Nyakio Grieco grew up in a family that prioritized clean beauty. At 27, she set out to launch her own beauty line, taking on the challenges of being a Black female founder. Today, Grieco has two thriving businesses, Nyakio Beauty and Thirteen Lune, and is on a mission to make beauty more inclusive for all and to challenge the stereotypes that products made by people of color cannot be used on all skin types.
I'm a first generation American of Kenyan descent. I grew up in Oklahoma and moved to California in my 20s to start working in the entertainment industry. At that time, a lot of products were coming across my desk, but I found that the continent of Africa was very underrepresented in premium beauty. It was also around this time that I began to struggle with my skin.
When I first moved to L.A., I dealt with young adult-onset acne. Luckily it didn't get so severe that I had to be medicated, but it was a very frustrating time. I'd always known how to take really good care of my skin and I hadn’t had to deal with breakouts before. So, to have this suddenly happening when I was in my 20s and starting my career was difficult.
As I began to figure out how to treat it, I discovered that the more I used ingredients that may have been a little bit more harmful to my melanin-rich skin, the worse my skin would get. But when I returned to the old school advice passed down through my family — using good cold-pressed oils to fight oil – my breakouts calmed down.
I remembered a trip I took when I was eight to visit my grandmother in Kenya and how she taught me my first beauty secret using Kenyan coffee beans and sugarcane from her farm. My grandfather, who passed away before I met him, was a medicine man. He had the ability to go out in nature and extract oils to treat skin. My mom would use those same methods to treat my skin and hair growing up.
So, I decided to leave my job working in Hollywood to start making my grandmother's coffee scrub and body oils that were inspired by my grandfather and that celebrate the sophistication of Africa. I started Nyakio Beauty in August of 2002 and launched the line at Fred Segal in LA and Jeffrey NY.
I was 27 when I started my first company. It was a really special time in my life before I became a wife or mother when I was able to fully focus on my own dreams. Whether it was because I was a young Black woman or because I was a first-time entrepreneur, I learned very quickly how difficult it was going to be to raise capital. So, I went straight to the source — to the people I knew and loved who were excited about my new venture – and was able to raise a little bit of money to get the brand to market.
When I launched my brand, there wasn’t a “clean beauty” category of skincare. People would say, “she has a natural skincare line,” but that had all these connotations that the products wouldn’t work on your skin and weren’t as effective for some reason. But that was always a disconnect for me. I thought, “These natural remedies and ingredients and rituals have been around for thousands of years. Why suddenly in the 90s and early 2000s are they considered not as effective because they aren't filled with a bunch of things that I don't understand?”
As I got further into my career, I started to do a deep dive into the science behind the ingredients and to work closely with my cosmetic chemist. I learned that just because an ingredient has a big name or comes from a chemical derivative, it doesn't mean it's necessarily bad for you. The key to finding the right skincare is understanding your skin and your skin's needs. Skin tone has a lot to do with it. For instance, a peel may work for you that wouldn't work for me because it might be too harsh on my melanin-rich skin.
I learned this firsthand after I had a baby and developed eczema that showed up in strange places, like on my wrist or behind my ears. It was really uncomfortable and itchy. At first, I thought, “Oh, I just had a baby. It must just be my hormones working themselves back out.” But when it didn’t go away, I went to my doctor. It took two or three doctors to get the right diagnosis, and, by that time, I was using steroid creams that were thinning and scarring my skin. It wasn’t my dermatologist’s fault. Within chemistry labs, there's this range of skin tones that are studied. If the medical industry doesn’t study a product’s effect on your skin tone, it's really hard to know how to treat your skin. It was very frustrating.
In 2017, Nyakio Beauty was acquired by Unilever and the products continue to be sold at Target.
Then, in December 2020, I took on a new beauty challenge when I co-created Thirteen Lune with my business partner, Patrick. We had the idea for this business in June of 2020, when the country was in the middle of a global pandemic and a racial reckoning.
During this time, I found myself showing up on all these lists of top Black-owned, Black-founded brands to shop. I would go through these lists, and it was shocking to me how many hundreds of brands I never knew existed. There were beautiful brands created by founders with very rich stories using incredible ingredients and formulations who had very little following or distribution.
During this time, I was also receiving DMs and messages asking, “I want to buy your face oil at Target, but can I use it because I don't look like you?” To me, it sounded absolutely ridiculous. But it happens so often that I realized that there was an opportunity for education around the subject. I, as a Black woman, have been using products my whole life made by people who don't look like me. Of course, I create products that you can use.
So, my dear friend and I came together to create a truly inclusive, beauty retail platform. It’s the first of its kind. Thirteen Lune launched with 13 Black-owned brands and now, 14 months later, we sell over 120 brands. Not only are we promoting this globally diverse range of beauty brands, but it’s also an opportunity to debunk the myth that Black and Brown people only create products for Black and Brown people.
As Black and Brown people, we are huge spenders in beauty and have helped to get so many brands to such massive success. I think that equity in beauty is about fairness – allowing Black and Brown founders to have a bigger piece of the pie and enabling consumers to better see themselves reflected on shelves through these amazing brands.
Growing up in Oklahoma, there was one store where my mom could get her makeup shade. For too long, many of our beauty aisles were segregated with “the ethnic aisle.” As a teenager and coming into my own, I found it so offensive that I was banned to the back of the store to find that proper conditioner for my hair.
Today, I am so excited and thrilled to be a part of the industry and to hopefully be a catalyst to move the industry forward.
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