Glow Up with Grail
Aug, 15th 2021
How entrepreneur Briaan L. Barron cultivates innovation, community and balance
Briaan L. Barron is the founder and CEO of not one, but two, budding businesses igniting positive influence for black and brown communities. She helms Worthi, a premium brand consultancy + creative firm that works alongside underserved founders and creators to find and share their authentic voice. Her sophomore business, Grail, is sure to elevate the beauty and self-care industries through Bri’s innovative approach to connecting melanin-friendly brands, influencers and consumers. She was among 100 Black women founders selected to receive the American Express + iFundWomen 100 for 100 #FoundersofChange Grant, earning Grail $25,000 toward its pre-seed funding goal.
Think back to the end of March 2020. America had been in lockdown for a couple of weeks and our initial collective shock of time standing still was starting to wade into murky waters as we grew less optimistic that things would get better any time soon. I vividly remember a moment - a very important moment - when I looked down at my hands while starting a puzzle and couldn’t look away from the sign of a new truth. My acrylic nails were grown the f@$k out.
Instant panic settled in as I came to terms with the fact that I could not go to the nail salon to fix this imminent problem. I proceeded to pause the puzzle, immediately went on YouTube to search “how to remove acrylic nails at home,” which led me to aggressively look for acetone on Amazon. While I was placing an order for a bottle that would be restocked within 6-8 weeks (ensue more panic!) a very intelligent, creative entrepreneur in Seattle, Washington was churning up a business idea for bridging the gap between consumers stuck at home and trusted beauty + self-care professionals and brands. Her name is Briaan L. Barron and she is a true innovator with a solutions-based mindset that has carried her through a career in communications. Her most recent venture, Grail, is not only a response to a pandemic-induced reality, but a company that truly embodies a new approach to authentically serving melanated communities from the inside out.
THE BIRTH OF GRAIL
Briaan is not new to the entrepreneurial game. After spending years cultivating skills and knowledge in branding and marketing working for mid-sized corporations, she successfully left mainstream office culture in 2019 to start her own creative agency, Worthi. She found her stride connecting with business owners who had traditionally been underserved and helped them discover creative storytelling solutions for bringing their products to market. Together, Bri and her clients created authentic messaging that spoke to their target audience in a way that validated their humanity which was counter-culture to what she saw at bigger companies. This people-based approach created an opportunity for Bri to develop into a problem solver who was not afraid to tackle the everyday mundane challenges that both consumers and brands face.
“How do we make everybody feel like their identity and experience are valid and appreciated & what are the systems and social norms that get in the way of that?”
When Covid hit, Briaan used the time to reevaluate one of her business ideas and tailor it to the new pandemic reality. As someone who values beauty rituals, self-care practices, and maintaining an on-point nail game, she was faced with losing access to salons and spas. And while these businesses were not classified as “essential”, the complete pause of life really highlighted what was important for Bri as it did for so many of us. She knew taking care of oneself is essential and got to work on a new business plan.
Bri first came up with the idea of Grail in 2018. Her original brand concept was to launch a chain of neighborhood “fast-casual” nail salons and spas as a result of being less than satisfied in her own personal experiences. If you are someone who takes nails seriously, (um hello, me!), you understand there are typically two options: Walk into a salon that is affordable and efficient yet lacks personal care and attention or go to a more affluent neighborhood and overpay for catered-to service. Why not create a brand of spas that provide the best of both worlds, Bri thought? Others agreed with her when she shared her plans to “revolutionize the neighborhood nail salon” at AfroTech, garnering enthusiasm and attention from Black leaders in the tech and startup world.
However, Briaan quickly realized her nail chain brand idea could not exist during a pandemic. Salons were one of the first places of business that shut down. Lucky for us, Bri didn’t let up on the idea of setting a new beauty experience standard. She allowed her idea to transform from wanting to revolutionize the neighborhood nail salon to creating an entirely new way for consumers, influencers and brands to connect online: a stand-alone digital streaming app featuring beauty and self-care content for the melanated.
A NEW (AND BETTER) KIND OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media has morphed into a necessary evil. Brands try to stay hip by being on the latest platform. Influencers have grown savvy in building bank off of their following. Consumers turn to social media because it’s become an intricately woven fabric of our lives. While most companies try to “break the code” of the latest algorithm trend, Briaan wisely decided to take Grail onto a totally new platform. By creating her own.
Bri wanted to build a destination for brands, influencers and consumers to share content, build community and boost business. Despite drawing large audiences, influencers of color often face a major wealth disparity on mainstream social media apps like Instagram and TikTok while smaller brands struggle to shine through the noise with their products. For consumers, the amount of content to sift through is quite overwhelming. Bri took these factors into account and envisioned an opportunity for building something more valuable outside of the system.
On Grail, you’ll find videos, produced in-house and by influencer partners, of tips and tutorials on everything beauty and self-care. Not sure which products will keep that melanin glowing? Want to try a new hairstyle for happy hour? Not sure where to start when it comes to a Gelx manicure? Grail’s got you.
