Historically, beauty brands and cosmetic lines were owned by white men on a mission to have women conform to a certain look. But that look rarely included women of color, neglecting both the diversity of skin tone and cultural significance. Feeling unseen, women like Melissa Polanco, Founder of Ring of Color, took it upon themselves to fill the void. This Latina owned beauty brand celebrates diversity in every shade to support women of color and raise self esteem.
Although she didn’t start out to be an entrepreneur, Melissa has an innate talent to see a problem and want to create a solution. As a young woman, she realized the beauty industry lacked Latina representation in ownership and models. A major oversight given that the Latinx community is the largest consumer of beauty products with a purchasing power of over $2 billion annually. But, it wouldn’t be the only community that lacked representation for Melissa.
In episode 88, of the Life Lnxx Podcast, Melissa Polanco shares the big challenge of moving to Michigan from the Dominican Republic, at the age of 18. Feeling unseen in the culture, Melissa sought to curate her own diverse community through ESL classes. Her natural curiosity, intelligence and love of learning had her majoring in Zoology at school, to become a veterinarian, and self learning makeup techniques on YouTube.
Empathy is Key for Latina Owner
But, it didn’t take long though for Melissa to realize her empathy and compassion for people would be her guiding light in life. She returned to college to earn a Masters in College Counseling at Michigan State in order to help others who may experience the same struggles she went through.
“I fell in love with college students because I could relate to them in some ways. And I just fell in love in wanting to help college students.”
It’s this compassion for others that ignited her entrepreneurial sense to launch her first company, Ella’s Eve Cosmetics, with her sister, five years ago. They wanted to create a beauty brand that “shows women that looked like us, shows women of color in a higher position in the beauty industry and just make, a change”. Polanco believes in the power of change, even little steps, that will help people in the long run.
“I pride myself in being able to be empathetic and show kindness to people because this is a way that I wanna be treated. I wanna do the same for other people. And even thinking back then, when I came here and I was a student, and all the struggles that I went through, I got help.
I wanted to provide the same help, which is why I started doing the counseling but then with the beauty side of it, it’s the same thing. You know, like you’re trying to elevate other women who  don’t feel confident enough in them. And I, myself, struggle with confidence, and even till this day, sometimes there’s things that I still struggle with. But, I wanted to be able to share that and have people relate to that because I know I’m not the only one.”
Confidence Built with Makeup
For Melissa, confidence is a step towards self love, key to embracing who you are. Yet, she had a tough time feeling confident of her birthmark on her striking jawline. Early on, she used makeup to conceal it. But, over time, Polanco nurtured a new relationship with makeup to promote self love.
“I learned to love it. And I always say I learned it through the power of color because I would cover it, but not anymore. Now I just embrace it.”
This personal experience prompted the three words that describe Ring of Color: Inclusive, Affordable and Love. Melissa wants customers to feel seen and be met where they are at, whether wanting to rock big and bold or go natural in self care. And if they are not sure what to purchase, she offers virtual shopping experiences to discuss options remotely prior to purchase.
Although she sees herself as an introvert, Melissa engages with other jefas to network, learn and offer support and advice. She encourages Latina small business owners to find each other on Facebook and then nurture a friendship. “Helping others is healing” and it “gets you out outside of your comfort zone”. She celebrates the We All Grow community for actively
Supporting Latina Entrepreneurs
It always returns to community for Melissa, especially in supporting Latina owned beauty brands. “I am more intentional when I buy products, where’s my money going to?” Some of her favorite Latina owned beauty brands include Ocoa Beauty, shampoos and conditioners for curly hair; Skinergy Beauty and Alamar Cosmetics.
“There’s so many beauty brands, indie brands, smaller indie beauty brands that have women that are amazing are running these brands and are not seen enough.”
They have a specific mission and goal they want to accomplish, but they don’t have the power to do that, and that’s where we all come in together and create this community.”
Feeling the love now? Take some time to peruse Ring of Color’s website for your favorite lip products while sipping a cafecito from Melissa’s favorite Latina owned coffee business, Soldadera Coffee. Their tagline fits Melissa’s life focus, ’empower women one sip at a time’.
After Struggle, Comes Reward
Melissa Polanco gives us a sense that she is not stopping anytime soon. Her natural love of learning and ability to self start has brought her through a variety of life experience. She still sees herself ready to take on TV as a producer or anchor. Especially, after being invited to Univision’s ‘Despierta America’ to talk about Ring of Color!
“I see myself having a lot of time to dedicate to a brand that I absolutely have a lot of passion for, and that would mean that I would quit my full-time job”.
“I also see myself maybe creating some sort of group or some sort of community for other people, like other women that struggle with confidence, continue to support my other friends that are entrepreneurs and, maybe have, you know, a family on my own and just be who I’m supposed to be.”
Just be who I’m supposed to be… A powerful statement for all Latinas to live by.
Melissa Polanco’s Bio and Links
Melissa Polanco is the founder of Ring of Color, a Latina owned beauty brand that celebrates ALL beauty. She has a background of higher education and counseling and five years ago decided to join the entrepreneur world and the beauty industry. She loves supporting other women owned business and also loves sharing about self-love and her own journey with self-esteem.