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Photography and make-up Raoul Alejandre with Dior Makeup, agency Sun-ny Side Up

Kristen Noel Crawley is paving the way for the next-gen of POC in beauty

The founder of KNC Beauty talks to us about her journey into beauty and the return of KNC School of Beauty – an online school to support BIPOC with small businesses – to celebrate Black History Month

If you use the internet at all, then it’s highly likely in the last few years you’ve seen Kristen Noel Crawley’s famous millennial pink lip masks already. Unsurprisingly a beauty influencer fave, the collagen-infused mask was the first product to launch Crawley’s brand KNC Beauty.

Having grown up in the midwest of America, it was not until she started travelling in her early 20s that her love for skincare and beauty was ignited. “I went to Japan. And that was the first time I’ve ever seen a skincare routine – it was double cleansing and double moisturising. I started doing that and my skin changed so much,” Crawley told us. It was that trip in particular that pushed her to launch what has now become her burgeoning beauty empire.

Last year, Crawley launched the KNC School of Beauty, an online school for BIPOC with small businesses within the world of beauty, skincare and wellness. Split into individual masterclasses, the sessions gather Crawley’s biggest business lessons with the experiences of other successful industry members to provide insight into an industry which can often feel difficult to break into. Now, in celebration of Black History Month, February 9 will see the third session of the initiative. Sponsored by Revlon, students have the opportunity to win a $10,000 business grant. Other opportunities include a social media takeover on the Revlon and KNC Beauty IG and a five-hour business coaching session donated by New Voices.

Below, we caught up with Kristen Noel Crawley about her journey thus far, the KNC School of Beauty and what it feels like to be a woman of colour in the beauty world.

What is your earliest beauty memory?

Kristen Noel Crawley: I have a lot of very tragic, early beauty memories because growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, the internet wasn’t really around, and there definitely weren’t YouTube or beauty tutorials – there wasn’t really anything you could look to. I always remember reading my mom’s Cosmopolitan, they always had a beauty tips section and I followed that religiously. So that’s one memory, but I think even before that, I would say I have some class photos from when I was young. One time I over-tweezed my eyebrows right before picture day, I don’t know what I was doing but I was 12 years old and I just kept going! I actually want my mom to burn those photos, but I feel like we all have like that one year or two years, we had these super skinny eyebrows. 

What was your skincare routine when you were maybe like a teenager? Did you have one at all?

Kristen Noel Crawley: No, not really, it was really only like drugstore products. I remember using Clean and Clear, but that was pretty much all I had access to and there were never any steps, it was just: wash your face and put on the night cream. No serums, nothing fancy at all. But, I really fell in love with skincare when I started travelling in my early 20s.

What pushed you to launch KNC Beauty?

Kristen Noel Crawley: I was in Don Quijote, in Japan, and I saw that they had like lip masks there. I loved the idea because I’m from the midwest, in Chicago right now actually, and it’s so cold and dry. I would get really really chapped and dry lips in the wintertime, so I was always looking for lip care. They had lip masks, and I loved the idea. I tried the product and really liked it. but what I didn’t like is that it was filled with chemicals and had so many ingredients for that little thing and I thought that can’t be good, you know, putting that on your mouth and maybe ingesting that. So I started to look for an all-natural alternative and I couldn’t find one and so that’s kind of when the lightbulb went off. I started thinking about what if I made this product, how would I make it better and then I started reaching out to factories, and I got the ball rolling. It took a good two years from ideation to actual output but it was a great decision.  

What is your personal favourite of your products? 

Kristen Noel Crawley: It’s hard to choose, it’s like saying, which child is your favourite? So that’s always a tough question. Obviously, I am drawn to the lip masks, because it’s my baby, it’s my first product, and that’s what started everything. I always have a soft spot for that. But I love our lip scrub and the Superbalm I use every day, religiously. The eye mask I use when I’m feeling tired, so it’s hard to choose but I’d say my favourite all-around product is the lip mask and product I use every day is Superbalm.

Last year, the beauty world was one of the industries that was kind of really put under the microscope for its diversity or lack thereof, how did it feel to navigate that as women of colour in the industry?

Kristen Noel Crawley: It was an interesting time, for sure. Where I grew up, the standard of beauty was always white skin, light eyes, and blonde hair, and that’s just all you saw. In the past few years, I’ve been seeing consumers demanding more inclusivity and the fact that it has to get to that point of the riots for beauty brands to really take a look at what is going on, was pretty sad. But I feel like the open dialogue that a lot of people were having was very helpful. 