The content is not only quick and easy-to-navigate but most importantly is catered to the melanated. Despite Black and Latinx shoppers driving personal care sales, they have traditionally been seen as and marketed to as a separate outlier of the mainstream beauty industry. A prime example of this is the ethnic hair section, one I remember frequenting because I struggled using many of the products from the “main beauty aisles''. And while yes, many consumers have found solace in the ethnic beauty aisle, it sends a clear message that the key focus of beauty has been on the “mainstream” a.k.a. "normal" skin types, fine hair, and up until the birth of Fenty (bless Rihanna), shades that catered to white people.
Grail offers a place where black and brown people can trust the content creators because they themselves are from the community and understand their specific beauty wants and needs. Influencers can share their expertise and experiences without having to “explain” themselves or act as a poster child of POC edutainment. It is a safe space for people to be themselves and connect with others in a real way. For small business owners, it is a channel for them to share their products in a way that sets them up for success, by introducing them to a market of consumers in the most authentic way - not by solely hoping they follow the hashtag trend of the month. All of the components of a social networking channel come into play with the added bonus that every party involved directly benefits by participating. Grail is a truly beautiful intersection of supply and demand - done with style, accessibility, and community in mind.
A LIFE BASED ON INTERSECTIONALITY
It isn’t a coincidence Briaan is able to find perfect synergy between multiple angles. As someone who describes herself as “PNW-raised but Southern rooted” Bri finds value in blending cultures and attitudes. The village that raised her spans from her hometown of Seattle, Washington to Bastrop, Louisiana. Like many African Americans, her grandparents migrated north to have better access to opportunity. Bri’s maternal grandfather had a work ethic that was built on earning your way to a better quality of life, a legacy she is determined to build upon. His desire to build wealth was not an egotistical pursuit, but rather a drive to contribute and provide for his family. The emphasis on family and keeping in mind a greater purpose has definitely impacted Bri to maintain a close relationship with her family in the South and stay in touch with those roots.
In contrast, living in the Pacific Northwest provided a culture that included a great quality of life that was affordable, yet put a spotlight on the fact that she was a minority. Attending schools that were predominantly white exposed Bri to a new culture. A benefit of this is that Bri was able to clearly see things from a different perspective from the mainstream and found importance in seeking ways to best understand and represent people who looked like her.
As a creative thinker and leader, Bri is able to pull from her varied life and work experiences to cultivate the best type of environment that fosters respect of ideas, building teams where she is no longer the voice of “other” and allowing herself to fully live out her biggest dreams to carry on the legacy of her ancestors.
SELF-CARE IN PRACTICE
SELF-CARE IN PRACTICE
So how does Bri, a founder of two companies, maintain sanity? Start taking notes…
In recent years, our culture has taught us to always be on the move, strive for more, and lean hard into #hustleculture. For Bri, one of her major reflections in quarantine was investigating the state of hustle culture, burnout, and how it particularly pertains to women of color.
One of her keen observations pinpoints the turn in our culture starting with the rise of WeWork, which in turn inspired smaller, niche women-focused companies to emerge including The Wing, Girlboss, and Create&Cultivate. These female-led organizations were feeding us messages that were like, c’mon sis build that empire! and birthed a new work attitude that made it, “...sexy and cool and fun to be a hustler, especially for people who have traditionally been underrepresented in entrepreneurial circles,” Bri says. This trend did provide value by encouraging female founders to pursue their business ideas by taking agency over their careers and seeking support through community building. However, this culture of always being on and staying “booked and busy” led to burnout for so many people, including Bri. And she noticed that hustle culture wasn’t a new trend in her life, but rather perpetuated a lifestyle she had adopted by default.
“There’s never been a time where my 9-to-5 was my only source of revenue. And not just because it’s popular to say now, ‘have multiple streams of revenue’. Like for me, that wasn’t a tip I got from social media, that was a requirement for me to live.”
As a black woman who grew up in a predominantly white, upper-class community, Bri has held an intrinsic feeling that she needed to be doing more and work harder than everyone else. She recognizes this is a feeling shared especially with people who are underrepresented and marginalized and is taking the time to really unravel those belief systems.
It begins with setting an intention for balance, trusting in the bigger vision and focusing on small, detailed execution with the understanding that not everything is going to happen at once. With this in mind, Bri has taken the time to create a space within her home that is dedicated to work to create a separation of sorts from other parts of her life. She begins with envisioning what her ideal office space and company vibe would look and feel like and then implements that in her home. However, if she isn’t in her dedicated workspace, she isn’t working. Talk about a healthy and admirable boundary!
Personal affirmations also play a major role in fostering a healthy work/life balance. Saying something as simple as, “I’ve done enough,” allows Bri to slow down, remain present and invite herself to be proud of what she’s accomplished so far. And she has a lot to be proud of with more in the works.
“When I think about Grail, this streaming platform, this community that we’re building, is just the first touchpoint for what I see as a brand that could really change the way that we look at the personal care and beauty industry.”
Dream dinner date: Toni Morrison, to experience someone who held space for both warmth and love along with sharing the message that people of color can liberate themselves from answering to the dominant and white gaze
If she could spend a year anywhere in the world (and Covid disappeared): Westmoreland Parish in Jamaica where being black is normal, kids freely pick mangoes off of trees, music is played on porches, and fishing boats take you out to a hut in the middle of the ocean where elders play dominoes and sip on soda
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