Ready for a hit of inspiration? Aishetu Fatima Dozie says she's insecure and full of fear, but she also calls herself courageous--and crazy. Aisha (as "everyone" calls her) transitioned from two decades as an investment banker to starting Bossy Cosmetics. Many people said it was a wacky idea; she persevered. A global pandemic hit; she almost folded--but she didn't. Grit, resilience and determination kept Aisha and Bossy Cosmetics going, and now, just a few years old, it is an international sensation. In this episode, Aisha shares What It's Like To do something that feeds your soul, and keep at it even when the going gets rough. (She also dishes on what it felt like to learn her products were chosen to be on the list of Oprah's Favorite Things of 2021!)
In this episode:
Why Aisha transitioned from working in finance to starting a beauty company (01:49)
The steps she took to build the company (04:57)
How Aisha has battled "imposter syndrome" (09:06)
What happened when the global pandemic hit (12:12)
Why Aisha didn't "wave the white flag" and give up (16:28)
Why she named her company Bossy Cosmetics (20:20)
Her process for creating a new product (25:16)
How Aisha manages her time (work, family, friends, personal time...) (31:30)
Her reaction to the news that her product had been chosen as one of Oprah's Favorite Things 2021 (39:47)
Aisha's definition of success (42:27)
Want to know more about Aisha and Bossy Cosmetics?
Want to know more about the podcast What It's Like To... ?
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So I was very insecure. People always tell me like, oh, actually, you're so brave, you're so fearless. But no, no, no! I'm full of lots of fear. I just have courage. And it's crazy.
ELIZABETH PEARSON GARR 0:20
Honest, courageous and a little bit crazy? It may sound surprising, but that's the recipe for success for my inspiring guest on this episode of what used to be called the Experience podcast. I'm Elizabeth Pearson Garr. And my podcast is now called “What It's Like To.” The substance is exactly the same, only the name has changed. So if you've ever wondered what it's like to do or be or experience something really amazing or unusual, this is the podcast for you. If you already follow or subscribe to the Experience podcast, you don't need to do anything; you're now automatically following “What It's Like To.” And if you aren't already following us, please do.
On to this episode—we discover what it's like to start and run a global beauty brand. Aishetu Fatima Dozie–or Aisha–as she says all her friends call her–spent the first two decades of her career in finance, then she made a big change.
I'm just so grateful for you being here, because I'm fascinated by your story. And I'm inspired by it also. So thank you for making the time.
AISHETU FATIMA DOZIE 1:32
Thank you for having me. It's an honor.
I think you have such an interesting career trajectory, going from a couple of decades in finance and investment banking to then starting a beauty brand. So can you tell me how and why you made that transition?
I think the transition was always meant to be, but I don't think I saw it in the beginning. If I'm honest with myself, I was never going to be a finance person forever. I think the real question is, why did I choose finance to begin with? I always saw myself as a creative, but I was always broke. [Laugher]And so you needed to go work somewhere where you could actually make money to pay off your school loans and survive. So a lot of choices were taken away.
Yeah, reality. So fast forward, then to 20 years later, as circumstances change. I’m married, I have three children. And I'm burned out. I have a really amazing global career for which I will always be grateful—such a blessing—worked on almost every continent on some really amazing transactions, met some really amazing clients and just learned, developed as a human being in spaces where women rarely exist. And Black people really exist. So I had a really blessed career. But then I burned out. That's the truth. I basically was diagnosed with severe hypertension, I was highly stressed, highly exhausted. And that was the best bad news I've ever gotten when my doctor told me because it just made me say, “Okay, there's only so long you can do what you're not in love with for the sole purpose of money and prestige.” Clearly, it's going to catch up with you. And so I had to be forced to take those golden handcuffs off and think, okay, you're still young, you know—I had just turned 40 at the time. What are you going to do? And so that's how this journey began. I wouldn't say that I grew up always wanting to be a beauty, entrepreneur, no. But then I always grew up loving beauty, loving to look beautiful. My mom is and was an extraordinarily beautiful woman who really wielded beauty in such an elegant way, from my perspective as a young person. And so when I was coming into my own as a professional, I loved being beautiful, but also being intelligent. I knew that I wanted it to be on the inside and the outside.
So I would show up in my meetings prepared, made sure I had all the technical part of it down, but loved to like, have the hair down, and my lipstick was always my thing, and my dressing and all of that, you know, I'd love the full package. And so when I burned out, I thought, why don't we start to have a conversation around how maybe women can avoid burnout, and how we can still show up as our best selves and try to live our best lives within a construct that is very anti-women as we see, but still find a lot of joy. And I thought that such an intimate way to do that was through cosmetics.
