Elsa Arauz

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L+A: How did you get into beauty?

It’s funny because I was never personally into beauty, I was a bit of a tomboy. My mom, however, dove into it with MARY KAY in the ’90s. She would go to those parties they had an I’d tag along.

I hit college and I went through a phase where I was really into YouTube and just trying to figure the beauty game out. At the time I had relaxed hair and was trying to get into makeup, but I genuinely thought that because I was a black girl, it wasn’t for me. For example, red lipstick looked crazy on me and I was just as lost to the concept of eyeliner, lip liner, etc. So for me, that’s how I became so mesmerized by YouTube.

During my senior year of college, I had about $2k in the bank from the return I got from school. I would go to the local drugstore and buy makeup pretty frequently. I would go back to my dorm try everything on and I would end up hating it! I then started going to the Sephora’s in the local mall, Mac stores, etc. It always felt like a freaking PROCESS! Someone would come up to me most of the time it was a Caucasian person and they would try to figure out the best option for me which also never ended up working. They always looked puzzled. 

L+A: How did you come up with the beauty box?

 I always asked myself why is it that the average black girl with kinky hair, [as such as myself] has such a hard time shopping for beauty? I graduated and went back home, got the flu one fall and that time spent home is how I came up with the beauty box. There were only a few black-owned beauty boxes at the times such as Curl Box, Curl Kit, etc. So I thought I could definitely add to this! I wanted to stick with black and Hispanic owned brands instead of trying to pick from mainstream ones that are already out there.

L+A: What was the hardest part?

Starting the business in general because I didn’t know anything about the different aspects of business such as operations, marketing, or customer acquisition. It also became a headache trying to find packaging, reaching out to brands, shipping etc.

L+A: Why did you change the format of your brand?

People started reaching out to me hoping they would be able to buy items separately. So after a year of being in business and doing the beauty box subscription, I decided to change it into an overall retail store where customers can buy individual products online. Then I had people saying can you go back to the beauty boxes! Ha-ha. I ended up combining both models, which is quite revolutionary. People can purchase directly, or become members can sign up and highly curated matches based on their profiles that they can then shop for low-low prices! So far the response has been amazing. 

L+A: Has there ever been a time you questioned being in business or just had to put things on hold?

My grandmother had passed away in 2016 and then my uncle 6 months later, so I had to close up shop for most of 2017. There was a lot going on all at once and I needed the break because I was just trying to get adjusted to this new reality. I was in a haze for months but it was important. 

L+A: What're the favorite parts of what you do?

I love that I’m able to help a girl or guy feel better about themselves as well as work with new and fresh brands.

L+A: What’s a future goal for the brand?

In the future, I really want to be able to access data from clients to find things like skin type, hair type, likes, dislikes etc.; so that the customer can find products based on desired results.

L+A: What’s something that’s been a motivating factor in your life that helped you a woman of color?

The natural hair movement for sure! It helped me to embrace my texture because in all actuality all of our parents didn’t even know how to do our hair the right way. It was a cultural imperative to submit little black girls to the “creamy crack”. What’s crazy is my mom and my aunt have a different texture from me, so they didn’t need to relax their hair. I had very thick pretty 4C hair, but I faced pressure to relax my hair and I did so at 13. 

L+A: How would you describe your upbringing and culture?

I, of course, identify as Garifuna. Our culture is very different from your typical Latin culture. Our food, music, and styling is very African based even though the culture is a mixture of Arawakan Natives and West African. We have our own foods which are mostly coconut based.  We also have this special dish called macuka which is coconut soup with fish and mashed up plantain.

L+A:Would you say it was hard growing up as an Afro-Latina when it came to whom you identify with?

It was weird growing up because I used to befriend anybody in school but you learn how cliquey people can be, and at the end of the day, people hang with whom they relate to. For me, I identify with being a black girl but I also identify with being with Latina to an extent. What's funny is that I experienced a lot of hate from both sides with being told you’re not Hispanic enough or you’re not black enough which was the most confusing thing for me to experience at the time.  I remember wanting to bleach my skin to be lighter like the Latinas around me were. Those were dark times that I know most black brown women have dealt with at some point in their lives. 

L+A:  Do you think being Afro-Latina inspired your brand? 

Yes,  I want to reach the multicultural audience to provide product for them for the people that look like them! I know what it’s like to grow up and not have products and brands that fit you.

L+A: How do you go about finding the brands you work with?

I’ve been getting an amazing response from brands. Initially, I had to reach out to find people to work with but it was mostly because my message wasn't refined yet. Nowadays I get overwhelmed with the many requests I receive from brands all over the world that want to work with us. That's a problem we're thankful for.

L+A: What's the best advice you've ever received from a woman?

The best advice I have ever received was when I first started KARIF and I reached out to my first brand Biao Beauty a skincare line created by a woman who was a U.S. Army veteran. She told me that she was going to send me a box of products for FREE! A few weeks later UPS delivered a box of about 50 which was a lot for free.  She told me during a phone call the most wonderful advice ever:  “I want you to never give up on this idea, it's a great idea. Keep in mind that each time  you do a business move, everytime you call a brand, everytime you make an edit on your website, everytime you talk to a customer, pray and ask for guidance from God and He will guide you.” At the time I wasn't really religious even though I was brought up in church but she said it with so much conviction and seriousness that I believed it. I still believe those words and they still propel me forward.

Photo Credit: @karifbeautydotcom