Breaking Past Limits
Tameka Jones launched her business, Lip Esteem, in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and civil unrest. Chanda connected with Tameka to discuss Tameka’s entrepreneurial spirit, the decisions that led her to the beauty industry, and how she found healing through her artistry.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:00
This is Chanda Smith Baker and I am bringing a conversation with Tameka Jones of lip esteem to Tameka had come recommended to be on the podcast to share her very inspiring story and journey of discovery of herself her own power, and her own creativity that moved into a brand that we all are becoming familiar with, again, lip esteem, I hope that you appreciate the level of courage that it takes to go from dreaming, to implementing her story of selling one tube of lipstick to opening up the storefront. It’s been really remarkable to see. So here is to Tameka Jones of lip esteem.
Souphak Kienitz 00:44
You’re listening to conversations with Chanda, a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:56
I really appreciate you joining me on Conversations with Chanda, I have been watching all of the news on you the evolution, the arc, I got to watch you on Amanda Brinkman’s the Small Business Revolution. I think it was season six. And actually, when I interviewed Amanda, we talked about it, because there’s a scene that you had in that show that really struck me in terms of how the team handled it, they were going to name something or do something and you all corrected, I think it was the logo. It was the logo, like it was a learning moment
Tameka Jones 01:16
The marketing team thought that the logo was like geared towards black women that it would look like it was a black product. And they thought that I wanted them to give me a logo that was more inclusive. Because they knew my members, they knew my stats, 60% of my customer bases, white women 40% are black and everyone else. And they thought that because of that I wanted an inclusive logo, quote unquote. But I didn’t. And I was sitting there while we’re having the conversation thinking, how am I going to respond to this? I have to, I’m on television. I’m very emotional because I feel like I have to do what they want me to do, because they’re helping me. And I don’t know what to do. But I’m going to handle this the best way that I can, that’s going to make me proud as I leave the situation because I have to speak my truth. And I wasn’t used to being able to speak my truth without feeling like there was gonna be some type of repercussions like I say in the show. And so I gently explained, wanted me to go on if you want me to say…
Chanda Smith Baker 02:56
I mean, I love this story because it I even love how you’re going into it. Because there’s so many women that I’ve talked to about what does it mean to be able to… the liberation that comes with being able to speak your truth. And there’s a lot of people that are seeking that, that I haven’t been able to do that which implies another story of your life. But then there’s also the courage and the commitment of living through your vision that I think is an incredibly important element of what you’re sharing here.
Tameka Jones 03:26
So behind me is a picture of a woman. And inside of what the woman is looking like looking at is butterflies. And they’re in a cage though. And so this is part of my journey. I have always been the type of person that asked people what they thought I should do, where they thought I should go. And at a certain point, I was like, I don’t even know who I am because I keep getting outside perspectives about how I should be and move and show up in this world. And so, I, in 2014, I packed up my car because I was tired of the noise. And I drove to California by myself. My gas meter didn’t even work. But I knew I should probably every 300 Miles gas up anyways when I got to California. That’s the first picture that I drew. And it was a reflection of me and how I felt my dreams and visions aspirations were caged up within a year after I was by myself getting to learn myself getting to know what I’d liked and didn’t like I drew this other picture which is which is behind me on this side is butterflies that are out of the cage. So my logo now is a combination of the two is the woman but with the butterfly that’s free. So, when they said hey, we want to change this, I’m like, Oh, like this, you just don’t know how this what this means to me like no. So, I was able to express that there’s many times where people have businesses and their logos don’t reflect the image of every one of their customers. When these is a white woman with red hair, that doesn’t look like me, but I love a four for four. I used to take my daughter to McDonald’s, that’s a white clown. That doesn’t look like me. But if I liked the product, and it’s a good mission and a good vision, why not? And I was thinking America’s got to get over looking at products that have a black person on the front and say, Oh, I can’t use that because they’re black. No, if it’s good products, use it. We do.
Chanda Smith Baker 05:39
Yeah, I hear that. What I loved about it, too, was it was a moment where you can actually see the courage that it took for you to say it. This is me watching. Right? My interpretation. Yeah. But I also saw Amanda, learning that moment, right, I saw the light bulbs of the team go off. Yeah. And my impression is that they were better as a result of you sharing your truth, not just for you. Yeah. But the way that they listened and engaged, like from here on out, we’ll just be different. Because watch the world view expand. Yes. Right. And if they’ve never thought about it on this, then why would they think about it on this?