And so what were your first steps? Did you have to do a lot of research on the existing industry and realize what was missing—what were the niches that you could maybe fill?
Yeah, so I think I’ll separate those two from how I started, and how I figured out whether there was a wide space. I think as an avid user of cosmetics, I already knew intuitively that there were no beauty companies that were targeting me and that part of my soul that was ambitious, that was driven, that was all about doing more for myself and for my community. I knew that there were beauty companies that were starting to target women of dark skin, starting to target different types of like, you know, red lips, or like subtle nude lips, and you know, all these different things that were coming out inclusive beauty. But I didn't think that people were talking beyond the product. I didn't think people were talking beyond the ingredients. And I think people were talking to the woman behind the face, and why she was choosing the red lipstick, why she was choosing the foundation like all those things. What was she masking? What was she enhancing? What was she revealing? And my friends and I, you know, we had this community around beauty, we were all “Bossy Women,” very ambitious. And we used to share makeup secrets and go to each other's homes and try this eyeshadow palette and try that. We'd still talk about work, but we wanted to be pretty whilewe did it. So I knew that that nexus did not exist. And so I wanted to explore it. Now how did I explore that to see if it was a thing? You know, when I started talking to people, people were like, that's so stupid, particularly men. Like, what does work have to do with beauty? Like beauty is a thing.
Where like, they were the experts that men were suddenly the experts on make-up.
Because they're the ones who had the money. I was talking to them because they had the capital, and they were all like No, doesn't make sense, doesn't work, doesn't work, because you’re a Black woman, focus on just selling to Black women. And they were trying to put me in a box and I, my personality over the years just like reject that idea. Fundamentally, even if it may make sense, the idea that you would tell me that I cannot do something just because I’m Blackis the exact reason why I will do it. And so I started to then obviously, you can't just start a business because you think you have an idea. You know, you've got to learn about the industry now. ou've got to switch from being just a consumer to what does it mean to start a company? What's important to consumers? Ingredients? Like how do people think? Clean beauty was becoming really a thing, cruelty free, vegan, sustainability around packaging? What are good ingredients? What are bad ingredients? So I had to start learning. I joined the cosmetic executive women's organization, just like becoming a voracious reader of what's out there.
So you really became a student of the whole industry.
I did. And then I just started going to like Sephora, Macy's, Nordstrom, everywhere that sold beauty products, and I was no longer looking at just the color. I was looking at the packaging, like is this plastic? Is this this reading the ingredients? Like how are they marketed? What is the color of the packaging? How does it look on the shelf? I started seeing it so differently. And then at the time when these ideas are sort of coming together I was a student at Stanford. I was doing a fellowship called the Distinguished Careers Institute Fellowship. And I spent most of my time in the design school. And that was just beautiful in that I was in that space, burned out, trying to unlearn things, trying to relearn things, trying to learn new things. And I had this framework with which to do it. So this is something I'm super excited about, I really want to think about a career that allows me to bring my purpose and my passion together. And not to say that I don't need money, because obviously I do need money. But I wasn't anywhere near as poor as I was when I was an undergrad. So I was like, okay, you know, you have choices, you don't have to only choose a career because it's going to pay you X amount every other week, you can be a lot more thoughtful, and bring all of these sort of 20 years of experiences together. And so when I started this, I didn't think that I would pursue building a global brand. I don't even think I thought that far.
Beyond that would have been a really ambitious goal.
Yeah, and it's an ambitious goal for me now. But I think at the time, I was very much like I'm very open about how I battle impostor syndrome and feeling insecure. So I was very insecure about you're not a celebrity, you're not an influencer, you are literally a nobody in the planet. Everybody's making lipstick. How is anybody going to hear about whatever brand you choose to create, other than your friends? Who's going to shop this thing? So I was very insecure. People would be suddenly like, oh, actually, you're so brave, you're so fearless. Oh no, no, no! I'm full of lots of fear. I just have courage and I’m crazy. And I think courage is you feel the fear but you still act.
And you also must have a lot of grit that you would keep going if there are obstacles, because I mean stuff that you just said I can relate so much to just starting this podcast because a lot of successful podcasters are celebrities or are influencers. So you immediately have all these followers. So there's a lot that goes on in your head like, Well, how am I ever going to make it, but you kind of have to just keep going, despite those things—like you might have fear, you might have a lot of insecurities. And yet here you are, Aisha you keep going, you have the grit, you have the tenacity, you have a vision, and look what's happened. It's really inspirational.
