ‘hey, listen, this is the photo that we took the other night, and would you want to take one in support of the message?’”

The answer was, of course, a resounding yes. But it didn’t end at the nine friends. “They took one, and then their friends took one, and then their friends took one, and then it just started snowballing into more than we ever thought.’”

The snowball led to a discussion: “We realized, ‘okay, now there’s something here. People are getting involved. They’re using it as a tool to create dialogue. What can we do here?’” Looking over the more than 1,000 photos inspired by the initial two they had taken that first night, Parshley and Bouska founded the NOH8 Campaign.

“We call ourselves accidental activists … We just wanted to speak out to our friends and our family and that’s the way we did it. … It’s just crazy that NOH8 has become what it has.”

Yes, there are celebrities involved in the NOH8 campaign, but “the foundation of this campaign is everyday people,” says Parshley. And while celebrities like Miley Cyrus may have significant influence in comparison to the “everyday” person, Parshley hopes to remind followers that, “we all have influence. … If we can all use that in a way to create change, then let’s do it.”

And the tape? “I felt like I was silenced. I felt like my rights were taken away. I felt like my voice didn’t matter. My right was up to a majority vote.”

Parshley, who has been very animated since we said hello, slows down. “Even if all of the people in the LGBTQ+ community supported ‘No on Prop 8,’ if nobody else does, the majority wins.“

Parshley looks directly at me, making sure I understand the importance of this to him; to an entire blindsided community. “One-hundred percent of the LGBTQ+ community can support [‘No on Prop 8’]. But if the majority doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.”

And tragically, he’s absolutely right.


When your identity is under attack and your rights are being stripped, you fight back. That’s all you can do.

So, it makes sense when Parshley calls himself an “accidental activist” again. It wasn’t a title he strived for or worked at – he simply wanted to make a statement, and that statement turned into a global campaign.

a family having taken a photo to support the noh8 campaign

“For the last 14 years, [the NOH8 Campaign has] been championing equality in all aspects of what we do. We encourage equality across the board for everything. And it’s not just about marriage equality, because people showed us that it’s more than that,” Parshley says, reflecting on the millions that have supported the campaign. “They showed us that the campaign means so much more than what we ever even thought it meant.”

COVID sidelined the events-based organization for two years, but they’re getting back into the swing of things easily. “We just did a 10-city tour across to Atlanta and then back [to California],” Parshley says; I know this because, when I held the interview with Kritsberg regarding their collaboration (more on that later), Parshley was on that tour.

“We’ve always said that if people still come, we’ll keep going,” Parshley explains.

“And people still come. So it’s not something that we think has an ending because … now, it’s still, if not more, needed.” He references the anti-trans and Don’t Say Gay bills. “In Florida … we can’t even learn about our own education or history,” Parshley expresses, shaking his head. “There’s a lot of awareness still to be raised.”

It’s for this reason Parshley wants to emphasize the broader goals of the NOH8 Campaign: “We’ve had to explain … ‘this campaign is not solely a campaign for marriage equality, this is a campaign for no hate, this is a campaign for equality, this is a campaign for anti-discrimination and anti-bullying, this is a campaign to bring people together.”

a couple with tape and noh8 on their faces in support of the noh8 campaign

Parshley admits that he never saw this exponential growth coming, but that he knew it was going to be bigger than Proposition 8.

When marriage equality was signed into federal law during the Obama administration in 2012, Parshley and the NOH8 team saw it as an opportunity to expand internationally.

“It’s crazy to think that with all of the different languages and the different cultures, just how many people still can relate to the message of hate. Or how many people could relate to the message of standing up against it. In all of those countries, we had people come.”

The reaction and participation during the first international rounds “showed us that we cannot stop this, because people want to get involved. We have a tool that’s creating dialogue, and we want them to use it.”

Two years after COVID placed a stop on travel, Parshley is excited to launch, in some ways, the campaign’s rebirth. “A lot of people know the meaning of the photo,” he says. NOH8 has begun offering photo shoots, ways for supporters to join the movement and show that they are “proof of a safe space.” By participating, others see your photo, which can “help people that might need somebody to talk to gravitate toward you,” Parshley says.

And just like that, silence comes into the picture. But this silence, the one we’re talking about, isn’t ignorance or cowardice: it’s solidarity. The full circle from that first photo 14 years ago is beautiful.


It’s here that I mention that QUILL is my own form of activism; a response to a former workplace that silenced my bisexuality.

I use this to segue to NOW, the nail polish brand Parshley founded.

now nail polish in a rainbow splatter pattern

I ask if it was connected to NOH8, and Parshley laughs. “The story is actually quite similar to how the NOH8 Campaign started.” AKA: kind of an accident.

Parshley had followed men on Instagram who were wearing nail polish, and he had always found it to be “cool.” But when he sat next to a woman-presenting person on a plane with short fingernails, who just so happened to be wearing teal polish, it clicked in Parshley’s mind. And in 2019, Parshley started wearing nail polish. It wasn’t to make a political statement – “I thought it looked cool. Literally, I just thought it looked cool.”

People flocked to him, complimenting his nails everywhere he went. And the same thing happened: “I saw somebody with nails that looked like mine, I painted mine, somebody saw my nails that looked like theirs… I just went, ‘man, this is happening all over again.’”

Parshley tried every type – “glitter, no glitter, flat, matte, I was trying everything. I was so new to it.”

jeff parshley wearing fur jacket and mint green now nail polish

But it was one day in Walgreens that he noticed he was crouching “so I was a little smaller. I could feel myself hiding.” He made his polish choice quickly after checking that the coast was clear. But it ignited something in him.