Tameka Jones 06:25
Yeah, I respected and love the Situ I already love being on the show and having the production crew following me and all that stuff that was already good. But that was the only scene I even cared about being on the show. Every time they said, We’re on the editing floor, I said, but did you put that scene in? We can’t tell you when I’m like, I honestly, I don’t care about nothing else. I need that to be there. And you know, the response I got from black men was overwhelming and black women to have just people in general, but black men were calling me from down south, all kinds of stuff saying thank you, for my nieces, for my daughters for my aunt like thank you for doing that. And I was like, I didn’t even know.
Chanda Smith Baker 07:13
And so you started out in your career. You’re a makeup artist and started making lipstick at home.
Tameka Jones 07:21
Yeah, because I was furloughed. And so I was sitting at home twiddling my thumbs trying to figure out what was going on. And between the media, social media, all these things, it was driving me a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. So, I said, I got to figure out a way to get out all the feelings that I’m feeling the anxiety, the pain. And I got, I got to do something with my hands. Because I like to be creative. I’m an artist. And so, I said, You know what I have the time and the energy. I think it’s time to start my lipstick company. So, research, research, research. And then I start buying all of the ingredients to make a plant based gluten and cruelty free lipstick line. Now, did my ingredients and my recipes come out properly? No. And so then I’m like, Oh, my goodness, I’m so connected. I’m so this is what I know, I’m supposed to do? How do I pivot? Can I how do I come up with a plan B that I will still feel connected to if I’m not making them? And so I think you know, at times as small business owners, we’ve got to change our plans. And it doesn’t make us a failure. It kind of makes us even more apt to being a boss by figuring out what’s the plan B.
Chanda Smith Baker 08:49
I hear that so when you describe yourself, how do you describe yourself? Because you’ve said creative? You’ve been a makeup artist? You’re an entrepreneur, do you blend all of that?
Tameka Jones 09:04
Yes, that’s, that is partially, All I am, I’m a child of God who loves walking in her purpose. You know, a lover of people, a cheerleader for all one who is community oriented and loves to try to figure out a way to make the world beautiful through the ashes. I’m strong. I’m a problem solver. Many things to me.
Chanda Smith Baker 09:34
Have you owned the word entrepreneur and business owner? Have you fully embraced those two descriptions of yourself?
Tameka Jones 09:43
Yes, yes. This is not my first business years back I developed a curriculum for girls grades five through 12 to teach them about inner beauty versus outer beauty. As I was in that makeup industry. I was like what is wrong with women, like? Everybody’s talking about their insecurities, but I see them as beautiful. So I don’t get what is happening. Sounds like Oh, adolescence, when girls go from, at first she can’t stand boys to all of a sudden that matters with boys and thinking about every part of you. I gotta do something to teach young ladies how to feel better about themselves and inner beauty versus outer beauty thing. So LADY, leaders, achievers determined youth, was my first business. And I went into the schools and taught girls about inner versus outer beauty.
Chanda Smith Baker 10:34
And what led you into the field of beauty or the interest in beauty.
Tameka Jones 10:40
So I always loved makeup. My mom, grandma, they always had makeup, and I would wear their foundation, which was probably three shades lighter than me. And so, but I loved it. Then probably in 2000, I took a class through women venture ,women in non traditional trades, and I became certified to be a construction worker. And so, I started building houses and rehabbing houses in North and South Minneapolis. And then one day, I was doing shingles. And it was hot. And it felt like the sun was staring me right in my face. And I got down off that roof. And I never returned. But I went home. And soon after that, I asked God, what am I here for? I didn’t understand what my purpose was at that time. And my daughter went to her school, and she came back home. And she and my mom brought me back a gift from a silent auction. And I opened it up. And it was a makeup kit. One of those train cases kind of looked like a toolbox. And there was lipsticks and all kinds of stuff. And it was like right, then I understood, I could do makeup for a living. Because it’s the same concept kind of as building a house, you’re taking something that has a blank canvas or nothing, and building it into something that’s beautiful. And I can do it without being hot.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:11
Without being hot! I had one summer, right, like this church trip that you just reminded me of where we went to Mississippi, helped build houses. And I got put on the roof because it was just abandoned home. Yeah. Smaller right at the other folks at the time. Right. So they had me walking on those planks or whatever, you know, doing the thing. And yeah, I lasted a good hour.
Tameka Jones 12:38
I tell you, it’s not for the week.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:42
Much, much respect to those out there doing that work to matter. And working and safe.
Tameka Jones 12:48
How many women in the construction field. Now I’d love to see that too.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:51
There are it feels like I mean, I just feel like we’re in a place where there are so many people that are evolving past what they thought they were were capable of doing. They thought it was available for them to do. Did you think it was available for you to do makeup full time and be paid and live a full life?
