The beauty industry is known for prioritizing and catering to white and light-skinned consumers in its products and marketing. It’s only been in recent years that important changes to include people of all shades and tones not just in the formulations of makeup products but also in advertising. Latinas are major consumers of beauty products and a driving force in the industry yet representation within the products is still a work-in-progress. Latinxs make up 14.1 percent of beauty consumers, with Latinas spending more than $2 billion worth of makeup products in the U.S. alone, according to a 2020 study conducted by the statistics firm Nielsen. While it’s great to see major brands developing evolving with the times, it’s the Latina small business owners who are making strides and a difference.
That’s where Ring of Color, formerly known as Ella’s Eve Cosmetics, comes in. From the beginning, founder and CEO Melissa Polanco knew that she wanted Ring of Color to be a proudly Latina and Dominican-owned brand that prioritized diversity and inclusivity in its products and marketing. She also wanted to make her products affordable to so that they’re accessible and still empowering and good quality. With these goals in mind, the brand specializes in all things lip care including oil, gloss, lacquer, liner, and lipstick, all under $25. And bonus? All of the products are cruelty-free and gluten-free, and many are vegan and paraben-free as well. And though she started the company relatively recently, it exists today as the result of a years-long search for makeup that included people who looked like her.
“I never thought I would be an entrepreneur or have my own brand. But I realized I wanted to when I noticed that there were not a lot of people or women in beauty who looked like me,” Polanco tells HipLatina. “As I started doing the research about how to make a brand and how to run a business, I also noticed that there were not a lot of brands that were owned by women or by women of color. So that was an incentive for me because I wanted to make a difference in some way, to create a brand where people feel seen and represented, and let people know that if I can do it, then you can do it too.”
She doesn’t come from an entrepreneur or business background. Instead, she specializes in higher education and counseling, which she continues to do in her 9-5 job outside of running the brand. And while it’s been a learning curve for her, from figuring out how to register for an LLC to applying for a business license, it’s all fueled by her love of make-ip and beauty which started at an early age.
“I started playing with makeup when I was younger but I really got into it in my mid-20s when I started watching YouTube makeup tutorials,” she says. “But back then, my technique was to cover stuff because I’ve always dealt with self-confidence. I have this birthmark on my cheek that I was always self-conscious of and that I would always want to cover up. Then I grew up and grew to love it as a part of me. So now when I wear makeup, it makes me feel good about myself. I don’t hide my features like I used to anymore. I just embrace it.”
The brand itself has gone through its own evolution itself since it was originally founded by Polanco and her sister and originally known as Ella’s Eve Cosmetics in 2018. With their vision in hand, they decided to compete in a local pitch competition for small businesses for the chance to win a prize for custom marketing services, which they ended up winning.
“They were pitching us the name ‘Ring of Color,’ which was supposed to be a brand underneath Ella’s Eve Cosmetics,” she explains. “But I wasn’t convinced to change the name until I realized it made more sense because one of my missions in creating the brand was to celebrate beauty and diversity. Ella’s Eve Cosmetics wasn’t representing that and honestly, people weren’t connecting with it. So that’s how ‘Ring of Color’ came to be” and the businesses was officially rebranded in 2022.
Being a self-funded small business, Polanco quickly discovered that were a lot of perks, like having complete creative control over the logo, colors, formula, and packaging, which she designed to be simple and understated with clear bottles and black tops in order to “focus on the product inside.” She also tested the products on herself before their release, not only to make sure they worked as advertised but also to ensure they were safe and good quality. In the brand’s early days, there were also opportunities to sell in-person at pop-ups and other events in her area, which was essential for brand recognition, high sales, and networking with other small businesses, but then the pandemic hit.
Not only did sales decline because in-person events were no longer happening, which was the main source of the brand’s revenue, but with no social events to go to, no one seemed to have a need for makeup at the time. Everything shut down and Polanco, and the company, “was stuck.”
“We were suffering for a bit and trying to focus on being more intentional on social media. But being a self-funded brand and not having a lot of resources to dedicate to marketing made it hard. And when it came to sourcing the products for the formulas, our own manufacturing companies were also suffering and weren’t developing for the longest time. The pandemic affected everybody.” Thankfully, she says, “We survived.”
Five years after the brand’s founding, Polanco has experienced many successes, including being featured on Univision and garnering thousands of followers on social media. But she finds that it’s still her young love for makeup that keeps her going and pushing Ring of Color forward, even with all the challenges that come with running a brand on her own with limited experience, limited funding, and limited marketing. She does have the support of her sister, her partner, and her family, who often help her fulfill orders and go with her to pop-ups. She’s even hired freelancers for the brand’s many graphic design needs. But at the end of the day, she says, “90 percent of the time I’m running it by myself.”
But even that isn’t without its benefits, she explains. “I like the position that I am in right now because I’m learning every facet of what running a beauty brand is. And I do honestly believe in the brand. I believe in what it stands for and am very passionate about it and like sharing about it. To me, that’s very important. And because I have a full-time job, sometimes it takes me longer to launch a new product than a bigger brand or things don’t go how I think they’re going to go. But it’s about coming up with solutions and being honest with the people who want to know the person behind the brand and how it works.”
She recalls an incident last December when she ordered boxes for a new launch of lip liners that ended up being too small because she gave the wrong dimensions to the manufacturer. They were so small that the boxes wouldn’t close but because she invested money into them, she decided to use them anyway for her upcoming orders. She also made a video about the incident, which was new content for the brand’s Instagram page and a humorous twist on what could’ve just been a pain to deal with. It was also her just being upfront and transparent with her customers—which is what she wants her small business to be all about.
She hopes that by being visible in this new way, she is able to encourage other young aspiring Latina jefas to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Besides learning the logistical ropes of entrepreneurship, she recommends finding support in networking and developing relationships with other women-owned businesses, working with mentors, asking questions, and utilizing local resources that are designed to help folks through every step of the process. She also emphasizes that there’s no particular personality type when it comes to being a business owner. As an introvert, she’s found herself changing as a person for the better, both for her own development and the brand’s, while staying true to her mission and values.
“I’m learning to get outside my bubble, to be able to be comfortable enough and share about something that I love and connect with people. Sometimes you put yourself out there, you learn something new, and you end up finding a skill that you didn’t think you had,” she shares. “So just go for it. Because I think the worst thing that you can do is to regret and then start questioning, ‘What if I would’ve done this? What if I would’ve created my own brand?’
As the brand continues to grow, she’s approaching every new project with that passionate curiousity that was the driving force for her to found ROC. She reveals that she is working on adding blush and mascara to the Ring of Color line-up. She will also be partnering with online marketplaces and communities like Supergreat and scaling her brand.
“Do the things that you want to do and love and feel passionate about and see what happens. Because you don’t know unless you try.”