“At one point, I just thought, ‘you know what? There needs to be a brand that can advertise to everybody.” Keep in mind, this was before the Harry-Styles, Lil-Yachty, MGK world, where cisgender men are founding nail polish lines and creating a mainstream alternative look for men. Nail polish was still very much considered a women’s product. But Parshley, who had fallen in love with OPI’s quality, was determined to change that.

With the NOH8 Campaign growing in numbers, he DM’d OPI on Instagram.

“I said, ‘hey, OPI, I’m Jeff. I created the NOH8 Campaign, and I started wearing nail polish recently. I just feel like more guys and more men are going to be wearing this in the future. … If you’re interested in a collaboration, I’d love to work with you.” He pitched a small unisex line, just a few colors, with advertisements featuring both men’s and women’s hands.

OPI read it – Instagram lets you know if the recipient has “Seen” your message – and didn’t respond.

Rather than be discouraged, Parshley saw an opportunity. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m just going to create my own.’” And, having already started the NOH8 Campaign, he was no stranger to building a brand from the ground up. He found the top three polish manufacturers in Southern California, decided on the bottle design – “it was important to me that they weren’t like grandma’s nail polish, what you typically see in your grandma’s medicine cabinet,” he laughs – and tried to think up a name.

“I went, ‘there’s got to be a better way to say ‘unisex’ than writing ‘unisex.’” He wrote “Not Only Women” on a piece of paper – he didn’t want it to be geared toward just men or just women, he explains – and realized the acronym was “NOW.” And just like that, the brand name was set in stone.

woman in red dress holding red now nail polish by jeff parshley

I mention the logo and how it represents all genders. Parshley emphasizes how important it was that the logo didn’t lean toward men or women, that it encompassed all identities. “I’m not saying this is a line for men. This is not a line for only men, it’s a line for everybody. … I say it as in nail polish, but it’s really everything.” He throws heels, lipstick, and handbags out as other examples.

“It blows me away that these companies will continue to only market to women,” he says, mentioning that even OPI’s male models’ hands look feminine.

It’s a deceptive, if not almost dishonest, way of marketing a product to all genders… without saying it’s for all genders, creating a division between consumers within the beauty world. (Sound familiar, devoted QUILL readers?)

So, Parshley says, NOW isn’t a gendered line. “It’s great that there’s [men’s] lines. … [But] it’s important for me as a brand to promote equality,” he explains, “because that’s what I stand for. And to do it in a way that is truly equal – not just saying, ‘oh, we need to be equal, so here’s the man’s line,’ but ‘we need to be equal, so here’s a line for everybody.’”

Parshley says he sees many products this way, which is what inspired him to reach out to eyeliner guru and tutorial creator Kritsberg (@okjohnnyboy on social media, where he has more than one million followers combined).

“I worked with Johnny to expand into eyeliner because he’s a man wearing eyeliner, and that’s not common, and I think that it should be. I think anybody that wants to wear it should be able to,” Parshley says adamantly. “We’re going to market [the eyeliner] to everybody, and we’re going to help everybody see that, if you want to wear this product, then it’s for you.”

okjohnnyboy and now polish eyeliner pen

And eyeliner is just the next step; Parshley is already thinking toward the future, looking at eyebrow gels, as well as lip tints that can be used as blush. “There’s a lot of stuff that I think anybody could and should use if it’s going to make them look or feel good.” I agree wholeheartedly – that’s why QUILL exists – and Parshley acknowledges that it’s small brands that are going to make a difference.

“I think the more we can talk about it being for everybody, the more that bigger brands will reconsider how they’re doing it. … It’s not going to happen overnight, obviously,” he concedes. And of course it won’t – the beauty industry has made the concept of gender a controversial statement when paired with lashes and lipstick – but it’s brands like Parshley’s NOW Polish that will change the landscape.

“I’m hoping to force brands to do it, which then will force society to unlearn that these are gender exclusive products, because that’s just not how the world works anymore,” Parshley states.

“Like Johnny said in the last interview, I want to be able to walk into a Target or Sephora or an Ulta and see eyes like mine or hands like mine or lips like mine, and we don’t see that yet.”

I think about how, when I walk into Sephora, everything is marketed toward me. I can’t think of the last time I saw a kiosk with a man wearing eyeliner. When I was younger, I never thought about it, and that realization is the twist of the knife in me.


I cap my interviews at 35 minutes; it’s been 45 with Parshley, and I’ve apologized profusely after he’s answered each question.

But Parshley is quick to say “it’s okay, I’m fine,” each time.

I know he’s busy, so I give him The Final Big Question: what does he hope to see in 2022 and 2023?

“A small one would just be to continue to expand NOW Polish, and to add more colors and more products and build a reputation in the community of the quality. It’s not just a one-off nail polish that we’ve created,” he explains. “We’ve tried to make it the best. And any other products that we will make, we’ll try to make those the best, too.”

Quality is critical to Parshley, but it’s the marketing that he’s most focused on right now – for both NOW and for other brands, especially as Pride Month comes. “I just want to see other companies realize that there’s more to their demographic than they might know. To see some of them utilize them more than just in June. … I feel as though it’s inauthentic,” he says, regarding brands capitalizing on Pride.

black man with afro wearing periwinkle now nail polish by jeff parshley

I comment on how brands throw up palettes in June, then cut the price by 50% the minute July hits. I joke that brands don’t realize the LGBTQ+ community exists for more than 30 days, and Parshley nods in agreement. “It’s insane to me that they get away with it.”

