This Founder Needed to Pivot — Hard — After a Cancer Diagnosis. Now, Her Bootstrapped Makeup Brand Is on Track to Be in 600 JC Penney Stores.
Cece Meadows, founder of Prados Beauty, is on a mission to share Indigenous history, resiliency and beauty with the world.
"Makeup is not just creating cosmetics — there's an artistry to it."
And that's made all the difference.
Throughout her journey from finance professional to beauty entrepreneur, Meadows' success has emerged not only as a product of her financial savvy and generosity but also of the creativity that comes with being a "Pisces," published poet and makeup artist.
"I saw the marginalization of my people and BIPOC women in the community. I wanted to create a space for us in that industry."
Before Meadows was a beauty founder and CEO, she worked in finance for 15 years. It was a place Meadows' "very humble beginnings" hadn't necessarily prepared her for — her financial literacy came from her college education and professional experience.
Then, a cancer diagnosis flipped Meadows' world upside down. Battling the disease didn't leave her feeling or looking her best, Meadows says, and she discovered makeup as a way to cope. Soon, she realized she could share its power with others going through a similar experience.
"I would take my little makeup kit to Ronald McDonald House and do makeup on kids who were going through chemo and women who were going through breast cancer [treatments]," Meadows says, "really connecting with people on another level in a different industry, and then it grew into what I've done with products now."
From there, Meadows continued to explore the industry, ultimately becoming a beauty influencer and New York Fashion Week makeup artist. It was at that point that she recognized just how narrowly beauty standards were defined.
"I saw the marginalization of my people and BIPOC women in the community," Meadows explains, "whether that be the beauty community or the New York Fashion Week scene — the lack of representation of people that looked like me and come from the same backgrounds. So I wanted to create a space for us in that industry."
Meadows, whose ancestors are of the Yoeme and Nʉmʉnʉ people, from present-day Sonora Mexico, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, saw an opportunity to draw attention to the cultures and stories that so often go overlooked in the mainstream. She would start a beauty brand to bring them to light.
"I'm hopeful for the day that BIPOC women and BIPOC beauty brands can walk into rooms and get million-dollar funding."
Meadows began Prados Beauty out of her infant daughter's nursery, tinkering with her website and fulfilling orders while breastfeeding.
Bootstrapping was part of the brand's ethos from the very beginning: Meadows put the $150 she made from a makeup appointment toward the trademark and copyright application. "It costs a lot more than that," she notes, "but that was the first seed I sowed for my business."
Money has always been the business's biggest challenge, Meadows says. She sometimes jokes that her employees make more than she does, because, on more than one occasion, she hasn't been able to pay herself.
"I'm hopeful for the day that BIPOC women and BIPOC beauty brands can walk into rooms and get million-dollar funding and it not be an issue," Meadows says. "Because [today], less than 1% of BIPOC-owned brands can seal million-dollar deals."
Funding aside, Meadows was also surprised by just how much she still didn't know about building a business from the ground up. Without any entrepreneurs in her family to turn to for guidance, Meadows had to navigate the ins and outs of so many things, like forming an LLC, by herself.
Fortunately, she's also found a supportive community that's willing to help out along the way. "People really want to see [Prados Beauty] flourish and succeed," Meadows says. "[Those people] sharing their time and space has also been a beautiful thing to experience."
"No matter how big Prados gets, I want to have this promise with intent — not just with words."
Initially, out of necessity, Prados Beauty was a small operation — selling just two products, eyelashes and brush sets.
But, as it so often does these days, social media changed the game. Not only were people interested in the products, but they were also interested in supporting Meadows and her give-back initiatives.
Because the heart that launched the brand three years ago is still at the center of its mission. Giving back to Indigenous communities and others in need, whether through donations of products or time, has remained vital — the "Prados Promise." Meadows currently serves as the founder and president of her nonprofit organization The Prados Life Foundation.
"No matter how big Prados gets, I want to have this promise with intent — not just with words," Meadows says.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, Prados Beauty funneled 50% of the profits from its first cosmetics launch into fundraising efforts and PPE purchases for Indigenous communities that were hit the hardest.
"People think it's sales and branding and all those things," Meadows says, "but for me, really, it's the give-back portion that makes Prados what it is."
It's made Prados Beauty what it is, and it's helped fuel its growth: The brand is on track to be in 600 JC Penney stores by the end of 2023.
"Every collection that we have come out with is usually something that I have literally dreamed about."
Though the leap from finance to beauty might seem incongruent on paper, Meadows says she's always had an innate artistic drive — one that continues to push her creatively in business.
"It's been a huge pivot and an exciting journey, but also something that not a lot of Indigenous people have the opportunity to do," Meadows says, "so I definitely feel honored to be one of the first to do it and [able to] pave the way for those who are going to come after."
Bringing that creativity to life daily has been exceedingly rewarding, Meadows says, allowing her to draw on what inspires her most — like her dreams — to craft new products and designs.
"Every collection that we have come out with is usually something that I have literally dreamed about: color scheme, shape, the Indigenous woman standing next to a horse," Meadows says.
After she has a dream, Meadows wakes up and sketches it out quickly. To her, it feels natural, the culmination of the rich history she strives to bring forth.
"As an artist and as a person who comes from a culture that's very vibrant and beautiful, very colorful, a culture that's filled with artisans, it doesn't surprise me that it's something that I can take, create a story out of, and then share it with the world — and at the same time share the story and the beauty of being an Indigenous person," she says.
Prados Beauty's newest collection launches today. Called "Sagrado," which translates to "sacred," the products come boxed in deep orange and purple with a floral hummingbird design.
Meadows is also grateful for the opportunity she's had to collaborate with other Indigenous artists and designers, including Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa and Choctaw), Kassie Kussman (Cherokee) and Lil Coyote (Shoshone-Bannock).
Meadows' journey to beauty founder has been singular and colorful, and for aspiring entrepreneurs who are ready to transform their dreams and passions into reality, she has some hard-won words of wisdom.
"Consult with other entrepreneurs," Meadows says. "That is something that I wish I would've done. I have been around owners and CEOs my whole adult life, working in finance, but never really sat down and asked them what their challenges were and why. And so that would be my best advice: Reach out to some entrepreneurs in your same industry and pick their brains."