Stevonne Ratliff shares how her dedication and organic support grew Beija Flor Naturals into the brand she never imagined.
By Tamara Curl-Green
Like many brands, Beija Flor Naturals was born of a personal need. When Stevonne Ratliff couldn’t find the right products to manage her skin discoloration and dryness on the shelves at her favorite beauty retailers, she set out to formulate her own products.
“It was a lot of trial and error. It takes years to nail a good formula. So, I had fun and took my time with it,” Ratliff says. She sought out ingredients that would address the issues she faced, and did it all with a personal touch. “A lot of companies just kind of go to a lab and get some turnkey solution, put a little flair on it, and turn it out. But I looked at the result I wanted and I picked each ingredient based on its properties.”
After launching on Etsy, Beija Flor Naturals found a groundswell of organic support that turned heads in the media and gained a strong international following. “Beija Flor organically grew into a company. I was trying to source the best skincare that I could find; that I could make with my two hands,” said Ratliff. “That was my goal. And I was willing to share it online.”
“Black women are able to go out there, innovate, and create amazing, beneficial products that are healthy. And we're circulating money within our community, making ourselves wealthy and building generational wealth.”
Get to Know – Stevonne Ratliff
What was the impetus to start your brand?
I started my brand back when there weren't any other brands like mine. I was looking for natural products formulated for my hair and skin type. I didn't anticipate growing a brand, I just wanted to make products that were high quality, and good for you.
I sourced and formulated my own products. I lived in Brazil, and I knew that they used a lot of natural ingredients that we don't have here that are really great for skin and hair. I decided to incorporate those types of ingredients into my line as well.
Do you have a beauty philosophy? What is it?
I like to say less is more. As much as I like nice things I want quality. I don't want to buy three moisturizers. I want to have that one amazing product; that one moisturizer, one serum, one toner. Then when I use that up, I'll buy it again.
Beauty can be overwhelming. You can have too much stuff. I used to be a product junkie. But now I use my products because I know they work every time. Of course I test new ingredients that I might incorporate in my line, but that's about it.
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
I’m from Northern California and I recently moved to the east coast. I'm in Philadelphia by way of Brooklyn.
What were some of your first memories of beauty growing up? What are some early beauty influences? (family/relatives, culture, era, location)
My great grandmothers—both of them. They were so extra! They basically raised me because my mom was a small business owner so she was always working. She would drop me off at one of my great grandmothers’ houses and I just had the best time going through their things.
One of my grandmothers lived in Europe so she had all this amazing perfume from France. She also washed her hair with Evian water because according to her, it made her hair softer. She had all of the Avon goodies. I would play in their skincare and their makeup all the time.
My mom was the absolute opposite; she is like no frills, get it done business woman. So I would go to my great grandmothers’ houses to play in all of their stuff. So they were a huge influence.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
There are a few things. One is the diversity—the diversity of products, the innovation. We have so many options, and there are black women creating all these things! I think that's so exciting for the consumer, because they're more likely to find those things that they want.
From a business perspective, I’m inspired by how many people are winning. There's enough for us all to eat, because the market is so large, and we're actually cutting into these corporations and these legacy brands that have not served us. Black women are able to go out there, innovate, and create amazing, beneficial products that are healthy. And we're circulating money within our community, making ourselves wealthy and building generational wealth. It's an exciting time for women in general who are running independent businesses, and especially black women when it comes to beauty.
I’m also inspired by a solution like thirteen lune that isn't just throwing a bunch of products together. They're talking to the founders and telling our stories to allow customers to support brands that they resonate with. The amount of personalization that's in beauty right now is amazing. These options didn’t exist when I first started out, so that inspires me.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
Bootstrapping entrepreneurs that are starting today have great blueprints. You can go to labs for small batches of products, you can execute marketing on a budget. Today there's ways to teach yourself or even outsource these things. But none of that existed when I was getting started. Early on I got really tired of waking up every day and grinding for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I didn't have the mentorship or anybody to turn to and discuss these things. It was really challenging to find my way through that period.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
I would say it’s the organic love that I have received over the years. The fact that I survived, that Beija Flor Naturals has so many great reviews, so many accolades has been a huge win. And when a customer writes me and says, “Hey, your licorice root elixir helped to solve my scalp eczema.” These are all huge wins to me.
I've won pitch competitions and grants but the accolades and the love that I've gotten over the years from the press, and from my customers, that's enough.
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
I really like where we're going in terms of inclusiveness, but what worries me is the mindset of some retailers that think the work is done once they check a box. Once protests sprung up after George Floyd’s death, many retailers reached out in a panic saying, “Oh, we’re looking at your brand.”
I don't want the intent behind diversity and inclusion to be white guilt. That's not a healthy place to start when you're trying to diversify a marketplace.