He also hopes that established brands will take steps in the right direction with their advertising. “They’re the ones with the massive influence, and the massive following as far as their products go, and they’re creating the stigma … in society that makeup is for women.”

Parshley believes changing marketing plans won’t just benefit the brands – it will benefit society, as well.

The man wearing lipstick down the street won’t be punched in the mouth, for example. So, while Parshley hopes NOW grows to these brands’ levels, he hopes the major brands will lead the charge no matter what. After all, he says, it’s simple.

“When I’m in [stores], I’m buying women’s products, in my opinion, and I don’t like that. But I do it because it’s not a woman’s product, it’s just marketed that way,” he says, acknowledging the insecurity and the self-assuredness that comes with breaking gender binaries. “I understand that, but not everybody does.” For example, in small towns like the one he grew up in, people can’t imagine makeup being for men or nonbinary people.

nonbinary person holding now's purple polish with makeup on

Then he says the magic words: “All it takes is a picture.”

Parshley continues his thoughts – that by changing advertising with a picture, you’re changing an entire industry. One brand truly can completely turn the beauty industry upside-down without saying a word, just using a picture of a man – and I reflect on how this is exactly where NOH8 started: a picture.

Parshley is many things, but he is the embodiment of a picture speaking a thousand words. Maybe a couple million. Or maybe nothing but the initial thought that spurred his accidental activism: “I hope that changes.”

As the wise Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I firmly believe that Jeff Parshley is an extremely active part of this change, change that will last – through NOW Polish, through his collaborations, through the NOH8 Campaign, through his determination — and I’m confident it will not be by accident.

jeff parshley wearing black nail polish in front of a pink background

Thank you to Jeff Parshley for his time and insight. You can find Jeff on Instagram and Twitter, the NOH8 Campaign on their website and Instagram, and NOW Nail Polish on their website and Instagram.


All photos, including NOH8 Campaign photos, by co-founder Adam Bouska.

Categories
Beauty Interviews Makeup Profiles

A Love Letter to Fluide Founder Laura Kraber; Love, Tess

The following is a lover letter to Laura Kraber, inspired by QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess’ appreciate and admiration for the Fluide founder.


Dear Laura Kraber,

When I started QUILL, I had a mission: to destigmatize beauty. 

It was an important mission. My past employer was all about performative activism – post about LGBTQ+ news and products during Pride Month, then include it here and there throughout the year… and delete pitches and “irrelevant” sections in articles referencing the community and the problems we face behind the scenes.

But who would believe in me? Who would see this mission and go, “yes, yes, me too?” I was a beauty editor, but I was, in some ways, a faux beauty editor; I had been thrown into the position, not placed in it.

So, when we had our conversation, and you expressed that you were not a product of the beauty world when starting Fluide, I felt relief. Like I’d found someone who understood: the point wasn’t just makeup, the point was that everyone should be able to feel beautiful without worrying about their gender identity.

You told me that, in a way, you “impose” makeup on the LGBTQ+ community due to the lack of direct connection. It’s a vehicle, but not a natural one.

But with QUILL, I’ve learned that it isn’t an imposition – it’s welcomed warmly, because for some, they couldn’t find a safe space that created products for them. There’s the man who just wanted to try glitter eyeliner in his brows, the enby who’d never painted their nails and wanted to try a large range of colors, the questioning teenager who didn’t know where to start and settled on the subtle Universal Gloss.

So, no, it’s FAR from an imposition – what you have created is a gift to the world, to my community, and we are eternally grateful.

Your wisdom in our interview is immortalized in a transcript. And while I didn’t include every word in the published piece, I’ll keep the unedited transcript to reflect on when I’m having difficult days, days when I feel like what I’m doing is silly or that I’m incapable of running a beauty site. Because you and Fluide? You’re proof that the space needs filling, and it needs filling now. And if it takes being filled by someone who isn’t a beauty guru, who doesn’t do their makeup every hour of the day, then so be it — it needs to be done by someone.

Knowing you has made me better, Laura. More compassionate, more thoughtful. I no longer ask “how does this benefit me?” I ask “how can this benefit my audience?” You’ve ingrained in me that, when you help others in this way, that’s how you help yourself – not the other way around.

So thank you, Laura. I will forever see you as a mentor, and I cannot thank you enough for your kindness (which includes letting me try out so much Fluide makeup — it’s my fav!).

With so much love,

Tess Aurore

a picture of laura kraber, fluide founder, at center; to the left and right, photos of tess wearing various fluide products

Read the Full Conversation with Laura Kraber Now

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Beauty Interviews Profiles

Fluide Founder Laura Kraber x QUILL: The Full Conversation

Tess Aurore, QUILL Editor-in-Chief : This is just a conversation, but Laura, I would love to start with: how did you and Fluide start?

Laura Kraber, Fluide Founder: I had been working in e-commerce at a health and wellness startup and working on community building through blogging. I was inspired by content marketing and the seamlessness of that relationship between a mission-based and purpose-driven brand and the consumers and advocates of the brand values.

At the time, as a parent, I was deeply impressed with teenagers in my life — they were leading the way in creating a more expansive understanding of gender identity, and through their engagement and activism, creating a worldwide movement and paving the way for everyone who comes after them. The genesis of the Fluide brand is my personal admiration for the people who are putting their lives on the line to create this societal shift and create a more inclusive world.

