Eye2Eye wants to bring ownership, equity through wholesale of African cosmetic ingredients

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

Eye2Eye is a cosmetics ingredient wholesaler which focuses on beneficial social programs and ownership for people of color through the supply chain. © Getty Images - Marta Conti
Eye2Eye is a cosmetics ingredient wholesaler which focuses on beneficial social programs and ownership for people of color through the supply chain. © Getty Images - Marta Conti

Related tags Shea butter Ingredient suppliers Supply chain Africa

Supply chains are long and all too often include exploration of individuals near the bottom of it. CosmeticsDesign spoke with Chelsea Heyward, director of marketing at wholesaler Eye2Eye, about how the company is aiming to bring more ownership and equity to people of color in the cosmetics supply chain.

What is Eye2Eye? What does it do in cosmetics?

Essentially Eye2Eye​ is here to be a community-led, community-supported company. That encompasses a lot, but really our focus is on delivering both high-quality products as well as supporting the people who are purchasing those products, whether that's through job creation, supporting the farmers that we're sourcing from or making sure that there's representation across the industry.

What we found is that people of color make up about 40% of the population yet only 20% of ownership across businesses. In the hair industry, people of color over-index in purchasing these products compared to how much ownership there is. So throughout that whole linear thread, it's about ownership and empowerment.

What specific roles does your company fill in hair care and cosmetics?

I think there are three things, the first being access, ensuring that brands have an opportunity to access high-quality goods. 

With our shea product, there isn't enough information circulating around the market right now. A lot of people are turned off by shea because of the smell and a lot of the brands that people look for as a quality brand are actually rancid. Shea butter’s shelf life has often expired prior to it reaching consumers, so that smell people talk about is often associated with that rancidity. 

We’re getting people access to quality products, as well as access to the information to know what is or is not quality. We’re also centering that access around people of color to ensure that we’re high quality, competitively priced and ethically sourced and giving people access to all of those avenues.

Then around ownership, we’re getting ownership both for people of color represented in the beauty industry and then ownership for the companies that we work with. Eye2Eye is making sure that our suppliers are treated fairly and ethically and getting their fair share of the business, as well as the return on that business, to make sure that there's ownership built up throughout those communities.

Lastly, I mentioned it when I was speaking more about access, but provide quality and don’t substitute quality for consistency or access or ownership or any of those things. We're still recognizing the bottom line here and that brands want quality. If access or ownership or quality are anything that's important to brands, we've got a lane for everyone on top of the ethical empowerment space that we're navigating through.

How did Eye2Eye start?

It started in April of 2020, which was just crazy timing because our founders had the vision of wanting to bring more ownership and access to communities of color within the beauty industry specifically. As they were bringing on the right people for the project, we identified that it was still pertinent to have high quality to make those good sales, we didn't need to just sell anyone anything at any price to make this work. We could still be a premium product.

Through that our founders came together and brought folks like myself on board in April 2020 when this wasn't something people were really talking about and then in May 2020, when George Floyd was murdered, all of the sudden economic empowerment and Black Lives Matter, all of these sort of catchphrases, shot to the top of focal points for communities. 

We found ourselves in the unique position of sort of being ahead of the curve and then almost being behind the curve within a span of several weeks.

Can you tell me a little bit about what is wrong with the way the ingredient supply chain usually works, what problem Eye2Eye is solving?

The primary problem is exploitation, and that's sort of a big umbrella because it spans across touchpoints on that supply chain, but starting with the farmers and making sure that they're compensated for their wages. It's known that different industries have very exploitive practices for products that people use every day. When you think about that scale, the problem that we're coming in here to address is specific to the beauty industry, but the hope is that the trickle-down from that will lead into other industries, treating people more ethically and humanely.

Then spanning out from there, we’re working with our suppliers and with some of the distributors, making sure that there's ownership, or that we're centering those people as well, trying to find a black-owned logistics company for a full pipeline of ownership across communities of color for all the places we have touch points on. 

Of course, getting back to the consumer, bringing these products then to local small businesses who either wouldn't have had access to these products because they were maybe just sourcing from Amazon and paying a marginal uptick for how much they cost versus if they were working directly with the wholesaler like ourselves. 

To sum it up in the problems we're solving, it's sort of the same pain points of access, ownership and quality, thus, keeping out exploitation and making sure that there are ethical practices happening as well as growth. Like I said, we're not trying to short sell anyone here. We still recognize the need for the business incentives to have to make cents with a C.

