Beauty news

This beauty pioneer is taking the next generation under her wing

Nyakio Grieco started retail outlet Thirteen Lune to feel more hopeful and less alone. Four years later, she’s the champion for 175 inspiring brands

From left: Damone Roberts, Julissa Bermúdez, Hannah Diop, Nyakio Grieco, Sarah Happ, Staci Sichi and Sammy Alraies outside the Thirteen Lune store in Los Angeles. Photographer: Tracy Nguyen for Bloomberg Pursuits

On the main drag of Larchmont Boulevard, just south of the Paramount Pictures lot and the Hollywood Forever cemetery in West Hollywood, you’ll find a constellation of brands in a walkable two-block shopping radius that upends the reputation of Los Angeles as a city for cars only.

A West Coast outpost of Levain Bakery abuts Groundwork Coffee Co., a boutique coffee shop. Nearby, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Holey Grail Donuts beckon to Larchmont Farmers Market shoppers eager for sweet treats.

Wander a few storefronts down from the Diptyque candle store, and you’ll find a beauty revolution underway at Thirteen Lune.

Begun by industry veteran Nyakio Grieco and fashion executive Patrick Herning in December 2020, the brand started as a digital storefront with a simple, steadfast premise that 90% of the products on its shelves should come from brands with minority founders. The rest are from brands that have proven a commitment to inclusive products and customer experience.

What started as a curation of 13 minority-owned brands and one allied label has grown to a total of 175. There’s Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross and 4am Skin by TikTok whisperers Sabrina Sadeghian and Jade Beguelin. Prados Beauty and Cheekbone Beauty are just two of the Native American-owned cosmetics lines the store carries. Industry heavyweights Danessa Myricks Beauty and Ami Colé and allied brand Hourglass Beauty appeal to those who might already have picked those brands up at Sephora.

Thirteen Lune’s financial growth has been consistent: A friends-and-family round of €1.4 million led to more than €42 million in revenue in 38 months. Since the initial round, the company has raised an additional €10.2 million.

Nyakio Grieco

In early spring 2021, a call from JCPenney led to a store-within-a-store concept that featured more than 50 of the brands Grieco has championed. The rollout in more than 600 department stores across the US was completed in May 2023. In November, LVMH’s Sephora began stocking Relevant—Grieco’s in-house brand—in its UK market.

And on April 17, American Airlines announced that it will start rotating products from Thirteen Lune’s portfolio in its amenity kits for long-haul flights.

Grieco is no stranger to launches. Her first beauty brand, Nyakio Beauty, was available in retailers Fred Segal and Jeffrey New York before she sold that brand to Unilever in 2017.

But building Thirteen Lune has felt different, she says. For one thing, collaborating with other founders she champions has helped her feel less alone.

“Now, at 50 years old, I have finally aligned my passion for beauty and the beauty industry with my purpose,” she says.

Some of Grieco’s early beauty memories include scrubbing herself down with a homemade salve made by her grandmother, a coffee farmer in Kenya. She started Nyakio Beauty in 2002 after working in Hollywood talent agencies and management companies and finding herself constantly gravitating toward the makeup trailers in clients’ photo shoots.

“It was a really crucial time in the early 2000s, when actresses were starting to show up on magazine covers and get beauty deals,” she remembers. “That’s when I realized that maybe the entertainment part’s not for me, but this beauty thing is something I’m very passionate about.”

“This beauty thing” happens to be a big business—some €86 billion in US sales last year, with about a third directed toward prestige brands, according to analysis from Circana. A few celebrities have cashed in, including Rihanna, with the wildly successful Fenty Beauty; Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, which hit shelves in September 2020, is valued at €1.8 billion. Sephora carries more than 340 brands on its shelves and website, while Ulta Beauty Inc, a retailer that sells both mass-market and higher-end products, offers more than 600.

And yet, although Black consumers account for 11 per cent of all beauty sales, Black-owned brands net just 2.5 per cent of industry revenue, a McKinsey & Co. report published in June 2022 found.

Funding development of any new product can be arduous for founders of colour, but navigating the business of beauty poses further challenges.

A startup brand that’s focused only on a direct-to-consumer website can keep costs down because it doesn’t need to order as many units of each product from its supplier as it would for a product stocked in a nationwide retailer.

In order to grow, though, startups eventually need to get product on those shelves. And placing relatively small orders with suppliers can cost more per unit, say founders.

What this means is that when such entrepreneurs land shelf space on a bigger scale, they suddenly need to fulfill what is often the biggest order of their careers. With only 0.48 per cent of all venture capital in 2023 allocated to Black founders, expansion can be both blessing and curse.

