Teneya Gholston: “Let the beauty we love be what we do”

Women should focus on having a beautiful mindset and not corrupting their minds with negative thoughts. Dwelling on the positive exudes self-confidence. Beauty is a word that should be looked at inwardly as well as outwardly. It is not only about the makeup and the clothes you wear, but about the entire individual. For me, […]

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Women should focus on having a beautiful mindset and not corrupting their minds with negative thoughts. Dwelling on the positive exudes self-confidence. Beauty is a word that should be looked at inwardly as well as outwardly. It is not only about the makeup and the clothes you wear, but about the entire individual. For me, as a Black woman, it is a feeling. It’s pride, it’s being comfortable in the skin you are in, unapologetically.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Teneya Gholston, Senior Brand Director, Creme of Nature/Revlon.

With more than 12 years of marketing experience under her belt, Teneya Gholston is the current Senior Director of Marketing for Creme of Nature. There, she is responsible for brand storytelling, communication strategy and launching the products we love and use, like Perfect Edges, and their fastest growing line, Creme of Nature with Argan Oil from Morocco.

Teneya grew up in Washington, DC, enjoying the city’s rich culture, where she developed a passion for the arts, which led her to attend Duke Ellington School of the Arts majoring in dance. Following high school, Teneya attended the award-winning School of Business and Industry MBA program at Florida A&M University. Graduating at the top of her class, Teneya finished school with hands-on marketing experience after working with Joseph E. Seagram and Universal Records, and completing an international assignment with Pfizer in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

While in grad school, Teneya entered a business plan competition, with a plan for a chain of upscale salons, an experience that sparked her passion for beauty and desire to learn more. As her interest grew, she enrolled in Graham Webb Academy and studied cosmetology during her grad school breaks, becoming a licensed cosmetologist in 2003.

As a licensed cosmetologist with practical experience in a salon and a marketing degree, Gholston married all of her gifts and joined corporate America as a brand manager in the beauty industry and has never looked back.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Teneya. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While attending business school at Florida A&M University, I learned the ABCs of business that would prepare me for corporate America. One of my professors challenged me to tap into my passion, and I found it when I entered a pitch contest on campus for a national salon concept. After I earned my MBA, I enrolled in cosmetology school, where I had the opportunity to work industry trade shows. The president of the Colomer Group’s multicultural division recognized my unique qualifications and invited me to consult on a brand launch for eight weeks. I absolutely fell in love with brand management and product innovation, and I have never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Three years into my career as a brand manager for professional products sold to salons, the company began to focus on the retail side of the business. I took this opportunity to test my consumer marketing prowess. The retail group was approved to pursue several high-profile projects. However, when it came time to divvy up the assignments, I was pushed out by a senior member of the team who demanded to work on the initiative. I was asked, instead, to focus on expanding one of our core businesses into the styling arena. I worked diligently, and leadership was impressed with the way I went above and beyond to deliver an exceptional launch of five products. Each hit big in the retail market and catapulted the brand into double-digit growth to become Creme of Nature’s signature collection and the driving force behind the brand’s resurgence. That experience taught me to always say yes to opportunities, do not get caught up in company politics, and to give every project my all, because small ideas can become big wins at any moment.

Are you able to identify a tipping point in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

As fate would have it, that massively successful product launch ended up being the tipping point of my career. I attribute its success to two things: First, three years into a career focused on the professional sector, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to take on retail. That provided me with the perfect amount of pressure and excitement to work tirelessly to bring my unique skill sets to the table and add value. I owned my role and went beyond my typical brand management duties to lead product testing, write copy. I pushed our creative teams to infuse the brand into every aspect of our campaigns. At the time, we were focused on showcasing models with straight hairstyles, though many of our consumers were wearing full-bodied blowouts and natural hairstyles.

While in Atlanta on a casting call, I met a model who had these beautiful, fluffy, voluminous curls. She was striking. I advocated that we include her and that hair in the campaign. That decision paid off, because it kept the brand on track with the trends as the natural hair movement started to soar. Consumers loved our model — she really resonated with them — and she actually became the lead model of the campaign.

The differentiator for me was that I used the knowledge I gained in the professional world to create a unique style for this consumer brand. I trusted my instincts and used my influence to advance concepts. The launch met and exceeded its goal, which also put me on track to gain advocates. An advocate is someone who knows your reputation and uses their influence to help you grow and advance into the next level of leadership. As a result, I was promoted less than 12 months after the launch and was able to hire my first associate brand manager.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I look at women leaders, executives and CEOs who have reached unprecedented levels of success while disrupting their industries, like Jolorie Williams and Bozoma Saint John, I’m inspired to go harder and to keep dreaming. But if I have to name one person who helped me get to where I am today, I’d have say my mother. Her work ethic and the sacrifices she made as a single mother to expose me to rich, life experiences reaffirmed that I am enough. She taught children and was active in the church and in the community. I admired her unwavering strength, poise and loyalty, and the love and grace she gives to her family and friends helped shape the woman I would become. It was those biweekly trips to the salon with my mom that inspired my passion for beauty. She insisted that that I apply to FAMU, which turned out to be an incredible foundation for success.

Ok, super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half-trillion-dollar business.

Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

Creme of Nature, launched more than 40 years ago, is a heritage brand that today is still thriving and relevant. When we launched our award-winning collection, Creme of Nature Pure Honey, from the research and formulation to the packaging and advertising and marketing campaign, the collection was met with amazing reviews, surpassing our forecast numbers. With additional products joining the Pure Honey family, it is on track to double in size this year.