Having all of these marry in together the problem we're solving is just bettering the beauty industry.

If I were a brand coming to Eye2Eye what kind of services could you provide me?

Right now the most utilized service is sourcing. We're finding folks products from primarily on the African continent. We have a couple of contacts in South America and India. So if they're like “I need this product, how can I get it?” we've tried to both find them something that's of quality, within their price range and work to support them in that sense. 

As we continue to grow and build, it's helping them to tell that story that's tied to ethical practices, and those practices are then ensuring that women are getting vocational training to help uplift that community as a whole or that youth are getting educated. We’re capturing those moments and helping to funnel that into their own marketing for their own brand so they can say “I'm working with Eye2Eye” and make that a brand recognition. That's actually more of where we're going, but right now, what we're primarily focused on is getting our products into the hands of these brands.

What kinds of ingredients do you see brands coming to you for the most?

Our flagship and globally recognized are the shea butter and then less so, but still a priority for people who know what to look out for, is the shea nilotica. The shea butter is just general shea butter, but ours is premium-grade A measured by the Shea Butter Institute. What that means is that hits all the highest standards, it's not rancid, versus being watered down or having come into contact with contaminants.

The shea nilotica is a more luxurious, creamy or softer, easier-to-apply version of shea butter from East Africa. This one becomes important for smaller brands because it's easier to mix and if you want a softer product, this is for you unless you're making a soap or something more sturdy.

Brands are coming primarily for those two products, those are our best sellers. After that a lot of folks are interested in castor oil, which is another one that people are more familiar with and some of the ones that people aren't more familiar with, we try to get them to at least test it out so they recognize that this is an opportunity for innovation within their product. 

That's stuff like wild African calabash, which is another premium oil that has its own benefits. Even recognizing chia seed oil,  instead of ingesting the seeds, you could be applying the oil to your skin and all of the benefits in that regard. 

But probably Shea butter and then shea nilotica are the top two movers in our world.

Right now, how are you measuring success?

We're still new, growing in this year and a half timeline. Right now we're measuring success on sales. 

We've identified key partners on the ground in Africa who have visited the farms and vouch that they're doing all the things that they say they're doing. That's not a win that we've been measuring because it's already solidified. 

Going down that road of supporting with this marketing story, success will be measured by the companies that we’re supporting are gaining sales and gaining traction based off those stories that they're supporting in Africa.

What's the next step for Eye2Eye?

I think even a step sort of before that marketing sell is really getting that brand recognition, getting it to be more officials so that folks know this is what this means if we're sourcing from Eye2Eye. Even before that, we've been working with a lot of small brands, which is great, that's why we're here … but then connection with some of these bigger brands will give us an opportunity to scale that impact. 

That's what we're trying to figure out right now, and that's where we're trying to get more business, through some of these larger corporations because they have so much control over the industry that getting them to source these products would be able the staple in leading this forward movement for the sourcing storytelling.

From a brand perspective, why does this concept matter?

Brands are essentially a consolidation of a bunch of people working on things, and if you break that down then you recognize that all of the spaces where you impact people, you should be treating those people the way you yourself would want to be treated, the way your employees are currently treated. That should not stop at the doors of your building or virtual office. 

Recognizing that it's important for that throughline to spread from soil to soul, from where their products are grown all the way to the person who's touched by your product. For brands, impact should be important because we all live in this world together and we should be working towards making a more harmonious environment for everyone versus figuring out how I can get to the top most quickly at the expense of whoever. 

That's just my personal opinion, but I think morally it's a position that a lot of people should take and we could get a lot further together if people had this more inclusive approach.

What else is it important for people in the cosmetics industry to know about Eye2Eye?

Because we're focusing on quality products, because we’re focusing on clean products and because we have that ethical approach, there's a lane for everyone. You might not care about the impact that this has on people, but because we have such a premium product, this is something that will help your business thrive. 

In that same sense, you might not care too much about quality, you just wanna make sure you have something clean that's going on the consumers’ skin that they can utilize in alignment with their morals and beliefs. As long as there aren't any toxins or additives, stuff that we've had tested for our products, then that's your lane. 

Lastly, that ownership piece of empowerment and collaborative endeavors, and figuring out how best to leave this world in a better place than we found, if it is important to you, that's your lane. The biggest thing that brands can recognize is that we can both have an impact while serving your bottom line, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive from being clean as well.

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