Coloured Raine Cosmetics LLC’s Arabian Night lipstick is a highly pigmented purple hue that’s no shrinking violet.
The bold lip color was 1 of 25 shades Loraine Dowdy launched her business with in 2013 and it was the one the CEO said set the tone for Coloured Raine.
Eight years later, the Black-owned, female-owned business with a workforce that’s 100% Black has made a name for itself among makeup mavens for its playfully vivid shades that work well on various skin tones and ages.
“I wanted to create a solution, and that problem still exists to this day, which is creating cosmetics that are wearable for people of color,” Dowdy said.
“We are known for our nontraditional lipsticks and pride ourselves on quality color cosmetics that you can get access to at affordable pricing. That was something that was very important to me, as a creator of the product. And to this day, we still price the same and have the same mission and model to create standout products that are intentionally formulated to stand out on people who look like me.”
Pricing is comparable to other indie and prestige beauty brands with classic and liquid lipsticks $17, eye shadow palettes starting at $25 for six colors, $6 sponges and $20 highlighters.
The San Clemente-based company is part of a diverse beauty industry locally that includes Urban Decay, Too Faced, Manna Kadar, Drunk Elephant and SeneGence, all of which are part of the cosmetic and beauty products manufacturing market domestically that research firm IBISWorld estimates will grow 5.6% this year to $40.9 billion.
Consumers appear hooked on Coloured Raine, which is generating revenue in the “multi-millions,” according to Dowdy, and has co-signs from celebrities such as Rihanna, Gabrielle Union, and Nicki Minaj.
The company is predominantly direct-to-consumer online and is also sold at German perfume and cosmetics retailer Douglas GmbH. It’s currently in talks with a major big-box retailer to bring Coloured Raine to its store shelves.
Sales were up last year and are expected to grow again this year as the company ramps its digital advertising efforts by some 30%.
Around August of last year, the company relaunched its app, allowing for easy in-app purchases and plenty of promotions for users. As a result, the app has been “performing a heck of a lot better” than when the company had it its first year in business, Dowdy said.
Mobile currently accounts for 12% of overall sales and the hope is for that segment to continue growing.
Minimalist the New Heavy
While Dowdy and team move to stay on top of what’s happening in the digital realm, they’re also taking stock of consumer trends, which have shifted away from looks maxed out on colors and contouring and into more minimalist approaches with pricing an important variable.
“People are no longer quick to pick up a 12-pan eye shadow palette,” she said. “They want something that’s six pans and doesn’t cost as much. Why? Because, again, COVID. We have nowhere to go because we’re sitting at home playing in makeup for the most part. They want everyday, quick—something to run to the store in. It’s out with the heavy and in with the light. Minimalist is the new heavy.”
Spending $60 on eyeshadow palettes across multiple brands is no longer in vogue, especially when consumers can drop $15 or $20 on a palette that they’ll get mileage out of since they’re wearing less, Dowdy pointed out.
“The consumer does not want to spend as much, and so even shopping for lipsticks, they don’t want to spend any more than $15 or $18, unless it’s a cult brand like Tom Ford. That [trend] started well before COVID and it started because of mass production,” Dowdy said.
Coloured Raine is staying insulated from that by producing domestically and offering what Dowdy said is a full color story, as opposed to one that’s relevant to only a few skin tones or ages.
Inclusivity was and continues to be the premise for Coloured Raine’s brand.
Dowdy was in investment banking for some 15 years before deciding on another career path.
“I wanted to find something I was passionate about,” she said. “Color put me in such a positive headspace.”
She was in New Jersey at the time of the company’s launch. She had no industry connections, starting from scratch and researching the ins and outs of the cosmetics industry.
“I learned everything myself. I taught myself everything I know through research,” she said. “I did not have a mentor. It just took a bit of diving on the internet to do my due diligence, finding manufacturers, finding someone to build the website, finding a printer, finding a graphic designer who can work on branding.”
At the time, indie beauty brands of course existed but the segment hadn’t reached the levels it’s at now, aided in particular by digital marketing.
Dowdy bootstrapped the business herself and left her job in banking about two years in when the Coloured Raine business began picking up.
Influencers helped the brand grow in the early days with individuals reaching out to Dowdy expressing interest in partnering. From there, Coloured Raine went to trade shows, event sponsorships and campaigns to ramp awareness.
About five years ago, Dowdy moved the business to San Clemente to be closer to the manufacturing process, which is done in California. The exception to that are the accessories and tools, which are sourced from Asia.
“We were one of the well-known Black-owned brands that were known for highly-pigmented products and so the competition really did not exist at that [launch] point and we just developed that,” Dowdy said of the competitive landscape.
“Fast forward to 2021, you now have a large variety of beauty brands that still exist, but there are still beauty brands that don’t formulate like us. The same mission we had from Day 1, in being intentional with pigmentation is the same way we are formulating products eight years down the line. While competition does exist and it has grown tremendously from that [starting] period to now, we still stand apart.”
Opportunity in Challenge
That point of differentiation may be why the business last year wasn’t hit as hard as some. While 2020 was challenging, Dowdy figured out the right moves to make gains.
“2020 definitely taught us that we would have to market differently and amplify our digital, so that’s where we invested a lot,” she said. “When COVID happened in February/March, those are relatively slow seasons in retail anyway. And then shortly after, we got hit with the second pandemic of racism being prevalent and senseless killings happening.
“We got a lot of support being a Black-owned business and Black-owned brand, so we started receiving a lot of attention from customers and new customers.”
Coloured Raine, as a result, was able to attract new interest to the brand in a trajectory Dowdy said has continued into this year, now with Black History Month.
The business was recently featured in Facebook’s Buy Black Shop Collection, focused on highlighting Black-owned small businesses, which helped lift sales about 20%, according to Dowdy.
The company runs anywhere from two to four digital ads at a time with a return ranging from 9.5 to 15, versus the typical 3X return on more traditional advertising.
Where influencers helped in the initial years of the business, Dowdy is now more discerning when it comes to those partnerships.
“It is still a prevalent part of the business, but it is not as imperative to the business because we invest more in working with Facebook advertising and the digital ad space. This is where we get a lot of the traction,” she said. “You can get a lot of momentum working with influencers but that dies down after a while.”
The company’s figured out a working model for influencer marketing, with an affiliate program that allows influencers to make a commission, while the company is able to gauge who might be best to work with on a collaborative basis.
Coloured Raine currently counts 127 affiliates, who offer their follower base promotional codes for the company’s cosmetics. Dowdy says about five within that group are “powerhouses” that help move the needle in terms of product sales.
As awareness rises via digital, the aim is to expand distribution with U.S. retailers in addition to international in places such as Mexico, the U.K., Canada, the Middle East and Africa.
They’re all places where the business has fans of the brand, but it’s been difficult in some instances to successfully move product through Customs.
Around 25% to 30% of the business is coming from international, a sizable enough figure to justify greater push for stronger distribution there.
Ultimately, despite the competitive landscape being so fierce, Dowdy still sees plenty of opportunity for growth.
“Considering the beauty industry is a saturated industry, there’s still a lack of products that are out there that exist for people with darker skin tones,” she said.
“Ageism also still exists. We’ve always prided ourselves on being diverse and inclusive. It’s not just about a skin tone. It’s about products that can be worn regardless of your age or demographic.”