It's crazy, you just have to start. And I know that sounds silly, but it's that simple. You just have to start. And I look at our product array—my entire office is filled with our products. And I sometimes feel so emotional, because I'm like, I can't believe that I created this. These literally came from my mind down to the actual color of the rose gold. My designer and I were in northern Paris with a smelter hooking up the right color Eevery single part of this brand is just what I'm creating. I'm literally pouring myself into it. But it didn't start this way.
It’s so personal.
It's so personal, but our first set of products, they weren't just plain plastic see through with like a black cap. And just like the ugliest logo we had designed that I paid, like online $99 to do, because I was still I'm just gonna start. Is this a thing? Can it be a thing? So literally just start.
So you started it, but then you kept at it. And you kept learning as you went along.
And you make mistakes. And this is the point about grit and resilience is that you will make mistakes. That's part of the learning.
ou will have failures, you will have lawsuits. If you're lucky, you'll make it through. I've had a few myself. So I mean, you'll have all sorts of stuff. There's got to be a part in you that's like crazy. You've got to have that part in you that will fall down, will suffer from impostor syndrome, but will always have this other part of you that's like, get up. Alright, you've cried enough, get up. You've wailed enough. Like, let's go, let's fight. And when the pandemic hit, I literally thought we would go out of business, it is still a shock to me that we are still in business.
Because how long had you been in business before March 2020–a year?
A year. Exactly a year.
The first stage of the product was like $99 logo, private label, like I was ordering 20 sticks per color. I was at that micro level.
And how were you selling them, just online?
Just online, Instagram, Instagram website, newsletters, just super, super scrappy, which we're still super scrappy, but the scale is different. And selling the 20 colors of the red and the 20 of this and the 15 of that and the 10 of this color, like it was that small. And all of the products were here. I'd get an order, package it, walk over to the post office myself—I know the local post office.
Yeah super ,love it.
Yeah. And then in the first year, you know, I got a lot of confidence Tthe first number of quarters you go through like your mom, your aunt, your friends. And then you start seeing names, you have no idea who these people are in cities you've never heard of, and you're like, how did you hear about this, then you start to see like reviews come in from people that you know are not two degrees of separation. And they love the product. They love the ethos like they're speaking your brand back to you. Which means like you're hitting the notes, on the point,s on the voice and like you're connecting through your assets and everything that you had dreamed up that you thought didn't exist in the marketplace that you were trying to create. Customers are saying it back to you. And you're like, okay, okay, okay, so I got this confidence after a year, I was like, Oh, we can do this. So my designer and I–she's based in Paris— we go out and we meet all these like, major global guys. And they're all just like, who are you? What are you, like what is this, like your minimum 10,000? And you're like, what? Yeah, theseminimum order quantities are huge. And these are people who are producing for like, the big guys, and here I am tiny nobody, and a couple of them decided to work with us. But I literally had not fundraised at that time, well had tried to fundraise, was not successful. So just like took the bank account, wrapped it all up and paid for all this stuff. And then the pandemic hits.
Ahh, so you have all this inventory?
Yeah, some is stuck in China. Some is stuck in Italy. And the two places that were the worst hit…
China and Italy
Well, I am getting goosebumps even talking about it. I literally felt not only was the world under the forces of a plague, like I was personally plagued.
Because it wasn't just your business, but financially you had personally poured your savings into this.
Everything gone, gone. gone, gone, gone. Put it all…
That's so scary!
Like, three collections that we had designed that were so beautiful. And as I said, you have minimum order quantities. I mean, they're gorgeous and they're now best sellers. But…
And was all lipstick at this time?
No. So one was liquid lipstick. One was a bullet lipstick, which was one of the products that was selected as one of Oprah's Favorite Things.
Yes, yeah, I want to talk about that.
So we had the bullet lipsticks. And then we had our burn first eyeshadow palette.
Okay, so those were all in the pandemic terror.
They were all in various and you know, you can't call people and say, where's my 10,000 t 20,000 that, when they and their families are dying. So you don't make those calls. All you do is email people and say, are you okay,
So I thought that we would celebrate our first anniversary with this launch. Do you know when these goods arrived? Literally December 31.They were supposed to arrive in February.
[Laughter] And at this point, how big is the company? How many people are working for you?
It's just me.
