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This Subscription Box for POC Values Mental Health as Much as Beauty

HuesBox is the subscription box for POC by POC you haven’t heard of — yet.

HUES beauty subscription boxes Photo: Celisia Stanton Photography

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Who doesn’t have an island of misfit beauty products underneath their bathroom sink? You know, a well-intentioned eyeshadow palette from a Christmas past, a texturizing hairspray for someone with hair totally unlike yours, or, worst of all, a product that had the potential to be the holy grail... only to fall flat. For Dr. Jasmine Harris, that steadily growing stash of ill-suited products turned into inspiration for HuesBox, the first beauty subscription box that is made specifically with the needs of people of color in mind.

Minnesota natives and sisters Jasmine and Jenae and their mother, Robin Harris, sent out the first batch of HuesBox subscriptions at the end of December, but their goal isn’t just to create another service to join the ranks of Birchbox and Julep. The Harrises are looking to reach an audience that those boxes have disappointed, or worse, forgotten altogether. “Birchbox would send me four to six sample-sized products a month, and I would find maybe one or two that I’d like,” Jasmine recalls of her own experience with mainstream subscription boxes. “I’d accumulate these huge glass jars of samples I wouldn’t use, and it hit me: Why was I wasting money on products that didn’t work for me?” Many of those boxes had her fill out profiles about her hair color or skin type, but very few asked about skin tone and hair texture, which would result in unusable lipstick shades and products that didn’t work for kinkier hair (as a result, HuesBox asks all of its subscribers about skin tone and hair texture in its user profile section).

Around Thanksgiving of last year, Jasmine started talking with her mother and sister about just how much money they were spending on full-sized products that didn’t cater to their needs. These were items they were buying on recommendations, or by simply trusting the marketing and taking a chance — only to often be let down by lackluster results. Jenae eventually decided on the name, Hues, and a unique POC-centric newcomer to the beauty subscription box industry was born — but the Harrises were setting out to do much more than just share a few samples every month.

Hues is first and foremost a community for people of color to share their experiences in the beauty, health, and wellness spaces. “When my sister and I were growing up in the suburbs of Minnesota, we often felt isolated when it came to conversations about beauty because of the lack of diversity around us,” says Jasmine. She hopes the brand will grow to fill that void for POC living in areas where there aren’t peers that share their needs, and also meet needs that are less commonly addressed, even taboo. “Mental health is often overlooked in communities of color, which is why it was so important to us to include it in HuesBox.”

The brand’s site gives multiple opportunities for discussions of mental health, including its blog, Conversations in Every Hue, and on its podcast, Hues Talk. Jasmine and Jenae hope to use the podcast to open up to the Hues community, sharing the mistakes they’ve made along the way as they’ve tried to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit. At the end of each month, Jasmine hopes that subscribers will head to Hues Discussions to talk about the month’s offerings, what worked, and what didn’t work. It’s also intended to be a place for subscribers to come back to find and try products from previous boxes that were a hit.

The most obvious challenge HuesBox’s founders face is the saturation of the beauty box industry and how many things people are already signed up to receive on a monthly basis (throw in services like Dollar Shave Club and Spotify Premium, and there’s a lot competing for part of that disposable income). But a more unique hiccup has been sourcing products to feature in future boxes. “When we started connecting with minority-owned businesses, a lot of them needed some guidance in terms of scaling up and being able to provide sample-sized products,” Jasmine notes. These businesses are often family-run shops of one or two people in a garage or a basement that lack the production resources of full-fledged brands. “In that way, we’ve been providing a lot of mentorship. We’re going to these businesses and saying ‘We want to work with you, but you’re not there yet. How can we get you there?’” The HuesBox founders have previously operated their own businesses in event planning and public relations, so they’re not just giving tips here and there — they’ve been down the startup road before.

Every HuesBox includes what Jasmine calls “a traditional beauty secret from a community of color.” That secret will tie into a theme that influences the products that come in that month’s box, all of which emphasize a holistic approach to beauty, one that values health and wellness the same as makeup. For example, the December “detox” box included the kale mask, whipped shea butter, feminine hygiene tea, and lip balm — all of which came from small businesses operated by people of color. The Harrises have a tall order on their hands: They’re catapulting small businesses forward into the hands of subscribers across the country while giving members of those marginalized communities a space online to learn from their shared experiences. Hues promises to grow into a service unlike any other subscription box, and it’s poised to elevate tiny brands without fancy marketing budgets right into the hands of POC, who have been ready for them for a very long time.