Enterprising, innovative, trailblazer, overcomer, charismatic, and supportive are a few adjectives that flawlessly describe Raynell “Supa Cent” Steward, owner and founder of Crayon Case, a $50 million cosmetic brand.
Hailing from the Carrollton region, uptown New Orleans, Louisiana, Steward developed a solid work ethic after dropping out of high school at 16 years old and committed her time to work full time. She convinced her aunt to employ her at a the aquarium and immediately embraced her independence, the ability to earn a living, and support her fondness for the popular sneakers, Air Jordans. Before she officially abandoned going to school, Steward’s dedication to working caused her to catch a scolding from her mother.
“I told my aunt, who was my manager at the time, that I didn’t have to go to school every day so I could work during the week. One time [my mom] popped up at school and called me, I was at work, and she was [asked], ‘Where are you?’ I said I was at school, and she said, ‘No, you’re not because I’m at your school,’ and I hung up the phone,” Steward says, the residue of panic still trails in her voice. “I got on a bus and went home. I got in trouble and told her I would quit the job, but I didn’t; I just stayed at work.”
The comfortable life she fashioned for herself was rocked by Hurricane Katrina, a devastating Category 5 Atlantic tropical cyclone that landed in southeast Louisiana on August 29, 2005. Steward and her family did not evacuate the city and braved the storm but eventually left New Orleans a few days later. She transferred to the high school in Baton Rouge and lived with her father before relocating to Texas when she was 17 years old.
“As soon as I turned 18, I moved back home by myself; my sister went to high school in Texas because my mom wanted to live in Texas for a while, and [I couldn’t live out there], I’m a New Orleans, girl,” she recalls, acknowledging she bounced around from friend’s home to another. Due to her tenacity, Steward managed to secure a job as a server in the Oceania restaurant and an apartment and has not ceased laboring since that moment. Although she did not have extensive experience as a waitress, whenever Steward encountered an issue, she would not turn to her supervisor for the answer; instead, she would ask her co-workers.
“I learned everything as I went, and that’s how I learned my marketing skills from that job [which was] big on marketing the company. They did everything and anything to market; they gave away free stuff, letting police eat for free. They let all the valet guys who worked at the hotels, the concierge, and the front desk people, eat half off so they could tell people to come into the restaurant,” she relays how her employer’s mastery of marketing and customer service impacted her. Steward applied the exact tactics she saw at her place of work and implemented them into her selling items on her website called WuzzamwithSupa.com, which she likened to a flea market structure.
She used the capital raised from her retail business to fund her cosmetic line, “I would buy samples from suppliers and put my logo on them and just start selling them.” The idea for her product line, The Crayon Case, and the ingenious packaging concept, marketed to resemble a box of crayons, became one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, making the revered list twice. The product line was born from her experience of being booked for speaking and traveling to various cities. Still, Steward found it challenging to hire makeup artists at a reasonable price. Exceedingly resourceful, Steward took the opportunity and started learning how to apply her maquillage.
“Now I knew how to do some things with makeup but not enough where I could put it on and then go to a booking without looking crazy,” she remembers and explained how she utilized Periscope because the live video streaming app offered a real-time broadcasting video ability that was unavailable with Facebook and Instagram at the time.
“I documented my whole life; everything was recorded. Periscope was the thing [to use] for lives. I used to buy all this makeup and learn how to do it, but in the beginning, I was messing my face completely up, and it was so comical. But I was doing it for content; I wanted them to see me mess up my face,” she speaks of her followers. ” [After] doing it for months, I started to get the hang of it.” Her followers even saw her improvement and celebrated her techniques and the beauty aids she selected.
The Crayon Case conceptualization began on June 1, 2017, and drew on the idea that “it’s okay to play in your makeup.” Steward realized that many women would only purchase certain hues if they believed they would correctly use the product, especially if the brand is high-end.
“[My] brand was made for you to learn how to do your makeup, to play in the colors, and that’s why it’s so affordable because I don’t want anybody to feel like this palette was too [costly] to mess up. I came up with a lot of colors because I wanted people of color to understand that colors look great on us. Bright colors look so beautiful on dark or brown-skinned women,” she emphatically specifies that it was only acceptable for women of lighter complexions to don vibrant shades. “That’s why you see a lot of dark-skinned women only doing nude looks because we used to be afraid of color.”
During her live video broadcasts, Steward would encourage her followers to learn to do their makeup using different pigments. “I made it really fun. I wanted this to be a school theme, so it was embedded in your mind; this is made for you to play and mess up and try again, for you to keep trying until you get it; that’s where the theme came from,” she says. Steward’s PETA-approved Box of Crayons is one of her most in-demand products that boasts an array of “highly pigmented, matte, and shimmery shades.”
Steward has no doubt her brand resonates deeply with followers because she’s relatable and accessible. She doesn’t shy away from being transparent about her life and the joyful moments she encounters. In 2018, as a small business owner, her Box of Crayons product accomplished an astonishing feat on Black Friday; within 90 minutes, Steward sold $1 million worth of her cosmetics and racked in $1.37 million in a sale hosted in March of 2019. Whenever Steward hosts live streams on Instagram, she interacts with her followers as if they were friends, answering questions and replying to their comments. Here engaging New Orleans nature served as another aggregated component that propelled her brand’s success.