Wow. So 2020 was stressful.
Oh, my God. And I had a lawsuit…
Oh, over the name.
Is that right? Tell me about the name. Can we just back up a little because I love, love the name.
I had no product to sell, and no business. And I still was facing a lawsuit. So that's why I say it is shocking to me that I am still in business.
And that you have the joy for it. You know, I think a lot of people might have crumbled and said like, okay, here's my white flag, I give up. I can't do it anymore. And you just keep rising?
No, no, I did do that. But I didn't finish it. So I did want to give up. I did have the white flag, I was going to wave it–I had given up, I had crumbled. And I said it doesn't make sense. It's not worth it. Nobody's going to wear makeup ever again, the world is coming to an end anyway. And I’m facing a lawsuit like these must all be the signs. And the product itself…I don't know when it will ever come, like just wind the company down and go back to finance, like this is dead. And then we're like, but actually no. And then I started saying—I remember having a conversation, I think it was with my lawyer—because he was walking me through my options. And I was really leaning towards just giving up the name. And if we can ever get these products, figure out how to sell them and just wrap it up and figure out what I was going to do. And I said to him one day—I was outside—I said, I feel fake. I feel like I started this business telling the truth about confidence building in women, and how yes, we deal with impostor syndrome. But we can't give up, we’ve got to fight. We deserve a seat at the table. We deserve— like one of my favorite sayings is “nothing ever goes wrong when a woman is wealthy” and always open about wanting to see women be rich, be bosses, have power and influence. I think it is something that is deep deep deep in my soul, so important to me. And I'm just giving up? And I got off the phone with him. And I was like, no, then I would have just been lying. And so I said to myself, I'm going to fight and challenge this lawsuit. I don't know how I'm gonna afford to do it since all my money's tied up in inventory, but I'm gonna have to figure it out. I'm a brilliant woman. So I'm gonna have to do a lot of the legal stuff on my own. But I'm gonna fight and if the company dies after the fight, then I can say that I was bossy, like I did show up for myself andfight for myself, but I lost, as opposed to just not fighting and giving up.
So the lawsuit was over the name of the company. Is that right?
And what happened to the lawsuit?
So I've had two lawsuits. The first one has since faded by a woman who was challenging the use of the name. And then the second lawsuit was by Hugo Boss, or at least the cease and desist or whatever they wrote me. We're still on it. But we are in a much better place. And we're not suing each other. We are in a very amicable part of things. I think they were very concerned about use of the word “boss,” which is contained in bossy. Our legal company is actually called the AISHATU BEAUTY. We own the trademark AISHA, too, but we do business as Bossy Cosmetics. So we're in final discussions, hopefully that won't be an issue for them. But it's been two years.
This is a whole area you probably didn't even think you were going to have to become an expert in. When you started you thought, well, let me learn the whole beauty industry and what my customer, what the marketplace might want, and then suddenly become a legal expert, IP expert.
Yeah, I had to challenge because I couldn't afford to pay. The first lawyer I had, he was terrible. So I fired him. And then I had no counsel. I wrote all the legal briefs to fight the first woman myself.
Oh my goodness!
I just called friends. And I was like, what code can I go off of? And they were like this one: you can argue these three things. And I go read those three things and write up five pages with pictures and exhibit. So thank God for Harvard Business School teaching me that you really could be a generalist.
And thank goodness for friends who are lawyers.
I know, I value my lawyer friends now so highly.
So I'd love to hear why you originally chose the name bossy, because I think as little children, especially as girls, we're often told, don't be bossy. And yet, I think you've reclaimed it and kind of turned it on its head, which I love. Yeah. Is that why you chose it?
Exactly! Remember, I told you that the goal of the company was to engage in conversation with women. I just chose to do it through beauty products. I often tell people, we are a women's empowerment mission-driven brand that masquerades as a beauty company, like we make money through selling beauty products, but it's all about…that's why we name our products like “competent, ambitious,” that has like all of that stuff. Words matter to us. And I thought bossy because I had always been called bossy as a young girl. And that's because I was talkative. My mom always used to be like, oh, my God, you would never shut up. Well, still, she says that, like you would talk to yourself, you would talk to strangers that you were just always talking. I always had an opinion. And so in the classroom, like I put up my hand, and I want to say something or I want to interject and say, oh, she's so bossy. But it's because I had a voice. And I know that if I were a boy, it would be like, he's such a leader. He's so assertive. He really knows how to command the room. He knows how to move the learning forward, like he brings people together. Like, they would…
He knows himself.
