'Be better, not bitter': How this teen mom turned Breast Cancer survivor flipped the industry on its head and launched a multi-million dollar beauty empire
Nothing worth having comes easy — there has to be a significant amount of challenge in order for anything substantial to stick, an added level value that comes from fighting and clawing your way to your goals and dreams.
But more often than not, the challenges and struggles that are thrown our way can become derailing, distracting and at their worst, demoralizing.
The concept of being a single, teen-mother diagnosed with breast cancer all the while living on section 8 living assistance would be downright unimaginable on a day to day basis for most, let alone provide conditions in which a multi-million dollar business could be launched.
But for Cashmere Nicole, founder of Beauty Bakerie Cosmetics, this seemingly impossible set of challenges laid the foundation for a sugary, sweet reality:
“Looking back at everything, it had to happen that way. It’s insane how the story has come together and how much of Beauty Bakerie’s story is my entire past, and every struggle I’ve been through.”
Nicole’s desire to launch her cosmetics brand “started with a love and passion for the arts” at a young age, recalling an experience where she tried to pitch her local hospital homemade gift bags she had created at the young age of 14.
The desire to create and shape things aesthetically followed her into high school where she grew a passion for interior design, taking a liking to computer-aided drawing, sketching things like floor plans for dream homes.
But those plans and visions Cashmere had for herself and her career came to a halt when she became pregnant, giving birth to her daughter at age 16:
“All of my dreams, they were on hold.”
Cashmere was focusing on balancing nursing school and motherhood in her early 20s when the initial idea of Beauty Bakerie came to be. She knew that she wanted to do something that involved makeup and beauty, but wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.
In search of guidance, Cashmere began to pray:
“I’m going to give this [idea for a company] five years. And I prayed about it and I remember when I prayed about, I just felt like a confirmation in my spirit. And it was just kind of like, the idea that makeup itself is vain — how are you going to incorporate other people when makeup itself is just about taking care of self? And if you can figure out a way that, you can take care of other people — your brand will go very far.”
But the focus had to come back to Cashmere and putting herself and her health first when she was diagnosed with breast cancer on year later.
Undergoing a double mastectomy, Cashmere received the news on the morning of her reconstruction surgery that a classmate of hers — who also was battling breast cancer — had passed away:
“She didn’t live but I lived? Who’s ‘blessed’? What does ‘blessed’ mean? I had a big issue with the word ‘blessed.’”
Cashmere, faced with the unimaginable, struggled with making sense of her new reality.
Returning to prayer, Cashmere realized that the only way to make sense of the senseless was to share her story:
“Over a period of probably six to eight months, [God] got me to see that the scars were perfections, they made me perfect — they didn’t make me imperfect. And this story was going to reach people in ways that [God] needed me to reach people. He needed people to have a hope, he needed people to have inspiration, to be able to keep going through any challenge that they were going through.
I started to share the story and it was hard every single time. But every time I shared the story it got easier, and easier and easier and more people would say ‘That’s me!’, ‘That happened to me!’ or ‘That happened to my mom’ or ‘I’m going through this same thing’ and it gave them some type of motivation."
Others around the world were not only inspired but also validated in Cashmere’s story, in her openness and optimistic outlook on life and her journey.
Word about Cashmere and Beauty Bakerie eventually reached none other than Beyoncé, who contacted Cashmere for an interview on her website, all while ordering Beauty Bakerie products and supporting the business:
“All of that was the fire that I started to need, because I noticed that as each year went by, I was losing motivation. I’m trying to raise my daughter, I’m trying to take care of her on my own … I’m working, I have [nursing] school and she has sports and everything was piling high. And I still believed that this Beauty Bakerie could be this big thing. And I didn’t have all the tools, but I saw it, I felt it. And then when Beyoncé did that, it gave me a little more fire.”
