AJ Crimson Beauty started as a $250 one-way bus ticket out of Detroit and line of lip glosses in collaboration with Forest Whitaker’s wife, Keisha. Now, Crimson is helping individuals rediscover and enhance the beauty already within them.
It would be an understatement to say that AJ Crimson has reached unimaginable success and fame in the beauty industry since his days on the laundry-room night shift in the costume department for 8 Mile. As one of the most trusted names and leading authorities with a roster of A-list celebrity clientele from Naturi Naughton and to Emmy award-winning actress Regina King, Crimson has proven that his vision for his brand was bigger than himself. AJ Crimson Beauty is a product inclusive of women of all ethnicities where all women could find ownership in and believe in.
We caught up with Black-owned beauty boss about the inspiration behind AJ Crimson Beauty, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on Black-owned businesses, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in 2020.
What was your vision behind AJ Crimson Beauty and what inspired you to dive into the beauty industry?
AJ Crimson: My vision for AJ Crimson Beauty was luxury cosmetics with Black women in mind first. As a makeup artist, my entire career I gravitated to luxury products for my clientele. Yet there weren’t always products at that level that worked with some of my more melanin rich clients. I thought it was a shame only drug store options [were] available, so I knew I had to change that.
In regards to what inspired me to dive into beauty, I suppose it’s always been a part of me somehow. I love beautiful things, people, fashion, architecture. The beauty industry sort of found me; I thought I’d be in politics, public speaking or artist management, which are all passions of mine [and] have been involved in, but beauty has taken me all over the world in a very interesting way.
How did your upbringing in Detroit and being raised as an only child influence your creativity as you were growing up?
That’s a great question. Growing up in Detroit in my formative years, I watched soap operas with my grandmother when she picked me up from kindergarten or for lunch. “All My Children” was our soap of choice. I think that world showed me the possibilities, the glamour and opulent lifestyle. It was a contrast to how I was raised which wasn’t bad at all. It just showed [me] there was more. Television as a whole was key to my dreams. If they can happen for them, it could happen for me. I knew I wanted to see more than what the city could offer me. Today, I can appreciate my life in Detroit; I’m kind and humble and caring. There is a politeness we have. Detroiters are just a vibe all our own.
When was your first “big break” in the beauty industry?
I’d say when I keyed makeup and hair for my first music video as a makeup artist for Fergie when she joined the Black Eyed Peas. The song was Where Is The Love?, it was a very hectic day, [and] I learned a lot on that set. She had her idea of what she wanted to look like, we talked about it and [were] excited about it, but the label wanted something else.
How did it feel and did you expect it to catapult you into where you are today?
It was exciting. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I knew that I would come! Fergie was very loyal to me and I expected that I would do well either way, if not then at some point. Working with Fergie inspired me to start researching how to create beauty products. That led to me launching my first brand Kissable Couture a few years later in the midst of my tour run with Hilary Duff. I remember being in my hotel room in Rio De Janeiro processing orders for the fulfillment company to ship. All of my experiences throughout my career have played into my story and successes and wrong turns.
What are some of your personal favorite products from your own collections?
I love my foundations! It’s just so beautiful [and] it just always looks like skin! I love the Artist Kit; it’s genius, it’s slim, fits in my back pocket, it’s refillable. It had every shade anyone could need in between 3 palettes. It gives everyone the chance to be their own artist with all the shades they need to conceal, contour and shade or highlight. I really do love everything I make. If I don’t like something, we just stop producing it. I used to make the first BB cream that came in 8 shades, when there were only light, medium and dark options and the darkest option fit nobody Black. Customers loved it, but it was just missing something so I stopped making it. Beauty products for me are like art. Some pieces become iconic classics and others great experiments that you try to achieve for yourself.
Do you have some beauty tips and tricks that we should know about? (i.e. applying makeup, finding our shade, best eyeshadows for melanated skin)
Stop matching your foundation starting with your neck first. Start in the t-zone, particularly under the eyes first. You’ll find you’ll use less product and by highlighting the center of the face first, it will help you see your skin’s natural blueprint like where to contour and what your complexion needs in regards to coverage and color.
Share with us some fall makeup tips for Black women as we transition into the autumn season!
The first tip for fall is buy Black. There are amazing Black-owned beauty brands that are formulating for your needs in all categories, period. Second, grab raspberry and cranberry tones for the lips. I’m obsessed with clean and contoured skin, mascara with a darker shade of lip color in the mouth. This looks so beautiful on brown skin! You have to trust it and rock it! Stop aiming to be so matte. Fresh skin is great all year round, so lighten up on the powder. Keep a matte red lip like “Ruby Who?” from my line. It will last you 24 hours, won’t rub off on your mask and it’s the perfect on the go lip for fall!
How have you witnessed the beauty industry, specifically Black-owned brands be impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement?
Yes, in the best way! It pushed social responsibility in a time where we had the time! We’re fed up with injustice, force fitting ourselves in other people’s boxes, not being seen even when we are out performing, being shut out of certain market places. [Black Lives Matter] called everyone down the accountability carpet, [especially] those that had been riding the diversity train without real skin in the game. It also helped Black people see they need to support their own. Black women spent trillions per year in beauty. That means there should be so many Black-owned beauty brands making millions. Black women have the power to do it! As a Black-owned beauty brand, I’m not in competition with my counterparts because there is room for us all to win!
Why do you believe there’s an uprising in the value of the Black dollar and entrepreneurship during these pandemics?
When you’ve been laid off from your “good job” that quickly forgot about you, or you’re collecting more money from unemployment than you actually made going to work, why go back? Why not set yourself up for success? People didn’t have anything to lose and nowhere to be, so the excuses should have dissipated. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, this really was your time to make some moves! Imagine the Black dollar and Black labor force shifting to deepen our roots, supporting and owning within our own communities.
Who are some brands in the industry that you see are absolutely doing the work when it comes to paying homage to and properly representing Black culture?
Love Melissa Butler founder of The Lip Bar! She started The Blk Pact, which is a directory to help you shop Black. Sharon Chuter hit a home run with [“Pull Up For Change”]! I mean, this definitely set the ball in motion in a big way. Mahisha Dellinger, founder of Curls, I love her passion for business and brand building and how she mentors entrepreneurs of color navigate their journey! Courtney Adeleye [is] from Detroit like myself and she’s major. I’m always tuning into her lives on Instagram [and] she is always dropping gems that get you pumped about business, life and family. We all need to see winning examples no matter what level you’re at.
Lastly, I’m really proud of Joy Fennell. Joy took us to school and church this summer when she introduced the All Black Everything Summit. She brought so many amazing Black creatives together, myself included, to have such impactful open dialogue about the roles Black creatives play in the industry, how it feels to be under represented and how we change that. If you haven’t seen it, you have to watch the replay. You’re totally missing out!
Shop AJ Crimson Beauty’s newest collection Office Politics, including a collection of inclusive creamy nude vegan glosses, available now for purchase online!