Domestic violence can’t be ignored, be it a current high-profile court case dominating the news or the troubling rise in cases during global shutdowns due to COVID, with calls to domestic abuse hotlines increasing fivefold. 1 in 3 women worldwide experience violence, and 1 in 3 domestic abuse survivors in the US are men. And for those fleeing these damaging situations, life on the other side isn’t simple either, from PTSD to the 24,000 people in the UK alone who ended up homeless due to fleeing a domestic abuse situation.
Cosmetics, built on escapist fantasy and a perfected exterior, might seem an unlikely ally for such emotionally traumatic events, but a handful of courageous founders are employing the medium to make a huge impact. Find Your Fabulosity, a 501(c)(3) foundation set up by Sheryl Kurland, has donated 65,000 lipsticks to 200 battered women’s shelters across 50 states. In the case of Natalia Me’gan Hair & Beauty and Evio Beauty, its creators are shining light on their own past experiences to inspire bravery in others, using beauty as a platform to support their fellow domestic abuse survivors. With half of such cases going unreported, be it out of shame, fear of retaliation, or lack of trust in the judicial system, speaking out has never been more imperative.
Schenika Quattlebaum founded Natalia Me’gan Hair & Beauty (named after her granddaughter) in August 2018, mere months after escaping multiple years of domestic abuse. “Makeup was my coping mechanism, I was abused daily and needed it to cover the marks. I knew I wanted to create my own line, but it wasn't the right time because I was just trying to survive,” Quattlebaum states. “I didn't think I was going to leave. In fact, I made a final phone call to my children, telling them whether I'm here on earth or in heaven, I will always be with them. It was at that moment that the fight in me kicked in.”
Starting from humble beginnings with Quattlebaum creating a range of four lip glosses in her kitchen, in a short matter of time the company expanded into lashes, eye and cheek products, lipsticks, as well as most recently, concealer and highlighter sticks. Despite getting a cold shoulder from industry figures she was reaching out to for mentorship, she persevered, facing challenges such as launching with Walmart in the middle of a pandemic. Today, she hopes to set up a mentorship program to help others who want to follow her professional path, as well as recount her inspiring journey in an upcoming memoir.
She was a recent honoree for the She Is Monumental award, gained Walmart as an online and in-store stockist, complete with a Times Square billboard announcement, and opened her own stand-alone store in Capitol Heights, Maryland, in May of this year. “I didn’t want to create a store, but a safe space where women can come together and network,” the founder explains. “The brand is bigger than cosmetics, it’s showing people that no matter what your past is—domestic violence, sexual assault, drug use, alcoholism, depression—don’t let it break you. There is life afterwards, don't give up on yourself.”
Brandi Leifso set up Evio after moving into a safe house shelter in Vancouver, having survived a domestic violent relationship at the age of 21. Reflecting on the bonding experience she had with the 29 other women she lived with, Liefso recalls: “All of us were so different and experienced some of the hardest times of our lives. Despite what we were going through, most of us wore makeup. I thought, what if there was a social impact beauty brand that created change while empowering everyone to be their authentic selves.”
Beauty hasn’t always been rooted in empowerment. Unrealistic beauty standards and a lack of representation can morph it into something destructive, rather than a means of creative expression or self-realization, but Quattlebaum and Leifso are taking a different approach. “A lot of people believe that without makeup, they aren't beautiful. That's not the message that I want to portray. The only thing makeup does is enhance what you have already been given at birth. Be your true self, no matter what that is. Don't let society turn you into something or someone that you aren't, ” Quattlebaum enthuses. Similarly, Leifso defines beauty as “kindness, protection, authenticity, and power” rather than as physical attributes. She adds, “Beauty can often be disempowering when we try to fit into a beauty standard that's not our own. For far too long, we've been fed a beauty standard that supports misogynistic, gender-normative, and ableist standards. But it doesn't have to be like that. When we throw these beauty standards out and support everyone to use makeup as a tool to express their authentic beauty, it's powerful!” Evio Beauty is currently working on a unifying standard of inclusion across beauty brands and retailers, as well as a gender-fluid makeup line.
To date, the company has donated more than $507,000 to over 27 shelters and organizations across North America, and is currently committed to bringing awareness to the domestic and intimate partner violence reform through the Did I Make Myself Clear? movement, which aims to reallocate funds to community organizations in order to enable safer reporting of abuse situations. “There is no safe way to report domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and on average a survivor returns to the abusive relationship 7 times. 2 out of 3 victims who have called the police in the past would be somewhat or extremely scared to call the police again,” Leifso states.
In the world of business, vulnerability is often seen as a weakness. But whether it’s addressing mental health struggles or domestic violence, it’s companies like Natalia Me’gan Hair & Beauty and Evio Beauty that are a testament to the power of honesty and emotional openness. “I've battled myself on whether I wanted to share my story,” Quattlebaum comments. “But being embarrassed is still giving your past abuser the power over you. That was my lightbulb moment to open up, and it's been full throttle ever since.”
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