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Princeton grad co-founders of Sahshé see opportunity in beauty boxes for women of color

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Carron White, right, and Ruth Fombrun, are ready to expand Sahshé into their full-time jobs.
Carron White, right, and Ruth Fombrun, are ready to expand Sahshé into their full-time jobs. - (AARON HOUSTON)

For Carron White, makeup always has been a frustrating consideration.

There are thousands of products made specifically for African-American women like herself, but often, they aren't lining the shelves of the local drug store. Finding them takes her time. Figuring out if they would work for her skin and her hair takes research. She decided there had to be a better way.

The answer she and business partner Ruth Fombrun have come up with is Sahshé, a personalized subscription beauty box for women of color.

"Me personally, and almost everyone that I knew, just spent so much time looking for products, seeking recommendations from friends or people who they thought had similar features — and then also going to the store and dropping $20 on an enormous product that may or may not work," White said.

The concept is simple enough: For $12 a month, Sahshé will send out a box of samples tailored to the specific beauty needs of its darker-skinned customers. That's just $2 more than the rate at Birchbox — which was among the first companies to launch personalized subscription boxes in the beauty industry.

But while the Birchbox approach is broad, attracting some 400,000 subscribers thus far, Sahshé is maintaining a narrow focus on women of color.

White drafted an exhaustive questionnaire that new customers fill out with numerous options — there are eight for skin tone alone. Fombrun then developed a specialized computer algorithm to match customers to the products that will fulfill their needs. So far, eight different beauty brands are sending boxes of samples to the company each month at no cost.

In April, White and Fombrun turned to YouTube to launch, inviting several beauty bloggers to take their beauty quiz and sending them custom boxes based on their responses. They quickly had 200 subscribers — a number they chose to limit at the onset while they focused on testing. White and Fombrun said they now feel comfortable adding more subscribers and will begin slowly adding some of the more than 3,000 people on their waiting list.

They are eager for the next step in the company. In fact, both have quit their day jobs to make Sahshé their full-time employment. And while that may be a scary thought for some entrepreneurs, it's one White relishes. Despite her success in government and the private sector, White said she never felt content.

"That's where the whole pivot in my life came from, not wanting to spend more years of this one life that we get doing things that made me unhappy," White said. "And luckily I had (Fombrun) along for the ride to support me in the areas where I'm weak — and vice versa."

E-mail to: maryj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mjohns422

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson is a staff reporter covering midsized and growth companies, as well as women in business. Mary lived in Fla., Texas, Conn. and N.Y. before moving to N.J. with her husband and infant son. Email her at maryj@njbiz.com. She is @mjohns422 on Twitter. Read her blog, Breaking Glass.

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