By Johanna Ferreira
Diarrha N’ Diaye was growing tired of seeing Black women’s beauty needs being ignored. After years of working for brands like L’Oreal and Glossier and recognizing Black women never being a priority but always being an afterthought, she decided to launch her own beauty brand inspired by the beautiful and joyous women she grew up seeing in Harlem. The Harlem native with Senegalese roots grew up in her mom’s braiding salon, where she witnessed Black women owning and embracing their beauty up close and personal. But it didn’t take long before she realized that outside of subcultural hubs like her mother’s salon, the world wasn’t embracing diversity or Black beauty the way that it should. This is what inspired her clean, vegan, and cruelty-free makeup brand Ami Colé, named after her mom and aimed to celebrate, nurture, and elevate melanin-rich skin.
“I have always been deeply moved by how Black women show up in the world via beauty. I grew up in Harlem, surrounded by the culture,” N’Diaye tells Thirteen Lune. “My friends, joyous Black women at brunch, the Black women that frequented my mom’s hair salon — they all inspired me. But, when it came to makeup, I was never able to find a brand for women of color that represented the ‘my skin, but better,’ and ‘is that makeup or is that just her skin?’ makeup style that so many of these women in my neighborhood ascribed to.”
Ami Colé launched with three products: The Skin Enhancing Tint designed to enhance — not cover — a range of melanin-rich skin tones. It’s available in 6 shades but if you're worried that you’re not going to find your color — hang tight. The 6 shades are melanin-rich shades only ranging from rich, ebony skin to medium skin with olive undertones. And unlike most beauty brands, the shade range founder actually starts with the darkest shade and ends with the lightest — committing to it’s aim of putting melanin-rich skin first. The tint, which provides light but buildable coverage also leaves skin smooth and hydrated. The Lip Treatment Oil, which has already become a bestseller, doesn’t just leave the lip intensely moisturized, but also very much functions like a luxe gloss highlighting the user’s natural lip color. Unlike a lot of the highlighters out in the market, the Light-Catching Highlighter comes in translucent shade and wears and feels like a balmy highlighter, formulated to give less of the shimmery strobes we see on our IG feeds and more of a healthy and natural-looking glow.
“I wanted to create a brand that celebrates a truer version of women of color, pairing it down to stand out and glow,” she says. “Our formulas are designed to enhance vs mask the skin, and by doing so, we want to give women of color the tools to actually celebrate their skin.” N’Diaye is all about encouraging women to love and embrace their true beauty and radiance. Her beauty philosophy is simple: “Do what makes you feel good.”
“I really think it’s that simple. I try to find joy in the process of getting ready as much as the finished look,” she says. “For me beauty is a verb and a ritual. I believe it’s unique to each individual person and beauty brands like Ami Colé provide you with the tools to help you design, edify, and enhance your view of it. There is no size fits all.”
Get To Know – Diarrha N’Diaye
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Harlem, New York where I live now. I am first-generation Senegalese, so though I live in New York, “my home” always feels like Senegal.
What are some of your first memories of beauty growing up?
My first memories of beauty growing up were my mother and the clients at her hair salon. My mom loved dedicating Sundays as her beauty days, whether it was braiding my hair or taking the time to set up a little makeshift station to paint her nails. I didn’t know the difference in days or time growing up, but I knew there was school the next day when my mom pulled out that comb and Dax Grease or red bottle of nail polish.
What are some early beauty influences?
My earliest beauty influences were my mom and aunties. They were the first to bring those Senegalese twists, flat twists, cornrows, and invisible braids straight from Senegal, and I would always be in awe. My mom never allowed me to get those styles so early on, but they were also in my composition notes. I also loved after-school specials, so shows like Moesha and Sister Sister had a huge influence on my idea of beauty, especially when it came to hair styles.
What does self-care look like in your life?
Today, self-care looks like stillness. It’s me exhaling on the couch, praying, and spending time with my husband and family. It’s truly amazing to have that consistent rock to bring you back to what’s important and that’s happiness. I used to travel to satiate my ever-curious mind, but with COVID I’ve found ways to escape through books and deep holes of YouTube.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
Generation Z. I am in awe of the magic that’s coming out of the generation coming up and into their own. For the longest, beauty has been a top-down approach and millennials have tried to course-correct it, but Gen-Z is not having it. I am so inspired by their celebration of true self.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
There were so many people that didn’t see why we should exist. In the beginning, it was very difficult to paint exactly what I envisioned so clearly in my mind, with an elevator pitch. For me, Ami Colé is an emotional story and a personal love note to the many Black and Brown girls that were never the main character. Having to explain that to people who never experience this was a challenge.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
It’s a tough call. It’s split between closing my pre-seed round and our customers receiving and living their Ami Colé products. Fundraising gave me severe anxiety. I knew the stakes were against me and that the chances of me closing out a deal was slim to none according to the stats. At the time I didn’t have a plan B, it was just let’s keep going until we close, however long that would take. When we finally closed, it felt like a huge victory. But seeing out customers receive the final product and fall in love is the biggest accomplishment. That’s a different type of high because they are the most important in this whole journey.
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
I think the industry has been crawling past the diversity and inclusivity conversation and making strides to make this industry look better. The problem lies in the equity portion. It’s great to see representation but there are still deeply rooted systemic issues in the way we operate. It’s imperative that we have representation from the top-down. That looks like more stakeholders like CEO, SVPs and Strategic Operators that understand and consider the changes necessary to even out the playing field. We are now being invited to the table with initiatives like the 15% pledge, but new founders like myself are expected to perform as well as, or in most cases outperform, legacy brands that have had a head start for the past few decades. In this scenario, we’re set up to fail if we do not have the correct resources and infrastructure to thrive vs. survive.