Strategies: Taking color to a market that needs it

With the opening of her cosmetics manufacturing facility, Paula Hayes united her passion for beauty products, science and business.

Hayes’s Beaverton company, Hue Noir, leverages all her strengths in the service of cosmetics designed for an underserved market — darker-skinned women whose skin colors and tones aren’t readily compatible with mainstream products.

Five years after launching Hue Noir in her Beaverton garage, Hayes in October opened a new marketing and research center. The facility — opened in a Beaverton office park with support from the city, the Oregon Bioscience Association, and the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership — will help the company to expand production to match rising levels of demand.

While Hayes doesn’t disclose revenue, she said both her customer list and revenue have doubled in 10 months and she’s preparing to take Hue Noir to an international market in 2015.

But first, she’s taking on the estimated 38.4 million women who aren’t well served in the $58.8 billion U.S. beauty market.

“The sky’s the limit for them,” said Jasmine Agnor of the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which helped Hayes lay out her tidy space to include both a research zone and a production one.

A love of science

A Southern California native, Hayes draws on the strengths of both her parents.

Her father, an accountant and auditor with the Department of Defense, encouraged her toward practicality. Her artistic mother encouraged her to take risks and travel.

As an adolescent, she struggled with acne and used makeup to hide her skin, though not always with good results. It was hard to find products for her darker skin and the ones she found made her skin issues worse.

As a high schooler, she fell in love with science, a passion that led her to Portland’s Lewis & Clark College. On the road to a degree in biology, she kept struggling to find suitable products, frequently taking the bus to North Portland to stores that catered to African American women.

It was in college that she married her two interests. She found science texts in the library that covered cosmetics. She pored over them, learning about the ingredients and how they affect skin.

“There’s stuff in here I should be using on my skin,” she said.

After graduating, she returned to California and went to work for American Fruit Processors, a processing company with a cosmetics line. She started in research and development as a chemist, learning to develop new products and reverse engineer existing ones.

The company supported her through a master’s degree in business administration and assigned her to posts in administration, giving her insight into human relations, accounting, marketing, customer service and other aspects of the business.

“I was hooked on business at that point,” she recalled.

A DIY start

At home, Hayes was using her knowledge to make skin care products for herself, family and friends.

As she gained both business and product development experience, she began to want to create something of her own.

As it happened, her husband, an attorney, had a client with a startup that required business experience. Hayes signed on for a year to help him launch.

In late 2006, the couple relocated to Portland when her husband joined Nike.

After the birth of her second child, she took a deep breath and decided the time was right to go out on her own. She initially sold at holiday expos and fairs, quickly finding a market among dark-skinned women for her products.

She was careful from the start to offer a broad array of products to avoid being pigeonholed as an “urban” product.

She graduated from fairs and shows to boutiques, salons and an online store. By 2013, she was ready to develop a manufacturing center, taking out a loan from Albina Community Bank and deploying personal funds to finance the manufacturing equipment she needs to mix product and pack it into jars and tubes.

With 2,000 square feet of manufacturing space and separate space for research, the new location and custom mixing and packing equipment will allow Hayes to increase production tenfold, to 3,000 items per run.

Her goal is to build Hue Noir into the preferred brand of makeup for women of color.

Her school-aged son has expressed an interest in the family business, but Hayes said if she can find a large cosmetics company that cares as much about the market, she would be open to selling as an exit strategy.

Dec 12, 2014
Wendy Culverwell
Staff Reporter-
Portland Business Journal


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