A common struggle for brown-skinned makeup lovers is the lack of diversity in foundation shades and the lack of lipsticks and eyeshadows that compliment darker skin tones. The role makeup plays in creating a beautiful canvas for our skin has taught us how important it is to find something natural and not harmful to our health. This led Tai Ceme, an editorial makeup artist, to create clean beauty products to diversify the beauty industry.
She is the founder of Tai-Lite Beauty. She creates versatile glow pigments and lashes. Tai said, "Our focus now is really just creating a brand that doesn't have rules and, breaking out of that, we use makeup to cover up, and we use makeup to fit into different boxes.
I really wanted to present people with something they could make their own. That's why all of our pigs are versatile. Everything we create is made to personalize so that people can be in charge of their beauty experience, and it could be more of a self-expression type of thing as opposed to something that we use to cover up."
What fears did you have along the journey?
Tai admitted that the fears that she started with often still show up. She first feared not being accepted because she and her products were bold. Tai spends time educating her community about the versatility of her products and encourages people to make them their own. Then there were moments when she thought she couldn't execute her vision as if it was out of reach. She, at times, doubted her abilities.
Tai said, "I definitely have a fear of failing and not knowing. I come from an artist's background, so a lot of the things I'm doing as an entrepreneur is for the first time. I constantly seek mentorship."
She overcomes this fear by doing competitions like the Black Girl Ventures pitch competitions and not being afraid to talk to people and ask questions. When faced with opportunities, she's honest with people by telling them it's her first time.
So tell us about any major setbacks and how you recovered.
Tai had to pass on several opportunities because she didn't have the financial backing to say yes. She said, "I have been presented with a lot of opportunities that I couldn't take because of finances, which just hurts as an entrepreneur—opportunities to expand my business globally and internationally and get into international markets. Those things cost a lot of money."
Tai leans on her faith and uses her resources to do the best she can with her business. She's applied to grants and reached out to investors, but not everything falls through. She said, "One thing I had learned from Omi is not trying to launch too many things because that's more costly. So as an artist and as a creator, I constantly want to do something new. I'm like, oh, I want to make this. And I want to make that. And learning things like in business things really takes time. You have to spend a lot of money to make money, and things take a long time before you see—you have to be patient."
What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Tai said yes to a massive order request by JCPenney. A typical large order for her is about 75 pigments. JCPenney requested 1200 orders. She emptied her bank account to fulfill this order without knowing if there would be a return on investment. Because this was her first time doing this, everything took longer than expected. In July, she took the order, which wouldn't be in stores until October, and there was a payment of a net 60. Saying yes to this meant she said no to other orders. Tai was afraid of asking questions initially, and not doing so cost her a lot of money.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Tai-Lite Beauty?
Tai is proud of how versatile and innovative the product is. She created something new in the beauty industry that continues to resonate with people. She loves hearing positive feedback from those in the industry about her products.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was the first time Tai pitched in a pitch competition. She came into the competition four days before the big day. She said, "So I wasn't there the whole time. I didn't get all the pitch practices and all the deck help like I didn't get any of those things. So it was very, very nerve-wracking. I just felt like I was behind all the other competitors. But I did it. Everyone was very helpful.
There was so much information that I didn't expect to have all of this help. I didn't know that BGV would provide so much help and insight. So it was really nice. Even though I only had four days to prepare, you guys did prepare me to the best of your ability.
I felt a little bit insecure because of just being a newer business, but I think if I weren't supposed to be in that room, I wouldn't have been. So I was very happy to have gotten that opportunity to even be on the same platform as some of the other businesses.
I definitely feel more ready to pitch and less nervous. I'm excited. I'm ready for another one. I'm like, I want to do it; you almost kind of get addicted to it. You get fired up by it. Because it's like, I'm ready."
Tai plans to use part of the pitch funds for fresh new product images. She advises those looking to pitch: "I would say first and foremost, you can do it. That was one thing for me. I was like, can I do this? Can I do this? I would say you can do it. Study and watch other pitch competitions. It's really important. Watch other brands that are similar to you. Do your research, have your revenue and numbers, and be confident."
