How This Entrepreneur Bootstrapped Her Business, Landed on the Shelves of Target and Ulta and Disrupted the Sunscreen Category
Here are three lessons Shontay Lundy shares from the journey of building Black Girl Sunscreen.
For most of my life, I had come to terms with and begrudgingly accepted the fact that no sunscreen would easily blend into my dark skin. I would rub the lotion harder and harder into my skin, only to see the inevitable white cast on my face that would not fade. I would look into the mirror to see Casper the Friendly Ghost staring back at me. I have been on a never-ending journey to countless drug stores and beauty counters to figure out how to make sunscreen blend into my brown skin.
Then I met Black Girl Sunscreen. It was as if the product was made for me. Sleek and modern packaging, an affordable price point, easy to apply and use, with the product melting, blending and drying onto my brown skin. No signs of a white cast; only my own reflection staring back at me.
“We started the anti-white-residue movement back in 2016,” says Shontay Lundy, founder of Black Girl Sunscreen. “It wasn’t even a topic addressed by any major brands or even the sun care industry as a whole until Black Girl Sunscreen arrived.”
The global sunscreen industry is currently estimated to be around $8.5 billion and is forecast to reach over $10.7 billion by 2024. But for people of color, finding a sunscreen that works for their skin continues to be a challenge.
“The biggest concern I hear from my patients with darker skin is about the cosmetic appearance of the sunscreen once it’s applied,” Crystal Aguh, director of the Ethnic Skin Program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, shared with Consumer Reports. “Too many products give their skin a light cast.”
Lundy is the driving force behind Black Girl Sunscreen, disrupting the sun care category by serving a community that the industry has ignored for far too long: women of color. “I know exactly who I'm serving, because I am my own customer.”
From self-funding her business to now being on the shelves of Target and Ulta, here are three lessons Lundy has learned while building Black Girl Sunscreen.
Lean on your past experiences
“I was always a curious child and wanted to try everything,” Lundy recalls. “I played violin, tap danced and ran track. My grandparents supported me in everything I wanted to do. They taught me to be the best in everything I do, no matter what.” And yet, growing up, Lundy wasn’t always confident in who she was.
Even though she was excelling, Lundy didn’t always feel like she belonged, attending predominantly white schools and living predominantly in white neighborhoods. “I always wanted that blond ponytail that would swish back and forth, and that wasn’t the texture of my hair.” Her drive to ensure all little girls feel represented would eventually lead her to found Black Girl Sunscreen.
Lundy’s grit and determination led to a successful career in corporate America before starting her own company. “I worked in the car rental industry,” Lundy says. “It was an industry where I knew I had to be a soldier to survive; it was incredibly number-driven and performance-based.” Lundy says that it’s unfortunate that there are a number of negative stereotypes about the car rental industry, because it was an incredible training ground for her. She learned the importance of being customer-focused, always being on time, and how to communicate with various stakeholders.
“I watched how different departments interacted — what was needed and what wasn’t needed,” Lundy says. “I understood sales and the drivers of growth, and most importantly, how to stay competitive. All of those past experiences have contributed to the success of Black Girl Sunscreen.”
Build a brand that's relatable
Building a brand all starts with the name. When Lundy was thinking about a name for the business, she wanted to make sure it spoke to her and her community, and that it was relatable. “Black Girl Sunscreen just made sense,” Lundy shares. “I love being a Black woman, and I want women of color to know this product is for us.”
Black Girl Sunscreen is not only for Black women; it serves all women of color. According to Nielsen, Black consumers' choices tend to influence other consumers of color. When you lead with an insight that solves a problem for Black women, you are likely helping solve a problem for all women of color. Today Black Americans have a spending power of $1.3 trillion; the multicultural consumer’s spending power in total is $3.4 trillion.
Lundy explains that the intentional inclusion of the word "girl" is intended to establish the brand as accessible, friendly and relatable. “When I say 'hey girl,' it’s a term of endearment, and it’s how I address and speak with my peers,” she says. “I want Black Girl Sunscreen to be that friend that you'll take with you to the beach, on a hike, to hang out by the pool with your girlfriends.” The storytelling on Black Girl Sunscreen’s Instagram platform brings this to life: We see the images that reflect our friends, are reminded of the things that are on all of our minds, and are offered tips and support for our beauty regimen.
Be mentally prepared
“There will always be believers and non-believers,” Lundy says. “And you have to be mentally prepared for those who don’t believe, for those who believe your vision is too small and your idea is too niche and won’t be successful.”
Lundy self-funded Black Girl Sunscreen to start, investing every dollar back into the business. She was frugal, ensuring she knew how she was spending every dollar, so that when she did bring on investors, they knew how she would spend the money. “In the early days, three of us were headed to Michael’s, looking for props and items for our photo shoots. We were creating our content for Instagram, involved in making the product, attending and running booths at expos, and building our online presence all on our own.”
When Target and Ulta came calling, it was because Black Girl Sunscreen already had a massive, loyal following. “Whether it’s a buyer or an investor, my biggest piece of advice is to be prepared with the numbers. Know your business inside and out.”
Since 2017, Black Girl Sunscreen, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, has brought on 12 employees. Since the time of its inception, it has quintupled its revenue and maintained profitability, and Lundy continues to keep an eye on managing expenses. Black Girl Sunscreen is now the official sponsor of Women’s Track and Field at University of Southern California and is the first Black-owned brand to partner with a major university. It’s a perfect partnership for the brand and is an opportunity to build relationships with USC students who go on to be Olympians.
“Our number one mission is to continue to start the conversation around sun safety amongst people of color," Lundy says. "With Black Girl Sunscreen, we are ensuring that women of color are no longer ignored — they are seen, heard and included.”
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