Tameka Jones 13:11
It wasn’t necessarily working out that way. And like I said, in 2014, I packed up my car because I was going to California to be a makeup artist to the stars honey like that was I was going. And so I really thought that that was the plan. Like I heard the makeup to the store, you know. And so when I went there, I was on the set of Sesame Street for one day. And after that, I got no calls back. So, I’m like, oh my goodness, what is going on? And so, I ended up I have a bachelor’s in youth development. So, in the city that I was in, in California, I just decided to well, this isn’t working out. I’m going to just apply to work at a group home for girls worked at the group home. I mean, these girls were they had a lot of issues, right? And so, one day, I had this great idea that I was going to bring my makeup kit and my carolers and all that stuff. And I was going to give the girls the makeovers that I had come to California to do our glamour shots. So I knew how to quickly get it. Right. So when I’m doing the makeovers on the girls, I hear so clearly, these are the stars that I was talking about. And I’m like, Oh my goodness. So basically, everybody is a star. And if we treat everyone as such.
Chanda Smith Baker 14:39
Tameka Jones 14:42
Right? And so that’s what I try to go through life is like lip esteem, like building people, naturally a cheerleader, helping people see who they are, who they’re created to be and to cheer them on no matter what they’re doing.
Chanda Smith Baker 14:57
Yeah, you know, especially during those formative yours, formative years and times of challenge in people’s lives, the messengers that come in your life matter for your next steps.
Tameka Jones 15:09
Yeah, yes, they do. I’m open to whatever it is that I’m supposed to do. I don’t always have like these long term plans and goals, because it’s just like, I’m so I’m growing me personally and growing with the growth of lip esteem, I’m learning with my business. And so I just am open to whatever is supposed to happen every day. I just say, What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to touch? How can I make this person feel better? Every lipstick positivity over every single tube that goes out of there. Because everybody’s going through something, or everybody’s facing different things in life. And at least I could feel better when a tube of lipstick or lipgloss.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:59
Because I forgot mine upstairs, I’m like, I got my lip gloss. I’m like, I need some color. I think what you just said, speaks to me, because that’s how I am in life. And I’m always sort of, I’m not doing it as much anymore. But I’m always explaining. So what people would say, Well, what, what what do you want to do in five years? What do you want to do in 10? years? Like, what’s your next step? And I’m like, I just believe my next steps will be ordered. And you know, like, I feel this sense of faith, right? That my role is to prepare my role is to continue to learn. My role is I don’t have everything neatly mapped out. I’m not a list maker. But I am a dreamer, right? Like you can, you can ask me stuff, and I won’t be able to tell you because I’m formulating all the time in my head. But there are people that are very committed to like, my next step will be. And I’m probably the opposite of that, which I mean, I’m just the opposite of it. It is what it is.
Tameka Jones 17:03
I’m so the opposite of that. Because life has taught me better. Life doesn’t always happen, like you think that it should and something’s come about and you weren’t even prepared for it. And it’s also thinking about, like comparison, comparing yourself to other people, and thinking, oh, at this age, I should be here. And at this. And if, another person isn’t then they’re not on the right track, or they’re less than and it’s just like, No, life is specific journey for every single person and it doesn’t show up the same. I’m not married. Right. And so when I was a teenager, I thought for sure guy 25-26 I would be a wife. And, you know, my mom, I was, but that didn’t happen. So, then what am I supposed to do go in the corner and crawl and cry? No, I’ve learned that that’s not part of my journey, right now. Doesn’t mean it won’t ever be. But I don’t like to put those restraints on myself because I feel bound by them. And then if I feel bound, it’s like trying to break out of jail.
Chanda Smith Baker 18:19
It’s an uninspired way for me as well. And other people needed to like, like, it’s not like I won’t have goals once I set my mind. Yeah, I studied or read this report a long time ago about folks, especially from a career perspective that like plan their steps. Yeah, because they’re so specific to the plan, they miss the outside opportunity, right? Like they stay here, and then all these other things can enter. And they’re so focused, and then other folks are just planning and sometimes they won’t pass them up in terms of promotion, or other things in the workplace. And these folks are like what happened? It wasn’t my plan. I did everything right. But they missed the nuances. They missed the opportunities and missed the relationships because they weren’t, they were their heads were down. They weren’t lucky enough to see all the other things.
Tameka Jones 19:08
Just like on real steps. If you have too many you jumped over a couple of you might fall. So you need every single one of them to help guide you to your final destination or your goal. As I was saying lip esteem, it’s a new business. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never had my own brand before. So for too many expectations to be on me to do A, B and C. I can’t even say that that’s how it’s going to be because I’m learning as I go and I am unapologetic about that.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:44
I love it. I was you know, I was just talking to someone I said my goal, right? Like I’ve had two moments in life where it’s like my goal right now is to not have a goal. Like everybody pushes to a goal and I think a goal for me is to be happy. and present in the morning. And then I was thinking ahead, it becomes more challenging to be satisfied with where you’re at. So, I just sit and what is happening and learn from it, and grow from it, and appreciate it. And then that will take me where I need to go.
