FEBRUARY 23, 2021
When Sina Zere and her husband Brandon O’Neill unveiled Buff Experts in 2020, they already understood the challenges of running a business. Zere opened Buff Wax Spot, the first mini-chain of waxing bars in the Canadian city Edmonton, Alberta, in 2016. A year later, she followed the waxing bars up with 1’Lux, a bath and body line that was a precursor to Buff Experts.
With hundreds of customers coming in and out of her waxing bars, Zere was exposed to many of the skin concerns of women of color, including scarring and hyperpigmentation. She and O’Neill poured $20,000 from their savings and money from a bank loan into transforming 1’Lux into Buff Experts to address them. Zere describes the brand as a “juicy, bold, plant-powered collection of body care products.”
The impetus to develop products arose from a need at Buff Wax Spot. Zere says she was desperately looking for salves for her locations, especially ones that could be incorporated into Brazilian waxing, the No. 1 service at Buff Wax Spot. She considered stocking products from feminine care brand The Honey Pot Company, but it didn’t wholesale to Canada at the time. “It was really at that point that I thought, ‘If you really want it, probably you have to make it yourself,’” says Zere.
Getting the right blend of raw ingredients for the products took a while, according to Zere, who has a master’s degree in biotechnology and previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry. She was driven to pin down exactly what each ingredient she explored for its formulas does. She recalls asking, “Why should I be using it? Why is it included in this product?” Olive, cold-pressed carrot seed, jojoba and sea buckthorn oils are key ingredients in Buff Experts’ products. Zere gushes, “I love jojoba oil.”
Zere wasn’t happy with the black, white and brown palette of 1’Lux on the earlier brand’s website and packaging. It wasn’t upbeat enough for her. Zere says, “We went through the rebranding exercise because I wasn’t feeling connected to or excited about our brand colors, and it also didn’t feel true to my heritage as an African woman.” Now, Buff Experts pops with hot pinks, blues and greens. Seeing the brand online, says Zere, is “like a moment of visual joy.” She adds, “You’ve got to really feel a connection with your product. Otherwise, you’re not going to be 100% behind the brand. To be honest, the repackaging was really easy.”
Buff Experts’ assortment contains Turmeric & Papaya Brightening Deodorant, a stench fighter that combats underarm hyperpigmentation, silky skin-inducing Shea & Cocoa Daily Botanical Body Lotion, Srsly Buffed In-Shower Exfoliating Gloves, which are designed to be plush and thick for full-body exfoliation, vulva balm Carrot & Calendula Intimate Salve, pH-balanced vulva cleaner Rose & Yogurt Intimate Cleanser and Srsly Buffed Dry Brush. Prices range mostly from 8 to 32 Canadian dollars or roughly $6 to $25.
Zere and O’Neill, a former Olympic gymnast, guide Buff Experts out of their home. O’Neill handles customer service and logistics, and Zere spearheads the rest of the responsibilities. They’re opting to operate Buff Experts themselves until the brand can support employees without a financial strain. The brand hopes to hire a digital marketer in the near future. In five years, Buff Experts’ goal is to cross $1 million in revenues.
The pandemic has added complications to Buff Experts’ business. Zere says, “Our small packaging comes from China and, with COVID-19, and I think as well as the tensions with the U.S. and China, it’s been really difficult to get packaging that normally was not a problem for us.”
Despite the inconveniences, Buff Experts is growing its retail footprint. It’s available at Nordstrom in the United States and Canada. E-tailers have been picking up the brand, too. Amp Beauty LA, Maison D’origine and Melanin Grace are among the e-commerce destinations that sell it. Buff Experts is currently concentrating on U.S. expansion. Later, it will tackle Europe.
Last year, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests demanding justice for the killing of George Floyd, the spotlight turned to Black-owned brands. Zere welcomes the attention, but offers the caveat that it hasn’t made marketing products simpler. “The ability to have that door opened up just a little bit more is great,” she says. “I celebrate that, and I know other Black-owned beauty brands celebrate that, too, but it’s a little bittersweet because I know I am creating products that are incredible for every body.”
Zere commends efforts such as the 15 Percent Pledge campaign started by Aurora James to urge retailers to commit at least 15% of their selections to Black-owned brands. She says, “It forces those in the retail industry to actually perform an [inventory check] of the brands that they carry, and they are actually going to realize how few Black-owned brands are there.”
Zere believes the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent initiatives played a role in getting Buff Experts’ name out to retailers and the press. She says, “I also know that, prior to the George Floyd murder and the subsequent outrage, if I had really put myself out there as a Black woman behind that brand, Buff Experts would have been pigeonholed.”