The L-Suite examines the diverse ways in which Latine professionals have built their careers, how they’ve navigated notoriously disruptive roadblocks, and how they’re attempting to dismantle these obstacles for the rest of their communities. This month, we’re talking with serial beauty entrepreneur and founder of Hyper Skin, Desiree Verdejo, about preparing for a pivot, staying focused, and leading with community.
Black and Latine women are among the fastest-growing entrepreneurs in the U.S. Black women-led businesses grew 50% from 2014 to 2019, defining the highest growth rate among the demographic. Meanwhile, Latina entrepreneurs start businesses at six times the national rate. A commonality among businesswomen from both racial and ethnic backgrounds: Many started their companies while or after leaving 9-to-5s in unrelated industries, often due to burnout.
Desiree Verdejo gets it. Seven years ago, the Harlem, New York-raised entrepreneur pivoted from a career as a corporate lawyer to a beauty boutique owner. Today, the serial beauty entrepreneur heads Hyper Skin, an award-winning clean and vegan skincare brand for melanated skin, as its founder and CEO.
“I've always had very chronic acne-prone skin,” Verdejo, who is Puerto Rican and African American, tells Refinery29 Somos. “So I've always been very aware of that connection of how much better you feel when your skin is at its healthiest, and that's always inspired my enthusiasm and passion — and maybe obsession — for skincare. That drove me to curate my first business, which was a beauty boutique.”
Vivrant Beauty, which was known to most as Harlem’s first luxury beauty boutique, opened in 2015, prioritizing the haircare and skincare needs of women of color. Often called “the Sephora for women of color,” the brick-and-mortar shop stocked its shelves with independent, women-owned, clean and/or cruelty-free brands, such as Briogeo, Mischo Beauty, and The Lip Bar. At the boutique, many of these brands were given their first shot at a retail opportunity. However, as the landscape began to change with the rise in beauty retail e-commerce, Verdejo had to take a step back and consider the sustainability of her venture. Ultimately, in 2018, she decided to close the boutique and its e-commerce website. She didn't know it then, but it was the beginning of an entirely new entrepreneurial journey for the beauty founder.
“My goal was to sort of shift the business I had, but I ended up just sort of pivoting completely from retail to focusing on a product brand,” Verdejo says.
At the time, she was dealing with cystic acne and experimenting with a variety of products on the market, but she couldn’t find one created with her skin in mind. It was an invitation for the Black Latina to give her all to her latest idea. In November 2019, the 39-year-old launched Hyper Skin, unveiling its hero product: Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum. An instant bestseller, Verdejo landed the serum at revolve.com, sephora.com and in Urban Outfitters.
We asked Hyper Skin’s chief exec about knowing when to pivot, the power of staying laser-focused, and leading with community. From trading in a cushy corporate position for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship to leaning into challenges, Verdejo shares her story and provides advice to Latinas navigating the beauty industry.
Know when to pivot
Women are no longer staying put in industries or roles that don’t suit their professional needs. A 2019 survey completed by InHerSight found that 73% of women are looking to make a career shift, and the figure increased by 28% from the prior year. Furthermore, women who have taken the leap cite burnout, inadequate compensation, and the desire to take on a mission-aligned profession as green flags to change their career.
Seven years into practicing law, Verdejo left the legal industry to pursue the world of beauty. It wasn’t an impulsive decision. Instead, Verdejo stresses that she carefully mapped out her career shift to ensure she would be ready when the time was right. “It was a slow transition,” she says. “I think people like to share these overnight stories, but, for me, it took a couple of years of planning. “By the time I left my law firm, I had a full business plan, like the store rented [and] built out. I did everything. I made sure I collected every single paycheck that I could before leaving.”
Later, being prepared would similarly prove to be helpful when it was time to pivot from Vivrant Beauty to Hyper Skin. Having noticed that e-commerce was driving the beauty retail experience — and identifying her interest in creating her own products — the savvy entrepreneur knew it was time to turn the page on her current chapter.
“I decided that Hyper needed to be something straight forward and something clear,” she says.
In an ecosystem where founders are constantly churning out products, Verdejo knew that to efficiently scale her modern, clinical brand, she’d have to remain focused on its debut product until it made sense to unveil others.
Although it’s hard for many following her journey to believe, Hyper Skin is a self-funded beauty brand. As such, Verdejo is adamant about growing incrementally to deliver the best to her customers.
“One of the biggest challenges to having an indie brand is when customers want the same level of customer care, product, results, content, [and] education,” she says. “They want the same thing from you that they want from the Estée Lauder brands, the heritage brands, the acquired brands, and the VC-funded brands, so I think sometimes that's a challenge because our customers deserve that. That's the level that we try to create at, but, at the same time, there are times when we have to step back and say, ‘Well, this is what we cannot do.’”
Lead with community
According to McKinsey & Company’s Black Representation in the Beauty Industry report, only 4% to 7% of beauty brands carried by specialty beauty stores, drugstores, grocery stores, and department stores are Black-owned or Black-founded. Yet, Black consumers spent $6.6 billion on beauty in 2021, which is 11.1% of total beauty spending.
The figures only affirm the need for brands like Hyper Skin. However, Verdejo is still regularly required to make a case to prospective retail partners and investors on how important it is that the solutions be led by people that truly understand the concerns. For this reason, she chooses to center her community, which is composed of mostly Black and Brown customers, as well as the brand’s 46,000 Instagram followers in those conversations.
“We definitely lead by community as a brand, in all respects. We did the same when it comes to reaching out to partners,” she says. “For example, when pitching at Sephora, it's one thing to just give a quote from McKinsey, [but] it's another thing to share something real and immeasurable. I think adding to that enthusiasm and connection that we've built in our community has really connected things for some of these partners that are newly focused on the demographic and the community that we're speaking to.”
The power of the Black Latina-owned, hyper-targeted, clinical skin care brand includes the growing community that trusts Verdejo and her team to deliver solutions-focused products.