Yeah, yeah. But me, it's like she's just bossy—girls are just bossy. And I'm always talking, I'm always trying to establish leadership of something. And when I wanted to turn it on its head, I wanted to tackle it. And I wanted to use that again, as a conversation. We have a palette that's coming out…all the names or negative terms that women have been called. So it's like pushy, aggressive, bitch, bossy, not technical, not ready. All of these things that they say about us, that are meant to demean us.Whether it's intentional or not, we have to be careful how we internalize a lot of these things. Because what ends up happening is, as a little girl, you were called bossy all the time, because you're always speaking. And then you get to college, and you don't always put your hand up, you don’t always speak up,
Right, you start learning this, I should not use my voice, I should be more submissive,
I should be more measured, I should just kind of wait my turn. But if it's the guy, it's always a positive spin. He just knows exactly when to get in there. I don't even need to tell you. We all know this. And I just thought it was so important that if we were going to engage in this conversation around confidence boosting, that we would talk about this word bossy. And so that's what it's done. And when I first started, people were like, no, no, no, no, you cannot use bossy; it is a negative word. Sheryl Sandberg has banned it. We are not allowed to use it. And I will say Sheryl Sandberg can’t tell me what to do.
She's not the arbiter of all language.
She's not the arbiter of language, of English. In fact, your boss can't even tell me what to do.What are you talking about? No! It's an English word, guys, and we're gonna talk about it. And we're gonna flip it on its head. And we're going to teach young girls—I love speaking to young girls— when someone calls you bossy, respond to that.
Let's have a conversation.
Let's have a conversation. Help yourself and help that person. Why did you call me bossy? Is it because I put my hand up? Is it because I spoke? Do you feel threatened? Did I take your comment away from you? Were you thinking the same thing? It doesn't even have to be acrimonious. It can be oh, were you gonna say that as well? Because most times when people throw out the word, they don't always mean it in a negative way. But you internalize it very heavily.
Maybe what does that mean to you? What do you mean by that? That just sort of starts the conversation of is this a negative term to you or not? Let's all use our voices as much as we can. I hate the shrinking violet phenomenon, the older the girls get.
My son told me one day that he didn't like this particular girl. And I said, Well, why don't you like her? She's lovely. He's like, she's so—I don't want to say it. I said, go ahead and say she's so bossy. I started laughing. And I said, why is she bossy? And he said, Oh, we were playing four squares and gave him a play. And she did something that he thought she did against the rules. And she was arguing that she didn't do it. And I was like, your little brother is constantly playing this game and constantly fighting, but you've never called him bossy. Why is she bossy? And he couldn't explain it. So it starts very young. So I said, you've never called your younger brother bossy. He's always fighting when he's playing foursquare, and he's more aggressive than she probably was. But she's the one that's bossy. So there is an inherent Why is she challenging us? Because she was the only girl in the game.
It was threatening. Yeah. So I would like to go kind of into your office. And when you think about creating a new product or a new line, what is the process for you? How do you do that? I know it starts probably with creativity. But then, literally, like you talked about going to Paris and, you know, working on the colors, but how do you actually go from idea to a new product?
Oh, it's very multifaceted. Honestly, I try to talk a lot to our customers about what they want to see, what they think our next product should be. I look a lot on the search history of our website, like people will be asking, Do you have a lip liner? So we start seeing a lot of questions around lip liner, then you know, okay, people are looking for that. The first obviously, starting from the customer, I try to stay as close as possible to the customer. I do a lot of personal customer outreach, I will email you and say, Hey, I saw you bought a vicious recently. What do you think about it? What don't you like about it? Do you use it on your cheeks as a blush as well? Like, just lots of different conversations to find out. do you wear blush, what do you think when you think about blush? So it generally starts from the customer. And then it starts with like, where's innovation happening in the market? Like, what kind of ingredients, what are people liking? You know, if it's blush, are they liking cream blush, are they liking powder, blush, what are the differences? What kind of skin types really work well for that? So I also look at innovation in the marketplace. And then there's this extra little special thing, which is what I call my inspiration. So I do a lot of this process called analogous exploration, which is basically a philosophy in design thinking where you immerse yourself in a process or an experience that is analogous to what you are trying to create for your customer. I'll give you an example. My manufacturer is in Italy. So I go to Italy a number of times a year. And so I went into Milan. But normally when I go, I stay very close to the factory, I spend all day in the factory in and out, go to the hotel to sleep, and then come back home. But I packed on one additional day on my last trip, was like let's go hang out in Milan. And so I go and then like I'm gonna go into the Duomo because I just want to feel the majesty and the museum next to it. And I spent hours in both places. And when I would walk into a section of this museum, the grandiosity of everything—like how the gold on the mask was showing—I wanted to create that feel on my website. So it's not how you walk into the Duomo or the Museum of the Duomo, but even, how they used shadows. So my next photoshoot outside, we're going to focus on shadows. So I use a lot of these analogous explorations to design. I'll give you another example. This summer, we spent half of our summer in Mexico, I went to a mall close to where we were stayingand there was this walkway that this designer had designed. And I just loved his work. I love color, the use of color, he draws women—h my God. And so now I'm chasing the guy, because I want him to design a palette for me, because I want you to see that design when you open a box. Because it's so bossy. It's women of different complexions, different types of hair with different colors. It's just, I can't describe it. And sometimes my design process is like that. I can't speak it, but I see it. And so I want my customers to see that when they open up a palette or open up a box—to just feel that energy of amazing womanhood when they engage with Bossy Cosmetics. So I would say those are the three pillars. It's the customer first. It's the innovation in the marketplace. And then it's the thing, I don't know what that thing is, but it's the other thing.