But things began to dim down after another six-month period of illness (separate from her cancer), and Cashmere began to struggle with whether or not Beauty Bakerie was still worth it after all this time:
“I remember waking up one night thinking ‘What do I want to do with my life?’“
Going back and forth between whether or not to let Beauty Bakerie fold and start anew (“I wanted to make sure that the decision to quit wasn’t irrational and that it wasn’t coming from an emotional place”), Cashmere ultimately decided to stick it out — and two weeks later, the company skyrocketed.
Today, Beauty Bakerie is famous for its dessert-themed products that are sold in over 120 countries with partnerships popping up like crazy, including Forever 21's Riley Rose sister stores.
Cashmere Nicole is also the first black woman in the beauty space to ever have raised over $7M in funding.
But for Cashmere, the monetary success is just icing on the proverbial cupcake:
“The thing that matters to me the most is that the mission [of Beauty Bakerie] has always been to ‘be sweet and sweeten the lives of others.’ And I came up with the motto of ‘Be better, not bitter’ on the hospital bed because I was angry about how my body was changing, I was angry that [I was left] to raise this daughter on my own and I wanted all these things for her but it was like ‘How do I give them to her?’
I am angry, I have every reason to be upset but I decided to take a different perspective and say ‘Don’t be bitter, be better’ … just keep fighting and be better and every time something comes across your way it’s just to distract you. Be better than everything you can think of.
Part of being ‘Sweet Life’ is giving you back moments that matter most — if you spend eight to 15 times retouching your makeup, what if today was your last day? Wouldn’t eight to 15 times of dabbing on some lip gloss be too much time? I wanted makeup that goes on, stays on, so that you can really take advantage of the moments that are happening. All those micro-moments mean so much more when you are told that you have cancer, and you don’t know if you have to bury yourself, if my daughter has to bury me, or what that looks like.”
It’s this acute self-awareness and dedication to reflection and deeper meaning in something as seemingly mindless as applying lipgloss that makes doing business with Cashmere an inspirational experience in and of itself, with her cooly dropping hard-hitting one-liners (‘Things don’t happen to you, things happen for you’) into nearly every conversation.
Because to Cashmere, that's what having your own business is about -- it's about the 'why' not the 'how' or 'what.' It’s never been about being the most educated or the highest-backed financially or the most-skilled in the beauty space — it’s always been about knowing how badly she wanted the things she dreamed about and always letting that be her motivating and leading factor:
“As I grew up and become a young woman and a mother, I realized it's a function of you wanting it that bad — if it is your dream, you will make your dream come true. My dream for my daughter was that I didn’t want her to just be someone who came out of the system … I worked hard so that that’s not her story.
I started the company itself with probably like $50 … I didn’t have a lot of money and I would only put what was left over from my paychecks towards it … I always made sure that every single day I did one thing towards this dream.
I would say that in order for someone to go from this point to this point, it is nothing but drive. It’s not talent … it’s hard work … it’s a function of saying ‘You know what, I’m going to stop managing my time poorly.'
Be honest about where you are. If you’re saying to yourself that you don’t have all the tools, go out and get the tools. Go on Google and learn as you go. Bump your head, be happy for the mistakes — they’re going to teach you a lot. You need all of those experiences to even be able to be a CEO and lead an entire team to success.”
Today, the Beauty Bakerie team is about 25 strong, all employees that share Cashmere’s vision and work style:
“The team I have … they see the vision and they work hard. I think we’ve had enough good observations to know what ‘right’ looks like. Five of the people who started out are still with me today, out of maybe 25. Five are still there, still motivated, still driven. The majority of your people are going to be a mismatch, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing.”
Whether or not the team will grow as Beauty Bakerie itself grows is inevitable, given the "big plans" Cashmere has for the brand at large.
But no matter where things go from here, Cashmere Nicole has already won — life is about as sweet as its ever been and it can only get sweeter:
“Now I’m living in my afterlife, is what I tell everyone. These past five years have felt like the most surreal — I can’t even explain to you what the last five years have felt like. To never be sad, to appreciate life in a way that you can’t even put into words. So, every moment to me is a pretty big deal to me.”