Over the shrieks and laughs of their respective children, sisters Letisha and Zeena Brown explained to us over the phone how they began Brown & Coconut, their vegan, plant-based skincare brand based on the idea of minimalism when it comes to products and the ingredients inside them. The sisters are open about the fact that the company was born from the struggles they both faced with acne throughout their lives and, how despite trying most skincare products on shelves, they weren’t finding anything that worked. The items were either too expensive for two college students juggling student loans, or too harsh, making their severe acne worsen.
One thing was clear — the store-bought products and chemical filled approach that they were taking wasn’t working. It was time to take a different approach, a more holistic one.
In 2013 the duo started a blog called “Brown and Coconut” in an attempt to document their journey to heal their skin using self-developed recipes and natural ingredients.
“Once we went through the period where we had bad acne and started to learn more about what we were putting on our skin, particularly when we went into products that were either exacerbating the issue or our skin reacted poorly to it, we saw that there are actually some pretty bad ingredients out there that really aren’t good for your health or wellness,” Letisha said.
The sisters had been raised to value a natural lifestyle, with parents who taught them to avoid overly processed foods and chemicals. They began to carry this plant-based approach over to their skincare and investigate the purpose of each ingredient. They began to seek out nature-based oils and plants instead of harsh elements that are often found in skincare solutions offered in stores.
With no professional experience in the skincare world, Letisha and Zeena were eventually able to clear up the severe acne they had been struggling with for most of their adult lives by implementing several lifestyle changes, including switching to natural ingredients on their faces, monitoring how much they were touching their skin, sticking to a healthy diet and switching out pillowcases frequently.
After seeing how much the thoughtful skincare solutions they had made aided in their personal success the two wanted to share their products with others who were looking to take a natural approach to their skincare routine.
“We knew that we were onto something when we saw those results and that there were other people like us that wanted plant-based skincare for acne-prone skin but also skin that is super sensitive, has eczema, and all those elements,” Letisha said.
They began the business from scratch, spending late nights identifying the ingredients they wanted in their products, working with a cosmetic chemist and learning how to be entrepreneurs in the skincare industry.
In 2016, three years after the founding of their blog Brown and Coconut, the sisters had turned their vision into a reality, creating their own line of natural skin care products under the same name. Brown and Coconut offers everything from deep cleansing soap made out of charcoal to a hydrating face oil made of argan and rosehip oils.
“It was a long process. Long, late nights. A lot of website crashes. A lot of stumbles along the way but it’s something that we just stuck through because it’s something that we both wanted very bad,” Letisha said.
A key to running a successful start-up business was building slowly and valuing the product over fancy technology and aesthetics, Zeena said. The founders believe that a lot of their success comes from being smart with spending, and paying attention to where money and effort really needed to go.
By avoiding extravagant and unnecessary purchases Letisha and Zeena found they avoided building debt that can be difficult to make up in sales, and instead grew slowly and steadily.
Five years since they started their business the sisters have been able to expand on their holistic approach by switching to 100% recyclable packaging and continuing to use only vegan ingredients.
Since the birth of their young children, these founders have had to shift expectations, especially during the pandemic while all the challenges of raising kids and running a business were exacerbated. Their biggest advice for other entrepreneurs and working mothers going through the same thing — go easy on yourself. Oh, and get childcare when you can!
“I feel like entrepreneurs tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make a lot happen, and we have long to-do lists,” Letisha said. “And I think going easy on ourselves and saying okay you know what, it’s okay if I don’t get my entire to-do list done, that’s okay and that doesn’t mean I failed today.”