Amanda E. Johnson and KJ Miller

Mented Cosmetics
Amanda E. Johnson and KJ Miller, Co-founders, Mented Cosmetics, 2019 Dreamers

In a Harlem apartment, Kristen Jones (KJ) Miller and Amanda Johnson dreamed up the idea for Mented Cosmetics: creating a palette of neutral shades of makeup for women of color. The young friends from Harvard Business School agonized about quitting full-time retail jobs to pursue the uncertain path of entrepreneurship, and once they created their first collection, they worried that nobody outside their family members would be interested. But time and again, they found that the partnership empowered them to pursue a sometimes-scary future.

“When we were feeling unsure, one of us would say, ‘Why us?’” Johnson recalls, “and inevitably, the other would say, ‘Well, why not us?’”

The brand launched in January 2017. Today, Mented differentiates itself from other beauty products, first and foremost, by passing the “Does it show up on my skin” test, says Miller. “Our name comes from pigmented, and we believe that’s the key to our success.” The company’s #perfectnudepromise assures customers that they can exchange or return shades within 30 days if they’re not quite right, which encourages women to explore new products.

The line, which is both paraben- and cruelty-free, has grown from just lipsticks to include products like lip gloss, pencils and eyeliners. Johnson says they will continue to focus on everyday beauty for darker-skinned women, which may take the shape of different products and solutions. This past holiday season, Mented was sold in Macy’s Manhattan flagship store, and the co-founders expect to expand to other stores.  

Miller and Johnson, who now lead a team of 10, both enjoy thinking about consumer psychology and how retail trends reflect what’s happening in the larger world. They count on their customers to act as evangelists for Mented. “Month after month, we’ve seen how the community has grown and how engaged customers are on social media,” Johnson notes. “We’re excited every time we hear from a girl who says, ‘I've finally found my perfect nude!’”