Tameka Jones 20:19
Well, I think we can agree to agree.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:23
So how old is your business? How, how young is your business?
Tameka Jones 20:28
My business is two years, seven months.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:33
So you opened a business during the pandemic?
Tameka Jones 20:36
I did. I opened July 14 2020 was my first sale.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:43
So you’re at home, you were on furlough, you are experimenting, and then had to go to plan B. And what was Plan B?
Tameka Jones 20:51
Plan B was to find a manufacturer who could create plant-based gluten-free, cruelty-free quality, long-wearing moisturizing lipsticks.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:06
That, well, that was clear. That was specific and clear.
Tameka Jones 21:12
So when I’m not going to sacrifice any of those things, I needed all of it.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:19
I love it. So what So you’ve hadn’t done this before?
Tameka Jones 21:23
Not my own? No, I but I’ve sold everybody’s I’ve managed for high in cosmetic lines. So I knew of quality products.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:34
Did you know where to go?
Tameka Jones 21:37
I had no idea. So how did you figure that out? Well, when it’s supposed to be, it’d be. Then the other answer to that is Google.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:48
I was going say, was it the Google?
Tameka Jones 21:51
Google, research, sampling. You know, all of those things mattered. I knew how I needed my lips to feel when I’m on Zoom calls. I knew that I knew how long I needed it to last throughout the day, because we’re busy. We don’t have time to keep reapplying. And then we also don’t want our lips to feel gross and like, balled up and cracked and all this stuff talk.
Chanda Smith Baker 22:19
And you’re like, oh, do I look weird? Like you’re you know, yeah.
Tameka Jones 22:23
Lip Esteem gives you have the confidence to go throughout your day, knowing that your lipstick is still on, you’re still moisturize, and you look great. And not only that, but the way I chose the colors is to make sure because remember, I did this during civil unrest and the pandemic and civil unrest. And my friends are very fair skin and very deep have very deep tolerance. But I was like, What can I do? I want to make sure that if Chanda can wear color, can the Akeema wear color? Can they can when they see each other out? And about? Can they say oh, you have on rondo? Ha. Are you ever on bougie? Yeah, like, I want us to come together.
Chanda Smith Baker 23:07
In our prep, I was saying that I ran into your daughter at the sunny foundation event here and I walked up I think what I appreciated the most is before I could even say anything, there were two young women, you know, there and they said, Oh, this color would look great on you. And they pulled up the lipstick and like this is the color you should get, you would look fantastic in this.
Tameka Jones 23:31
I have ambassadors all around the state, who love the product, who believe in the product and want to share with everyone what it is it’s so fun going to functions and people say, oh, look, look I have and then they just pour it out, pull it out of their purses. That is everything to me because I never would have thought I’ve never I didn’t really dream this.
Chanda Smith Baker 23:57
So, if someone were to ask you five years, it wouldn’t have been on your list. It was the pandemic and a number of moments have led you to that place while you are on furlough and your boredom, saying I need to do something creative and out of listening to yourself. You emerged a business and a platform to help women feel more confident about how they show up in everyday life.
Tameka Jones 24:26
Chanda Smith Baker 24:27
That’s phenomenal. So, it’s 2020 you sell your first lipstick. And then it just started moving quickly, like Did it start like was it slow? Did it surpass your imagination because there’s a lot of folks that are supporting entrepreneurs that will be listening. And there are folks that have seeds of ideas in their head. That will be motivated by your story.
Tameka Jones 24:51
Oh, what happened was I started out on E-commerce with my website. I have built up the momentum and with people because I love you posting things. And so, when it launched, I sold like 200 tubes in two days. Right? So, then it was like, Okay, this is great. I did. I went and did a vendor event one of my good friends. I was supposed to do an event but she couldn’t go. And so, I just said, Hey, Coach Val is doing this Zumba class. Would you like to go Target Field vendor for vendors over what do you what does that mean? What is it? What are you talking about?
Chanda Smith Baker 25:33
So Audra Robinson, and then Val? Coach now? No bounds. Last name. She supported me when she hears us and I can’t call. I know me, too. I’ve known her forever. But anyway, go ahead.