Yeah, well, it's the artist in you, I think, and it really speaks to you as a person. And then you're trying to kind of bottle that up for them. you're the conduit of the inspiration that you're feeling and you're trying to get it to your customer. I think that's the beauty so to speak of this personal connection that you have, that Aishtu Cosmetics has your personal stamp in this.
Yeah, I'm pouring into everything I do.
It's very nice. Yes. Do you really enjoy this process? It must be wonderful to get to go to Paris or Milan or Mexico and just be involved in all all these processes,
I feel so blessed that sometimes I think it's heavy on me. I always share that I was raised by a single mother in Cambridge outside of Boston. And we were on Section 8. I do not come from privilege. And so there are a lot of moments I am immensely grateful. But also just like, am I using this the way God wants me to? That's that third thing, right? Likes How do I pour that into people that I don't know? I spent the last week writing hundreds of personalized cards. I ordered all these cards, I love them. And they're just little notes. And I'm like writing to customers who are first-time customers or repeat buyers or people who shop on Amazon. And I'm sitting here writing and writing and writing, I don't know five percent of these people. And in one way or another, I am touching them. And so in some of my notes, I just write like, stay bossy, stay fly, stay happy. I hope this lipstick is helping you to show up. On the side of our packaging it says May this lipstick serve as war paint and help you to surpass all your goals and more. In very little ways. I hope that I am sowing the seeds that were sown into me in someone else. That's what this work is about.
How do you prioritize your time to be able to spend time writing hundreds of cards, which sounds like it's incredibly valuable to your customers? And by the way, it probably will be valuable to your company as well. I mean, that probably makes a very loyal customer, but is really an inspirational thing for someone to receive. But, you know, that takes a lot of time to handwrite notes, versus spending time being creative versus managing other people versus taking care of your family. You know, there's so many hats to wear doing the legal work, doing the business side. How in the world do you manage your days?
So it's not easy, but I'll tell you, I have become so good at saying no.
That's a skill!
My calendar..I live by that thing. If you ask me for my time I treat my time as one of the most valuable things that I earned.
Well, it truly is,
It is. And I know that I'm juggling lots of balls. And so I'm like, okay, I've got 5,000 balls in the air, always going, going, going. But only five are glass balls. The other 4,995 are rubber balls. So I can literally drop them as often as I need to, and pick them back up. But those five glass balls, they’ve got to stay in the air. And the first of those five glass balls to me is my relationship with God. The second of my five glass balls is my family— the three little boys I'm raising and my husband, those of us who live in this little house here. My mom is another glass ball. Like my relationships with my closest, closest, closest people. Those are the ones like if they need me, you know, that's a priority. Everything else just I say no. I don't respond to a lot of things. I don't involve myself in a lot of things. It is a sacrifice to build this business. I spend the majority of my time outside of my family, my closest friends, working on Bossy Cosmetics. like I’m not kidding you! I’m always working. When I go to pick up my children, I'm on a call. You know, when I'm parked outside waiting for them, I'm responding to an email, when I get back home, they know mommy comes upstairs, shuts her door for the next few hours. She's out until it's time for dinner. Don't bother her. So I don't go to a lot of friends’ things or like socialize or do a lot of things. I just don't do them. I have chosen that I'm building this brand. And I'm pouring into this thing that I believe I meant to be doing. And so there are a lot of choices. So you have to say no, you get so many requests, so many invitations. You know, I've been asked so many times to join the school board or join this PTA or join that. I love it but I'm not gonna do it. I don't have the time. No, I say n. 90% of the time now From when I felt I always needed to show up, ow I don't feel that. I've chosen the areas that I'm going to be super hyper-focused on and myself. I'm one of the five goals by the way.