So you weren’t in the beauty world.

No, I had been working in a niche-y e-commerce field, mostly targeting women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who wanted to be a little bit healthier, who had disposable income and who were interested in spending it on health and wellness — supplements, cleanse programs and healthy foods.

Then what inspired a switch?

Well, while I was doing that, which I really loved, I was also parenting teens in New York City, and I was shocked that there were no beauty brands that celebrated gender expansive identities. Although I knew very little about the beauty industry, in knowing young people, I felt strongly that there SHOULD be a a beauty brand on the market that modeled self acceptance and self confidence and that valorized gender fluidity and queer identities. 

Makeup was a DIY thing that people were having a lot of fun with and experimenting with. And I thought it reflected some of these ideas around gender expression and that it’s changeable, it’s fluid, you can take it on, put it on, take off, every day can be different. 

“Fluid.”

Exactly. 

But again, it was the beauty industry – not exactly the health and wellness, supplements industry.

It was sort of a radical idea for me, and I was very naive. Like I said, I did not come from the beauty industry. I did not know what I was doing. So I teamed up with this incredible designer who became a co-founder, who created the brand identity and really helped shape what the brand would look and feel like, and we launched in January of 2018.

I mean, it was a radical idea to come up with in 2018. The gender binary was kind of set in stone.

Yes. The conversations were still so backward; it was four years ago, and yet Target was just shifting from blue and pink to yellow.

And since then, a lot of the retailers have kind of broken down that boy-girl marketing that they used to do, but it seemed unthinkable even five years ago. 

We didn’t even touch upon this, but: why did you feel the need to do this? Again, not much beauty industry experience, and you ran with makeup.

Makeup may not have been the perfect vehicle or expression of the brand concept, but I felt like makeup played an important role in young teens’ lives and identities in a way that, when I was growing up in the eighties, was more likely to be bands and music and fashion. 

For so long, makeup has been perceived as an instrument of an outdated and patriarchal beauty ideal—women wore makeup to improve themselves, to make themselves acceptable to a standard of, often white and cis, female beauty which few could achieve. To locate makeup outside of this paradigm of cis-female beauty is incredibly liberating and it opens up the potential for makeup to be empowering for all people, rather than a representation of all the ways you don’t measure up. 

I was at that stage of life where I knew my time was limited, and I wanted to play a role in supporting young people in this understanding of gender as much more expansive and beauty as much more inclusive.

Some may wonder why cisgender people, like you and myself, take this so seriously.

I felt that, even as a cisgender person myself, patriarchal culture doesn’t serve anybody, and none of us really win. Sometimes an easier way to break all these inherited old-fashioned ideas of gender, is to break it down from the beginning and really question what gender is all about.

And that was what younger generations were really beginning to do – question and challenge the notion of gender’s status quo.

So, I was sitting there selling vitamins, but to me, focusing more on young people and supporting them in some way seemed more important. Starting a brand focused on gender expansive identities gave me the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the shift in our culture regarding gender expression, which felt more worthy and valuable.

So you teamed up with your co-founder, and then what?

We were both very passionate and moved quickly to develop the brand identity and create the launch line — which was tiny! We raised a small amount of money from friends and family to fund the initial product line and pay for our first photoshoot. 

It was interesting that at the time, it was hard to convey the brand concept — everyone thought, ‘oh, this is a brand for trans people or a men’s makeup line,’ or, like, ‘what are you trying to do here?’ But to us, it was really clear what we were trying to build. Over time, we were able to get [our vision] out there through the simple act of representing people across a spectrum of gender expressions and identities in a beautiful and joyful way.

And your first product was your Universal Gloss, I believe? I’m a huge fan of it, especially the multi-use aspect. But a lot of brands would just call it “Lip Gloss.” Or “Unisex.”

One of our first Pride campaigns was dedicated to the idea of gender identity as a unique constellation for every person, the stars aligning in a night sky to express your ‘otherworldly self.’ Our use of galaxy imagery and nomenclature in our products and packaging emerged from this campaign and the belief that gender is your own personal self-expression.

My partner, who stepped down about a year into the business, came up with the Universal Gloss. We both really loved the idea of products that are multi-purpose, and we later developed the Universal Crayon, Universal Liner and Universal Balm, which are designed for lip-eye-face and can be used in myriad ways.

But multi-functional products can hurt the bottom line.

Yeah, but we didn’t think that way. We were just thinking, “oh, this is great value.”

Fluide was not about having that $30 lipstick that you save and save for. It was more of an impulse buy, something that everyone could access that would make them feel seen and appreciated, and that wasn’t a huge strain on the pocket.

Although we have always been committed to non-toxic ingredients, we also knew we weren’t going to be a brand that featured only organic or botanical ingredients. We wanted to be accessible and have a long shelf life and not have to refrigerate our products or require extra steps, so our products do include a non-paraben preservative. But parabens and phthalates were two classes of ingredients that we knew from the beginning we wanted to exclude.

Accessibility is so important. And one thing Jayla Roxx mentioned was that accessibility also had to do with building community and a base.

I’m always eager to learn from our customers and discover what people are interested in. I’m always interested in how they think we should grow or expand. and how we can best serve our community.

I think a lot of people ask the question, why should I help? What is going to benefit me by helping this person out? And you asked the question how.