Tameka Jones 25:47
I accept Audra’s invitation. But then I was like she said, just pick a table and a tent, a table and… girl. Where do you get that from? So, I put it on Facebook. And I was like, Look, you guys, Anybody got a table or a tent or whatever. And then a friend from junior high, said, I got both come on by and grab it. And then my friend Chantal, in St. Paul who was running for school board called and said, You need to have your own tent and your own table. And I got so irritated with her because I’m like, I know that but I don’t know, Alan Shantou Allen. So I guess I got a nice table and tent. But Chantal was like, come get this money so you can have your own. And so that’s how that happened. I use Amy’s first and then Chantal purchased my second table and 10 and then from there that Zumba class, one of the ladies that was Zubin Kia Allen, she said, Hey, have you ever thought about selling at the farmers market? I said lipsticks at the farmers market? No. She said yeah, it’s plant based gluten free, they’d love it. So I went to the farmers market right over there on Minnehaha and 32nd. I think it was the Midtown farmers market. And these women were coming by getting their fruits and vegetables. Because at the time after civil unrest, everything was gone in that neighborhood as far as grocery stores. So, the Farmers Market was the place to be. So, they came by and they were like, Oh, I couldn’t use new lipstick for my Zoom calls. I’m a CEO, I’m a teacher, we’re all on Zoom, I need to do something because I’m in my pajamas. And I really don’t do much. So, from there, they told their friend, word of mouth, you know, word of mouth, and networking is everything for small businesses. So that’s what helped me to get the momentum. But also out of those women that were showing up. They were like, Hey, have you heard of this grant? Have you heard of this opportunity? There’s another pop-up event coming. So all of that was happening? Right Place Right time, right season, right purpose, right plan.
Chanda Smith Baker 28:06
And, you know, using and leveraging your network, sometimes just expressing what you need. And the universe will guide you know, will provide for like a closed mouth don’t get fed. Like all the things that you hear. I just saying it you put your need out there. And I think there’s a lot of people, women in particular, that will need something and I’d say something because they see that as an expression of their inability to accomplish it. Any advice that you would give?
Tameka Jones 28:42
I have been, that has been my journey too. So, like I said, I’m learning with Lip Esteem that I don’t have all that I need all the time. So, in order for me to be successful, or to see myself grow or to not have the anxiety that I have, sometimes I got to reach out to people, and most people are looking for someone looking for the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else or to help people. So, in our minds, whatever that thing is, it’s telling us we have to do it all by ourselves and figure it all out. That is a myth. And that is trauma. Feeling like we have to do it all by ourselves. Reach out, some people are really wanting to help but like I also learned in retail. If they say no, all that means is next. One person can’t do it. You go to the next person, but you don’t stop after a no.
Chanda Smith Baker 29:46
Let’s talk about the capital side of it. So, it costs money to build a brand. Yes. Did you just have you know savings? Did you have investors like what? Like if there were folks out there that wanted to help out entrepreneurs, from that point of view, what advice would you provide?
Tameka Jones 30:03
So my journey in in lip esteem has been bootstrapping, all the way until January of this year, I have been taking I took my COVID pay, because I was getting paid twice as much during COVID, sitting on my couch than I was when I was actually working. So, I had a lot of savings. That’s what I put into my brand. And then once I sold those 200 tubes, I took that flipped it and put it back. So I’ve been doing that the whole time. And I’ve been wondering, why am I still a solopreneur? Well, it’s because I haven’t had the capital to be able to grow my team. And so that was really frustrating for me, because one of the things that I was afraid of was banks, loans, and things like that. And so, I stayed clear of that. But I think that once you make your request known, then all of a sudden, things start happening in the world. And it comes down to believing in yourself and believing that you’re going to scale and grow, I was offered an opportunity to go in front of people through…they introduced me to a program called the new Impact Fund. And they are our venture capitalists that are group and they’re trying to help black businesses to scale. And I went in front of them, gave them my story and showed them all that they needed. And they were like, we want to support you. This is just in January of this year, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t go looking for a bank. I didn’t fill out a bank application, no lone papers or anything, these people came to me. But then I had to learn how to do pro formas, balance sheets, all these things. That’s why I said I’m growing every time with the steam is growing, my mind is expanding, too. So I would just say that, yes, putting your own money into your business is amazing. But sometimes it is hard. Most times it’s going to be hard to scale and grow. If you don’t get additional funding, and that could come from grants too.
Chanda Smith Baker 32:27
Why were you scared of, why were you afraid of banks and loans?
Tameka Jones 32:32
I would just say probably… how do I say this?
Chanda Smith Baker 32:36
Say it like he thought it because I already think I know what you were thinking.
Tameka Jones 32:42
I’ll just say like generational trauma, surrounded with money. And also, by me having a bachelor’s, me sending my daughter to college, I had took out so many loans already. I’m like no, not another one. I’m already struggling trying to pay back student loans. So then put extra on that. It was just it was too hard. So I did everything I could to stay away from it and act like put on the mask that I’m okay. I’ve got my savings. Yeah. Then and I made a decent amount of money. But guess what, all that money went back into the business. So, I really didn’t have much to live off of.