Thirteen Lune gives startups a middle ground on which to grow brands at a more sustainable pace.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had meetings with other big brands that are interested in possibly bringing me on board—and then nothing ever comes from it,” said Damone Roberts, a celebrity eyebrow artist and chief executive officer of an eponymous line sold at Thirteen Lune. “This is the first time a company reached out to me and said: ‘We believe in you. We see what you’re doing. We’d like to see how we can help.’”

For Grieco, connecting founders with potential sources of funding is central to her cause. She remembers using credit cards and the generosity of family members to keep Nyakio Beauty afloat. The recognition she finally received for her work in “Black-owned brands you need to know” roundups in summer 2020 during Black Lives Matter protests was bittersweet; she had sold Nyakio Beauty three years earlier.

“It was this pivotal moment, where I had never received in 18 years the amount of attention that my brand and I were receiving,” Grieco says. “At that point, I no longer even owned it. I was an employee of my brand.”

As a beauty founder, she was also just learning of other Black-owned brands, and she found this maddening—and galvanizing: “I felt a lot less lonely, because in that moment I realised: Who are these people, and where have they been and who’s going to help them?”

When the time came to launch Thirteen Lune, Grieco and Herning had a few additional friends to call on. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow was one of the first investors, followed in short order by Gregg Renfrew, founder of the direct-to-consumer cosmetics brand Beautycounter, and actress Naomi Watts. Venture capital funds Fearless Fund, Capstar Ventures and Lifeline Ventures also invested in the Thirteen Lune vision.

Still, Grieco and Herning, who founded the plus-size fashion platform 11 Honoré, haven’t agreed to every investment opportunity coming their way. “So many people within beauty have raised so much money that you’re just constantly playing the catch-up game,” Grieco says. “While we’ve taken risks, we’re very risk-averse and have been very, very mindful that we are raising what we need to grow.”

She extends that mindfulness when onboarding upstart brands to the Thirteen Lune portfolio. If a brand is particularly small, she won’t expect it to churn out product supply for every store in one go. Instead, she might connect it with potential funders. “There are brands that aren’t ready for a 600-door footprint, but they’re definitely ready for a 48-piece order on our platform,” she says.

One of those brands was República Skin, founded by the TV host Julissa Bermúdez. Six months after Bermúdez launched her sugar scrub in September 2021, the product debuted at Thirteen Lune.

“The way she’s taken founders under her wing is so unique,” Bermúdez says of Grieco. “For these big retailers, you have to have all these things in place before you can even get their attention. Nyakio believes in what it is that you’re doing—and that just because you’re a small growing business doesn’t mean that you don’t get to have your stuff on shelves. That’s game-changing.”

Thirteen Lune staffers hold regular calls with many brands, and they train JCPenney’s staff on products and founders’ stories so they can better educate customers. “I’ve been doing this for 19 years, and I’ve never seen the level of commitment that those associates have,” says Sara Happ, the founder of Sara Happ Inc., a lip-care line included in the 10% of allied brands in the store. “They are ready, they are there to serve and they are as invested in this as though their name is on the store.”

The beauty industry still has work to do. Retailers Sephora and Ulta have a long-term goal to dedicate more shelf space to Black-founded brands, per a partnership with the Fifteen Percent Pledge, the non-profit founded by footwear designer Aurora James in 2020. As of December, the beauty retailers had increased their mix to 8 per cent that are Black-owned brands—up from an industry average ranging from 1 per cent to 3 per cent in 2020.

An even trickier hurdle is the matter of resolving any unconscious bias of customers, who might presume that a product made by a minority founder is meant only for customers who share their background.

This is rarely the case.

“So many of our products are phenomenal products for everyone,” says Hannah Diop, the co-founder of Sienna Naturals, a hair-care line carried by Thirteen Lune. “That’s the work retail needs to help tackle, and Thirteen Lune is setting a great example.”

The curated amenities kits provided on some American Airlines flights will help to further that mission of discovery, according to Kim Cisek, the airline’s vice president of customer experience. Thirteen Lune-vetted products will be available starting Memorial Day weekend, including Grieco’s Relevant line and Joanna Vargas Skin Care. The airline plans to use customer feedback to periodically rotate products among the Thirteen Lune family.

“The best part about amenity kits that we don’t always talk about is: You get to try these products and then go and purchase them on your own,” says Cisek. “Customers have some choice with really good premium brands that resonate.”

For Grieco, that visibility provides more opportunity to support the brands she uses and loves. “I’m on a group chat with a handful of founders where we’re just constantly supporting one another, celebrating one another, helping each other, sourcing employees through one another,” she says. “And that’s so different from when I started 20 years ago.”

In that sense, launching Relevant at Sephora UK isn’t a form of competition. Other founders text Grieco to pick her brain. They softly pitch new products to her over lunch. It’s enough to make her feel a little less lonely—and a lot more hopeful.