LipRevolt's Courtney Stewart on the Power of Lipstick — and How Makeup Changed Her Life
Too often, the best come-to-be beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: LipRevolt founder Courtney Stewart.
Feeling beautiful, or even worthy, is not something that came to me at an early age. It was something that I had to find.
I was born in Kentucky and adopted at the age of 3. Unfortunately, my adoptive mother was very abusive. When I was 11, I was sexually assaulted and raped by her and her boyfriend, which put me back in the foster-care system. At the time, I was afraid. I didn't have much self-worth. I felt like I was nothing. Dirty.
It was hard being in different foster group homes, but when I was 13, I found the greatest family ever. It was right before high school — the most formative years of your life. They really gave me the place to be me and just grow and become who I am today. When I started to experiment with makeup, when I went to live with my now-parents, that was when I found myself. I didn't feel as alone as I used to growing up.
I remember the first time I played with products. It was for a homecoming dance, and I was wearing this gold, short dress. I started to experiment, and when I put my lipstick on, I just felt like I was it. I finally felt confident. I felt invincible. After that point, I was like, "This is it. I know what I'm going to do." If I could feel that way from something as simple as wearing makeup, even coming from where I come from and experiencing the things that I've experienced, I thought, "I want everybody to have this feeling. There is nobody who should not feel this way."
I wanted to create something that would give back to marginalized communities, because let's be clear, buying lipstick is a privilege that many people don't get to have.
Years later, in 2018 — after I finished my master's at American University in DC, which is where I was working in public service before moving back home to Georgia — I got the idea to start LipRevolt. I just knew the instant boost that lipstick can bring; I know what it's done for me and the potential it has to uplift others. I also wanted to create something that would give back to marginalized communities that I'm a part of or that have really impacted who I am, because let's be clear, buying lipstick is a privilege that many people don't get to have.
But I had so many issues launching. First, I didn't have the money to work with. Trying to raise capital is tough, and I didn't have it. The manufacturers I found weren't very good, and I couldn't afford to look around for others because I didn't have the money to test all the products. I also didn't know the ins and outs of running a business, and I didn't know any Black entrepreneurs personally who I could ask. I had to take a break and say, "OK. Let's take this step by step."
The first step was getting my money right, so I moved in with my now-fiancé's parents. I was on a strict budget, taking public transit, not eating out, meal prepping. I refinanced $12,000 in student loans through SoFi so I could start to save enough to buy product, put it toward marketing, and find something I would want to buy myself. The next step was learning the business side of things. It took a lot of time, and I was working another job — I still am — but by 2020, I had that feeling of, "It's now or never." Either you're going to start your business now, or you're never going to.
I launched LipRevolt in August 2020. I was scared because of everything going on — many people are out of jobs; my fiancé was furloughed — but when you have a dream, you make it happen. It wasn't just the pandemic, either. There was so much racial conflict; we had protests and racial demonstrations. At some point, you get tired of the oppression, the racism, the injustice, and you realize you have to do something. In a way, it somewhat validated what I was doing, because there is so much to be done. I can't solve everything with lipstick, but I can try to do my part.
Sometimes, when I get that feeling in my head like, "Is it going to work?," I have to remind myself why I started in the first place. Even though, yes, it is a business, it's a mission-based business. On one side, the people who wear the lipstick get a boost of confidence and that feeling that they can do anything, be themselves. In this world, it's so hard to just be you, whether it's because of your sexual orientation, skin color, or anything else.
On the other side, I want to make it my mission to help these communities — the LGBTQ+ community, women's rights, human rights — through the sales of the lipstick. Because without them, I would be nothing. Who am I to excel, get a lipstick line, and not give back to my people? With LipRevolt, I want to promote social change and beauty for all.
To me, success looks like real change being done. That looks different to different people, so here's an analogy. Think about the Georgia elections. Many people are thanking one person and the work Stacey Abrams did for this state. The fact that she lost an election because of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and then came back to ensure that all of these other people had the opportunity to be in a space where she couldn't — that's what it's about. I want to help in the fight, even if it's just winning a battle. Even if it's just getting feminine products to women at a shelter, or helping organizations that house LGBTQ+ youth or domestic-abuse survivors, that's a step.
If I'm able to help someone, even if it's just one, two, three, four people, and my lipstick makes them feel uplifted or someone who has been in my situation feels inspired to start their own business — that, to me, is the biggest victory of all.