Chanda Smith Baker 33:23
Yeah, the generational trauma related to money related to banking systems. Even the wives tale, right like I just my grandmother, you’d be like grandma needs some money. She’d be like, I’d be right back. What what shoebox? Did you have? Oh, my grandma, you know, I mean, her living and being born in 1915. And coming through the Depression and watching the failure of many systems on on our community. There were things about that, that she passed on to us. Right, that, you know, make sure you always have money and you’re like all the little things that she passed on to us that can stay in your head. And I think part of what the story you’re sharing is all of those things that you were able to sort of move through that you are moving through, right, this isn’t stagnant, but that you’re moving through and redefining perhaps some of those lessons. You’re understanding them for yourself and what they mean in today’s terms for you.
Tameka Jones 34:32
Yeah, I’m kicking my fears in there but because I’m tired of being bound by false evidence appearing real, these are things that I don’t even know are true. I just been like, either taught it or thought I saw it and it just, it just made me scared. So, I’m just not going to do it. And I’m just gonna sit here and be comfortable, but be uncomfortable at the same time. No, I don’t like being uncomfortable. I like being happy and free. I’m a free spirit, I’d like to stay that way. And so I have to face things that are really challenging for me. And I’m working through that.
Chanda Smith Baker 35:11
Yeah, if you had to share the one or two things that were sort of ah-ha for you along this journey, would you be able to express them?
Tameka Jones 35:22
I think one of the biggest aha moments for me was that I can break past limits. Even my own self limits, the limits I’ve been telling myself, I can create generational wealth. My voice matters. My opinion matters. And like this, again, I’ve had so much fear about things even. I know people think oh, Tameka goes everywhere. Like she’s, there must be three to me, because I used to be afraid to be in crowds. I used to be afraid to network. And that ah-ha just like you can do anything that you put your mind to.
Chanda Smith Baker 36:18
So that was really the recognizing of your own strength and your own possibility, right to the limits that you set on yourself? I think that’s so important. Because you know, I sit in a lot of space where people are like, if we can just give this class on this thing, it will solve that problem. And I’m like, that’s just the technical side of it. But I think the the cultural side and the self, the self deprivation, right? Like the self saboteur, right? That sabotage is, before you can even get out. Before you can even act, you’re already doubting, right, you’re already seeing the doubt and the reasons why versus seeing the possibilities. And that is a practice. That is a behavior that is something that you have to disrupt in your own mind every single time it comes up.
Tameka Jones 37:08
Yes, I have to try it, I wake up and have to talk myself into not feeling the feelings of the moment. Like, I could wake up and feel heavy and what is wrong, but my business is Lip Esteem. And it’s about feeling good. And if I don’t, how can I give you my best if I’m not feeling my best? So, I have to go like deep sometimes I’m like, what is it figured out? Because my new thing is like today, I’m going to have a great day. I’m excited about today, I’m excited about the women I’m gonna meet or the men I’m gonna meet. I’m excited that I can help someone feel better being here than when they came in.
Chanda Smith Baker 37:57
How did you get to the storefront? So, you went from a tube to a few tubes to a farmers market to a storefront in two years.
Tameka Jones 38:05
I spoke it into existence. So when I when I received the application for the Small Business Revolution, it came with a link to watch the other stories and previous seasons. When I watched the previous seasons, everyone had a storefront. And so, I said to myself, the person who recommended me for this show must not know I’m in my kitchen. I’m not around the storefront. And so I said, I’m not going to do this application. This small voice said, keep, keep going. Keep going. I’m like keep going. So I’m right now to application. It says where’s your storefront located? Keep going, keep going. Then another question was what area of civil unrest or something like that? Well, your area of civil unrest do you live in or something? I would say Oh, I live in Dakota, county. I don’t live in the area of civil unrest. Keep going, keep going. Keep up. Okay. All right. Well, if I keep going, then you have tell me what to say. So it said where’s your brick and mortar located? Wherever area of civil unrest? I said, Look, I’m a rondo born and raised Young lady. I do not live there, nor do I have a storefront. But eventually, I want to have a storefront in rondo. And that was three two years ago. My daughter and I were filming on the street next door at Get Gorgeous salon. And my daughter walked outside and said Mom, the chiropractor office moved out. And I said, oh my God, that would be a perfect spot except I just signed a lease for a year somewhere down on University. And I said, they’re not going to let me out at least she said, my daughter said, Well, how do you know unless you ask them? Oh, my Dang, kids always got something to say, Oh…
Chanda Smith Baker 40:13
She believes in her mama. She’s like, Audrey.
