Essence Iman of The Established on Creating The Brand She Couldn’t Find
BY JOHANNA FERREIRA
Beauty entrepreneur Essence Iman founded her body care brand, The Established, after years of struggling with keratosis pilaris, a condition that develops when the skin produces too much keratin, blocking hair follicles and causing small bumps to develop. Though painless, the condition often leaves skin with a rough sandpaper-like texture or “gooseflesh” appearance. For darker-skinned women it often results in hyperpigmentation around the hair follicles that can resemble tiny blackheads or dark blemishes. “I felt so much embarrassment around simple things like having my legs exposed at the beach and like many people, I began to accept my embarrassing body care concerns as something I would continue to be frustrated by due to the lack of skincare options that were specific to me,” Iman tells thirteen lune. “It was out of sheer curiosity that prompted me to see what I could create on my own.”
After researching ingredients and experimenting with formulas, Iman eventually came up with her own formula that not only left her with silky smooth legs but eventually led to the creation of an entire product line that is now The Established. The entire collection is plant powered, ethically sourced, 100% vegan and cruelty-free -- formulated without formaldehyde releasing agents, phthalates, silicones, parabens, sulfates + synthetic dyes, nut-based-oils and ingredients. The brand’s mission is about approaching beauty in a wholesome and uniquely simple way with high-performing botanical ingredients that give results. Her best-sellers are the Elixa Bath and Body Serum, a highly absorbent oil-based serum that leaves persistently dry or rough, bumpy skin satin-smooth without the residual greasy feeling, and the Racy All Day Cream, that’s formulated with a rich blend of nourishing plant-based oils that leaves skin instantly hydrated and supple.
“There's more work to be done in making the beauty industry more democratic, namely when it comes to how minority owned brands are viewed as only for minorities. I would like to see more of a shift in this perspective.”
Get to Know – Essence Iman
Do you have a beauty philosophy?
My beauty philosophy is really wrapped around the idea of minimalism. I’m completely drawn to effortless beauty. I don’t do fluff and I don’t really take to products that over promise or over work. Beauty in my life feels simple, wholesome, easy, and includes all of me. It’s really important for me to invest in a routine that strikes that balance.
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
I’m from Philadelphia, born and bred. I moved to New York at 19 and stayed there throughout most of my 20s until eventually walking away from the quintessentially toxic NYC lifestyle to start my business. I’ve been back in Philly ever since!
What are some of your first memories of beauty growing up? What are some early beauty influences?
I always find it so funny that as a beauty entrepreneur, I really can't identify many strong beauty influences I've had in my life growing up. I mean there was almost no emphasis placed on beauty whatsoever, which just seems so hysterically ironic! I grew up in a single parent household where my mother was constantly on the go so she never had much of a beauty routine herself. I remember viewing beauty as more of a luxury than a practice, but it was still something I was just innately drawn to. Looking back, I was always deeply invested in this idea of self care before we even knew it as self care. Since early teen-hood I've been completely absorbed by the idea of self improvement, feeling insanely awesome and just making my time about me. Implementing a regimen made me feel so positive, so rich. It absolutely became an escape for me. My mother used to come home from work and fuss at me for doing a night routine before I did my homework. I would do a face mask before I so much as looked at a pencil. She just didn't get it. But I was obsessed. Now we laugh about how blatantly obvious it was that this was bound to become an eventual career path. Isn't it funny how much we truly know about ourselves as kids?
What does self care look like in your life?
I think in general I just love elevating my everyday experiences. But a lot of what self care looks like for me is slowing down. I'm in love with leisure and living at a steady pace. I take a long bath with a glass of wine almost every night before starting my nightly skin routine. I also practice a lot of mindfulness — being present in each moment and not being so attached to outcomes, which has actually reduced my anxiety levels tremendously. I've learned how to just let go — I allow myself to do what feels good to me in the moment without punishing myself or feeling guilty for indulging. So yes, I might totally binge-watch Girlfriends well past my bed-time on a weeknight. So what! I think we all could benefit from going a little easier on ourselves.
What inspires you the most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
I think that the consumers have become so open-minded. I don't really feel a lot of snobbery, which I find really fascinating, especially for such a competitive industry with so many age old heavy hitters. Regardless of that, doors still open for me and it's really all due to the mind of the consumer. People are so willing to open up their beauty practice to new things. And they're so excited to document their skin journey with you. Social media has really evened the playing field for indie brands like mine to be able to connect with the same consumers the big brands have had wrapped around their fingers for so long and I think a shift was bound to happen. People are more invested in transparency and a winning product story.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
Trusting myself and not really looking over my shoulder to what the next brand is doing. That initially was a HUGE challenge for me — not standing firmly in the niche I knew I wanted to hone in on just because nobody else was doing it. Body care simply wasn't a visible aspect of the industry at the time and at the start of my career I felt my confidence was a bit shaky and my faith was consistently tried. I have had feelings of "well, if nobody else is doing this, maybe that's because it's not a great idea." I had to make a habit of circling back to the voice in my head that knew what made sense for the brand that I wanted to build despite the market and outside influences. You've gotta kill the noise. The truth is, these larger brands don't even know what they're doing half the time. They just have the budget to make it look like they do. I had to learn to trust the efficacy and the philosophy behind my products despite the initial lack of visibility. I've learned to trust that I'm always moving forward as long as I keep moving.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
Having built such an outstanding, hyper-engaged community of loyal brand evangelists! It's one of the aspects of my business that I'm most proud of and passionate about. I LOVE the trust and connection I have with my customers and it's been so exciting to watch our community grow! Every morning when I log into our socials, I feel so supported. The content they share with me is insane. I'm awestruck that The Established gets tagged in these killer beauty counter photos alongside these skincare giants that I've either studied or admired for so long, and that my community essentially makes them aware of who I am and what I do. It really is quite remarkable, especially having started out making products in my mother's kitchen.
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
There's more work to be done in making the beauty industry more democratic, namely when it comes to how minority owned brands are viewed as only for minorities. I would like to see more of a shift in this perspective. You put a black face next to a product and all of a sudden that means that product is only for Black people. What? For so long, we've accepted that the beauty industry views whiteness as the baseline, which trickles down to the consumer perspective. This part of the industry needs work, and everyone needs to make their buying decisions more consciously, and not because it feels dope to hop on a trend. There really shouldn't be this great effort for awesome BIPOC-owned or women-owned brands to be viewed as brands for all. And until we shift this narrative, I can't unsee the industry's current diversity and inclusion initiatives as anything short of performative.