Lauren Napier wants you to take it off—take it all off. She’s the CEO of Lauren Napier, maker of a single product: a luxury makeup-remover wipe. Her corporate values are triple mint, even by the most conscious of consumer standards. Her 4-year-old company is not only black-owned; it’s 100 percent operated by women. And her formula is eco-friendly on every level, with no animal testing and no toxic ingredients, and it’s entirely made in America. Cue the chorus of “I’m Every Woman.”
I met Napier three years ago, when she approached me on the street outside the Makeup Show in New York City. I thought she was going to ask me for modeling tips, but it was she who schooled me in the “the beauty of taking it all off.” She placed a simple, black foil packet in my palm with her name written on it, smiled and said, “I’m Lauren. This is the best way to cleanse your skin.” She then hailed a cab and disappeared. The impression she left stayed with me—I knew she’d be one to watch.
I tossed the packet into my bag and retrieved it a few days later, to remove heavy on-camera makeup. The wipes came in two formulations: Cleanse, for normal skin, and Flaunt, for mature and sensitive skin types. They felt great—soft like a chamois cloth—while the formula had a serumlike texture. Most important, they did the cleanup job in one go, without leaving my face feeling stripped. Definitely an exceptional product in a beautiful package.
But as lovely as the experience of using them had been, I wondered: Would they catch on? As opposed to a basic drugstore brand, which averages $8 for a 25-count packet, Napier’s price tag is a hefty $20 for 15 wipes. I’d get my answer a few short months later, in the form of an email from luxury retailer Net-a-Porter: Napier’s wipes had been added to its roster of prestige products.
Napier, with a background as a film-and-television makeup artist, traces her accomplishments to her grandparents—and their parents.
“All four of my great-grandparents were entrepreneurs,” she says. “That was huge in the black community at that time in the South. My mother’s parents owned a steakhouse that served the chitlin circuit—Ike and Tina [Turner] and B.B. King used to come through and perform and dine.”
Her paternal grandfather had a farm and a mortuary. “The spirit of being creative and proactive lives within me,” she says.
Call it desperation or inspiration, but it struck Napier on a flight from Australia to Dubai, when she found her cleansing wipes dried out and her facial mist spilled in her bag, leaving her in a full face of makeup on a long-haul flight.
Arriving in Dubai, she couldn’t find a convenient, effective, yet restorative wipe to cleanse her face. Napier suddenly saw a white space in the crowded and competitive luxury-cosmetics market. “Women spend a lot of time and effort on prestige makeup, and you want the same quality of experience when you’re taking your makeup off, as well,” she says.
Napier called it. The market was ready for her product.
Along with entrepreneurship, glamour is in Napier’s blood. Growing up between Las Vegas and Texas, Napier drew equal inspiration from the showgirls on the Vegas Strip and Ann Richards, then the governor of Texas. “She had that Southern-belle charm. Southern gusto. You always knew who she was,” Napier says.
Being a go-getter who gets it done her way is in her blood, too. It’s a spirit that informs everything behind her brand.
“I felt like if I was going to put my name on a product, it had to have the same kind of integrity that I carry myself with in the world,” she says. “Especially in these times, it’s important that underserved communities are being employed. I was heavily influenced by Obama’s administration to make a positive impact, socially and environmentally.”
Putting that influence into action, Napier uses solar-powered manufacturing facilities owned by a Chinese-American female immigrant. During our interview, Napier is speaking from the floor of the co-packing company she uses, specifically chosen because it employs “handi-capable” workers, who are either mentally or physically impaired.
“Those are two communities who are often overlooked or underserved, and I wanted to make sure they were included,” she says. “I know I’m going to be a huge brand one day. Doing good is a big part of my story.”
Napier’s ideas and inspiration weren’t backed up by formal business training or an angel investor. In fact, her dream literally almost went up in smoke before she even began.
Knowing that she wanted to create some kind of beauty business, Napier had adhered to a strict financial plan to clean up her credit from college loans. And then, close to meeting her startup goal, her house burned down—and her insurance company refused her a payout. Recovery took another seven years, and finally saving $4,000, which she combined with a tax refund and an American Express card that “made things happen a lot faster.”
Napier says, “I never let the fact that I have no formal business education scare me.” Her antidote to fear? “Pick up the phone and ask questions. I don’t fear rejection.”
It shows: Napier does all her own marketing and press, landing herself in both the storied pages of Vogue and the hallowed halls of Net-a-Porter, which she initially tagged on Instagram. “I just had to be there,” she says. Then comes a somewhat stunning revelation from a woman who seems—well, so naturally perfect:
“Being bullied made me fearless,” she shares. “It’s not easy. I always encourage people who are going through it to look inside and find themselves. I’m the same person now; I just look different.”
Her voice becomes supercharged with a kind of elegant authority: “And one day, I won’t look like this, either; but I’ll still have the same wisdom and personality.”
So, what’s next for Lauren Napier? “ J.Crew just put me in the store for their holiday beauty collection,” she says. “I’m right at the register.”
In Napier’s capable hands, the business built on taking it all off is definitely taking off:
“Being in business is like wearing a heart monitor: You’re up, and then your down. The only thing you never want is for your heart to stop.”
The Glow Up gift tip: Treat yourself—or someone who deserves a skin splurge—to the gift of Lauren Napier. At the end of a busy holiday season, there’s no better treat than taking it all off.