ST PAUL, Minnesota — On a cold, snowy day in St. Paul, warmth exudes from Tameka Jones at her storefront for Lip Esteem.
The cosmetics company is busy as shoppers grab last-minute gifts.
Jonathan Palmer, the executive director for the nonprofit Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, is picking out gifts for some of his staff members as a thank-you for their work in 2022.
Jones guides Palmer, choosing winter lip care products and homemade candles.
"It's a real relief for me to be able to come to somebody who I know, who's local, who can go ahead and help me match up the right gifts for the right people," Palmer said.
It's one of the reasons why Jones enjoys having a storefront — located in the historic Rondo neighborhood where Jones was raised.
Jones opened the Lip Esteem store in April 2022 but her company launched in July 2020 after she was furloughed from her job as a makeup artist during the pandemic.
"I was at home like most people and because we couldn't touch people's faces, I decided it's time for me to figure out a plan," recalled Jones, who has more than 20 years of experience as a makeup artist. "Being a single mom, I didn't really have time and energy while my daughter was growing up to actually start my brand. But during COVID, my daughter was grown, I had time, energy and the finances to be able to do it and so I decided now is my time to jump."
The career move came at a time of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
"I wanted to make sure that I did my part, as far as community building was concerned, and create a product that would help bring beauty back to an area that had been seeing so much trauma," Jones said.
At first, Jones tried to make the lipstick herself. But after struggles creating the right formula, she eventually found a manufacturer in Florida that was a good fit.
Lip Esteem's products are plant-based, gluten-free and cruelty-free.
"I wanted to make sure that I had a long-lasting lipstick because my target market are women who are busy, women on the go, don't have time to keep reapplying. But then the second thing is I wanted to make sure that they were moisturizing. Living in Minnesota, our lips can get dried out really fast," Jones said.
Products include lipsticks, glosses and lip liners.
Jones said she searched for shades that would complement every skin complexion.
Many of the products' names are sentimental and a nod to local favorites like the shades Rondo, Purple Reign and Cafe Latte.
The place also offers makeup lessons and makeovers. For $40, customers can bring in their makeup bags and the staff will teach them how to use the products they already have.
Lip Esteem's walls include local art that can be purchased, along with a photography display from independent journalist Georgia Fort.
Advanced Practice Esthetician Patrice Smith, owner of The Skin Lab, recently set up shop in one of the store's rooms to offer skincare services.
"I am from the Rondo community and I love to be a part of the community," Smith said.
While Lip Esteem has sold in all 50 states and Canada, the business remains an active part of its local community.
Jones said not everyone wants to wear lipstick, which is why she also offers lip balms and glosses.
"It's not about making anyone uncomfortable," Jones said. "It's about making people feel better when they leave here than how they felt when they came."
876 Selby Avenue
St. Paul, Minnesota 55104
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
You can also purchase products online, here.
Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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