I take my work with Creme of Nature and our consumers’ challenges seriously. I believe that our customers are important, our products uplift and give women energy to live their best life, and that the countless campaigns that I have launched over the years affirm the beauty, strength, and diversity of Black women. I know firsthand from testimonials and comments on social media that the work we do inspires women to go natural, despite their fears, and helps shape self-confidence in teens who see their faces in our advertising and on our leadership team.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry

  1. Diversity and Inclusion — I’m excited to see brands and collections emerging that are inclusive and offer solutions to all women regardless of race and skin tone, especially in skin care and cosmetics. As a Black woman, I am particularly delighted to see a boost in offerings for a demographic that has been notoriously underserved by the mainstream beauty industry. People of color spend massive amounts of money in the beauty category, and it is time they find solutions to meet their needs with ease and convenience.
  2. Hyper-personalization — I am really into ingredients, their efficacy and understanding the science of it all. Personalized beauty products and services excite me because they are the perfect synergy of education and convenience. Personalizing the shopping experience enables brands to have more input into the shopping experience. Whether it’s a beauty quiz or a one-on-one consultation with an expert, personalization reduces time spent researching on YouTube to find solutions to our ever-evolving beauty needs.

3. Intersection of beauty and technology — Increasingly, retailers are turning stores into beauty playgrounds where consumers can experiment with products and new technologies, from simple diagnostic quizzes to sophisticated technology that assesses skin tone and recommends the right foundation shade. I also love how service-based beauty businesses are utilizing technology to create “skin entertainment.” Facegym, which offers a unique facial experience, is a great example. They use cutting-edge technology to tighten your face muscles. In their promotions, they describe it as not simply a facial but a workout. It’s equal parts self-care and exciting.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is imperative that people of color, Black women, in particular are represented inside and outside of major corporations. Inside of the company, diversity allows you to cultivate a culture composed of thinkers, makers, and doers who all bring something powerful and unique to the table. For far too long, many industries have failed to include diverse points of view in leadership, and I am proud to work for a brand that values my voice and diversity. I am a member of the newly formed Revlon Diversity & Inclusion council.

Also, it is key that people of color have opportunities to lead within companies and ensure that our communities are represented and celebrated. When leading advertising campaigns, I take great pride in creating images that will affirm and empower positive messages such as self-love within Black women and girls.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use to feel beautiful?

Women should focus on having a beautiful mindset and not corrupting their minds with negative thoughts. Dwelling on the positive exudes self-confidence. Beauty is a word that should be looked at inwardly as well as outwardly. It is not only about the makeup and the clothes you wear, but about the entire individual. For me, as a Black woman, it is a feeling. It’s pride, it’s being comfortable in the skin you are in, unapologetically.

Here is the main question for our discussion: Based on your experience and success, please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry.” Please share a story or an example, for each.

  1. Innovate. Forecast and stay ahead of the trends. If you’ve ever worked on a legacy brand, then you know that it is not easy to keep the brand relevant year after year. It’s easier to hold onto what has made you successful. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality will stagnate you. I’ve learned that in the digital age, consumers embrace change now more than ever. Being able to adapt quickly is imperative, and that includes introducing new line extensions and updating the packaging more frequently. Sure, a few loyal consumers will complain, but if the innovation meets their needs, they will adapt. Consumers crave updates in almost every category of their life, and beauty is no different. Today’s beauty consumer craves newness, especially if it improves her regimen or saves her time and money. Remember, you don’t have to be first, but you surely shouldn’t be last.
  2. Problem solve. Think outside of the box and always look for ways to solve consumers’ pain points. Our best-selling product is our edge control, Perfect Edges. This product ranks №1 in our category, because we provided a better solution than our competitors. Our team identified a gap in performance, and we made a product that exceeded consumers’ expectations.
  3. Build relationships vs. networking. Networking can get you a basic introduction but doesn’t guarantee follow-up. Investing in relationships is not a selfish transaction. You are creating value based on common interests and goals. Relationships will certainly drive success and promotion.
  4. Be a thought leader and a disruptor. I have always felt that my creativity and entrepreneurial skills are important aspects of my business acumen. Once, during a job interview midway into my career, I was criticized for being too creative and a jack of all trades. I thought about that for a long time, and decided I was never going to be a run of the mill corporate brand manager. Beyond my core responsibilities, I’ve always been happy to dive in and work closely with creative teams and our experts, if that’s what it took for the brand to succeed. I’m glad that I followed my instincts, because they’ve led me to my biggest wins.
  5. Be consistent with your messaging. I extend this practice into my personal brand as well. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room, and you want to make sure that you are known for two to three reputable strengths that you demonstrate daily.

Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson Quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As the poet Rumi writes, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.” When you focus on living a beautiful life, you will enjoy life and inspire others to live their lives to the fullest.

Anything to add?

Valuable mentorship takes time to cultivate, and it requires funding by both parties. In the meantime, build trust with someone in leadership who will advocate for you within your organization. I attribute my success to having advocates who believed in me and made sure that I was top of mind for new opportunities and challenging assignments that would grow and expand my expertise. An advocate knows your reputation and uses their influence to help you foster and build on the foundation that you’ve laid. I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by strong female leaders since I started my career.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram — @TeneyaLove

LinkedIn — Teneya Gholston

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