We are a community-driven company that’s more about the ideas of our brand and what we stand for and the campaigns we do. And the light that we shine on underrepresented faces and voices in the beauty industry. ​​We’re trying to showcase and celebrate the kind of people who have never been in a beauty campaign before and to show young people today, kids who are growing up. Yes, you can be front and center.

It can also help to foster community in person, but COVID sort of put a wrench in that.

Pre-COVID, we did a lot of events in New York, which is where we’re based. And you can often go in and do a beauty day or some kind of giveaway or tutorial with the makeup artist at retailers that carry your brand. So it would be really nice now that the world is opening back up to pick top cities where there’s a great LGBTQ community, whether that’s San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Chicago. 

It’s just so fun to actually meet people, because when you’re running a digital business… I mean, right now, we’re sitting in our room with our cats on our laptops and it is easy to feel disconnected.

I do feel that way a lot. And, you know, you have Kylie Jenner pop ups and what not, and people get in line for 24 hours to get a lip gloss. But that doesn’t really build community. It builds, “I got the new Kylie Jenner lip gloss.” I love that your events are for building community. 

It’s interesting. When I was working in health and wellness, the community that we were targeting, they came together. You could say, “yes, these are people who want to lose little weight or be healthier, or optimize their health, whether it’s a cleanse program or taking probiotics.” But it related to the product, whereas talking about the LGBTQ+ community or the gender expansive community, there’s no real relationship with makeup there. It’s a relationship that we’re imposing.

Many of our customers buy from us because they like our brand values and what we stand for. So that’s an interesting juxtaposition with cosmetics-oriented consumers, whom I learned about through our partnership with IPSY, the subscription box company, whose subscribers are generally cosmetics fanatics. So we’re always asking, ‘what does our community want?’

You must feel lucky to have LGBTQ+ community members who love makeup on your team of three.

I feel very lucky. Our team is our Chief Creative Officer, Dev Doee, who is a beauty influencer, who is a drag artist, who’s a performer and dancer and also runs our product development because they’re genius at makeup and know and love makeup. And that has been a huge benefit, because that’s not my specialty at all.

Also on our team is our Director of Marketing, Alec, who is just incredibly talented and creative and hard-working and manages all our marketing, from social media to ads to email and more. Alec also does a little bit of everything and is also a photographer and poet and creative. So we do bring a lot of different talents to the table.

CCO Dev Doee on left; Director of Marketing Alec Sutherland on right

In some ways I’m sure having a small team can be beneficial. You have close-knit relationships.

It’s amazing what you can achieve with two or three people using today’s tools. We’re on Shopify. We have a third-party logistics warehouse that ships all the orders out. It all seamlessly connects. We can do drop shipping, so we’re on a few other platforms.

There’s just so many ways in which digital media and digital marketing can help with getting a message out there, selling a product, starting a small business from nothing, keeping your business running. It is pretty wonderful, and I don’t take that for granted at all. That’s what’s made this all possible, really.

Alright, I know I have to let you go, but I have two more questions. First and foremost: what do you hope to see in terms of gender norms and gender identities in the beauty industry in 2022?

From my perspective, one of the big guiding lights of the brand is the quote from Marian Wright Edelman, who was the Children’s Defense Fund founder: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

In simple terms, we want to make sure our community feels seen — as well as appreciated and beautiful. There is a lot of power in an image. I think we are seeing change in the way other companies are representing different gender identities. Milk Makeup has always consistently featured diverse models in their campaigns and we’re seeing increasing diversity in representation across the beauty industry.

One thing I think is that it stems from who’s behind the camera, behind the campaigns.

When people ask me, “what do you recommend that brands do to be authentic, in terms of their efforts with diversity?” I think it’s a lot of what happens behind the camera — not just hiring diverse models. Who are the people behind the scenes? Who are the people being paid? Who are the people designing the photoshoots and coming up with the product?”

I think the beauty industry is an interesting case study in and of itself around some of these issues, and the calls for diversification and the calls for more equity have changed the industry in the last couple years.

Finally, what are you most excited about for Fluide in 2022? You, as Laura.

This is our fourth year in business, so I feel really excited about how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned. We just launched on Walmart’s site a couple months ago. We’re beginning to get a lot of interest from more traditional retailers that I wouldn’t have expected. They’re focusing on indie beauty and representing new faces and voices, which offers us an opportunity to get out there. 

I feel like we’re at a place where we can come into our own and continue to create the beautiful imagery and videos and products that we love to make, but have a little bit of a bigger stage and not have to work so hard in getting the word out.

Is there anything you’re hoping to eventually add to the Fluide lineup?

Everyone generally asks for complexion products, which we haven’t been able to afford yet, given the shade range that we would want to offer and the costs associated with that. I think complexion products could really be a game changer for us, so yes, there’s a lot to look forward to this year!

Laura, you answered with “we” and “how can” again. This is why you’re great. Thank you so much.

Thank you!

Read The Full Profile On Laura Kraber Now

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Beauty Hair Interviews

Nora Schaper Speaks On Growing A Small Brand With An Innovative, Earth-Saving Product

An abridged conversation between HiBAR co-founder Nora Schaper and QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore.

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Tess: Nora, how are you doing? Thanks so much for being here.

Nora: Well, thank you for the invitation. How fun.

I think we can just jump right in and start with: tell me the story. I mean, you had all of these people come together with the same idea. How did that come to be?

We were all parents at the same school. Having kids, you really realize you want to make the world a better place for everybody, but especially for your children. My husband, Jay, and I had a previous business; we were making bath bombs and soaps. And while we were doing that, we were realizing we could formulate so many products and we wouldn’t need a package, or we could use a paper package. We could really make a big difference.

