“Today, more than ever, shoppers understand that how and where they spend their dollars can drive real economic impact,” says Geenie founder Chana Ginelle Ewing.
We’re living in a time when major corporations are being put on blast — for problematic labor practices, problematic leadership, problematic political affiliations, problematic sustainability practices, you name it. And consumers are increasingly questioning where and how they spend their dollars.
Fortunately for beauty shoppers, it also happens to be a boom time for indie beauty brands, many of which are BIPOC-owned and driven by principles of inclusion, philanthropy and lifting up marginalized people. But parsing through the many (many) emerging labels on the market — and determining what their values are — can be complicated and time-consuming. Enter Geenie, a new e-commerce marketplace founded by author and marketing veteran Chana Ginelle Ewing, that seeks to pair shoppers with indie beauty brands that embody their values.
Launching on Monday with the tagline “put your money where your mouth is,” Geenie seeks to make purchasing from companies whose beliefs align with those held by shoppers simple, while also building a community around values-driven enterprise. The concept is an evolution of Ewing’s previous subscription box venture, GeenieBox.
Geenie’s product offerings are sourced from “BIPOC and other culture-first makers,” ensuring that shoppers know who they’re supporting when they make a purchase. At launch, the platform is starting admittedly small, focusing specifically on the category of lip color and offering selections from just five brands: Hi Wildflower, Beauté Brownie, Kami Cosmetics, FemPower Beauty and Gold Label Cosmetics. But this, stresses Ewing, is very much the beginning.
The community-building component is also core to Geenie’s mission. From launch, it will allow shoppers to connect with fellow like-minded consumers and engage with content, including “Ask Me Anythings” with brands and educational resources on anti-racism, ethical shopping and more.
Ahead of Geenie’s debut, Ewing — who serves as both Geenie’s founder and CEO — took some time to chat with Fashionista about why the world needs a platform like hers right now. Read on for the highlights of our discussion.
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Tell me a bit about your professional background and how it led you to create Geenie.
I consider myself a cultural entrepreneur. I’m obsessed with building an intersectional world, and I’ve always known that I wanted to funnel this passion into my work in a creative way. It’s really important to me that all of my work centers multicultural audiences and tells the stories of intersectional audiences. I started my own digital marketing firm, littbigGirl+Co. to focus on marketing for Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning multicultural films.
I’m also an author. My first book, “An ABC of Equality,” was released last fall, and is now in its third printing. In addition to all this, I self-funded a subscription box company centering Black women called GeenieBox, which wound up being the precursor to Geenie. In developing GeenieBox, I saw the opportunity to not just provide products and uplift brands that were BIPOC-founded, but to create an entire community around this idea of value-based purchasing. I’m excited to finally get to share it with the world.
How would you briefly describe Geenie, its purpose and its mission?
Geenie is a curated beauty marketplace that mirrors your values. We are building a shopping community that pairs independent beauty brands with consumers looking to buy based on their values. By curating a selection of value-driven brands, from culture-first brands — founders across a spectrum of diverse backgrounds, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disability, age and so on — to sustainably-sourced and inclusively-designed lines. We’re powering the multiplier effect of consumer activism through beauty.
What gap did you see in the beauty market that you are hoping to fill with Geenie?
Our mission is to create a community that not only makes shopping for beauty products reflective, inspiring and fun, but also powerfully centers intersectionality.
For our brands, there are some pain points we want to address: Distribution continues to be a major issue for small beauty brands, particularly with limited marketing budgets; and there needs to be a place for upstart direct-to-consumer brands to connect with consumers and receive valuable feedback and insights.
For consumers, we aim to be an engaging discovery platform to find the brands that fit your aesthetic and your vision for the world. Ultimately, our goal is to rewrite the beauty narrative, centering those who are otherwise under-resourced (brands) and overlooked (shoppers).
Do you think people are being more thoughtful about their purchasing than in the past, in terms of doing research and vetting companies to make sure they align with their beliefs before shopping?
Today, more than ever, shoppers understand that how and where they spend their dollars can drive real economic impact. I believe the age of consumer activism has accelerated: In the wake of a year that has undeniably laid bare the disparity between white and Black America, white and non-Black POC citizens are waking up to the understanding that allyship requires continuous action.
Black people have been working at this for years, and now non-Black folx are joining the party — organizing lists of Black-owned businesses, and deciding to move past Amazon. People are fed up with the gross imbalances that persist and one thing that we all can do is think about how, where and with whom we spend our money.
Tell me about the community and content aspects of Geenie. Why is important to you to include that as part of an e-commerce platform?
It was important for us that shoppers are not only able to shop the featured brands, but also commune with other conscientious beauty enthusiasts to learn and grow on their intentional shopping journey.
We believe that shopping for your values is a lifelong pursuit and practice, and an expression of who you are. So we wanted to create a powerful community where people can find the resources, support and inspiration they need.
How do you hope Geenie will change the beauty industry as it stands now? What conversations, if any, do you hope it will start amongst beauty founders, brands, executives and consumers?
As a Black, queer woman, my mission with Geenie is to carve out a powerful and meaningful space for intersectionality within the beauty industry and beyond. Too many times, ‘inclusive’ marketing, often helmed by mostly white teams of marketers, has led to understanding of audiences that is one-dimensional and reductive. A shift toward an intersectional lens demands that marketers take time to understand the subtleties, richness and nuances of traditionally underserved audiences’ identities and value systems, and puts pressure on businesses to provide products, services and opportunities that align.
Change comes from action. So by using our collective dollars to support brands that empower the people most frequently left out of the beauty industry’s myopic gaze, brands led by those who practice mission-driven entrepreneurship, we can create a world that mirrors the values we share.
What challenges have you faced launching Geenie in a pandemic?
Despite the fact that Black women are starting businesses faster than any other group, despite the fact that Black women are the only racial or ethnic group with more business ownership than their male peers, fewer than 60 Black women have raised $1 million for their businesses. So there are some real systemic challenges to overcome, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that Black women founders like me are dealing with these issues on top of the added stress of launching a business during a pandemic, ensuing recession and national moment of reckoning on race.
So the macro issues and fundraising challenges are there; yet I’m excited and driven by this vision and incredible market opportunity. And grateful to have assembled an incredible team and advisors to go the distance.
How did you choose the brands Geenie is selling? How are they vetted and what qualifications do they need to meet to be accepted?
At the end of the day, I started Geenie in order to move money into the pockets of more Black and brown folks. So we’re centering brands that are Black-owned. That said, intersectionality lies at the heart of everything we do, so we want to be sure that the brands on our platform are representative of a multitude of identities and experiences. Geenie is culture-first and forward, so we will aim to spotlight a range of backgrounds and unique stories.
We’re also a platform for discovery, so we want to champion indie brands. If your brand is small, just starting out or looking to expand its audience and tap into a community of people who want to shop with intention, then we’re looking for you.
What plans do you have for the future of Geenie?
Today our marketplace offers a handful of lipsticks from a variety of culture-first owned indie beauty brands. We decided to focus on lipsticks before adding other product categories because of the fun nature of the product and the wide range of colors and finishes available.
We will grow into other product categories, with the feedback and input from our community.
This interview has been edited for clarity.