Nyakio Grieco is a woman on a mission.
The serial entrepreneur, who launched her first brand, a namesake skin care line, in 2002, and the purpose-led retailer Thirteen Lune in 2020, is readying her third effort for launch.
Grieco’s newest brand, called Relevant; Your Skin Seen, launches June 10 with One & Done Everyday Cream SPF 40, with a steady stream of skin care introductions slated through the fall. The debut product is $38.
Relevant is the first brand to be incubated by Thirteen Lune, the retailer that Grieco co-created with Patrick Herning to create a platform for BIPOC-founded and allied brands. Since its introduction, it has since expanded into 10 JCPenney doors, and plans call for an additional 600 doors to be open by the end of 2023. Relevant will be distributed in all doors as they open throughout the year. Industry sources estimate Relevant’s sales could reach $10 million during its first year on the market, with more runway as Thirteen Lune’s footprint grows.
Grieco joins a crop of ’90s founders who exited from their original companies and are leveraging their experience in the creation of next-gen brands, including Bobbi Brown with Jones Road, Wende Zomnir with Caliray Beauty and Jeanine Lobell with Nene.
“My vision for Relevant is to take my two decades of experience as a beauty founder, and now a retailer, to find ways to better serve all people on our beauty shelves,” Grieco said, during an exclusive interview with Beauty Inc. “I saw the whitespace in the market by doing a deeper dive into ingredients that are safe for all skin tones, and not to leave anyone out when it comes to treatments, percentages and levels that impact people the most with more melanated skin.”
“As a retailer, I’m able to identify a niche where we can do better, and we can serve more,” she continued. “That’s what’s exciting about Relevant, and this experience with Thirteen Lune.”
Driving inclusivity — not just following it — is the purpose behind both Thirteen Lune and Relevant as well. “As a Black woman, a Black woman founder, and just as a Black female consumer, we all deserve to see ourselves reflected on shelves for the beauty choices we seek. That is at the heart of Thirteen Lune, and furthermore, at the heart of Relevant,” she said. “It speaks to ensuring that every person of every skin tone, age, background and experience feels seen and relevant.”
That point of view affected every stage of the brand’s ideation. Grieco worked with Best Formulations’ Lewis Bealer and Dawit Tecle, two Black chemists, to develop Relevant’s robust innovation pipeline. “In my 20 years, I very rarely came across chemists of color, and then was able to meet two,” she said. “They have been credited with developing some of the most important formulations with the biggest selling brands in the market, and they hadn’t quite been elevated to the role I felt they deserved. We worked very closely, and we were coming at this from the lens of serving the underserved.”
During the product development stages, Grieco also relied on her own skin care journey and experiences with different ingredients. “I would do these deep dives with my formulators, and we would talk to each other from the lens of our own experience in skin and as consumers,” she said. “When I would go and do the research to see who else is thinking about that when it came to acids, or sunscreens with skin care benefits that don’t leave a white cast — it was about how we can take that a step further.”
In that vein, Grieco is launching with an SPF because of the misconceptions she saw in the marketplace. “We are seeing melanoma numbers in all races, but especially in more melanated skin, rising every day,” she said. “I thought I could make it simple for people to wear a daily moisturizer that gives them all the skin care benefits that they’re looking for, and has SPF 40.”
While Nyakio Beauty, which Grieco sold to Sundial Brands in the latter’s bid for the prestige beauty shopper in 2017, was more naturally minded, Relevant aims to combine heritage ingredients with science-led innovation.
“My heritage played such a crucial role in Relevant. My grandmother was a Kenyan coffee farmer and my grandfather was a medicine man. Their teachings passed down taught me about using ingredients that come from the earth and its treasures, and how it benefits our health, our well-being and our beauty,” Grieco said. “With Relevant, from our R-Rev Complex to the emphasis on actives and clean, multitasking formulas that are science-led, I take with me everything they taught me about holistic health and living, and I get to marry it truly with the greatest advancements in science.”
The brand’s proprietary ingredient, the R-Rev Complex, is an antioxidant compound including kigelia fruit extract, buriti oil and plum oil. Other ingredients include hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, alongside green tea extract and green coffee oil. It is formulated without sulfates, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, mineral oil, synthetic fragrance and artificial coloring, and is cruelty-free, vegan- and gluten-free.
Plans call for eight more stockkeeping units to launch by October. Rather than introduce the whole line at once, Grieco has opted for a more cadenced approach. “New products are coming every couple of months so that we can give each product its moment,” she said. “The consumer is going to have the chance to really do a deep dive into adding them into their current regimens, and we are definitely going to be a multicategory brand.”
Grieco mentioned the “skinification” of makeup, as well as fine fragrance, as areas of personal interest. “I’ve never had the access to do that,” Grieco said. “Discipline comes from paying attention to what’s in the market, and thinking about how I can make others feel seen with whatever product is next.”
