Earlier this week, Thirteen Lune, a direct-to-consumer beauty platform that was launched last year in LA, announced $3 million in seed funding. We might not normally pause on this kind of development, especially in a market where dozens of startups are announcing funding every day, but this deal stood out for a few reasons.
First, its co-founder is Nyakio Grieco, a veteran of the cosmetics industry who earlier launched a skin-care brand that she sold to Sundial Brands, which is now part of Unilever. Her new e-commerce platform sells products from 100 different brands, 90% of which were founded by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. And the outfit leading the financing is Fearless Fund, a venture firm that was founded by women of color and is making its mark by focusing exclusively on backing women of color.
Also very interesting: a tie-up with JCPenney that immediately gives Thirteen Lune the kind of reach that most nascent startups can only dream about. JCPenney long partnered with Sephora, but Sephora’s contract with JCPenney is expiring in 2023, and it chose not to renew, leaving the retailer — which last year survived going bankrupt — with space to fill. Going into those spots right now are in-store “JCPenney Beauty” shops, and Thirteen Lune is a featured part of that offering, with 10 locations already up and running and plans for 600 more locations by the end of 2023.
Put together, the pieces add up to what Thirteen Lune is characterizing, persuasively, as among one of the first truly inclusive beauty platforms. Grieco told us a bit more this week, though she declined to answer questions about the financial mechanics of the JCPenney deal, citing a confidentiality agreement with the outfit.
Excerpts from this conversation have been edited for length.
TC: How did you get started in the beauty business?
NG: I’m a first-generation American of Kenyan descent, and almost 20 years ago, I left my job working in Hollywood to create a beauty brand based on my Kenyan family beauty secrets. My grandmother was a Kenyan coffee farmer, and my grandfather was a medicine man, and I felt that the continent of Africa at the time was very underrepresented in premium beauty. So I left my job to start making my grandmother’s coffee scrub and to learn to create products based in sustainable oils, the kind that my grandfather had the ability to go out in nature and extract to treat the skin.
I started as a very independent brand out of my apartment in my 20s and served every role: founder, shipping and receiving, customer service, accounting. I learned very quickly as a young Black woman and first-time entrepreneur how difficult it was to raise money, but I was able to get a little bit of friends-and-family capital together to take the products to market.
You initially launched at Fred Segal; your skin creams were later carried in Ulta and are now available at Target. Why dive back into a new brand last year?
While we were dealing with the global pandemic, as well as the most heightened moment of the Black Lives Matter movement of our lifetime, I found myself showing up on all of the lists of, you know, top Black-owned, Black-founded brands to shop and to follow. And while we saw a significant increase in sales at Target, it was really built on the precipice of such a heartbreaking time. And I just thought to myself, how strange is it …….