KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson

The Women Creating Nude Lipsticks for All Skin Tones

Don’t be fooled by their Harvard MBAs: Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller do things their own way. Their careers have been shaped by following their own individual interests—then coming together when the time was right. Today, their calling is Mented Cosmetics.

Short for “pigmented,” Mented Cosmetics is an upscale beauty brand for women of color. “Unfortunately, the beauty industry would have us believe that ‘nude’ means one thing: pink (and pale pink at that),” Miller and Johnson shared with Teen Vogue. So one night, over a glass of Pinot, that very idea became the start of their brand. “We want every woman to be able to find herself in the world of beauty. And that includes being able to participate in the classic clean-beauty look that has been denied to deeper skin tones for so long.” Mented now offers nine shades of lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish, and as of last October, Johnson and Miller have become the 15th and 16th African-American women ever to raise $1 million in venture capital to get there.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

Miller: “Launching a company that exists to ensure every woman can find herself in the world of beauty.”

Johnson: “My biggest accomplishment is the creation of Mented Cosmetics. It has been one exhilarating rollercoaster, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re creating real beauty solutions for a whole swath of people who’ve been neglected by the industry. We’re creating a home for women of color in beauty.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

Miller: “I wish more people knew how funny I can be! ‘CEO’ is a big, serious title, but I’m most at ease when I’m making someone laugh.”

Johnson: “I think most people know that the start-up journey is difficult, but I don’t know if people know how all-consuming it is. For the first nine months of the business, we worked from my apartment. Even now with an office, we work six days a week and travel non-stop for work. It’s part of the gig, but it’s hard work that never ends.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

Miller: “Listen to yourself—you’re the only expert on you. If it’s something you’re truly passionate about, you’ll know how to keep pursuing it. If at some point it feels like the dream has become more of an obligation than a passion, trust yourself and let it go. You get to decide just how far to pursue your dream, and when and if that dream shifts course.”

Johnson: “Don’t stop dreaming and don’t shrink those dreams for anyone. Women tend to put others’ needs before their own, and now’s not the time. The world needs our contributions now more than ever. I say dream bigger.”

Favorite podcast?

Miller: “Startup by Gimlet. And LeVar Burton Reads is great!”

Johnson: “A tie between The Daily from The New York Times and The Read.”

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