Women running their own companies? We love to see it. In our monthly series Small Business Spotlight, we chat with independent fashion entrepreneurs about their journey to be-your-own-boss status. Here, tips for raising funds, developing a marketing strategy, navigating social media, and more—straight from women who have done it themselves.
After graduating from high school in Australia, Katini Yamaoka considered her next steps. “My dad was a diplomat and a human rights leader, and was such a huge inspiration to me,” she says. “Through watching him and the amazing impact he made―he had such a big heart to really help change Africa. I thought maybe I’d become the next female president of Ghana or something like that, so I enrolled in political science.”
Ultimately, Yamaoka pursued a successful music career, performing around the world and eventually opening for artists like Normani and 21 Savage. But in 2020, when the pandemic hit and shuttered parts of the music industry, she decided to pursue yet another passion: skincare and beauty.
Yamaoka’s interest in beauty started when she was a teen, when adolescence led to acne which left her with discoloration and scarring. “Especially having melanin in my skin,” she says, “you’re left with a scar for what feels like 6 months.’”
Raised in Australia and born to a Japanese mother and an African father, Yamaoka wanted to build a skincare company celebrating the places she knows. She's combined her interests and experiences to create a company with impact. “People often talk about diversity of thought and representation without understanding what it really means,” she says, “but when you're exposed to other cultures and languages and ways of thinking, it just expands your mind.”
Through Katini Skin, her line of organic facial oils, Yamaoka hopes to do just that for her consumers. Her vision caught on quickly: Within weeks of her February 2022 launch, her products became available at Saks Fifth Avenue.
“Through the work that my parents did, they instilled in me the drive to make sure that I leave a positive impact on this world,” Yamaoka says.
"We have two pillars: One is giving back to the community, and two is building a sustainable business which is friendly to the Earth…People want to know where their products came from. They want to know what kind of impact they’re making through the products that they purchase, so everything that we have is wild-harvested, and natural and organic where possible."
On Giving Back
"When I met Black Progress Matters, they told me about their core mission to change the face and color of leadership in executive positions across corporate America, and I was so excited and inspired to hear that. So, we partnered up and I'm sitting on their board of directors now, and we’ve collectively decided to put 20 percent of all Katini Skin’s sales back into Black Progress Matters so that we can continue to fund Black-owned brands. That was something that was so important to us, because there are so many brands out there and I want to make sure that we're not just another brand where people purchase and they're like, ‘OK, we're putting money into a company or a person’s pocket.’ I want people to know they're able to give back while buying from us, and that we're 100 percent committed to that.
We've also recently joined the 15 Percent Pledge [a commitment from businesses to devote at least 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands], and it's been really wonderful to be exposed to other retailers and brands that have this same mindset and that want to uplift Black-owned brands."
"I made a promise to myself that with everything I do, I want it to be authentic―not just because I want to showcase who I am, but also to give a voice to others so they can be like, ‘Hey, I can be exactly who I am and live my life, and there are mounds of opportunity out there.’
Growing up, I would travel to Australia and they'd be like, ‘Where are you from? Where are your parents from?’ People always want to be able to put you in a clean-cut box and describe you in a certain way, whether it's as fully Japanese or as Australian, when I have these beautiful other cultures that I've been able to inherit through my parents and grandparents. So, I struggled a lot trying to describe who I was and what that meant, and it came to a point a few years ago where I realized that the power of me and the uniqueness of me is what makes me me.
I want others to be able to be exactly who they are and know there are ways to flawlessly incorporate that into your job, your brand, or whatever you're working on."
Katini Skin's Celestial Night Serum and Soleil Day Serum, each of which are made from natural ingredients.
On Sourcing the Right Materials
"Authenticity is a huge part of who I've been as an artist and as a business owner, and I want to be able to speak truth to what I'm selling, so a lot of our ingredients come from indigenous places where I'm from.
"With global supply chain issues during the pandemic, it was really difficult to get certain ingredients from these places, and there were moments where people on my team were like, ‘Are you sure you want to go and get this fruit from Australia?’ Take quandong, for example, which is a superfruit that comes from the indigenous tribe in Australia. It was really, really difficult to get a hold of, and my team was like, ‘We could just change it to something that's a little bit easier to source from America or something like that,' but it was important to me that I push for that because this particular ingredient meant a lot to me and it was something I used growing up. It also very respectfully introduces something that's so sacred in Australia into the market. So, while it was definitely a challenge getting certain ingredients together, patience was key."
On Having a Clear Vision
"What really propelled us forward was coming into Katini Skin with a clear vision.
"We had these huge dreams about how we want things to look, and people might say that’s it’s going to be too expensive or too this or too that, but it's really important to map out, draw out, and write out [what you want] so it makes sense for you and then you can execute that. You need to be able to explain your vision to the people you're asking for funding from or who you're partnering with, and I learned a lot of that through my music career because I had to constantly, constantly, constantly do that in an industry that's one of the most difficult out there."
On Female Leadership
"For hundreds of years, we've been told, ‘You're not good enough; you’re not here to lead; you’re here to support.’ But that has been proven wrong time and time again, so I think it's a perfect time for [female entrepreneurs] to be like, ’This is the vision and we're going with it. We're community-minded, we're here to support each other, and we're here to execute.’"
Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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