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We know we’re all excited about the Vogue cover from yesterday, but it begs the question, “why, despite being comforting, is this unfamiliar?” Why has darker skinned continually been stripped from sight? Why do we only see white and light models as the common and darker skin as the one-off special exception thrown to us only before Black History Month (😒)?

The obvious answer is Anti-Blackness, but the less obvious is all the ways it has creeped out of sight. How have we been conditioned to not see this or change it, even when we are in power? Product imagery, product offerings, dark lip color “correction” surgery, and magazine covers are all examples of it. We just thought today‘s post should serve as a reminder of your beauty for those with darker tones and a reminder of the oppression that has been hidden right under those without. Love y’all ✌🏽

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The founder do her makeup

Business for Good: Pound Cake

Camille Bell’s search for the perfect shade to “rock a red lip” prompted her to launch her own Philly-based lipstick brand tailored to every lip color. The first batch sold out in just 48 hours.

Business for Good: Pound Cake

Camille Bell’s search for the perfect shade to “rock a red lip” prompted her to launch her own Philly-based lipstick brand tailored to every lip color. The first batch sold out in just 48 hours.

Philadelphian Camille Bell received her first makeup palette as a Christmas gift from a friend during high school, and immediately fell in love with the way the bright oranges, reds and yellows popped on her dark skin. Her parents didn’t allow her to wear makeup, so she would apply eyeliner and mascara after they left for work each day, and then scrub her face clean before they got home.

Later, when her dad dropped her off for college at Temple University, she immediately walked to a Rite Aid across the street from her dorm and stocked up on concealer, foundation, lipsticks, eye liner, and eye shadows so that she could truly begin experimenting with makeup. By her senior year, she was taking theater makeup courses and was “known to always rock a red lip.”

But it wasn’t easy to find makeup that looked good on her, as a trip to Sephora a few years ago illustrated. In aisle after aisle, Bell tested product after product, brushing on gorgeous blush colors and bold eyeshadows only to find that they didn’t show up at all on her skin.

This photo accompanies an article about Philadelphian Camille Bell's pro-Black, -queer and -fat lipstick line
Pound Cake founder Camille Bell

“I swatched it on my skin and it just…completely disappeared,” Bell says. “I reached out to a few of my friends who are Black and Brown and some who have a darker complexion than me and said hey, does this happen? And they were like, yeah, all the time.

In a 2018 survey of 5,500 women conducted by the brand Makeup for Melanin Girls, 80 percent said they have a difficult time finding makeup shades that suit their skin tone, Glamour reported. Though brands like Makeup for Melanin Girls and Rhianna’s Fenty Beauty have sprung up in recent years, a gap still persists in an industry that has largely designed its products around the needs of White women.

“A lot of these products were made with Black and Brown folks as an afterthought,” Bell says.

This is especially true of lipstick. Unlike foundations or other products that are tailored to different skin tones, lipstick is sold in so-called “universal shades.” But the colors show up differently for someone who has pink lips versus someone with deep brown lips.

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Growing up, Bell also noticed that Black and Brown women who wore bright red lipstick were perceived as tacky or overtly sexual, and that racist caricatures of Black women often featured exaggerated red lips—whereas White women who donned the shade were seen as powerful.

“There’s unfortunately a stigma in the Black and Brown community that shames darker-skinned folks for wanting to wear a full color such as red,” she says. To Bell, that stigma was unacceptable.

In 2021, she launched Pound Cake, a Philly-based cosmetic company that offers a true red, liquid vegan lipstick for every skin color. Her lipstick line—called Cake Batter—features six shades of red lip color, each designed to complement different skin and lip tones.

Pound Cake launched in September—and sold out of lipstick within 48 hours. This year, Bell plans to launch the brand in retail stores, with plans to eventually expand beyond lipstick into other products.

“Pro-Black, pro-fat, pro-queer”

In college, Bell studied business through her public relations and advertising degree and thought that the gap in lipstick options for people of color was a problem she could solve. But it was her student government advisor at the university who really pushed her to turn Pound Cake into a business.

“He was like, you know, you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you have some sort of background in business, and a passion for makeup. Why don’t you do something about it?” Bell recalls.

Bell worked on developing the business through Temple’s entrepreneurship program, Blackstone LaunchPad, in 2016 with her co-founder Johnny Velazquez, who she met while they were both Temple undergrads. Bell knew that Velazquez had studied media production and she asked him to create an animation she could use during pitches for the business. He decided to continue working with her on Pound Cake because he believed in the brand’s mission and Bell’s vision for the business.

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“There wasn’t really an option that was dedicated to Black and Brown beauty consumers [when we started]. Fenty wasn’t even out at that moment,” he said. “I knew we could have a huge impact with it, and Bell’s perseverance and passion just kind of glows off of her. So I believed in her as the leader of Pound Cake and I believed in the mission.”

