What I Perceived as FAILURE & REJECTION Actually Turned Out To Be a Long-Term Win

Sierra Lewis, Founder & Director of Product Development at Renee Cosmetic Consulting and Flora and Fauna

Sierra Lewis hails from Newburgh, 75 miles north of New York City. She attended City College of New York in Harlem, and graduated with a degree in Political Science and Public Policy, which she followed up with a Master’s degree from John Jay in Public Administration. 

Sierra is committed to improving the lives of those around her. Her original intent was to accomplish this through civil service. She spent two years working at New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, where she staffed and administrated several state campgrounds. Although keeping state land beautiful and camping family’s active was gratifying, Sierra isn’t your typical outdoorsy gal – she also loves cosmetics, skincare, and beauty. 

In the spirit of making women look and feel beautiful, she switched gears to cosmetic product development. After learning the trade, she decided to start her own line of natural, vegan, and cruelty-free beauty products called Flora & Fauna. Sierra works on all aspects of product development. This includes sourcing materials, suppliers, formulators, and manufacturers and well as ensuring each finished product is effective and safe. She offers her expertise as a consultant at Renee Cosmetics Consulting, a company she founded and operates. She is VERY proud that her company executives are all women and men of color!

Sierra currently lives in an East Oakland loft with her Instagram-famous dog, Iba (@ibabille) and the pair can be found exploring the neighborhood’s best taco trucks most weekends. 

 

Q&A With Sierra Lewis

 

What are your businesses Renee Cosmetic Consulting and Flora and Fauna about?

Renee Cosmetics Consulting is a business I formed about a year and a half ago (Renee is my middle name!). When I started, I was focused on all aspects of product development. This includes sourcing materials, suppliers, formulators, and manufacturers and well as ensuring each finished product is effective and safe. Over the course of the last 6 months, I’ve expanded the team to offer a full range of services including Digital Marketing and Sales Strategy. I am SO proud of my business because our executives are all WOMEN of COLOR!

Flora and Fauna is meant to be a tangible example of the work we do and quality of products and services we offer. My team (Renee Cosmetics Consulting) were the singular force behind: brand development, product development, and production, digital marketing strategy, influencer and event placements, etc for Flora & Fauna. It is truly a testimony of our skills.

What inspired you to start Renee Cosmetic Consulting and Flora and Fauna? & Why in the beauty industry?

I have always been committed to improving the lives of those around me.  My original intent was to accomplish this through civil service (this explains my education and degree choices). I spent two years working at New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. It was gratifying but I didn’t feel like I was really living out my dreams or passions.

Problem skin was a persistent issue for me due to my hormonal disorder, so finding the right skincare regimen and beauty products was always a high priority. Looking and feeling beautiful is important to ALL women. Something clicked. I knew I could still help people by empowering women to look and feel their best, so that’s exactly what I set out to do! Flora & Fauna is all about loving the skin you’re in and self-care.

What are your companies’ goals currently?

Renee Cosmetics Consulting is meant to be a resource for both start-ups and established businesses to improve, refine, or create products and strategy. Our goal this year to network at more events to spread the word about our services. We create amazing products, then give you the tools to sell and market them effectively.

Flora and Fauna is a testimony to our skills as individual consultants. As a woman of color, one mission we have is to saturate our social media with beautiful brown girls. There is not enough melanin in cosmetics press and social media, so we are here to change that. Black is beautiful.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be an entrepreneur?

I got out of a serious relationship about 6 months ago. It’s definitely been an adjustment, but in hindsight, I realize how much more productive I’ve been. In a relationship, it was hard to focus on my business because I was always thinking about my partner. How could I make our schedules better align, what I was going to cook for dinner, where we should take our next vacation, what I should get him for a holiday or birthday! I was distracted. Aftr we split up I was able to focus on my business, better plan things out, and actually execute. They say the top is lonely, right?! There are definitely days I feel alone. I scroll through social media at happy couples about my age and feel “Why not me?”. I realize one sacrifice I needed to make for the success of my business was BEING SINGLE.

Disclaimer: I am not telling young entrepreneurial women to break up with their significant others to focus better on their business! Everyone is different, but being aware of distractions and limiting their inference with your long-term goals is extremely important.

As an entrepreneur, we all have our good days and bad days. What is your typical bad day and typical good day look like? And how do you stay motivated all the time?

