Inclusive beauty platform Thirteen Lune is forging their own growth path, and paving the way for a more level playing field

When Nyakio Grieco walks into the beauty section at JCPenney, she sometimes encounters…herself.

Specifically, a six-foot-tall, larger-than-lifesize photo of herself on a wall in a branded section, devoted to her retail platform for BIPOC beauty founders: Thirteen Lune.



Though the startup is less than two years old, Thirteen Lune has branded square footage in 10 JCPenney stores. By 2023, the brand will have real estate in all 600 U.S. JCPenney locations.

When Grieco sees her face in the national retailer, it feels like a sign that all the highs and lows of her twenty-year career in beauty—from the “tear-filled moments” to her recent appearance on Good Morning America —have been worth it.

“All of that was to bring me to this point, so that I could use my experience to amplify and celebrate people who do the same thing I do and get them to success much quicker,” Grieco says.

The goal of Thirteen Lune is to spotlight BIPOC beauty founders, and get them access to the attention and capital they deserve.

That’s thanks to the platform she co-founded with Patrick Herning in 2020. The goal of Thirteen Lune is to spotlight BIPOC beauty founders, and get them access to the attention and capital they deserve.

Grieco knows the challenges of bootstrapped entrepreneurship firsthand. She got her start in the beauty industry selling the same coffee scrub her grandmother, a Kenyan coffee farmer, relied on to exfoliate her skin.

As a first-generation American and a Black founder, though, Grieco struggled to amass the venture funding she needed to scale her beauty business—and afford the up-front costs and fees involved in major partnerships.

As a first-generation American and a Black founder, Grieco struggled to amass the venture funding she needed to scale her beauty business.

“I would make it into a national retailer and very quickly, it would be shown to me that I couldn’t afford to be there,” she says.

With Thirteen Lune, she solves that problem for a new crop of BIPOC beauty founders. Grieco and her team have raised more than $4.5M in venture funding, and inked a partnership with JCPenney after just six months in business. Needless to say, her team helps brands on the platform manage the costs involved.

Oh, and the beauty partner Thirteen Lune’s replacing? Sephora. In 2020, the beauty giant severed its JCPenney’s partnership to do business with Kohl’s.

Grieco, an early-stage founder herself, reached Sephora’s level so quickly with two secret ingredients.

One is an urgent mission that has attracted an incredible crew of partners, from venture capitalists to celebrities. The other is growth powered by authentic content.

Working toward a more equitable beauty industry

Grieco got the germ of the idea for Thirteen Lune in 2020. That spring, police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis—a tragedy that sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.

It also prompted thousands of personal reckonings with systemic racism, and inspired many consumers to shop with Black-owned businesses. Search volume for “Black owned businesses” rose 600% year-over-year in 2020, Google reports.

Search volume for “Black owned businesses” rose 600% year-over-year in 2020, Google reports.

Lists of Black-owned businesses began circulating online, many of them featuring Grieco’s clean beauty brand Nyakio, which has since been acquired. Grieco took notice.

She took notice of retailers like Nordstrom and Sephora taking the 15% Pledge, too—promising to devote a proportional 15% of shelf space to Black-owned brands, because Black people make up 15% of the U.S. population.

Even in her grief, Grieco felt inspired by the people and organizations imagining a more racially equitable capitalism. She decided to join the movement. She would help elevate Black- and BIPOC-owned businesses in the beauty sector, where she had built her career.

She and Herning wanted to offer more sustained, robust support than a list of BIPOC-owned beauty brands, though. Something less like PR, more like a long-term partnership.

Thirteen Lune launched as an ecommerce platform in December 2020, with thirteen Black-owned beauty brands—hence the brand name.

They wanted to “debunk the myth that Black and Brown people only create products for themselves,” Grieco says.

Grieco and Herning specifically curated a slate of inclusive beauty brands, making products for all kinds of people. They wanted to “debunk the myth that Black and Brown people only create products for themselves,” Grieco says.

Nyakio Grieco, co-founder, Thirteen Lune

Their mission immediately attracted major partners. Like, celebrities. In January 2021, Thirteen Lune announced it had raised $1M from investors like Sean Combs, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Naomi Watts.

Thirteen Lune’s superstar investors didn’t just write checks, either. They bought in more deeply. In April 2021, Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop became the first “ally brand” to join Thirteen Lune’s platform.

Thirteen Lune follows a 90/10 rule, Grieco explains—the brands on their platform are 90% BIPOC-founded, like Buttah and Prados Beauty, and 10% ally brands, like Goop and Olaplex.

The ally brands aren’t necessarily BIPOC-founded, but they’re committed to inclusivity and help Grieco “earn eyeballs.”

Watts went the extra mile, too, and joined Thirteen Lune’s Beauty Vanguard, a panel of beauty industry insiders that vets and co-signs Thirteen Lune products. Other members: supermodel Molly Sims, InStyle executive beauty editor Kayla Greaves, and makeup artist Emily Cheng.

