Hue Noir is a makeup brand with a mission: to put women of color at the forefront of the beauty industry. Since 2009, company founder and lead product development chemist Paula Hayes has been creating cosmetics for women of color that deliver colorwise and nourish sensitive skin.
As a woman of color herself, Hayes is all too familiar with the difficulties of finding beauty products that work with her skin tone and also contain high quality ingredients. “As a teenager, and even into adulthood, I struggled to find makeup that didn’t inflame my skin or cause hives,” Hayes said. “If it worked for me from a color standpoint, it just wreaked havoc on my skin.” After consistently feeling underrepresented in the beauty industry and dismissed by numerous retailers, Hayes decided to become a change maker in the industry.
Hayes’ journey in the cosmetic industry began after she graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 1992. She landed a job as a food and beverage chemist and quickly realized it would be a perfect opportunity to learn how to make cosmetics. “I was always talking to my boss about how to do cosmetic chemistry because cosmetics and food chemistry are really interrelated,” Hayes explained. “The company I worked for also owned a flavor and fragrance house, so they cross-trained me in cosmetic chemistry too.” It was an exciting time for Hayes, but eventually, she grew tired of making products for other companies and realized she wanted to go down a business route.
After earning her MBA from the University of Phoenix in 1997, Hayes launched Hue Noir in 2009 to fill a much needed gap in the beauty industry. “It just makes me mad that I can’t get the products I need and it also feels so dismissive,” Hayes explained. “Being a product developer, I can either stay mad or I can do something about it with what I know. I was already tired of making other people’s products, so that’s when I knew I was going to pursue this.”
Nevertheless, launching her busy was no simple undertaking. She had to determine what product would be the most strategic initial release. “I had to think long and hard about what product I wanted to lead with because I was launching my business in the middle of the recession,” Hayes explained. “So I chose lipstick because it’s something consumers are willing to take a chance on.” Hue Noir’s lipsticks were so popular that soon customers started asking about other products, and Hayes’ company quickly grew from there. Today, Hue Noir offers five different lip, face, and eye products in numerous shades.
Despite Hue Noir’s success, Hayes wants to ensure that their products remain accessible. To Hayes, Hue Noir is a perfect example of approachable, affordable luxury. “I wanted to offer the very best product and guarantee nourishing benefits,” Hayes explained. “But I didn’t want to price out the average consumer.” Hayes realized there was a need in the market for affordable and high quality products designed for women of color. Hue Noir fills this gap and also caters to a broad customer base.
For Hayes, understanding her customer is essential to creating a meaningful product. Moreover, not only does Hayes know her customer, but she also is her customer. That is precisely why Hue Noir succeeds as a company operated by women of color for women of color. “Our brand uses real women to develop our shades of lipsticks, foundations, and eyeshadows,” Hayes said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten reviews from people saying ‘Wow, this is the best foundation match I’ve ever had.’” To ensure her products deliver, Hayes spends extensive time perfecting her formulas and testing new ingredients. Doing so sets Hue Noir apart both from a brand and product standpoint.
Most beauty companies are only differentiated from a brand perspective rather than a product perspective. This means that two distinct companies may be using identical recipes from a contract manufacturer and are simply rebranding them. However, Hue Noir is different. They craft and test each distinct formula, which is why their products work so well. Additionally, each product contains high quality ingredients that you won’t find in the majority of products from other beauty brands. “I want Hue Noir products to look great colorwise but also have benefits beyond color,” Hayes explained.
As Hayes continues to look towards the future, so too do her loyal customers. “I’m always looking to support makeup brands that cater to women of color,” one customer wrote in a review about Hue Noir’s True Hues Flawless Finish Foundation in the shade Chestnut. “When I saw this brand, it immediately grabbed my attention. I look forward to purchasing more products in the future.”
At this point, Hayes hopes to continue reaching new customers in both national and international markets. “I always thought there would be some great international opportunities for us,” Hayes said. “So now we’re at the point where I’m starting to get Hue Noir products evaluated by distributors in other countries.” For Hayes, this is the first step towards fulfilling her larger dream to offer real beauty solutions for women all over the world. “I always say my vision is for Hue Noir to be the premiere, preferred and dominant brand of makeup the world over,” Hayes said. While she acknowledges her vision is ambitious, her tenacious passion and entrepreneurial achievements exemplify how brands with a mission can become movements with an impact.