So you and Jay were the first co-founders. How did you rope the other two in?

I cornered Ward [Johnson] in the school parking lot to consult with Jay and I. He came by our house a few days later. The first thing he asked is: “what’s your why? Why are you doing this?” And we said, well, we think we can eliminate plastic. His face changed. And he said, “that is such an incredible mission and I need to be part of that.” So the three of us started working together.

And Dion [Hughes]?

Jay and I went to a housewarming party for another friend from school, and Dion was there, and he’d just come back from a trip to Mexico where he was on a remote beach. He said that they’d go out in the morning and rake the property line, and at the end of the property line, it was just plastic everywhere. He looked at all the plastic bottles in his shower, and he thought, “I’m part of the problem.”

So when we ran into him at the house warming party and he asked what we were doing, we said, we’re working with Ward, and we’re trying to eliminate plastic. He said, “oh my gosh, I need to be a part of that.”

Meant to be.

Yeah. The four of us banded together and we started talking about how we were going to do this. And we landed on haircare as being our first place to start, since shampoo and conditioner bottles are the main thing that are in everybody’s showers. 

Founders of hibar

You started this trend, this conversion from plastic to solid bars.

We’re really different from what’s on the market right now. And there’s been a lot more entry into the market, but we created the category. And now more and more people are entering the category, which is fantastic, because that’s really how we’re going to eliminate the most plastic.

I mean, the biggest part is having a great product. But you’ve also made it accessible.

It’s funny: when we said we were going on a grocery shelf at $12 or $12.95, people said that’s way over-priced, $10 is max for a grocery shelf. And we thought, well, honestly, we’re a premium product. Our ingredient deck is like a $30 bottle of shampoo, but it doesn’t have the water. Plus, our bars last as long as three bottles of shampoo. So it’s an amazing value.

And on top of that, your scents are gender-neutral – that was one of the first things I noticed. It makes it universal. Was that a conscious choice, so there was a broader reach?

It really was. People were telling us, “women are not going to use this product, you should just focus on men’s bars that they can use all over their body and on their hair.” But we really knew that to eliminate the most plastic, everybody needs to be able to use this bar. And specifically, we have to make sure that women will use the bar, because women are still 90% of the people, I want to say, who purchase our product, whether it’s just women using it or not.

Another thing I noticed is that you actually have a fragrance-free set. Every Saturday, QUILL writes about gender-neutral, fragrance free, and/or unisex products, and we’ve actually featured HiBAR for your fragrance free options. I was just wondering what led to including that, because in my research, not many places offer a fragrance free product.

[Our products weren’t] really highly-scented to begin with. And we thought, “our best channel is in the natural market, and there are so many people that have sensitivity to fragrances, and there’s a lot of bad stuff hidden in fragrances. If we really want to be inclusive again, we should offer something that is fragrance free.” So we decided to just roll it out in our Moisturize formula. 

hibar fragrance free shampoo and conditioner bars

Your new Face Wash bars are also fragrance-free. Speaking of which, you said you never solely intended for HiBAR to be a haircare-only brand. Was the Face Wash in the works for a while?

It was. We took a walk down the aisle in the grocery store and we thought, “everything that’s in plastic is on target for us to reformulate.” We looked at what had the biggest set, because that amounted to the most plastic, plus other products that we thought we could formulate. Face wash was next up on our list.

Was it a big jump, going from hair bars to the face bars?

When we set out for the hair bars, we were talking to manufacturers all across the US, thinking that we would just have somebody else make our product and then we would be educating and selling our product. So, like with our haircare, we thought we’d be able to just find a manufacturer. And then we learned, okay, well nobody’s doing it the way we’re doing it. So we’re having to invent a way to make something in which the ingredients are effective, but not released into water.

It’s completely crazy how we’re learning how to make these products. And they do take a long time, but we have been formulating and working and looking at face washes for probably over a year now.

You’ve put so much time, energy, effort, all of yourselves into these bars, yes. But I’m assuming it’s not just in the bars? Zero-waste is ambitious, there has to be plenty of behind-the-scenes work you don’t talk about.

Yeah, another aspect of our business that really doesn’t get enough limelight to me is that we have the nation’s only water-activated box taper. So we’re modifying our regular fulfillment equipment to work with our mission. We modified our box taper to accommodate water-activated tape, and they had to insert a water-activation piece in there.

And then we also have a pallet wrapper that we modified to have biodegradable pallet wrap, which is a different length than other pallet wraps.

Actually, Urban Outfitters approached us; they wanted us to sell our product to them, but they said it had to be shipped in poly bags. So we said no. And they made a change for our business to be able to put it in a box. I think that’s part of what HiBAR stands for: really inspiring people to think about how they’re doing things and to try something different. 

It really sounds like you have found your why, and you’re chasing it, chasing it, chasing it. 

If you stand by your mission, people will – if they want to be part of that – make accommodations to make it work. We just need to inspire people to make small changes a little bit at a time. And if enough people are doing that, then that’s where change will happen.

I love that. And again, I’m so honored that you would take the time to talk with me, Nora. You all are making a change.

Thanks for the great questions, Tess, I really appreciate it. We’re on our way!