Tameka Jones 40:18
So I asked, they said, your back is your sweet is so cute. It’s not gonna be hard to rent this out. Go ahead. And I said, well, so I contacted the landlord here. And he said, you just don’t know. I’ve been waiting for someone like you. Someone who has a vision, who’s from Rondo, who’s not trying to change the building. I would love for you to come here. I said, Okay, awesome. Well, this is what color I want the walls and this is what color I want my floors to be. He said, Oh, no, ma’am. That’s your responsibility. I said what. He said, Yeah, this is your space. And I said, Well, the last space, they asked me what I wanted. He said, no. I wasn’t financially prepared to redo a storefront. So I had to do something I’d never done before ask people for money and crowd fund. That was me coming out of my shell again, because I want to do everything on my own. Well, I, I realized I can’t. So, all those people who said, I want to support you, what do you need? They came through. And I really appreciate that people are supporting my vision. So that’s how I ended up here just by mere circumstance, we look to the right and it was available, and we were a perfect fit. And now my store brings me so much joy every day. It brings my community joy. The women come over here and during Selby Jazz Fest are just walking down the street, and they want to sit on my little window seat and look down the street. That’s what it’s all about. We’re not just a cosmetic line. We’re a social enterprise and a community builder.
Chanda Smith Baker 42:16
How many black women entrepreneurs were you exposed to as a young woman?
Tameka Jones 42:23
My mother was my first. I think that’s maybe why I can move through the space a little bit easier because I’ve, I’ve been a part of my mom’s diversity consulting business since I was 10.
Chanda Smith Baker 42:39
What have you learned from your mother? I think about the lessons we learned that sometimes we don’t really reflect on right. So she’s, she’s an entrepreneur. So you got you had a lens of observing that taught you something about her.
Tameka Jones 42:51
My mom is fearless. She’s creative. She’s extremely brilliant. She can develop she can write a book in a day and get it published. She I mean, she’s just extremely smart. And she knows how to move. So, I learned how to network from her. I just didn’t like it. I hear that. And so, she’s, she’s been all over the world. I just appreciate being able to follow her but also be a part of her process. So, like, if I need to develop a curriculum, I know how to do it. I know how to lay it out. I know I got a book, one of those book, things with the ribbon on the end, like I know the machines to get. There’s just so much about being a businesswoman that I learned from her, even filing, you know, like there’s just little things but they all matter.
Chanda Smith Baker 43:58
What do you hope your daughter learns from you?
Tameka Jones 44:02
I hope Kijana learns from me how to maintain who she is while maneuvering through this thing called life. And I hope she learns to find her passion, and to not let anyone distract her from that. I hope she learns just how to love herself and love her community and love her God. And then that will help take her to wherever she wants to be. And love her mama. She already loves her mama so…
Chanda Smith Baker 44:43
Clearly and I’ve only met her once.
Tameka Jones 44:47
She’s my director of operations.
Chanda Smith Baker 44:49
I love it. You’re an entrepreneur, but you’ve said the word community quite a few times. And you said social entrepreneur. So how do you think about Having a lipstick brand in the context of community? Is it really about the people in community feeling better? Is it about inspiring? Is it about giving back? Is it all of those things? Like do you have a…
Tameka Jones 45:11
Yes. So like, even in my storefront community is present if anybody’s in here, or if they’re not. So down my hallway, I have local artists that display and sell their work from my store. So, there’s that. And then in my third room, we have a young lady named Patrice Smith from the skin lab. And she rents out her own suite in lip esteem, and she’s an advanced esthetician and a makeup artist. So, she’s, we graduated from the same school 10 years apart. But she from rondo. And she always wanted to have a place in rondo. So, if I have that, then go ahead, because then she can learn from me and her customers can be my customers and we can win that way. But also I do a lot of work. Not a lot, but some work with the local community colleges and St. Kate’s, got to work with U of M just when their entrepreneurship programs and speaking to those young people who are wanting to do something similar to me, my intern that I’m getting next month is from St. Kate’s. She wants a beauty brand. Why not teach the next generation on how to be successful. And the community is Rando. So I mean, that’s everything to me.
Chanda Smith Baker 46:44
But let’s talk about Rondo because there might be people that are listening that have no idea of what Rondo is or means to you or to our community. So can you say a little bit about rondo.