Accessibility is top of mind for Grieco, who turned down advice to raise the products’ price points. “We are in such unknown times with the economy, I thought $38 would be accessible for most,” she said. “I know a $38 daily moisturizer might still be out of others’ budgets, but we’re thinking ahead to various sizings and things we can do to share Relevant with everyone.”
To that end, Grieco is open to distribution beyond Thirteen Lune, noting, “I have many allies in this industry that are also in the specialty retail space. There’s nothing I would love more than to share Relevant with them as well.”
She’s also not ruling out international expansion. “The brand has been formulated to be globally compliant, so we are already in conversations with various global retailers and look forward to expanding internationally,” she said. “The truth is, Thirteen Lune, and what we’re doing with Relevant, is a global beauty story. We’re taking inspiration from the global ingredients we source, and the global experience I have with different formulators,” said Grieco.
Even with ambitions beyond her own retail platform, incubating Relevant via Thirteen Lune has given Grieco an unprecedented supply of brand-building resources. “This journey has been so different from when I started in the beauty industry as an indie brand 20 years ago. I was a one-woman show,” she said. “I’m able to show the industry that when you give a Black female founder the autonomy, the runway, and the support to create, you are able to output the literal brand of your dreams.”
Thirteen Lune rewrote much of the retail playbook — it was only 90 days post-launch that JC Penney Co. Inc. inquired about partnership — but Grieco, and Thirteen Lune cofounder Patrick Herning, had envisioned brand building as a key part of the business model.
“When we ideated Thirteen Lune, there were two businesses ideated at the same time. The first was the business as we know it today, and at the very same time, it was our first brand,” Herning said, adding that it’s not his first foray in private-label brands. He also founded 11 Honoré, which e-tailer Dia & Co. acquired on June 1. “I now have the experience of exiting a retailer that has a very successful private label brand. It’s really important when you think about margin health and scale that you have that vertically integrated product,” he said.
Both Relevant and Thirteen Lune are expected to grow exponentially as the JC Penney shop-in-shop rollout continues. The first 10 doors opened in the Fall of 2021, and starting in September, 75 doors will open per month until all 600 doors are live.
“We have approached our growth through the lens of profitability,” Herning said. “Every decision has been rooted in that, and what happened overnight with the JC Penney partnership was that we went from zero to 1,000 overnight… it’s a vehicle to amplify our BIPOC-founded beauty founders and build those businesses alongside ours. But it’s also become an incredible distribution partner for Relevant.”
Despite scaling up so quickly, Thirteen Lune “touches profitability right now,” Herning said. “We will be meaningfully profitable the second half of next year, which is within 18 months of launching.
“We are seasoned entrepreneurs who have both had successful exits. With that, you just have a different playbook to follow, and that playbook always wins: marching towards profitability, and even if you don’t hit it immediately, you have your clear path to it. It just informs every decision you make along the way,” he said.
Data is driving a lot of those decisions, especially where the evolution of Relevant is concerned. “We have a tremendous amount of brand data from Thirteen Lune because of all of the brands we carry, so we know which categories are important, which products within those categories are important, and more importantly, how to not cannibalize any existing brand partner of ours,” Herning said. “We have a tremendous amount of data and visibility into the landscape, and then get to figure out the white space within that landscape. That’s how we’re looking at the two businesses.”
Herning didn’t rule out a future for Thirteen Lune that involved multiple vertically integrated brands, whether they choose to acquire brands or incubate more. “You want to walk before you run, and you want to walk really well. Once you’ve got that perfected, you can start figuring out how that business scales.” Herning said, adding the sole brand focus will be Relevant at least through the first half of 2023. “Once we get Relevant launched and our 600 doors open, there is tremendous opportunity to tap into product development in a more meaningful way, whether it’s wholly owned brands, brands we manufacture or develop through the lens of inclusivity on behalf of third parties, like influencers, celebrities or beauty experts.”
Echoed Grieco, “We are getting a lot of inbound, whether it be from corporations that aren’t in the beauty industry yet and want to explore it, or from celebrities, artists, and people who want to test out having a brand without wholly owning a company. But right now, we are very focused on building Thirteen Lune, growing these brands, giving our founders the support they need, and now, Relevant.”
Thirteen Lune’s strategy — bringing in anchor brands to attract consumers, driving discovery of the more niche brands in its matrix — seems to be working. “We’ve brought some key brands to the platform, like Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross and Olaplex, and it’s bringing more eyeballs to some of our more niche brands,” Grieco said. “Our mission at Thirteen Lune is to create generational wealth through the lens of beauty. The more brands you onboard, you’re truly helping others achieve.”
For more from WWD.com, see:
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