Q+A w/ Habit Co-Founders, Melahn + Aja
There are few things as satisfying as having a fresh mani-pedi, but what is NOT satisfying are the toxic chemicals that come with traditional nail polish. The ingredients in the many polishes (probably like the one you used at the nail salon last week) can disrupt hormones, cause neurological damage, liver damage, and are known carcinogens. Did we just ruin your day with this unsolicited info? SORRY to be the bearer of bad news but, now you know…
If “au natural” is not an option for your nails this spring, have no fear…Habit Cosmetics is here! All of Habit’s polishes are non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and free of toluene, formaldehyde, camphor, and parabens (aka the harmful chemicals that cause the scary health problems listed above). Not to mention, Habit’s polishes come in rich, gorgeous shades, and in bottles that will look perfect in your bathroom #shelfie.
We spoke to the sister/co-founder duo behind the brand, Melahn and Aja Frierson, and got to learn more! We love their pick-up-your bootstraps approach to starting and growing their own business, and got inspired to clean up our own beauty routines even further.
by CHLOE.: Hi Melahn and Aja! Thanks for chatting with us. Please introduce yourselves.
Aja Frierson: Hello, and thank you for having us! My name is Aja, and I’m the Founder of Habit Cosmetics.
Melahn Frierson: Hi! Thank you so much for having us. My name is Melahn and I’m the Creative Director for Habit, and I also manage Jeffrey Deitch’s amazing new gallery space in LA.
bC: Tell us how it all began! What inspired you to create Habit Cosmetics, and what were you both doing before?
AF: I was working as a colorist in the fashion industry when I became obsessed with nail polish, and realized that there were no brands that combined a focus on non-toxic ingredients with sustainable packaging, multi-tasking formulas and trend-relevant colors. So in 2013 after two years of development, I launched Habit as a non-toxic, strengthening, vegan and cruelty-free polish line.
bC: Habit products are vegan and toxin-free. Why is this important to you? Tell us about the ingredients you use, and and benefits of Habit Cosmetics.
AF: I’ve always been interested in health and nutrition. In college, I discovered juicing, the benefits of a raw vegan diet, and began to pay more attention to what was in my beauty products. I created Habit out of a desire to make the best quality nail polish. Of course, “best quality” means different things to different people. To me, it means gorgeous colors with great longevity, a focus on sustainable packaging, and the cleanest formulas possible that have benefits outside of just being makeup. To that end, our nail polish is vegan, cruelty-free, toxin-free and contains myrrh extract, which has strengthening and anti-bacterial qualities. Our new multi-use colors and highlighters are 75% and 95% natural with a proprietary plant-based 7-emollient blend. Our multi-use colors feature moringa oil, which has amazing antioxidant, moisturizing and anti-aging properties due to it’s omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamin A, B and C content, as well as extraordinary amounts of a plant hormone called Zeatin. And our highlighters are infused with sea buckthorn oil, a naturally brightening and nourishing oil with antioxidant properties due to it’s high concentration of vitamin C, quercetin and omega 7 fatty acid.
bC: Tell us about your diets! Are you as thoughtful about what you put in your body as you are when it comes to your products?
AF: I’m not strictly vegan anymore, but maybe 80% of my diet is organic fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and legumes, and I cook every week from Marco Borges’ The 22 Day Revolution book or cookbook. I make green juice almost every week to drink daily. I love having about 30 ounces of it in the morning right after I wake up. My everyday coffee is a “Franken-drink” of Laird’s Turmeric creamer, maca powder, reishi powder, ashwagandha, he shou wu, coconut sugar and coconut milk creamer. And I take several Thorne supplements everyday!
MF: Haha I’m not quite as disciplined as Aja but I try to be really conscious of what I put into my body. It would be hypocritical of me to take such good care of my skin but neglect what goes on internally. I cringe when I think about all of the candy and junk food I binged on when I was younger, but now my favorite thing is making delicious home cooked meals with my boyfriend using lots of veggies and fresh herbs and lemons from our garden. I’m terrible at taking daily supplements, so I get most of my energy and vitamin intake from the food I consume, which is about 75% plant-based. And I just discovered the miracle of CBD oil which works like magic for my anxiety and helps keep me focused at work.
bC: You two are a sister-team! Have you always been close? What are the best and most challenging parts of working with your sibling?
AF: I’m really lucky; we’ve always been very close (save for a few awkward “off” years in middle school) in part because we balance each other, and also because we’re super close in age. The best part is being able to trust her vision for the brand, because I trust her and her creativity. Also, I know she understands the direction that I want to go in and is capable of either expanding on my ideas and making them even better, or presenting her own amazing ideas that I would have never thought of. A challenge is that, because we’re family, it’s sometimes hard to separate our business lives from our personal lives.
