This March, The Tease is bringing you stories from women who are #MakingHairstory, #BakingBeauty and #DoingItForTheCultuHer. Learn how these influential women are breaking barriers, disrupting their industries and empowering others to do the same all month long.
Making waves in the beauty industry is Reina Rebelde founder and CEO, Regina Merson. Born out of Merson’s pride in her culture, passion for makeup and need for a creative outlet, Reina Rebelde was founded to encourage Latinas to embrace their beauty and show it through bold shades and application. Since its conception, Merson’s brand went from being just an idea to a game-changing cosmetic line—you can find it at your local Target!
We had the opportunity to speak with Merson about the foundation of her business and the inspiring message behind it.
How did you get started in the beauty industry?
I was (and still am) an attorney by trade. The jump from bankruptcy lawyer to founder of a makeup line was a bit of a forced push. I was practicing bankruptcy law, and I wasn’t feeling very fulfilled with my career choice. I had been searching for several years for a way to contribute to my community in another way besides being a lawyer.
After years of soul searching, I realized that what I really wanted was something that was intellectually challenging and creative, and it was that creative piece that was not being fulfilled by my legal career. Makeup had always been a constant theme in my life. It was something I always felt personal passion for, and I realized that my love of makeup would be the catalyst to help feed my creative side. Yet, making sure I connected with my roots and did something to participate and contribute positively to my community of fellow Latinas and my native country of Mexico was very important to me.
Of course, it was a challenge to leave a stable career for a business in a field that was completely new to me, not to mention a very saturated market. But I had really struggled with the fact that no makeup brand understood me as a bilingual, bicultural Latina and the beautiful cultural relationship and rituals that Latinas have with makeup. A couple of years into the conceptualization and beginning stages of the concept, an unfortunate round of lay-offs at the law firm I was working at pushed me out of the nest into full-time entrepreneurship so I could bring Reina Rebelde to life.
What inspired you to create Reina Rebelde?
Starting Reina Rebelde was inspired by a few things. One, my personal frustration with the lack of what I was being offered as a Latina in this space from both a product perspective and a messaging perspective. Beauty is a very culturally rich, nuanced and important ritual in any Latina’s life, and nothing really resonated with me as an immigrant who had become very ambicultural. But [I] always felt very tied to my roots, especially in all matters related to how I defined myself as a woman. I knew many Latinas in my life shared this sentiment. I was very curious about that for personal reasons.
At the same time, I realized that I did not want to be a lawyer forever, and I was being called to focus my attention elsewhere – creatively and as a woman that is part of a larger community that is undervalued and underappreciated in my opinion. Reina Rebelde was the first brand in this space that was created authentically for our community and offered prestige quality products. The prestige part is always controversial, because there’s a pervasive and frustrating assumption that our community is cheap, unsophisticated and that we don’t know our worth. I am hoping Reina Rebelde can help disprove this notion.
How would you describe your relationship to beauty?
It’s very Mexican – playful and spiritual. It’s about showing off my very feminine side, indulging my creative side through my rituals and feeling very liberated by my experimentation with different looks to express my fiercer energy. My beauty rituals feel like I am putting on my armor, and in this way, it brings a certain protective energy into my day.
Women are often discouraged from sharing their accomplishments, but we want to hear about them. List some of your career highlights. What are you most proud of?
Working as a lawyer taught me about how hard I could push myself intellectually and also revealed my physical limits with respect to work, which was just as valuable. Launching Reina Rebelde – from having an idea in my head to launching Reina Rebelde and physically holding the fruits of my sweat, blood and tears in my hands was absolutely surreal. And meeting with people along my journey who have felt inspired by some part of my unconventional story continues to be the biggest highlight of all. What is most important to me is that Reina Rebelde makes people feel heard, respected, and celebrated – and if something about the brand or my story triggers that in another person, that feels great.
What are the biggest challenges you have experienced within the industry and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges has been to have the patience to do things the right way for the brand long-term even if there are so many short-term solutions or options that feel seductive at times. I try to overcome this tension by following the same instincts that got me here in the first place. Another huge challenge has been growing the business with a limited ability to predict very far out, because we are still so young, and everything is so tentative. I’ve had to learn to become more tolerant of all the uncertainty – which is pretty impossible to do if you’re a lawyer. We don’t like uncertainty.
Finally, the competition is quite intense in cosmetics, especially as a small fish surrounded by a handful of conglomerates that own most of the brands around us. I understood that going in, and it means that there are many customers that I will never be able to reach or that will never be Reina Rebelde fans because we are so small. I’ve learned to see the benefits of that too – the customers we do win over are loyal, and that’s even more important to me.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
You ALWAYS have the right to change your mind. I live by this philosophy because it took me so many years to realize it for myself. You can make mistakes and learn from them and course correct or reroute. It’s hard to do, and not popular, but in my experience definitely worth it.
Are there any women in the industry who inspire you or your work? If so, who?
Any woman who has started a business, successful or not. Being an entrepreneur is no joke – it brings you to your knees – but it’s also exhilarating. In many respects, the ones that don’t succeed inspire much of my work, because they had the courage to try, survived the failure and moved on to the next thing – and that is earth shattering.
There is such a stigma around failure in our culture and for women in particular. I notice that whenever a woman takes a risk, she is held to a different standard of success. Like we shouldn’t step out of our comfort zone unless we can guarantee we will succeed. That’s a lot of pressure, and sidelines many women from jumping in. I hope as a collective, we can change that mentality.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other women within the beauty industry?
The whole Reina Rebelde mantra is to approach things in your own style and way, unapologetically. There will be so many nay-sayers, and it can feel tremendously isolating at times. The truth is there is a huge community of women that have so much energy and good intentions behind you that may not always be visible, but it is an energy that can be tapped into and accessed. We are all here, cheering for you, so don’t be afraid. I launched Reina Rebelde on this energy. I know first-hand that it exists.
What’s next for you?
I am working on growing the business at my own pace in a way that feels right for me and the community I aim to serve. It means saying no a lot and getting comfortable with the long road ahead of me and all the uncertainty that it brings.