Detroit Regional Chamber > Racial Justice & Economic Equity > The Lip Bar Was ‘Shark Tank’ Reject. Now Detroit Woman’s Makeup Business Is Thriving

The Lip Bar Was ‘Shark Tank’ Reject. Now Detroit Woman’s Makeup Business Is Thriving

February 21, 2022
Detroit Free Press
Chanel Stitt

Feb. 19, 2022

Melissa Butler hasn’t forgotten about the difficult days of her journey to start The Lip Bar, which changed the way the world thinks about makeup. There is now a billboard in Detroit promoting the business she founded 10 years ago: “Shark Tank told me to quit. 10 years and 2 million units sold. Thanks, Mr. Wonderful.”

That moment on the show when “Mr. Wonderful,” whose real name is Kevin O’Leary, and other investors harshly rejected Butler’s products didn’t stop her because she knew the investors were not the customers she was targeting. She knew her customer base and continued to press forward.

“In business, especially for 10 years, things obviously go wrong every single day,” Butler told the Free Press on Wednesday. “That was just something that went wrong that day. But I understand the view of resilience that lots of people have come to admire about us because we could have stopped going when a group of multimillionaires and billionaires are telling you that your idea won’t work. It takes a lot of courage to look within and say, ‘I’m still going to go after this.’ ”

And did she ever go after it.

The Lip Bar is celebrating its 10th year of operation with a party Sunday at its Parker’s Alley location in Detroit and with a behind-the-scenes documentary series that can be seen on YouTube. A limited-edition beauty bundle also will mark the milestone.

The vegan beauty brand that was infamously featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” has reached dizzying heights over the last 10 years, entering stores like Target, Meijer and Walmart, and opening its own flagship location downtown. The products have been worn by celebrities like Taraji P. Henson and first lady Michelle Obama.

But Butler says the success of the company started more recently. It took the company about six to seven years to grow, and now it has a following of over 310K users on Instagram.

“We’ve really doubled down in the past couple of years on making makeup easier because I felt like the beauty industry had become so convoluted with products and influencers,” said Butler, 35, of Detroit. “And people just were buying things that they had no idea if it worked for them or how it could work for them.”

The business created a shade matching system that aims to use a tinted moisturizer color to connect customers with the rest of the products — such as concealer, powder and lipstick — that go with that specific shade. The Lip Bar will also continue to push its “Fast Face” model, which includes products to get a finished makeup look in three to five minutes.

The documentary series that shows the behind-the-scenes moments of her entrepreneurship journey also gives a look into Butler’s life from childhood to now. The three episodes air on YouTube this month, and it started with a trailer that aired on Feb. 8.

Butler says the idea of being an entrepreneur has been romanticized, and she wanted to show in the series that her journey was hard from the start.

“I really want it to tell people the real story behind how The Lip Bar was built, who I am, where I come from, to let them know that I didn’t necessarily do anything magical,” Butler said. “I didn’t come from money. I didn’t grow up in a nice neighborhood. I grew up on the east side of Detroit, near the city airport, which has been completely devastated over the past 20 years. My mom and dad were incarcerated when I was younger.

“So my life was not necessarily easy, but because I believed in myself, I was able to beat the odds.”

Butler attended Cass Tech High School in Detroit and graduated from Florida A&M University with a major in business. She took her skill set to Wall Street and eventually decided that The Lip Bar would be her journey.

Her path will continue with the celebration featuring music, food and drinks from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. It’ll be at The Lip Bar’s flagship store located in Parker’s Alley at 1435 Farmer St. in Detroit. Butler will be present at the shop to meet some of the customers.

The company also is expanding its bestselling red liquid matte lipstick called Bawse Lady, which, for a limited time, can be purchased in a Bawse Bundle for $39. The bundle, which can be purchased at or in person Sunday, features a Bawse Balm, lip liner and Bawse Gloss.

10 years of reflection

In 2012, the early days of her business, Butler used her kitchen to start creating a variety of lipstick shades. Since then, she has expanded her manufacturing base, which takes place all over the country. She also employs 26 women.

“I think that as an entrepreneur, you have to love the journey,” Butler said. “You have to love the work that you’re doing day in and day out. And you really have to think about what’s right in front of you as opposed to this larger outcome. So five years ago, I wasn’t thinking, ‘what happens in 10 years?’ I was really just thinking about what I could do right now to impact my customers or to make a difference in the beauty industry, to make makeup easier, to create products that are affordable, that are nontoxic, that are easy to use.”

For the next year, Butler hopes her business will continue to help customers see themselves in a positive light with and without makeup. The company’s anniversary is officially Monday.

“Our biggest benefit is that we understand our customers so well and so we’re able to support them so well because we are our customers,” said Butler. “We’re going to innovate more amazing products and we’re going to keep telling the stories of our customers.”

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