MF: Honestly Aja and I were so different growing up that we kind of did our own thing (she was outgoing and really popular and I was always a bit more shy and in my own head), but she’s been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember and we just have so much fun when we’re together. The best part of working together is when we get really excited about a new idea and feed off each other’s energy. The most challenging part is when we strongly disagree on something, which thankfully rarely happens!
bC: We love Habit’s clean, minimalistic branding. How did you determine the “look”?
AF: For better or for worse, I create all of our graphic and packaging designs, and they’re really just determined by what I like! I think as an entrepreneur, usually the first person you create for is yourself, which is why fostering business ownership diversity is important.
MF: That’s honestly all Aja! She’s brilliant with design and has created all of our logos, product design and packaging since the very beginning.
bC: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced starting and growing Habit?
AF: As a small business owner, I think access to capital has been the biggest hurdle. You can mix makeup in your kitchen, but I’m not a chemist, so working with a manufacturer to produce our products ensures quality. However, when you work with a manufacturer, you live by their production capabilities and minimum orders, which can be prohibitive when you’re bootstrapping your business and creating multiple products or more than a handful of colors.
MF: Omg, doing everything by ourselves! The first 3 and a half years it was just Aja and I and it was a struggle, I’m not going to lie. Especially as we started to expand and more stores became interested in carrying us. There were several times I can remember Aja and I working 12-15 hour days around the clock to make deadlines, pulling all-nighters to the point where we would just collapse from exhaustion.
bC: What’s next for Habit? Where do you hope to see the brand in 5 years?
AF: Landing bigger accounts so that more people can discover our brand, and launching more gorgeous color-cosmetics!
MF: Everywhere! Habit is for everyone and I definitely see it becoming more of a household name as people continue to learn more and more about the amazing benefits of green beauty.
bC: How has social media impacted your business?
AF: Melahn built our social media accounts from the ground up. She’s done an amazing job (people praise our Instagram feed all the time), and it’s been tremendously valuable for both marketing and brand-building.
MF: It has such an impact! Especially for small businesses, it’s so important to interact and have fun and engage with your customers, and also let them know they’re dealing with real people with real personalities, who truly value their opinions and feedback. I nurtured the Instagram for Habit like it was my baby lol and always took so much pride in it, and our new employee, Autumn has done an incredible job in taking that responsibility over – her love for the brand and bubbly personality really come through and we’ve gotten such a positive response. With the gallery, I was honestly shocked to find out we didn’t have an Instagram already in place when I started because Jeffrey also has two other successful galleries in New York that he’s ran since the 90’s. So foot traffic was all just through word of mouth before which is pretty phenomenal in it’s own right when you really think about, but since I started curating the Instagram for all three of our galleries the feedback has been tremendously supportive and our openings are packed! You’re just able to reach such a broader audience through social media and engagement, and it’s amazing how many people we’ve had traveling from out of town and out of the country to come and see our shows!
bC: Best thing about living in sunny California?
AF: If only you’re willing to drive 30 minutes in any one direction, there are so many different cultures to explore and experiences you can have.
RAPID FIRE: Aja Frierson
3 objects you can’t live without? My computer, Meow Meow Tweet’s Lavender Lemongrass body oil, and our new multi-use color “The Ultimate” in Candy Darling.
Best binge-worthy TV show? So many, but I love me some Pretty Little Liars, and on the other end of the spectrum, Doc Martin!
Last song you listened to? Something from the Spotify playlist “Chill Tracks.” It’s great to work to.
Favorite place on earth? A freshly-made bed.
Savory or sweet? Sweet.
Dream dinner guest? Oprah.
If you could own any piece of art, what would it be? Something eerie and beautiful, like one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascapes.
Favorite Habit nail polish color? We just relaunched Midnight Cowboy and it’s an amazing black jelly with silver micro-glitter that makes me feel powerful! I also love our new color Black Orpheus. I’m really into the dark shades at the moment.
RAPID FIRE: Melahn Frierson
Best binge-worthy TV show? Ab Fab!
Last song you listened to? Kelsey Lu’s “Time.”
Favorite place on earth? Tanzania.
Savory or sweet? Savory.
Dream dinner guest? Janis Joplin.
If you could own any piece of art, what would it be? David Wojnorowicz’s journals. The Fales Library has them all digitized but some of the scans are really difficult to read and I’d die and go to heaven if I had the originals to pour through.
Favorite Habit nail polish color? Hussy will always be my #1!