Mother and daughter Shaunya and Leona Hartley are women of action who took deliberate steps to make their champagne wishes and business dreams come true. Two years ago, the pair planned a trip to France, with much of the itinerary devoted to the City of Lights as well as to the source of arguably the highest quality sparkling wine in the world. Says Shaunya, “We went to both Paris and to the Champagne region.” Shaunya explains that they had planned the trip for months before but didn’t foresee what eventually happened. “We had that aha moment,” she says.
From that epiphany was born a family co-ownership of Brooklyn-based Shaun Leon Beauty, a globally sourced line of artisanal beauty oils and bathing botanicals which include luxury soaps, bath salts, bath oils, bath teas and much more.
“We went to a few houses,” Shaunya explains, “Champagne houses—the house of Mercier and the House of G.H. Mumm.” The pair were struck by the relatively humble beginnings of these now illustrious brands. “In addition, we were finding out that all of these brands that we’re so familiar with here in the States and around the world, all started as small family businesses.”
The two also checked out Paris’ famed parfumerie houses. It brought out the science nerd in Shaunya. “Chemistry can create beautiful things,” she elaborates. “It can create medicine, it can create things that are integrated. That was really exciting for me.”
The jaunts to the perfumeries solidified, in Leona’s mind, the feeling that they needed to pursue something similar. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s something we should look into when we get back to the States!’”
Though starting a business can be a daunting prospect, it hasn’t held Black women back in general. Black women start businesses at six times the rate of other women of color. Both Shaunya and Leona have experience as business owners. “We both have some other individual businesses. She does jewelry, and I was selling vintage. Leona worked in finance and sold jewelry for many years,” explains Shaunya. “I’ve been an entrepreneur and self employed or a serial entrepreneur for a decade.”
Leveraging the resources, funds, and knowledge gleaned from their other endeavors made it easier to get Shaun Leon Beauty off the ground within approximately a year. Says Leona, “Shaunya was already sourced on vintage, I was already sourced on gemstones. So we knew what direction to go in and how to keep our costs down. We already understood what made the consumer happy: a fantastic product, with the luxury of being affordable.”
Adds Shaunya, “We also crowdsourced our community, our friends and our network. We got a lot of great feedback.” Shaunya also rolled up her sleeves and got much of the research done herself. “I’ve been looking into natural beauty just for myself as a consumer for the past 10 to 15 years and then on top of that also trend forecasting and finding out what the next best products and next best ingredients are going to be.”
Though they’re successful businesswomen, they also see the areas that need to be strengthened in order for Black women entrepreneurs like themselves to thrive. Shaunya remarks on one crucial roadblock. “Finding seed funding for expansion is one place where you’d like to see women of color really get the percentage of funding that you’re seeing for a lot of other ideas, services, or products that are out there in the market that receive funding very quickly. This is because venture capitalists are predominantly white males. Black female startups get a very small percentage of what’s gets rewarded.”
The fact that they are “small batch” and “focus on offering affordable luxury,” Shaunya believes, is what makes Shaun Leon Beauty stand out in the crowded field of wellness and beauty products. Self-care and wellness can, she says, “start when you’re in your shower by just placing really good products on your skin.”
Good products mean more than having them smell great, clean well, and feel good on the skin. The intention behind Shaun Leon Beauty is to promote health and avoid harmful chemicals. Says Leona, “Your skin is your largest organ. So we were trying to get something that was totally safe for the skin. They’re finding out now that a lot of things are not good for you. That’s why our products have natural ingredients and are paraben free. We try to have natural preservatives in almost all of our processes.”
Having repeat customers is one of the most rewarding aspects so far for the duo of running Shaun Leon. “When you have repeat customers who are passing on the word about what you’re working on,” Shaunya says, “there’s nothing more amazing than that.” And then there are the amazing trips. Looking into a new oil they want to incorporate into their line, Shaunya and Leona are headed next to North Africa. “We’re looking into taking a trip to Morocco, in keeping with our commitment to sourcing our products globally,” Shaunya shares. Perhaps just as important to them are the opportunities for connecting. “We bond while we do this,” says Leona. “We get the chance to learn from one another.”