Tameka Jones 46:59
So, Rondo was the African American community in St. Paul, that in the early 60s, the state decided to put highway 94 Right in the middle of the neighborhood. And so it splits the black neighborhood all black neighborhood, we had 300 businesses and 700 homes, black 300 black-owned businesses and 700 Black families were displaced by the freeway. And so, a lot of parents and grandparents had to go into the outskirts of town. And so that’s where the in that neighborhood is where I grew up and raised my daughter. And in that neighborhood is where as a single mom, I could go outside, go to the grocery store and see one of the elders and they would embrace me or talk to me or play with my daughter. And it was community, it helped. It helped me learn how to be from a 20-year-old young lady into a woman into how to have respect for my community and how to be a good citizen. And I learned all of that in rondo. And so, I give much respect to this neighborhood because it helped me to be who I am today. And that’s why I wanted my store there so that other young people when they come up, they can have, they can be influenced by a black business owner from this community.
Chanda Smith Baker 48:32
As a North sider who still resides here, I understand all of what you’re saying, right? It brings such pleasant memories. And I’ve often shared that, you know, a lot of my work has been in my in my spirit to raise the multiple truths and narratives that exist within community that we often talk about urban community or black community from a lens of deficit. But this is a community that raised me that poured into me that those neighbors and those elders and those community gatherings and the just the streets that are familiar in the houses when my mom and I would drive down as a kid, they be like, you know, that’s Miss Martin’s house, you know? You remember my friend were her grandma, sisters, Auntie lives there. And you’re like, No, none of these people. And it used to just work my nerves as a young person. But as I’ve gotten older and do the same thing. It’s because we’ve been connected through generations. Yeah. And that means something and it means more than any negative description that could ever be placed on community. And I really appreciate the efforts that are happening in rondo. Yeah, to continue the legacy and the history of home ownership and entrepreneurship. Yes, right to continue the legacy of we’re better together and I think there are many communities across this country that could be inspired by what’s happening in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. Right now.
Tameka Jones 50:08
Amen to that it can mean we are better together. And if anybody says any different, run.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:16
Run, they’re not your people. Man. Okay, so as we close by question lately has been what is bringing you hope?
Tameka Jones 50:26
Oh, what’s bringing me hope is knowing that I’m just at the beginning of my race. I haven’t completed it. There’s so much more for me to do and for me to learn. And there’s so many doors that I’m excited to kick in so that the people behind me can come through. I’m just excited about where I see our community, our community is growing stronger, and stronger. And I love to be a part of it. I’m just, I just see so much beauty coming from so much trauma and drama, that it’s just, it’s just exciting. I’m going to be a part of it, I’m going to help be helpful in any way possible. And if people have dreams, just do it. It may be the timing of it all. But if you dream it and you continue to dream it, it must be something to it. So don’t get discouraged. If it doesn’t happen in your timing. It will, it will happen.
Chanda Smith Baker 51:28
So Tameka Jones Lip esteem, thank you so much for being part of this conversation. I have not been to the storefront, but I am committed to getting there. I will, I will come I think that it is a place to, to at least pay attention to be inspired by the personal story and journey. I love that you have ambassadors across the state that go from fair to brownish, right, like I love the spectrum. I love the idea that you have people that love the brand that look like you and those that don’t, that you are creating inclusion by being yourself and staying true to who you are. And in that in the spirit of that you bring space for other people to be themselves with you and your product. So, congratulations. Thank you so much for inspiring all of us by taking a lesson out of this conversation it is to ask for what you need and let your network work on your behalf let people co-conspire with your dreams.
Tameka Jones 52:30
Thank you so much for having me, Chanda.
Chanda Smith Baker 52:34
Thank you again. This is Chanda Smith Baker from Conversations with Chanda and you just listen to a conversation with Tameka Jones from Lip esteem.
Souphak Kienitz 52:43
If you want to follow Chanda on Twitter or Instagram, that’s ChandaSBaker.Close Transcript -
Tameka Jones is the Founder and CEO of Lip Esteem. She was featured as a small business owner in Season 6 of the Emmy-nominated television series, The Small Business Revolution.
After honing her skills for twenty years as a makeup artist, Saint Paul native Tameka took control of her destiny, launching Lip Esteem in July 2020, right in the midst of COVID-19 and civil unrest in the Twin Cities. Starting as a vendor at a local farmer’s market along Lake Street, Tameka was amazed at the interest and support of the community, steadily growing her customer base. Since March 2020, Tameka has also participated in and completed three startup cohorts – Neighborhood Development Center, Lunar Startup, and Fearless Commerce.
To mark the company’s first anniversary, Lip Esteem moved from her home office into an office space in St. Paul. Now at the two-year mark, she has grown out of that space and moved into a storefront in her childhood neighborhood of Rondo. The storefront offers a larger space for retail sales, consultations, private parties, and fulfillment of online orders. Lip Esteem also partners with additional retailers, including salons, boutiques, and cooperatives looking for a plant-based, gluten-free, and cruelty-free product line.