Too regularly, women have conflicting experiences. On one hand, ambitious women who are assertive in their pursuits can be perceived as rash, and “unladylike” often overlooked, ignored, rejected, dismissed, and criticized for following their hearts or being regarded as “emotional”. On the other hand, many women become passive and end up completely unhappy without the self-worth needed to survive in the world.
For Melissa Butler, founder, and CEO of The Lip Bar, a non-toxic, vegan lipstick brand celebrated for its diverse range of bold, bright, and super pigmented lip colors, these women are her reason “why”. Melissa is the embodiment of an ambitious woman with a strong heart and a beautiful story. Melissa’s unique journey from being rejected in front of 7 million viewers on Shark Tank to being featured in her hometown for a Ted Talk, has allowed her to encounter some of the most beautiful places and people. One of the ugliest parts of the beauty industry, in Melissa’s experience, has been the unrealistic beauty standards and superficial concern of an industry with multi-cultural beauty needs.
Melissa grew up on Detroit's east side near City Airport and attended Cass Technical High School. She left Detroit at age 18 to study business finance at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. After Graduating in 2009, she went straight to Wall Street to work for Barclay Investment Bank in New York City as an analyst at the peak of the economic decline…she hated her job!
Instead of complaining about it, she decided to follow her heart—which led her to her disappointment with the linear representation in the beauty industry. She mostly found that stores only carried red and nude lipsticks that didn’t match her skin tone. In an article with the Detroit News Melissa explains, “I couldn’t find nudes that looked great on me, and I couldn’t find the bright colors without them being filled with unnecessary toxins and chemicals,” she says, “... It was that frustration that led me to starting The Lip Bar.”
Melissa doesn’t attribute her success to her background on Wall Street, or her resilience.
In an interview, she tells The Detroit News, “I figured New York didn’t need me,” she says, “Detroit needed me way more like I could offer way more to my city. And I just really wanted to be a part of the new Detroit.”
For Melissa, a big part of her success is a true understanding of her purpose. She told CNBC, “For me, the Lip Bar was always a purpose-driven business, and so that then stood out because it was reflected in the models we used, the stories we were telling, [and] the shade range.”As someone who makes business decisions with her heart and hires Operations Managers to think with their heads, Melissa’s “why” led her to start The Lip Bar in 2012. While in New York, news of how Detroit was on a comeback motivated her decision to move The Lip Bar headquarters to the Motor City in November of 2014.
In an interview, she tells The Detroit News, “I figured New York didn’t need me,” she says, “Detroit needed me way more like I could offer way more to my city. And I just really wanted to be a part of the new Detroit.” The success Melissa has had comes from a strong sense of purpose behind The Lip Bar brand,"[It] really goes back to your 'why,'" Butler explains to The Detroit News, "When you're starting a business, you have to have a really strong 'why' and a really strong purpose because you're always going to be told no, you're always going to face challenges."
In 2015, the investors on Shark Tank told Melissa Butler and her partner Rosco Spears, that The Lip Bar would never make it. From that experience of public humiliation, Melissa learned to not simply rely on the opinions of people who are powerful and have money, and also, to talk to the right audience and not allow rejection to have power over your “why”. Melissa Continued cooking up lipsticks in her kitchen and built her passion into a brand, and today, you can pick up The Lip Bar’s ingredient-conscious, affordable lip products in Target stores nationwide.
Melissa first launched the Lip Bar truck and sold product in New York; Chicago; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Toronto. She later distributed product out of a space in Ponyride, a Detroit incubator for entrepreneurs. She then opened a temporary pop-up shop in Detroit’s historic Indian Village in 2018 on Agnes Street in the West Village neighborhood. "Opening a store was so huge for us," Butler says in her Detroit News interview, "I never planned on having a retail store. But last summer, we tested out a pop-up shop in the West Village and we knew there was a need." The pop-up shop was only set to last for three weeks and ended up being open for a full year.
The Lip Bar recently opened its first full retail store Saturday, February 23, 2019, in the heart of downtown Detroit. The vegan, gluten-free, all-natural and cruelty-free lipstick collection debuted in a 300-square-foot retail space in Parker's Alley behind the Shinola Hotel located at 1435 Farmer Street, suite 122. The Lip Bar celebrated its seventh anniversary with the store opening alongside other retailers including juice maker Drought, florist Posie Atelier and clothing retailer Madewell in the Shinola Hotel corridor. When you enter the new space designed by Imani Day (Detroit), you will see four main stations with swings hanging from the ceiling with mirrors and products for an intimate shopping experience.
The Lip Bar will is now open Monday-Saturday from 10-7 p.m. and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. They will also offer makeup application services for $60, including a lipstick (via Crain’s Detroit Business). In November 2018, Butler was awarded $20,000 from the Detroit City’s Motor City Match program to assist with the $70,000 build-out where Mayor Mike Duggan was in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Butler says programs such as Motor City Match are important resources to help level the playing field for small businesses of color.
The Lip Bar is currently working on expanding its products to a full face line. “It’s crazy to us. For six years, we’ve been a lip authority. We’re looking to do the exact same thing to different areas of the face – providing high-quality products and beautiful packaging at an affordable cost.” She tells In Style Magazine.
As a woman, beauty-positivity has become one of Melissa’s main themes for women’s empowerment, “As women, our self-esteem is often directly linked to our looks, our ability to climb the corporate ladder, or have a family/children; [our value] is tied to how people feel about us not how we feel about ourselves. It’s important for every woman to have that representation and validation and ultimately for them to believe in it. The more you hear positivity, the more you feel like ‘I can do it!’” And when it came to the invitation for Ted Talk, a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Melissa was more than excited to receive the invitation.
“As women, our self-esteem is often directly linked to our looks, our ability to climb the corporate ladder, or have a family/children; [our value] is tied to how people feel about us not how we feel about ourselves. It’s important for every woman to have that representation and validation and ultimately for them to believe in it. The more you hear positivity, the more you feel like ‘I can do it!’”
The subject of Melissa’s Ted Talk was Why You Think You’re Ugly. This 8-minute dissertation was submitted only three hours before the deadline, one month after the initial application deadline, written ten days in advance and memorized only two days before the presentation. Even with all the recognition, it’s still difficult for Melissa to process the idea of going from a small business owner into the face of a major beauty brand. “I’m not processing it very well. Now, with full-time employees, I’m not [just] doing this for me, I’m doing this for my staff so [I ask myself] how do I show up for them? I’m grateful for all the hype but that’s not why I’m here and I have more to go.” “Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be paying myself. The lip bar could probably use this money. But obviously I work hard so I should see the fruits of that labor and stop stealing from my savings!”
Melissa Butler is a woman who makes decisions with her heart (but is still smart enough to hire an operations manager who thinks with their head). She’s a woman who feels the most beautiful after a workout, who loves the sun and mountains, and babies. She admires honesty and individuality and feels that every woman is beautiful. Melissa Butler keeps the vision of The Lip Bar alive, and her tenacity gracefully serves as an example of what a beautiful heart can produce.