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Hair and skincare entrepreneur talks honoring the authentic middle-aged woman
Angel Cornelius was 57 when she left her lifelong career in healthcare management to start her own premium beauty products company. Here, the founder and CEO of Maison 276 discusses how she built her business as a middle-age Black woman—and shares her dream that soon all women will come to appreciate the benefits of midlife rather than feel pressured to re-capture their youth.
Angel tells Women on the Move host Sam Saperstein that she wasn’t looking to become an entrepreneur when she started inventing beauty products—she was just looking for something that would work better for her than the commercial products she kept cycling through. “Honestly, I was solving for personal pain points,” she says. When her hair turned grey early she soon got fed up with moving between “purple” products to make her hair more “vibrant” and other products to tone down that vibrancy.
She started mixing her own hair products at home in her sink. “What I wanted was just one system, one set of products to just wash my hair, adding no unwanted color and also solving for the fact that our hair is just like our skin,” she recalls. “It changes as we mature and women often think there's something wrong and no, there's absolutely nothing wrong. It's just different hair.” Before long she was using her leftover haircare ingredients to make similar skincare products. And not too long after that she started sharing her products with friends and family and soon had to open an Etsy store to keep up with demand.
Big breaks in the beauty biz
Angel tells Sam that her first big break came when she was discovered by ESSENCE through one of her son’s friends, an original employee of the beauty subscription company Birchbox; they wanted to include one of her homemade beauty butters in a package. Angel said yes before she realized that they would need at least 10,000 units to start. “I tell people all the time, it's a good thing we didn't have zoom back then because the words coming out of my mouth did not match the look on my face because I knew that was not going to happen in my kitchen,” she jokes. Before she knew it, she was exploring the world of manufacturers (and learning that they “won't turn their machines on for less than 50,000 units”).
Angel learned on the fly about formulations, white label products, boutique manufactures, and other ins and outs of the industry. Before long, Angel had branched out from skincare and was scaling up her original innovation: haircare products. That led to her next big break when a home shopping network called TJC invited her to showcase her three-step system for silver and blonde hair. The appearance was so successful, she was asked to appear again six hours later. Angel parlayed that success into winning a competition on QVC and suddenly her brand—Maison 276, an homage to her New Orleans roots—was erupting.
A focus on authenticity for middle-aged women
Angel says she’s always kept the needs of middle-aged women at the forefront of what she does at Maison 276. When she first started going to trade shows, she realized she was often the only older face behind a booth. “And so women would crowd around my table and yes, they loved the skincare moisturizers, but they were asking me questions all across the spectrum about beauty. They wanted to know about my hair. How did I keep it so white? How did I keep it so healthy?” she recalls. Today, she says, she’s focused on building the leading beauty brand for a diverse group of middle-aged women who want to embrace the naturally occurring changes that take place in their bodies with clean and innovative products while also celebrating the beauty and vibrancy of their lives.
“The middle-aged woman is the most powerful consumer group in this country and in fact in the world, but she's also the most ignored, misunderstood, and the most misrepresented,” Angel says. “And when they do pay attention to us, it's often from a point of age correction, anti-aging wrinkle reduction, medications like incontinence products, like it's their mission to fix everything that they think is wrong with us. And I reject that as a woman and as an entrepreneur. Maison 276 really has been built by the power of community because we represent middle-aged women in a way that is beautiful, vibrant, energetic, and that's authentic to how she lives her life. She is super excited about this stage and really believes that she's in the prime of her life. And that is what we reflect, not only in our innovative products, but also in our messaging, in our representation.”
Founder and CEO, Maison 276