When The Lip Bar owner Melissa Butler and creative director Rosco Spears debuted their vegan lipstick to the five judges on ABC’s Shark Tank in season 6, things didn’t go well. The sharks shot down the two entrepreneurs, with one even dubbing them “colorful cockroaches.”
Despite harsh criticisms, a general lack of interest, and foggy vision for the makeup line’s future, Butler and Spears bounced back.
After the episode aired, Butler says the harsh comments from the judges actually helped the brand. Thousands of emails flooded their inbox inquiring about their bright and bold lipstick tints. Butler says at one point, their site received 120,000 hits resulting in a server crash.
“When I left Shark Tank that day, I am not going to say it didn’t bother me because it definitely has impacted me, but I knew for a fact that they didn’t understand,” says Butler. “When you have a strong passion for your vision and your life, nothing they could’ve said would’ve broke me.”
It’s no surprise that Butler does well under pressure. She started out her career on Wall Street, working for Barclays during the height of the stock market crash in 2008.
“I am so proud of that because it was such a tumultuous period and all of my co-workers hated their jobs,” says Butler. “That’s what inspired me to start The Lip Bar, because I see this and I don’t want that to be my future.”
This was an entirely new venture for Butler. “I came from a finance background,” she says. “So, I wasn’t the little girl always trying on makeup growing up and playing with lipstick.”
Butler says another part of her inspiration to start The Lip Bar came from her own experiences of dealing with beauty norms growing up in the city of Detroit.
“I am from Detroit and Detroit is the land of light-skinned girls with long hair,” says Butler. “When you grow up, that is the norm. That’s what is considered beautiful. You would hear guys say, yeah she’s super pretty and what does she look like? She’s light skinned and has long hair. It’s like you didn’t really describe anything about her. Why has that become the norm?”
To combat these views, Butler says she started a brand dedicated to redefining what beauty is.
But The Lip Bar is not only for women of color. While the goal is to craft hues suitable for women of color, the company’s goal is to empower all women regardless of their ethnicity with a range of lipsticks and liquid matte colors.
Now in their fifth year, Butler says they are increasing distribution, including marketing the product in Target stores. Butler is also expanding the brand beyond the lips to the eyes with the same natural appeal.
“We pride ourselves on being organic and as natural as possible without compromising the color or product,” says Butler. “You can have these high-performing cosmetics without having unnecessary chemicals.”
Butler says they are also gearing up for a second Lip Bar truck tour. The idea, which was originally pitched to the sharks and shot down as a bad idea, became crowd funded and the first set of tours launched in 2015 from Howard University.
To celebrate their fifth anniversary, The Lip Bar recently hosted a party at Clubhaus in downtown Detroit in February. “I wanted to do something to celebrate five years because people say five years is that failure point for businesses,” says Butler.
With expansion on the horizon, that doesn’t seem to be the case for this Detroit business. “It’s going to be a really exciting year,” says Butler.