Within a year of that first celebrity fundraising, more partners had come out of the woodwork: first JCPenney, then venture firms. In November 2021, Thirteen Lune announced a $3M seed round led by Fearless Fund, “a Black female-owned fund, which I never met in my journey coming up as an entrepreneur,” Grieco says.

Before 2020, only 93 Black woman founders had raised $1M in venture funding for their businesses, ProjectDiane reports. In July 2021, less than 1% of all venture capital had gone to Black woman founders.

This was a striking achievement for Grieco. Before 2020, only 93 Black woman founders had raised $1M in venture funding for their businesses, ProjectDiane reports. In July 2021, less than 1% of all venture capital had gone to Black woman founders.

This is the unfair game that Thirteen Lune strives to change. And in a virtuous feedback loop, all the partners galvanized by Thirteen Lune’s mission have helped the company execute on it.

Today, the platform supports over 150 brands—more than 10 times the number it launched with—and helps all its brands with:

  • Reaching influential industry leaders, from Grieco herself—who has more than 25K Instagram followers—to the star-studded partners on the Beauty Vanguard roster.
  • Brick-and-mortar distribution, thanks to its partnership with JCPenney.
  • Ecommerce distribution, by selling products through JCPenney’s online store and the Thirteen Lune website.
  • Growth strategy, by connecting them with its venture partners at Fearless Fund and beyond.
  • Authentic founder storytelling, which is at the heart of Thirteen Lune’s PR and marketing strategy.

That last item really deserves a section of its own.

How authentic content powers Thirteen Lune’s marketing

Grieco grew Thirteen Lune more than 100% in its first six months. Her secret weapon: content about Thirteen Lune founders’ personal and entrepreneurial journeys.

“It’s not really a tactic or even a strategy—it’s just authentically showing up,” says Grieco. “People buy into people before they buy into products.”

“People buy into people before they buy into products,” says Grieco.

Prados Beauty founder CeCe Meadows, for example, has an epic personal story behind her business.

Diagnosed with cancer as a 27-year-old single mom, Meadows got overwhelmed by medical bills—but still found a way to move to New York and enroll in cosmetology school, she told Marie Claire.

In 2018, she was the first Native American makeup artist to head a New York Fashion Week show. She began mixing her own products in her baby’s nursery to use on her models’ clients—and Grieco saw photos of her handiwork on Instagram.

She signed her to Thirteen Lune.

Today, Meadows is the first Native American or Chicano beauty founder to enter a national retailer (JCPenney), Grieco says.

Thirteen Lune shares her story—and stories like it—through several distribution channels, most of them organic.

Thirteen Lune launched after Apple announced iOS 14.5 in summer of 2020, an iPhone system update that radically reduced social media platforms’ ability to track—and optimize their ads for—conversions.

“Thirteen Lune launched our paid marketing after the iOS update,” Grieco explains, “so we didn’t have to be on that marketing hamster wheel.”

So Grieco treats paid social as more or less an afterthought. “Thirteen Lune launched our paid marketing after the iOS update,” she explains, “so we didn’t have to be on that marketing hamster wheel.”

Instead, their marketing leans on email, social media, owned media, and earned media. Here, Grieco breaks down how her team uses each one.

Email-first content marketing

Grieco has spent decades in the beauty industry, but she never started a beauty blog until she founded Thirteen Lune—and discovered Klaviyo.

“I was so intimidated by programs out there I didn’t understand,” she says. “I didn’t know how to onboard.”

Klaviyo onboarding was a breeze, the pricing was affordable, and the customer service team was “a supportive partner for a startup,” Grieco said.

Klaviyo onboarding was a breeze, the pricing was affordable, and the customer service team was “a supportive partner for a startup,” Grieco said.

The customer platform offered her an alternative to an old-school blog: an email-native drip of shoppable content, perfect for a content-centric retail platform.

Grieco and her team often email out:

And they repurpose the evergreen content on their website, too, under the Shop Talk, Gift Guide, and About Us tabs.

“Klaviyo just made it so easy for a small and mighty team to reach a consumer base authentically,” Grieco says.

“Klaviyo just made it so easy for a small and mighty team to reach a consumer base authentically,” Grieco says.

Not only are the sends timely and human—they also convert. Grieco and her team often feature the 10 slowest-selling brands––and see them become the top 10 by the next week.

Klaviyo “allows us to very quickly conceive content to make sure those brands that maybe aren’t getting the attention they deserve rise to the top,” she explains. “Without failure, those brands then become part of the top 10.”

Klaviyo’s intuitive email builder helps Thirteen Lune support all its brands in a responsive, data-driven way.

Social media

At first pass, it looks like Thirteen Lune has about 25K followers on social: 22.5K on Instagram, and another 1.5K on TikTok.

That sells the brand short, though, because Thirteen Lune has two types of social media: company accounts and founder-run accounts.

The company’s Instagram account—its pillar social channel—focuses on “not only celebrating beauty, but being there to champion social issues that need attention,” Grieco explains.

