Welcome to Byrdie's new series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Tisha Thompson has been making waves in clean beauty for 15 years. She started as a makeup artist in the early 2000s and spent most of her career working with PÜR Cosmetics in Atlanta. The Georgia-native climbed the ranks at the brand, where Thompson started as a marketing manager in 2007 before becoming vice president of marketing and innovation in 2012. At every stage of her career, Thompson's mission was to diversify the clean beauty industry, and she was the driving force behind PUR Cosmetics' disruptive 100-shade foundation collection, which launched in 2019.
However, Thompson knew that work beyond the foundation category was necessary to diversify the clean beauty space. She noticed a perpetuated myth that clean, non-toxic ingredients, deep shade ranges, and high-performance products could not coexist. Wanting to put this falsehood to rest, Thompson decided to leave her job and launch LYS Beauty, which launched earlier this year. LYS Beauty's brand ethos is rooted in empowering people of color. It's also Sephora's first Black-owned clean color cosmetics brand. LYS Beauty's current product lineup offers a versatile shade range and skin-first formulas, all at affordable price points.
Ahead, Thompson shares the lessons she's learned throughout her career and building LYS Beauty and her advice for aspiring brand founders.
Has makeup, hair, and skincare always been a passion for you?
I grew up a little bit of a tomboy. I also didn't find a ton of representation when it came to beauty. I struggled with my identity and feeling pretty, so I turned to hair and makeup to get out of that funk. At the time, I struggled with managing and maintaining my hair and finding makeup that would work for me. That's where my fascination grew — I saw an opportunity to create products that would work better for me.
Once I got into beauty, I was obsessed. I became the go-to girl doing everybody's makeup for prom and braiding hair in the bleachers. After high school, I went straight into being a makeup artist, and I didn't want to go to college. My parents felt strongly about school and pushed me to go to college. Makeup became my part-time gig.
Was your dream to become a full-time makeup artist?
I wanted to make a career in makeup, but my family put a great emphasis on college, and I'm glad they pushed me. When I got to college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I was inspired by a teacher in high school who taught me accounting. I decided to focus on business marketing and accounting for my degree.
My first full-time gig after school was a staff accountant role. I was still doing makeup on the side to fuel my creativity. Then, I landed an interesting position for a company that made and created makeup products and owned multiple brands. It felt like fate, and I was constantly asking HR about opportunities on the beauty marketing side of the business. Despite that, I ended up working in my accounting role for 18 months and tried to learn as much as I could.
Then a coordinator position opened on the PÜR Cosmetics marketing team, and I pursued it. Though the role was, technically, a demotion, I felt destined to be on that side of the industry. I was confident I would be an asset to the brand at the time. It was a great opportunity, and I quickly worked my way up in the company. I learned so much from product development, operations, marketing, and social media. It was a 15-year blessing.
Your mission has always been to amplify diversity, especially in the clean beauty space. Can you talk a bit about some of the projects you spearheaded to champion those values at PUR Cosmetics?
As I got more autonomy and a seat at the table, that was my goal. All of the launches between the last eight to ten years were heavily under my leadership. I considered the PÜR Cosmetics' Love Your Selfie Longwear Foundation & Concealer ($36) my baby, and the lineup had 100 shades. It was something I conceived after seeing a brand launch a product with a disappointing shade range. I felt confident that we could create an impressive foundation shade range. I remember going to the CEO and telling them we need to make sure everyone could find a match and that we needed to focus on undertones.
It was challenging to prioritize undertones and still offer a decent range, but it was the best thing to do. Most importantly, I felt like we started a conversation and opened the door to show brands how you should launch. I think this launch made a huge impact on the industry.
When did you realize you wanted to venture out on your own and launch LYS Beauty?
I had so many ideas for the direction I wanted to take at PUR Cosmetics. That's challenging if it's not necessarily your brand. So I wanted to step away and focus on my sole mission and I started that journey in 2017. Soon after I realized that creating a brand focused on diversifying clean beauty is something I want to do long-term.
What has it been like transitioning from behind-the-scenes to being a brand founder?
It was an easier transition than I thought. I've done many things like setting up deals, working with lawyers, and creating products before. When you're under a CEO, there are things you may not have visibility of, but when you're the founder, you see it all. So, I was pleasantly surprised at the transition. It was tough to leave my job and feel like a gamble, but I was ready for the challenge. I think it's the best decision I could have ever made.
You've already made history as Sephora's first Black-owned clean color cosmetics brand. So how did the relationship with Sephora develop?
I reached out to the leadership at Sephora, and I sent an email with my pitch. I followed up twice before getting a response back. We set up a meeting, and there were a couple more pitches. Then, we were in motion to launch. It was a much longer process than that, but that was how it happened essentially. The timing couldn't have been better. Diversity and inclusion have always been part of Sephora's mission, but they are expanding upon it even more. Last year, they made the 15% pledge and continued to put forth significant efforts to improve. Sephora is one of the leaders in clean beauty, which is aligned with our mission.
What is a typical day like for you?
Every day, my overall goal is to make sure that I have a strategy and follow our brand vision. I'm working with all cross-functional teams to make sure they're executing that vision. I'm focused on the product innovation and creative side daily. I also oversee our finances, so I'm tapped into those meetings and speaking to those teams.
I am also actively engaged in the customer service component. I always want to know what people are saying, and I'll even respond to comments and emails to make sure that consumers feel connected to me. I owe those our customers and creators who have reviewed our products everything because their reviews and feedback have been what made us successful.
I love that. What are three pieces of advice you have for aspiring brand founders?
First, you have to know your why. Take time to truly understand what makes you unique and why you're doing this. It's important to have that point of difference.
Secondly, find a mentor. I think having somebody that you can learn from is critical. It'll help you grow faster and help you avoid some mistakes. Sometimes we are afraid to ask for help, but many people have paved the way and are looking forward to helping others. People point out that I am the first to do what I am doing. I like to think of it as: We broke through a ceiling, and now we can bring other brands up with us. I hope that we are not the last clean beauty brand that focuses on the multicultural global landscape. Our community deserves to have products that are good for them and formulated with their skin in mind.
The third thing is to know your finances. Learn as much as you can on your own. You do need people who will guide you, but you don't always want to rely on someone else to understand the financial health of your business. If you don't know how to manage money or understand things like the cost of goods and successful margins, it makes it difficult to grow and be prosperous.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is all around us, and everything can embody beauty. It's love, honesty, and compassion. I feel like beauty is being authentic to yourself, and I think it's in all of us.
What are some of your go-to beauty products?
My top two from my brand would be the Triple Fix Serum Foundation ($22) and Higher Standard Satin Matte Cream Blush ($16). For hair, I love Briogeo. For brows, I use PÜR's Arch Nemesis 4-in-1 Dual-Ended Brow Pencil ($24). I created it while I was there, and that's still my go-to brow product. I have been buying and supporting a lot of other Black-owned makeup brands lately. I love Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath, The Lip Bar, Mented Cosmetics, and Danessa Myricks' products.
What's next for LYS Beauty?
I'm excited to see the brand in stores soon. I want to make LYS Beauty a household name. I want people to know us and see us not just in the United States but globally. We also have lots of new products on the way. We launched with six items, but we have more coming because I want to have a complete line. My goal is to have skincare and makeup—the whole thing.