Read The Full Profile On Nora Schaper Now

Nora schaper with hands raised smiling
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Beauty Hair Interviews

Odele Co-Founder Lindsay Holden Talks The Brand’s Inspiration, De-Prioritizing Gender, And What Clean Means To Her

Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore hosted an interview with Odele co-founder Lindsay Holden about the moment she and her co-founders knew they’d struck gold, why gender isn’t a priority to the brand, and what her hopes are for the future.

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Thanks for squeezing me into your schedule, Lindsay. One thing I really want to know: what were your initial thoughts going into creating Odele?

First, I could not understand why I was paying $40 a bottle for my salon-grade shampoo. As a firm believer that crazy good doesn’t have to be crazy expensive, why was there not something that met my high standards as a consumer?

Then, my two co-founders and I are all moms. We looked at our bathrooms and it was bottle madness. It was shampoo for me, shampoo for my partner, whatever kind of shampoo for my kids, the clean kind. 

We asked: how do we just simplify this category? In addition, create something that meets my high standards, but can be used by those who are sharing my shower? We had the backgrounds to do something about it, and it was the right time.

odele's lindsay Holden and her two co-founders, Britta Chatterjee and Shannon Kearney founders

I know I’ve told my past partners to keep their hands to their 20-in-1 body-wash-shampoos.

Literally, there are partners out there trained to ask permission. They ask, “can I use this?” because the unleashing on them for when they use the wrong product is scary.

Before I continue, what do you know about QUILL? I ask because I saw Odele was about being genderless, and QUILL is a gender-inclusive beauty site.

I love what you’re doing, and I totally agree, the idea of this gendering never felt right. Whether it’s advertising or whether it’s how you even shop for things in brick and mortar, there is a men’s section. There is a women’s section. But there’s no difference. There should be no difference. Good hair knows no gender.

One thing I noticed: you have a fragrance free option, which many companies do not have.

We put that through the National Eczema Association Certification, and all of our products are dermatologist tested. We’ve never been drawn to these overly-gendered fragrances. What makes a beautiful fragrance, in my mind, is if anyone can use it, because [fragrance] is such a fluid thing.

Yeah, it’s about need, not fragrance.

We base all of our products on benefit. What should be determining how you shop for our products is your hair type and texture and the benefits that you seek to achieve with your product. It should not be determined by your age, by your gender, by your race.

You now have a body wash, which is so exciting. Were you purposefully marketing it as gender-neutral, like your haircare?

Yeah, it was always intentional. Every product we make is made to be shared, so we often credit our fragrance to being gender-neutral. You’re not going to get this overly-masculine, deep woods, ax-bearing, woodchopper scent. At the same time, you’re not going to get this flower bomb of something.

odele curl products with natural fragrance

No “Wolf Fighter” or “Pink Petunia Garden.”

You just want to enjoy the experience in the shower, but not have it dominate you when you’re done. That’s the filter we always look at our fragrances through. But, again, same as hair type, it’s benefit-driven. What are the most common skin concerns? What are the benefits that those skin concerns seek, whether it is soothing, moisturizing, clarifying?

I know that your products are super clean too, on top of that. What were you looking for when you went with “clean?” Because there are so many definitions floating around.

It’s a hard thing to define, especially in the US right now. It’s always evolving. At the time, we looked to many retailers who are doing great jobs defining what clean is, and we looked at what their clean standards are. We also looked to the EU. We are not out there to be the most natural; we are out there to be the best in terms of performance and efficacy. That’s what we did when it came to defining “clean.”

However, it’s something that we are always monitoring as new information comes out. “This is now bad; it was once good.” We evaluate those, always putting the consumer first.

It’s why people flock to you, even though you’re so new.

It’s fun to think we’re still new; we’re still small. A lot of people discover us on the shelf. They pick us up for our beautiful bottle, the fact we’re clean. They take us home and they love the performance.  It’s that combination of high-quality and performance at the price they just paid [$12] that creates the love.

It even comes down to your containers and packaging; it’s not overtly gender-neutral, but it’s not boring. It’s not as if you chose beige and brown.

We are design junkies. You care so much about your environment. We wanted this to fit into that environment, as opposed to screaming at you every reason to buy it from the shelf. Therefore, the design itself, it was important to us that it looked good.

Odele_full collection plus mini Smoothing

Do you have anything that you’re going to be releasing that you would like to talk about?

We just released a new product, a Moisture Mask. Seasonally, our Air Dry Styler is an awesome hero product. It’s my favorite when there’s also a little humidity out, because then I can coax some texture from my hair. 

You have it all.

The proof is in the goop. We always say, “try us, you will like us. I hope that you will share us with those you love.”

When you look back at his, hers, mine, ours, theirs, it is just too much. A lot of it goes back to just not over complicating things. You should know why you’re choosing your product.

One final question, I must know: where does Odele come from?

Our name is a phonetic translation of the word “å dele” [uh-dell-ee]. In Norwegian, å dele means to share. At its core, the brand name is a reminder of that value.

Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing your time, despite your crazy life.

Thank you!

Read the Full Profile on Odele Co-Founder Lindsay Holden

lindsay holden, co-founder of odele featured photo
Categories
Beauty Interviews Makeup

Breaking Beauty’s Binary: TooD Founder Shari Siadat Sits Down With QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore

QUILL’s Editor-in-Chief, Tess, sat down with TooD founder Shari Siadat to talk about the brand, the beauty industry’s performative inclusivity, and Siadat’s thoughts on being the leader of a movement.

shari siadat of tood sitting on bed

Tess: First of all, thank you, Shari. I’m so glad you’re here. Why don’t you tell me about how you started TooD, how that came about? 