The business takes inspiration for its name from the Pan-Cake makeup that was developed in the 1930s for film stars. To Bell, Pan-Cake represents a time when thin, White women were the standard bearers for the beauty industry. The company’s website proudly proclaims it’s “pro-Black, pro-fat, pro-queer” approach to cosmetics.

“During a time like the 1900s, the beauty industry was queer phobic, fat phobic, [and] it upheld a lot of White supremacist views,” Bell says. “We want to disrupt that. We want to pound that. We want to break that.”

“During a time like the 1900s, the beauty industry was queer phobic, fat phobic, [and] it upheld a lot of White supremacist views,” Bell says. “We want to disrupt that. We want to “pound” that. We want to break that.”

Velazquez serves as the business’s chief branding officer and Bell as its CEO. During LaunchPad, they worked on developing business and social media strategies for their product and they started attending beauty conferences to network with people in the industry.

Broke in Philly logoIn 2017, Bell and Velazquez won $10,000 from a Fox School of Business pitch competition. They then entered several other pitch competitions to raise the money they needed to develop their product, but securing additional funds proved difficult. Pound Cake would make it to the final rounds of pitch competitions, only to be passed over in favor of businesses that were further along in their development.

“We were making it to the final round and judges would come up to us, especially at first, saying, hey, you guys are great, but we had to go with this other company because they at least have a prototype,” Bell says.

So Bell and Velazquez instead turned to crowdfunding. They launched an Indiegogo Campaign in 2017 that raised $20,522 in 30 days. In September of 2020, they received an additional $10,000 after winning a grant through a Glossier initiative to support Black-Owned beauty businesses that was launched after the racial justice movement that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

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Once they had the initial funds in hand, they turned to product development. Bell worked with three labs over four years and more than 400 test iterations before landing on the formula for Pound Cake. She approached each lip color like most people do their foundation and created multiple shades of classic red, knowing that each one shows up differently depending on a person’s lip tone.

A quiz on Pound Cake’s website helps customers determine which shade will show up as true red for them. It asks customers about their skin and lip tones and what shade of red lipstick they prefer.

Bell says that when applied, the color should last for seven to eight hours without flaking or crumbling. The product also contains Vitamin E and avocado oil, so that it moisturizes a person’s lips while they wear it. Each tube sells for $24.

Marisa Peal, Philly-based cosmetologist, hair care consultant and founder of the site Organix Locs, was one early supporter. Peal, a stylist at K. Louise Boutique Salon, first met Bell in 2017 at a launch event for Pound Cake’s Indiegogo campaign. There, she was inspired by the brand’s mission and continued following their progress.

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When they dropped their first line of Cake Batter lipsticks she immediately bought the Red Bean shade. She was impressed by how well the quiz matched her to a lipstick that complimented her skin tone, how long one application lasted and the product’s vanilla pound cake scent. She also appreciated that the company’s website highlighted overweight and non-White models and makeup artists. Now she finds herself constantly sending her friends the link to Pound Cake’s quiz and buying them the shade recommended for their skin tone.

“When I received my package, it just felt like a special gift to me,” she says. “This makes me excited to wear red lips … I just felt so fierce and then so empowered.”

Best lip product of the year

This photo accompanies an article about Philadelphian Camille Bell's pro-Black, -queer and -fat lipstick line
Bell says there’s “a stigma in the Black and Brown community that shames darker-skinned folks for wanting to wear a full color such as red.” Her line of lipstick squashes that.

The business initially planned to launch in 2020, but supply chain issues spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the timing, Technical.ly reported in November, 2021. One of the labs they were working with to develop the lipsticks closed from April to May 2020 and later ended up dropping them to focus on creating products for bigger clients in September 2020.

Still, Bell persisted. A year later, Pound Cake was almost ready to release its lipstick into the world when Allure’s Best of Beauty Awards came knocking. Their Maraschino Cherry lipstick was named one of the 19 best lip products of the year in September, 2021—just days before the business opened for online sales.

“I can’t describe how we felt. It was just amazing, especially to get an award like that before you even launch,” Bell says.

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The business is not yet profitable, but Bell projects it will be in 2022. Right now, she’s seeking $2.1 million from investors to help fulfill purchase orders from retailers. (Though she can’t share where just yet, the product will be for sale both in-store and online next year.) She also hopes additional funding will allow her to quit her day job as a digital marketing manager for a nonprofit, and let her hire an additional employee. Her big plans for the brand include expanding beyond lipstick into other makeup products, including eye shadows and foundations.

“We want to have an entire makeup collection,” Bell says. “And we’re going to uphold our same values. Every product we make will be tailored for every skin tone.”

“We want to have an entire makeup collection,” Bell says. “And we’re going to uphold our same values. Every product we make will be tailored for every skin tone.”

In keeping with those values, Pound Cake plans to host community events dedicated to tackling some of the harmful stigmas that persist in the beauty industry.

“Last September was us launching,” Velazquez says. “This year is going to be us blossoming.”


The Citizen is one of 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic mobility. Follow the project on Twitter @BrokeInPhilly.

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