Ami Colé Founder Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye Creates Clean Beauty That Radiates Through the Diaspora

By Leah Aulisio-Sharpe | August 11, 2022

The ever-evolving beauty industry has a long history of enforcing racial disparities through products and marketing which neglect melanated skin. After years of navigating the industry herself, Diarrha N’Diaye-Mbaye decided to take skincare into her own hands as the CEO and founder of Ami Colé. We caught up with her about how the clean beauty brand was created with the understanding and intention to enrich our community, and it’s way more than just skin deep.

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Let’s start with a little background on your own skincare journey. How, when, and why did skin care become a passion for you?

As I was going into college from high school, skincare was my love letter to myself. Even though I grew up in the heart of Harlem, it was very difficult to find messaging, marketing materials, brands and even friends/family who truly celebrated darker skin tones. Everything from hip-hop music videos to Hype Hair magazines showcased Black women with looser curls and lighter skin than I had. I didn’t realize how much it took a toll on my self-love and identity. When I went to beauty counters to “prettify” myself nothing worked for me. “We don’t make your shade, but you don’t need foundation sweetheart,'' was always the message I would hear back. Skincare then became my safe haven - where products either worked for my skin type or it didn’t. I didn’t need to be shade-matched and embarrassed or feel invisible. Through skincare, I literally had to stare at myself in the mirror -- love on myself, and practice patience while I tackled hyperpigmentation, uneven texture and the occasional hormonal breakouts. I learned, through this process, to really see myself and love my baseline. After much practice, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to lighten my skin to feel pretty. Instead, I leaned in and listened to exactly what my skin needed to live its best, glowy, balanced life. The rest was history!

You specifically acknowledge your roots in Senegal and Harlem as influences on your products and brand. Can you break down how they both influence you?

We are a beauty brand, yes, but Ami Colé is truly a vibe. We are digitally and physically celebrating melanin-rich women and their stories. We use inspiration from my home country of Senegal and bring it to the world. Senegal is a place that bursts with energy, vibrant colors, and percussion that you can feel in your soul. Even when we have nothing, we always have “terenga” which means the act of welcoming. We find joy in providing a safe space to welcome and celebrate togetherness, even amongst strangers. Growing up in Harlem, USA - I was surrounded by the culture, it was my only perspective of beauty for a very long time. We didn’t have a TV in my earliest home -- I just had books and Harlem World. I went to school on 122nd Street, lived on 120th Street, and the shop was on 125th Street, but even in those few blocks, I got to witness and experience the many forms of Black beauty. You had my aunties straight from Senegal with those tiny “invisible” Senegalese twists with dark complexions and Puerto Rican beauties with the flat twists in the front and Lottabody curls in the back. It was a Brown melting pot and beautiful to witness.

Before starting your own brand you were still working in the beauty industry correct? Can you tell me about how that experience motivated you to start your own line?

My experience working in the beauty industry was great, however there was still some type of soul missing. I was missing the connection where I felt like I literally saw myself.

Ami Colé is dedicated to “striving to surpass the superficial” as it bridges the gap of racial disparity in the beauty industry. Tell me about what decisions you have made to be transparent and inclusive with your brand.

We have, as an industry, realized the lack of diversity in both offering and marketing story types. We’re often grouped as a monolith -- with a singular approach to how we address beauty. We are just now starting to see versatility in storytelling but now we’re faced with the challenge of systemic change: true equity. Along with the 15% Pledge, we are leaning on our partners to provide the tools and knowledge to not only exist but thrive in the new spaces we are stepping into. In a lot of ways, our brand partners and legacy brands have had a traditional head start in the game. In the future, I’d love to see what equity means on a tactical level as we continue to push diversity and inclusion.

Skin is so important, especially as Black or melanated women, how do your products work specifically to protect and amplify melanated skin?

I wanted to create a brand that celebrates a truer version of women of color, paring it down to stand out and glow. Our formulas are designed to enhance versus mask the skin. By doing so, we want to give women of color the tools to actually celebrate their skin and their rich, deep stories. Quality was top of mind when building these products. I wanted the act of applying the product to feel just as good as the finished look. I wanted the actual ingredients to be beneficial for the customer vs. what’s inside being just another price to pay for beauty. We banned the word ashy in the lab. We took two years to perfect the formulas, it was important to start with a product that allowed you to see yourself in the mirror. We’re not in the art of transformation but in the art of enhancing. I know how important it is for little Brown girls to see and appreciate their true selves. Growing up, that was lacking!

What is one of your favorite go-to Ami Colé products and why?

I love all of our products however, the Skin-Enhancing Tint I hold near and dear to my heart. Both from personal experience, and from anecdotal evidence from friends and the wider beauty community, I knew that the nuances of melanin-rich skin, like our unique undertones or higher amounts of hyperpigmentation, were not being taken into account in shade development throughout the industry, and especially not so within the clean, no makeup-makeup space. I wanted to create a product that was easy to apply, gave you a my-skin-but-better finish, and actually worked across the nuances of melanin-rich skin and a wide variety of women. Producing the right amount of shades themselves took a lot of testing and tweaking and now, seeing the product melt right into the skin of our customers is so rewarding!

What was the best piece of advice you received when you started your independent business venture?

To shut out the noise. When you start a company everyone has an opinion about who you should be and why. It’s a very slippery slope. On one end, you welcome the advice as a “new kid on the block”. On the other, you realize that this thing you’re creating has never been done before; not only that, but, those with the opinions, are often folks who have never serviced the people you are targeting in your messaging and positioning. It’s so important to follow your gut. Of course, taking advice that you see fit but at the end of the day, always follow your gut.

Where do you see your brand growing in the next 5-10 years?

I daydream about the day Ami Colé is servicing the Diaspora around the world. It’s crazy how dynamic the Pan-African experience is, yet so similar. I studied abroad in Paris and I remember how desperately I had to search for products that worked for my hair texture. Don’t even get me started on the beauty advertising there. I cannot wait to bring our story to all those in the UK, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Paris -- truly around the world. In 10 years, I’d like to make history by demonstrating success as a CEO and company. As a founder, I would like to join the side of history that inspires Black and Brown people around the world. It’s necessary to survive! In my journal, Madame C.J. Walker is one of the first bullet points listed on my goals list.