Shari: Yeah. Definitely, we’re a non-binary beauty brand. I started TooD because the universe had a plan for me and I had a plan for the world. Because I think so much pain is erupted as a result of putting people in boxes that they don’t belong.

And creator energy is non-binary. There’s no gender assigned to that. And at TooD, we really believe in giving people the paints to self-express however they want. And when I say non-binary, it doesn’t even have to do with gender.

You mentioned that when you had your daughter, you wanted to instill confidence in her and… I’m sorry, what are your pronouns?

I really just look at myself as a soul. So, the more immersed I am in my work, and I really believe in what I’m trying to do, I don’t really look at a pronoun as a way to identify myself.

Working with QUILL, you learn how deeply people identify with their pronouns. I always like to ask. 

It’s such a good question to ask me. 

One of my things that I’ve always said is it doesn’t feel right to gender things. I think we all have femininity and masculinity in us.

I think that’s what I’m trying to make people understand: You might be a homophobe and you might feel very strongly one way. But whatever gender you are, you possess the other side as well, the yin and the yang, and it’s just repressed. And then it will come out in really toxic ways.

I think I’m here to say that when we are placed in boxes of what femininity should mean, what masculinity should be, and we don’t subscribe to those ideals – that makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us. When, meanwhile, what’s really wrong is these binary rules that were created for us.

There’s toxic masculinity that says “you can’t shave” because it’s “feminine,” for example. Which isn’t even bad, but…

So, there’s so much about hair removal as it relates to gender. We’re all animals with hair on our bodies and who said that we have to remove it if we’re a woman or woman-identified individual?

shari siadat from tood lying in a white tank top with armpit hair showing

Why are we gendering anything in general? But suddenly we’re doing it with inanimate objects, which leads to things such as razors and perfume and all of that.

Who was the person that even created that? I really go back to Indigenous, ancient times where so many cultures prior to the one that we’re immersed in now never had those gender roles defined. And that’s really at the root of humanity.

I kind of want to touch upon the opposite of what we’ve been saying, which is, the beauty industry in many ways has gotten worse, but in many ways it’s gotten better.

Absolutely. And I’m very glad you brought that up, because I don’t want to seem like a naysayer that’s like, “Everything is bad,” because that’s not me. I’m actually like a hype woman to positivity. I really appreciate the moves that have been made in terms of attempting to show inclusivity. I just call bullshit on this sense of a curated diversity and performance inclusivity that I see.

It’s frustrating. And I think it’s nice to have someone who’s angry about it like you are. Angry might not be the word…

Passionate.

Passionate. You’re ready to make a change.

I always get back to “soul” because if you know yourself, then you know how you want to share, and that changes.

Fluidity is honoring that we are all connected to energy and vibration. And so, we have different vibrations and then we want to self-express through our beauty, how we feel. I don’t have to pick.

Yeah. Why do you have to pick?

We don’t have to. I’m forward-thinking in that way to ask, “What is truly non-binary beauty? How do we break the binary open in terms of regions and who makeup is for and how it’s worn?” I really want to start a movement here.

You have this energy that’s just, “Fuck this, I know what I’m doing. This is my purpose. I’m a soul.” And that’s so rare to see in the beauty industry.

I want to take the beauty industry down and I want to call bullshit on an industry that has been created off of creating insecurity for people. Because I have nothing to lose, and that’s what it takes. I don’t do this for the money. I don’t do this for the fame. I don’t do this for my ego. I do this because I actually care.

And it all just stems from the 1920s. If you think about it from a colonial mindset and then the patriarchal mindset, which needs to have one gender define rules for another, you can start to now deconstruct, “Hey, where did my concept of beauty come from?” We have to understand: it has to do with power and control. So, I want to help people free themselves because that’s what TooD comes from. Attitude.

shari siadat looking in mirror

There’s this form of beauty that everyone’s trying to fit into. There’s a mold.

Yeah. TooD was really born out of my own journey of seeking a place to belong to, because I never felt I belonged as an Iranian-American growing up in a very homogenous town [Editor’s Note: Boxborough, Massachusetts], with everyone looking one way: a Eurocentric way of blonde hair, blue eyes, slender features. And when I didn’t fit any of those, it really embedded a loud message to me. One of which: “I don’t belong.” 

We are all trying to look one certain way. We’re “accepting” diversity, but who are leaders? White, blonde, blue still.

I know this as a working model, I will get cast on things and literally get cut the day before because people still don’t want to show a face like this, which is so funny to me because I’m like, “I’m so rad and dope. You guys don’t even know this flavor.”

So, you’re filling a space that really isn’t filled yet. You are making a path that others have not and are scared to start, honestly.

I look at is as: How can I, one, help myself find a place of belonging first and foremost to myself, right? To really meet myself and understand who I am. Second, how can I share some of those experiences with my daughters and have them witness a woman standing up to a face of a society that may not want to accept her for her actually showing up as who she is and how she was born? Which is my birthright. And then, lastly, I think: how can I share my experience of this freedom I found for myself? I’m telling you; you’ve got to love yourself first.

How does it feel to be that leader in that movement?

I think all I can say is I’m very fortunate, I found my voice and if finding my voice is representative of being a trailblazer… that’s for history to determine. But, for me, it’s about finding myself. 

You’re not doing it for anyone else.  

And yet for everyone.

Thank you so much. You’ve been wonderful. You have phrased everything so precisely.

It was really nice to meet you.

Read The Full Profile On TooD Founder Shari Siadat