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Tai shared, "When applying for different grants and different things. That's where it hurt me the most because we weren't considered. But I will say if I'm being completely honest because of the timing in which I launched my brand. I launched at the end of 2019 in December, and then, of course, we went into the pandemic, and then, of course, it was BLM. So I did get a lot of support because, at that specific time, there were a lot of companies looking to support Black and Brown businesses. Was it genuine? No. I got a lot of interest because of that, but not a lot of follow-throughs.
Our communities wait for an okay from white people before they 'okay' a brand. And that frustrates me because you're almost waiting for the white man's stamp of approval before you'll even support or give this business a chance because as much as we want to pretend, we are still chasing those brands that we know.
Those big brands we know already have been embedded in us since we were young, like the Gucci's and the Prada's. We don't give our communities brands the attention they deserve until you get a Vogue feature or until you get some type of approval from a non-Black or Brown company."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Tai said, "Business takes time. Everything takes a lot of time, which I wasn't used to. And having that patience and not being overbearing and understanding, like the more money going into the business, the more time it takes to make these decisions and not rush them. One feature doesn't mean your business will blow up, and you will be a millionaire tomorrow. All of these things are little pieces of a puzzle. Eventually, you'll see the fruits of your labor, but it takes time."
Tai has been diligently working on changing her concept of time and understanding that a year is not as long as it used to be. There are times when she does experience emotional breakdowns as an entrepreneur. Still, she said, "Nothing good comes quick and easy, you know? And I watch a lot of other people's stories because we love to see when everyone's already "made" it and has everything, but we don't realize the time that they took."
She's learning to enjoy the entrepreneurial journey. Stating, "I don't want to wake up one day and miss the whole journey because I was so eager to get to the end. I want to enjoy the fact that I still have complete creative control of every one of the products I have. You know, just enjoying the small business journey before we get to where we're going."
What is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Financial acumen is a skill that Tai believes every entrepreneur needs to strengthen and be good with money. Having some form of financial literacy is key to the financial success of your business. She said, "You need funds. Everything costs—every little thing costs. I advise against bootstrapping, which is what I did.
Bootstrapping is a quick way to put you in the hole. It's taxing emotionally and mentally, like draining all of your funds to fund something and hope it's successful. It's a lot on the mind and body. Learning money and learning how to have—it'll save you a lot of heartaches."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Tai enjoys packing the boxes and sending out PR boxes. She loves making the lashes and creating the color schemes.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Tai said, "I definitely think we're going to take over the world. 1000%. Black women, black and Brown women—we're just so multifaceted. We can really just do anything. I think we're going to prove that in business, we're going to be making the most money, and we're going to have the most successful businesses."
How do you measure success?
Tai used to measure success through the lens of stability. However, that's changed since becoming an entrepreneur. She now measures success through how her products are impacting the lives of others and what is the feedback she's receiving from outside of the editorial New York bubble that she's a part of.
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Tai-Lite hopes to have its first brick-and-mortar with its complete makeup line for sale.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Tai rests when she needs to rest. Self-care is part of her everyday life, and as a result, she sometimes requires more than that. Tai has a therapist and recommends that entrepreneurs see one. She spends time with her loved ones outside of her business. Tai believes every entrepreneur should have some separation from themselves and their business. Lastly, she keeps her environment clean.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Walk by faith and not by sight."
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
Book: Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts: Trust in Self, Trust in God, Trust in Others, Trust in Life
Podcast: The Shelly Bell Show
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
What's next for Tai-Lite?
Tai-Lite is focused on launching more products and getting into more retail doors.
Any last words…
Tai said, "I just wanted to thank the whole BGV team. You guys were so amazing. I was overjoyed and very pleasantly surprised by all the support that I've received and been receiving. So I just want to thank you guys so much. You definitely changed Tai-Lite's journey."