Bad Day – I’ve dumped so much money into my business and I’m not seeing the return I wanted as quickly as I hoped. Am I just wasting my time and money? Will this ever amount to anything? Am I doing this right? Am I capable of what I think I am? Am I secure being self-employed? Should I look for a traditional career job?

Good Day – I am so proud of my team! We are all young and have already accomplished so much! I am living my dream! Working for myself is so gratifying! I am giving a voice to the women who haven’t had one!

Staying Motivated – Remain grateful. It can be impossible to completely eliminate negative thoughts but always be thankful and grateful for your blessings. Appreciate what you have more than wishing for what you don’t. This perspective changes everything and gives you the positive energy to keep moving forward.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Organizational skills – As an entrepreneur, your head is always spinning because there’s so much to get done. Staying organized will keep tasks manageable and less overwhelming. My team uses an amazing resource called MONDAY.COM to keep everyone on the same page. 

Self-motivated – As an entrepreneur, you are your boss. Everything is riding on YOU. You have to push yourself to go above and beyond, even when your brain and body are screaming “NO!”. Use positive affirmations to stay self-motivated and keep yourself pushing ahead.

Perseverance – As an entrepreneur, the odds won’t always be in your favor. You may fail miserably a few times before you get something right. They key is to be persistent, and see setbacks as lessons and experiences that build you to be more equipped and well rounded. Keep pushing ahead no matter what.

How would you describe your work style?

Encouraging – We are a small team and I do my best to let everyone know how much I appreciate their efforts on a daily basis. My team is not ‘coworkers’, I consider them family.

Balancing Act – I am a big proponent of self-care and taking time to do things for you and only you. It isn’t selfish or inconsiderate. Figuring out this ‘balancing act’ is crucial to maintaining your sanity and not burning out. I think my work style is the perfect balancing act for me. I spread my work throughout the course of the day and take frequent short breaks to avoid overwhelming myself. I also like switching back and forth between projects to keep a fresh perspective on things.

How do you want to improve yourself in the next year?

Self Care – I have long battled with anxiety and depression due to PMDD and PCOS (yeah, my ovaries hate me). It is so bad some days I can’t do anything. My body feels like it’s 1000 lbs and I’m just STUCK in bed. Small things will irritate me to the point of hyperventilation or tears. I’ll lose my appetite, energy, and libido. I just don’t feel like ME, and it’s hard to get anything done when I’m feeling this OFF. It’s so easy to get caught up in the shuffle and neglect yourself. This year I am dedicating to improving my self-care regimen to fight the stresses of hormonal shifts. I’m walking more, talking boxing classes, getting massages and acupuncture, using aromatherapy and cannabis, and expressing myself more instead of bottling it in. 

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

Around the time I was a senior graduating high school, I only had two things on my mind. One, get out of my parent’s house. Two, move to Manhattan. I had fantastic grades, attendance, and participation and had my mind set on NYU. I envisioned myself in the big city day in and day out, meeting new people and forging my path. Unfortunately, NYU rejected me. I was heartbroken. I was also foolish enough to have limited backup schools (over-confident much?!). I will never forget how crushed I felt when I read the rejection letter. All I could think was “What didn’t I do right? What could I have done better?”, everything felt like a major waste.

The lesson here is that what I perceived as FAILURE and REJECTION actually turned out to be a long-term win. In hindsight – I didn’t need NYU. I went to CUNY schools and got my Masters with WAY LESS DEBT. I broke into an industry I love, by literally working my way up from the VERY BOTTOM (retail gigs→ office admin gigs →  managerial roles →  executive roles)  which has made me a really well-rounded and relatable leader.

If you had one piece of advice to our readers to those just starting out a business, what would it be?

Find a mentor! My first mentor was my boss at NYS DEC. He was one of the first bosses I had who looked at me and saw potential, not just a body filling a role. He steadily increased my workload because he knew I could hand it. He delegated more and more tasks to me until I was essentially running the department. I never felt taken advantage of, I felt empowered. He was honest with me about where I needed improvement and rewarded me when I met his standards. He taught me how to budget my money in between paychecks. I could go on and on about this man, but the point I’m making is that he believed in me. He took me under his wing and showed me how much I was capable of. I am so grateful for his encouragement because it has set me down the path I needed to take to get where I am today. 

 

 

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