That means posts highlighting:

In addition, many founders who sell their beauty products through Thirteen Lune have their own Instagram accounts for their brands and themselves, where they dig deeper into their founder stories and product lines.

Take Prados Beauty. Its brand Instagram has more than 115K followers; Meadows, its founder, has another 14K on her personal Instagram account.

That means Prados Beauty can signal boost Thirteen Lune to 130K new eyeballs, assuming no follower overlap.

With more than 150 total brands on the Thirteen Lune platform, that adds up to a major secondary social audience.

Earned media

Grieco is a press magnet. She’s spoken about Thirteen Lune recently on Good Morning America and The Tamron Hall Show, and both were top-of-funnel marketing wins.

“We’ve had so much organic press and media that has really driven people to our site and to our social channels,” Grieco says.

“We’ve had so much organic press and media that has really driven people to our site and to our social channels,” Grieco says.

The brand gets news coverage, too. Its launch, fundraising successes, and JCPenney partnership have earned it stories in Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Forbes, among many others.

By featuring so many founders with noteworthy stories on her platform, Grieco set up her business for secondary press success, too. Coverage of founders on the Thirteen Lune platform often mentions the business.

Gemini founder Joann Zehenni, whose skincare line was designed for people (like her) with lupus and sensitive skin, recently earned a feature in Allure—including several links to products on Thirteen Lune.

A branded podcast

To get the word out about Thirteen Lune at a more predictable cadence, Grieco co-hosts a beauty podcast with the brand’s head of content, Melissa Magsaysay, called The Beauty Vanguard—the same title as Thirteen Lune’s star-studded panel of product testers.

The subject matter sits at the intersection of beauty and business. “We have conversations with celebrities, tastemakers, experts in beauty, to really discover—what does the beauty of inclusion really mean and look like?” Grieco says. “How can we propel the industry forward?”

“What does the beauty of inclusion really mean and look like?” Grieco says. “How can we propel the industry forward?”

Produced by Embassy Row at Sony, the podcast attracted superstar guests in its first season, including:

  • Tracee Ellis Ross, actress and founder of curly hair care line PATTERN Beauty
  • Jerrod Blandino, co-founder and CCO of Too Faced
  • Alli Webb, co-founder of blowout franchise and haircare line Drybar
  • Lulu Grieco, Nyakio’s Gen Z daughter

The Beauty Vanguard is two things at once: a standalone media property, and an owned channel for Thirteen Lune.

Conversations with industry luminaries builds discoverability—people surely search podcast apps for Tracee Ellis Ross—and the steady stream of Thirteen Lune mentions in intros, outros, and relevant episodes builds brand awareness.

So far, its Apple podcast ratings average a perfect 5 stars.

What’s next

Next on the roadmap for Thirteen Lune: steady expansion.

Every Tuesday, the platform launches a new brand—and this month features a launch from Grieco herself. Relevant: Your Skin Seen continues her mission of inclusive beauty, one that has sustained her 20-year beauty career, believing that everyone has skin that deserves to be seen, loved and protected.

The first product to debut from the collection is One & Done Everyday Cream with SPF 40, a 4-in-1 lightweight treatment that replaces daily sunscreen, moisturizer, serum and primer.

The mineral-based formula is suitable for all skin tones—from the lightest to the darkest—without leaving a white cast. Relevant’s R-Rev Complex protects and refines skin with a potent blend of antioxidant-rich superfruits and actives.

Thirteen Lune’s JCPenney presence continues to roll out to more and more stores. By the end of 2022, they’ll be in 300; by 2023, 600.

Meanwhile, Thirteen Lune’s JCPenney presence continues to roll out to more and more stores. By the end of 2022, they’ll be in 300; by 2023, 600.

Longer-term, Grieco hopes to take Thirteen Lune global. Recently, at a beauty conference in Barcelona, Grieco was struck by the number of attendees from all over the world who had heard of Thirteen Lune and begged her to launch in their country.

It made sense, upon reflection. “It’s a brand that’s celebrating global beauty secrets,” she says—like her grandmother’s Kenyan coffee scrub. No wonder it resonates with a global audience.

“Thirteen Lune is a brand that’s celebrating global beauty secrets,” Grieco says.

Going global gels with Thirteen Lune’s brand value of inclusivity, too. “Most of the ingredients that we use in products manufactured in the United States come from some of the most marginalized parts of the globe,” Grieco says.

The people and places that produce those ingredients deserve to be included in Thirteen Lune’s storytelling and audience. Ultimately, Grieco sees more inclusivity leading to a fairer world.

“It’s going to even the playing field and there’s going to be less room for systemic racism and more room for unity,” Grieco says.

“It’s going to even the playing field and there’s going to be less room for systemic racism and more room for unity,” she says.

Her change-making mission keeps Grieco excited about her work, and has helped her attract her dream team of partners and a growing audience.

“I think if you are starting a business, you better have something that you’re authentically passionate about that will help to make the world a better place,” Grieco says. “It’s the only way to truly make a difference.”

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