EX1 Cosmetics' founder Farah Naz on what it means to be a WOC working in the beauty industry
In 2017, just 2.2 percent of the $85 billion invested by venture capitalists went to female founders. Less than one percent of that funding went to women of colour while fewer than 10 percent of venture-backed companies have a female founder. These statistics make for sobering reading, clearly showing that the challenges faced by female founders of colour are as relevant as ever.
One woman who has been an exception to the trend, however, is bio-chemist turned beauty entrepreneur Farah Naz, who has secured funding in excess of £5 million, well over the average amount of venture capital awarded to WOC founders ($36,000 USD).
A lover of make-up from an early age, Naz couldn't understand why she was never able to find a foundation shade that suited her skin tone. “Foundation always looked too pink or too orange on my olive skin,” she tells us. “Being a biochemist prompted me to innovate and I decided to create a completely unique blend of yellow/golden pigments that were designed to look like skin.” In 2013, after two years of development, Naz launched her own make-up brand EX1 Cosmetics, focusing on complexion products such as foundation, concealer and blush. Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength and is now a bonafide red carpet favourite, worn by everyone from Adele at the Brits in 2016 to Rami Malek at this year’s Oscars. Other fans include Britney Spears, Margot Robbie, Natalie Portman, Jourdan Dunn, Bella Hadid, Cardi B, Chrissy Teigen, Kylie Jenner, Mila Kunis, Priyanka Chopa – the list goes on and on. We caught up with the Naz to find out more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Farah Naz: I grew up in a leafy green suburb of North West London. Everything was a little too far to walk to and there were a disproportionate number of estate agencies. I longed for two things: a Starbucks and a place where I could buy make-up that matched my skin.
Have you always been interested in cosmetics? What is your first beauty related memory?
Farah Naz: I was 6 years old and I really wanted to wear nail polish, but my mum thought it would have too many chemicals for my young hands. I raided the kitchen cupboard and decided to make my own with some cornflour water and blue food colour. I was in awe of my nails for about 20 minutes until it got washed away in a water pistol fight.
What led you to want to study biochemistry?
Farah Naz: I was fascinated by the chemistry of the body and am generally someone that is driven by curiosity. I love exploring, poking and challenging concepts. Ultimately, curiosity leads to ideas, and ideas lead to possibilities.
Why did you make the transition into make-up and particularly to start your own line? What did you think was lacking in the industry that you wanted to address with EX1 Cosmetics?
Farah Naz: I couldn’t understand why foundations always looked too pink or too orange on my olive skin. Being a biochemist prompted me to innovate and I decided to create a completely unique blend of yellow/golden pigments that were designed to look like skin. The other aspect was affordability. The mark up on foundations by luxury brands is eye-watering and there is literally zero justification for the price. In fact, we are created in the very same labs that develop the world’s most expensive designer brands, but I knew there was enough margin to give back to the customer with zero compromise on quality. I just wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I priced it higher.
What is it about your foundation that has made it so popular in Hollywood, do you think?
Farah Naz: It’s one of the highest quality formulas in the world in terms of the raw materials and technology we use. I know a lot of Hollywood A-listers and superstars have gotten hooked to the unique golden healthy glow it provides on the red carpet. They tell us they love our products as they match the skin to the point that it is undetectable. Our celebrity fan base is off the scale now and the products have been seen on everyone from Adele, to Britney Spears, Cardi B and most recently, Rami Malek wore it when collecting his Oscar. Many celebs will often call in our products ahead of a big performance.
How have you found being a woman of colour in the industry and particularly when you were first launching the brand?
Farah Naz: The industry has come a long way from when I was growing up when less than 2% of models in magazines were WOC. However, beauty ideals have evolved immensely since then, creating an appetite for more diverse products and to some extent, the industry has had no choice to respond to demand.
You have managed to secure over £5 million in funding, well over the average amount of venture capital to WOC founders. What is your secret to success?
Farah Naz: It’s true that WOC get less than 1% of the $85 billion USD of VC funding globally and research shows they are equally less likely to be granted loans. The secret is to never, ever surrender your hopes and dreams to the naysayers who place limitations in your way. If we keep pushing forward collectively, we will bring the walls down.
What advice would you give to other young women hoping to get into the industry or start their own business?
Farah Naz: I have always believed that the best businesses are painkillers, not vitamins. If you feel that you cannot get a product or service you really need, start asking questions. If the answers don’t make sense, you’re probably on to something. Keep pushing forward and never look back.
What needs to be done in order to have greater gender equality in the business sectors?
Farah Naz: Organisations need to change their culture and start focusing on nurturing and supporting their female talent. As long as gender discrimination is prevalent, we need to continue the conversation to find a balanced solution. For me, the goal is not about women having power over men, it’s about women having power over themselves.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Farah Naz: In the visual and virtual world that we live in, the way we look has mattered more than ever. We have evolved into a society that is constantly sharing every aspect of our lives with the presence of social media.
For me, beauty and make-up have always been very important. It’s fun, playful, and can provide a confidence boost when you need it. However, how you look should never become the most important defining feature of our lives.