Oh good. Yes.
Yeah, yeah, I love to do my nails. That's my little thing. My hair, you know, massages, facials. I love to go to the movies. I have my little things I do that bring me so much joy.
Well, frankly, if you weren't one of the five balls, all the other balls would fall apart. If we don't take care of ourselves, everything would fall apart. Thank you for saying yes to this request. I’m really loving our conversation. I feel very grateful. I would love to circle back to, okay, the pandemic hit, you thought everything was going to fall apart? Obviously, it didn't. Can you tell me what happened to save it? Because some really big things happened after that, and you've become a great success. So how did things turn around?
So the first thing is the decision to not let it fail, or at least to fight until it actually failed, as opposed to let it fail. So then I thought, okay, if I actually don't have product to sell, what am I gonna do with my time? How am I going to engage people? So then I started this thing where I started, like, doing IG lives and interviewing people. I would invite a woman who I thought was amazing, and her story would be inspiring. And I would just interview her for like 30 minutes to an hour and share that content…on Instagram, you'd write up a newsletter about it and talk about why we thought she was amazing person. And so we just started really getting into content that really brought people joy, in the darkest moment in my own lifetime, and for most of us. So I just decided to talk to people, I started blogging a lot more talking about how it was being a mom of three kids and schooling them while running a businesss, how difficult that was, but how we found beautiful moments. And I just decided that if the special thing about this company is that it's run by a woman who has been on this journey, and really wants to share their journey, but in the process is also learning. How about you just open that up? How about you talk about what you've learned, what you're learning, what you're struggling with, and listen to what other people are learning and how they're struggling? Like, maybe just be yourself. And that's how we just kept it going. And then what little product we had left, we sold. And you know, I think that what I said in 2020 was that we were going to invest in the brand. And not be all about sell, sell, sell, sell, sell, because we didn't have a lot of stuff to sell. But I wanted to really use that time to understand our point of differentiation, and to really hone in on it. And so our customers really helped us to do that. Then, you know, in 2020, was unfortunately the murder of George Floyd. And there became this sort of groundswell of supporting brands that were owned by Black founders. And so you became then seen by people who just had not been looking for us before. And we have this whole new set of customers who were really plugged into not just what we were selling, but how we were selling it and who we were. And then our products showed up eventually. And then we started selling those. And then 2021 came and people were like, oh my god, this is beautiful., oh, my god, this is this, this is thats, you know, we'd had all that purchase now not selling anything, but really learning how to sell the brand. And so we then married the brand story with the product, and then started….
Thank goodness, you'd invested in your customers so much. You didn't give up on them. And you retain that relationship with them. Yeah. So they were there.
They were there. That's why for me, the time to sit down and write notes is part of the investment. I truly love her. This brand would not exist without her. If you don't have a customer, there's no company. So when I write to a customer, and some letters, I’ll write, we appreciate you, like thank you for seeing us. Thank you for choosing us. This is not a gimmick. It's real. I don’t know how where you found us but thank you.
That's lovely. It's a two-way street. They appreciate your product and you appreciate them.
Absolutely. And I hope you know that we are doing the thing that we said we would, that we are inspiring people. We are energizing people. We are igniting confidence. That's the goal. Like we want you to look beautiful. We want you to be beautiful. We want you to feel beautiful. I just want to make sure we're doing those things.
So 2021 started, you had the product, the company starts to grow. And then I know you got like a big design award and then the end of 2021 you get the news.
Crazy! We got this like innovation by design recognizer award for best packaging, we won this big line by QVC. And then when the lady first approached me about this Oprah thing, first of all, she wrote from agmail account sounds like you got stupid. Anyway, fast forward. A couple months later, we are on Oprah's Favorite Things list.
What was your reaction so you thought it was a joke at first?
I thought I didn't even think it was a joke. I thought it was somebody's being sued. Just probably wanted to waste my time, get me to send them free products. Getting on Oprah's Favorite Things? Like are you kidding me?
And it happened. So then what happened? Your orders must have just blown up.