In addition to some of her consumers purchasing her line based on her persona, she also recognizes the other segments of her customer base—-the newbies and professional makeup artists. “I get the consumers who love makeup, and I get the consumers who have never tried makeup, so I’m talking to two different audiences. That’s why I figured I had some new sales. Many people tell me, ‘Supa, I don’t even know what makeup, I only bought it because it’s super cute,’ or ‘I bought it because it’s you,” Steward tells of how she categorizes her buyers. “It’s really marketed to beginners; we even have beginner bundles. We cater to the beginner audience; we want them to tap into makeup and be okay if they don’t know what they’re doing because it’s great quality products.”
For 2023, she is preparing to release Geography 101 Collection: Nudes Of The World, an assortment of skin tone-inspired shades and a new foundation called Facepaint, “I’m more excited about the foundation because we’ve been working on a foundation for years we could not get that formula correct. We didn’t want to put it out without the formula perfect enough for our people,” she underscores, adjoining her statement with a staunch commitment to remain Black-owned.
Black consumers exist in a tense dichotomy; on the one hand, they want to see the brands they support reach the highest echelons of success and build generational wealth. However, the caveat that leaves most severely disappointed when Black-owned businesses sell their companies to major corporations because they fear the product will be altered and no longer serve the initially intended community.
“I can’t see me selling a company that I put all my time and muscling for somebody to give me $100 million and say ‘I’ll take it and then [be] careless with it,” she steadfastly avows. “I will never sell my company.”
For years the beauty industry ignored Black women and the products they wanted. However, with the advent of social media, Black entrepreneurs amassed a sizable following online and sold their wares. Many Black women took the reins and created e-commerce stores to sell beauty care products servicing their needs. In this era, the major players in the beauty sector have taken notice and are now financially aware of the power of the Black female customer.
“Black Americans spend $6.6 billion on beauty and represent 11.1% of the total US beauty market,” based on a research study by McKinsey’s Institute for Black Economic Mobility reports Beauty Matter. “Black beauty brands capture only 2.4% of revenue in the overall beauty market, lagging behind the 11.1% of the Black consumer spend on beauty products, and the 12.4% of Black people in the US population.
The study also further discovered that Black beauty lines only reap 2.5% of the revenue within the beauty industry. If companies made a concerted effort to tackle racial inequity in the cosmetic business, they would benefit from a $2.6 billion opportunity. Venture capitalists should also alter their skewed perceptions about Black-owned companies in the beauty industry that manage to raise a median of $13 million in investment capital, whereas non-Black brands can raise $20 million or more; however, Black brands have an 89 times higher return than non-Black beauty brands, the industry, and investors are entirely leaving money on the table.
“I definitely felt like the industry is taking Black businesses and beauty more seriously. Like you. Notice how Sephora tried to say, ‘hey, we got 15% more Black businesses.’ These companies need us to survive, and I don’t know if our people know how [economically] strong we are, now the White companies are grabbing all the big celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj use them to showcase their brand. At first, they weren’t doing that; it was only the big white folks [landing lucrative endorsement deals],” she points out. “Now let me grab these Black girls and give them a line so they can promote my company and make it look like we are pro-Black when they’re not like, they need us to buy their products, be in the stores, they need us so much. It’s not like they’re taking us seriously; they have no choice.” Steward also observes that many White centered beauty companies do not garner as much attention as their Black-owned counterparts, which is the driving reason why leading companies are acquiring Black businesses, but will give figurehead positions of CEO to the owners but strip them from having any power.
“Once the White companies buy a Black business, we ain’t f—king with the companies no more; you sell your brand to a White brand, Black people stop buying it. These White folks are smart, but they don’t understand how smart we are as well. That’s why now they’re not changing [the products]. First, they used to buy the Black brands and change the formula, and Black people noticed it right away and [hop] on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, telling the world this company changed some sh-t,” she adds.
Steward believes the focus on Black beauty brands from legacy beauty companies is not intentional. Instead, the power of social media made them pay attention, “We’re doing so much, and Black people [are] helping us by buying from us. They’re supporting us, talking about us on social sites.”
She advises future entrepreneurs that if they have an idea to fine-tune their marketing skills and not become engrossed in building a significant following before deciding to sell a product and gives an example that Fashion Nova, the fast fashion retail company, used social media influencers to promote their clothing.
“If you are selling something, you need to do ads on Facebook, Google, it’s not about the followers, it’s really about who’s watching, then you start marketing, and you gather more people to your page, and that’s when you start selling,” she counsels. One way that the makeup maven is helping other Black women makeup artists grow their clientele is by establishing a Crayon Cuties, in which artists create content with Steward’s products, and she would repost their content.
“I want bigger brands that follow the Crayon Case to see [them and for them to] work with other brands; that’s what this is for, to get recognized. [I’ve watched] these girls go from 1000 to 5000 to 100,000 followers. I wanted to target the underdogs, I feel a lot of big brands do not see how much money they can make from the little artists, they are only looking at the big artists,” she mentions. “I learned from the makeup artists, and they got the exposure. So it’s like we helped each other; that’s how [my] brand grew so fast.”
For more information visit The Crayon Case.