At 22 years old, we were running around young, wild, and hungover. (Just being honest.) Of course, not everyone uses their 20s as an opportunity to do a 10-year bar crawl. There are others who are diving headfirst into entrepreneurship — you know, the forward-thinking, destined-to-be-millionaires type of people. People like Akilah Releford.
Releford is the founder and CEO of her own skincare startup, which she launched last year with just $200 (£150). After a short run, her line Mary Louise Cosmetics is already making its mark in the beauty industry, and getting lots of people excited. It's one of those rare vegan and cruelty-free options that actually works.
“I've always been obsessed with skincare,” Releford tells Refinery29. “Any DIY YouTube mask online — you name it, I've made it.” In 2016, she began sharing skincare tips and hacks on social media and quickly became a go-to trusted resource. “One day I woke up with over 200 messages from girls asking for more detox water, DIY face masks, and body scrub recipes,” she says. The same people sending these messages eventually turned into a small skincare community lead by Releford. In speaking to her followers, she noticed that lots of young women were frustrated with how difficult it was to find vegan skincare products that were affordable yet highly effective. Just like that, the idea of Mary Louise Cosmetics was born.
While studying pre-med at Howard University and working part-time at Zara, Releford saved money to buy everything needed for her first product, including samples, labels, and packaging. After a successful launch in spring 2017, Releford made the decision to leave Howard University, giving up her pre-med studies to pursue her dreams of entrepreneurship. It wasn’t the easiest decision, but it's one she doesn’t regret it. "It can be very scary putting yourself and your brand out there at first, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and that motivated me to introduce more products to my customers,” says Releford.
The first product from Mary Louise Cosmetics was an oil-based clay mask called Mississippi Mud that leaves skin super dewy instead of dry and tight. The Mary Louise products that followed were heavily inspired by her grandmothers, Mary and Louise, who she explains were “honest, wholesome, real, and amazing.” The line is 100% vegan, organic, and cruelty-free, mimicking the realness of her matriarchs. "My goal for Mary Louise is to have affordability, quality, and ingredients you can pronounce," Releford says.
While many of the products have become hits, the appropriately named Miracle Serum is a clear bestseller. "One of the most important things I've learned so far as a beauty entrepreneur is that the product development process is never really over, and you are constantly refining and improving your products," she says. With its star ingredient Baobob oil, which is derived from a fruit tree that grows in several different areas of Africa, the serum works overtime to fade acne scars and treat hyperpigmentation. This particular products is slowly gaining a loyal following, and rave reviews online. One customer says, "I have some chicken pox marks on my face that faded significantly with this serum."