Insane, insane, insane, insane, insane, insane. We’venow since hired a third party logistics provider, so I'm no longer going to the office every day.
Can you imagine?
I'm like no, those days are past me. I do still sometimes go to the post office like when I mail these my little letters.
That’s a good thing, I promise. So yeah, I cried, I love walking around the neighborhood. I wept and wept and wept. I just could not believe. You don't even know! First of all, Oprah’s Oprah, clearly like, we don't have to talk about that. Like, yeah, I've always said before this, referred to her as like my mentor. Ashe doesn't know I exist but her story, her life, her everything is so inspiring to me. And so when I got sent a picture of Oprah holding my lipsticks, I burst into tears.
I can only imagine. And after such a short time, I mean, this is two and a half years after you founded your company. This is astonishing success, and with the pandemic in the middle! I don't know if you ever stopped to take a breath and just think of what has happened, what you've done. It's really something!
All of last year, I didn't even have time to look up and be like, Wow, I was just in execution, execution, putting out fires, just like get it done, supply the product, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That was just moving, moving, moving. And then we got into JC Penney stores. So we supply them some stuff. Now, this year, we are rolling into 300 doors with JC Penney, like we're a real company now.[Laughter] Oh, my gosh, this is no longer, let me just test this out. This is a thing.
How big is your team now?
Not much bigger. Three of us.
Three of you? You really are carrying a big lift there. Yeah,
Yeah, it's not sustainable for sure. But like I said, I do outsource quite a bit of it. So I have this third party logistics company. I have a public relations team. And they're all outsourced. And then I have obviously my manufacturers and my suppliers. Like all of these people. There's a whole network like I feel like they’re my family and very close to my suppliers, but they're not my employees.
So does your bar just keep rising in terms of what you think of as success? Or does your definition of success keepeep changing?
Okay, how do I say this in all humility? I am already successful.
Yes, you are.
I'm not chasing success anymore. I am successful because I'm in such a good place mentally. I have really rewarding and loving relationships. I feel very loved. In a really cool group of people that I just love so deeply. I have a really amazing and supportive husband. We are in a great space, we have three children who are healthy, who are happy, who bought their schools or classmate like all that stuff, like it's hard, you know, like our house is always dirty. I've accepted that. [Laughter]
Okay, so you’re real.
The bar is higher. Today, I got an email from a PR team from Essence magazine. Like five years ago, I never would have thought like, Essence magazine Alert in Style, like, my name shows up in these places. I cannot believe it still, I'm so grateful is the way I would put it. But more importantly than all of those things is that I'm building a brand that is connecting with women. In a really tiny way, tt's part of someone's journey of being their own great self. So I'm already successful. Now, in terms of goals for the company, we're a million miles away from the goal, we have so much more to do. But it's detached from my feeling of success.
Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time. I've really enjoyed this.
See, I really appreciate it.
I'm gonna take so much of what I've learned from you and incorporate it into my own life and be more of a bossy woman myself, and I really feel inspired by your story. And so thank you for showing us what your grit and resilience can do.
Thank you. It's great chatting with you.
Aisha inspired me in so many ways. And I feel like her story of perseverance and not giving up on herself is such great role modeling for me and my kids. As she said, courage is when you feel the fear, but you still act. I could have had a very long list of takeaways from our conversation. Here are just a few.
Number one: There's only so long you can do something you don't love for the sole purpose of money and prestige.
2. Sometimes unexpected news is actually useful information you can use for making a productive change.
3. It may feel intimidating to start something new, especially if people have told you you'll never make it work. But you just have to start…simple as that.
4. You will make mistakes. That's part of the learning process. If you have grit and resilience, you'll keep going and make it through
5. Every voice and opinion is valuable. Use yours. Listen to and respect other people's.
6. Knowing when to say no is an important skill, not only for a business's growth, but for your own personal growth.
And finally, number seven: A little bit of crazy can serve you well.
As Aisha said, time is valuable, and I'm so grateful she shared some of hers with me. If you'd like to learn more about Aisha and about Bossy Cosmetics, please go to our website whatit'sliketo.net and go to the show notes for this episode. You can also listen to all of our past episodes there and find out how to follow us on social media. If you want to listen to another great woman who started her own business, check out Episode 18 where Rebecca Firth shared what it's like to be a food blogger and cookbook writer. And if you're enjoying this podcast, please subscribe and tell a friend about us. I'm Elizabeth Pearson Garr. Thanks for being curious about What It's Like….!