A lot of companies made a lot of promises and you can see now even a few months later, some of them have disappeared, and some of them are staying with it. I’m still navigating it, I’m still trying to just pay attention. Things like the 15% Pledge, when you make a pledge like that you have to stick with it and I’m just observing. But it was, it was an interesting time for sure. And I think it shows the power of consumers. We are the ones with the power so we can demand diversity and inclusivity and I think that’s great for brands that are actually listening to the consumer.

Talk to us about the KNC School of Beauty, how did the idea come about?

Kristen Noel Crawley: That was my contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement. I was watching everything going on, and I’m obviously pissed and concerned and want to help and want to change. I was thinking about my industry specifically and how to help the Black community. I have mentored quite a few young women throughout my career, and that’s always brought me fulfilment. This is basically that on a bigger scale. We’re bringing in these super successful and inspiring women that have gone through like many challenges, that you face as a small Black-owned business in that space. It’s just a way for me to help out my community, to pass the torch, and to introduce these business practices to people so that they would have to go through years of making the same mistakes.

”We’re bringing in these super successful and inspiring women that have gone through like many challenges, that you face as a small Black-owned business in that space. It’s just a way for me to help out my community, to pass the torch, and to introduce these business practices to people so that they would have to go through years of making the same mistakes” – Kristen Noel Crawley 

I love that. And one thing that really seems to be highlighted in the school is the importance of mentorship. When you were first starting did you have a mentor and someone you looked to for guidance or did you have to figure it out more for yourself?

Kristen Noel Crawley: I definitely have friends that if needed something I could ask them. Cassandra Grey was super helpful and when I kick-starting my career, Violet Grey was the first retailer that picked up KNC Beauty – having that affiliation, really helped me solidify my brand. She was someone that I could call with a question, but my personality was very like: ‘Oh, I kind of want to do it on my own’ and that's what I ended up doing, but I also made more mistakes than someone would if they had a mentor they could go to all the time. That's why I think the School of Beauty is so great because you can get so much knowledge in such a short time.

The creative aspects of startups are often talked about more than the business entrepreneurial side of things, but looking at what you've created, it's quite obvious, you have quite a business-savvy mind as well. Where did that come from?

Kristen Noel Crawley: You know, I always had businesses when I was a kid. I was always trying to make money. When I wanted to buy clothes or games or whatever, I had to work for my money. My mom didn't just give me like an allowance or anything, I had to do chores and I definitely think that that helped, for sure. Before I had my beauty brand, I had a fine jewellery brand called KDIA and I was stocked and colette, Browns, and Barney's. That was a real passion project for me and although it didn't work out on the business side, I learned a lot from it. It's all about that experience. I may have not gotten KMC this far had I not had that experience of that failed business before. It just takes time. I feel like I've always kind of had that spirit but just in the past 10 years, I've been acting on it more.

Yeah, for sure. And in those past 10 years, what would you say has been the greatest challenge and how did you work through that?

Kristen Noel Crawley: For me, scaling my business has definitely been the greatest challenge. It started out with really just me and then I hired another person, and then I hired another person and another person. Now, I'm trying to figure out where to go from here because we're still self-invested. There's just so many corners that you have to talk when you're a business, so I'm trying to figure out how do I scale without, you know, giving away a large chunk of my company or, you know, taking a big loan, that's, that's where I'm at right now.

If there’s one thing you hope the students take away from the School of Beauty, what would it be? 

Kristen Noel Crawley: I feel like everyone’s situation is different depending on their circumstance, so I want them to take away what best will help them. It might not be one single piece of advice, but what’s the best thing that’s catered to you? With the KNC School of Beauty, we’re bringing in women that have very different paths and circumstances and are all around just different. I hope it inspires these young women that are watching to think I can do it too. I mean, other than that, my motto is always: just do it.

Apart from your own, what is your favourite beauty brand and why?

Kristen Noel Crawley: I love La Mer, it’s just so fancy. It’s just like a holy grail beauty product. I just feel very special every time I use it, and it works really well. I also love Dr Barbara Sturm, she’s a good friend of mine. I use her hyaluronic acid serum religiously and the sundrops. Black Girl Sunscreen also makes an amazing sunscreen. I use it for my kids because their skin is a little bit darker and so they need that. It just like melts into their skin and it’s perfect. 

I love Black Girl Sunscreen, it does not leave you looking grey and ashy!

Kristen Noel Crawley: Yes! I discovered her brand during like the whole support Black businesses. I ordered it and I was like, this is a genius product.

If you could describe what it feels like to be a Black woman in the beauty industry in 2021 in three words, what would they be?

Kristen Noel Crawley: It’s our time.

Sign up for the KNC School of Beauty here.