Quick Question

Geenie Founder Chana Ginelle Ewing Wants To Make The Beauty Industry More Inclusive

"You can't build anything from a depleted place."

Margaret Flatley/Bustle

In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten to what they're still figuring out. Here, Geenie founder and CEO Chana Ginelle Ewing tells Bustle the challenges she faced starting a business during a pandemic, the importance of not micromanaging, and what her leadership style looks like.

In late July, Chana Ginelle Ewing launched Geenie, a curated e-commerce marketplace that shines the spotlight on indie beauty brands created and owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ewing, who self-funded GeenieBox, a beauty and personal care subscription box curated by and for Black women from 2016-2019, had to get creative with Geenie's launch video.

"Geenie is here to rewrite the rules of beauty to be more inclusive and intersectional," says Ewing, who resides in Brooklyn. "Everyone's using Zoom right now, so we wanted to leverage that platform to create something cool. When you’re on Zoom, you're more visible than you are in real life because you're sitting right in front of a camera. So we wanted intersectional people to fill the frame and showcase their full selves."

To pull it off, Ewing asked South African-based digital artist Sinenhlanhla Chauke to use his illustrations for the virtual background and hired an editor based in Singapore. Ewing says finding and casting models who fit the narrative and the illustrated backgrounds in a short period of time was the biggest challenge. And on top of that, the editor had less than two days to deliver the final video. "There were a lot of moving parts, but I'm proud of how the video came out in the end," Ewing says.

Below, Ewing shares the expensive mistake she made just a few days before launching Geenie, the TV show that helps her relax, and her advice for other Black women entrepreneurs.

What’s on your to-do list?

CGE: My three main goals as a founder of a super early stage company are: team, brand, and capital. That said, we recently hired our community manager, so I’m thinking about onboarding and what her first week will look like. I also have to set up one-on-one meetings with advisors, follow up on vendor inquiries, finalize our brand book, send a fall internship call to my network, and circle back with a potential investor.

Can you describe what your self-care routine looks like right now?

CGE: To gain clarity, I sit in silence and listen to myself just breathing in and out. I find that to be stronger than listening to meditation. I also have an embodiment coach, who works with me on staying present in my body and staying connected to my spirit. That's been helpful for maintaining myself in the frenetic pace of the moment. Beyond that, I'm a Law & Order: Criminal Intent junkie, so I will zen out to re-runs.

How do you inspire your staff to have your go-getter attitude?

CGE: They're super excited and brand-aligned, which helps with enthusiasm and momentum. I also keep a flexible attitude as it pertains to time and deliverables. If you need the day off because something's happening in your personal life, that's fine. Surprisingly, people still end up turning their assignments in on time.

Black women think about impact and how we can grow our businesses in a way that serves our customers and our communities. We think about all these external pieces, but we have to think about getting on our own side, first and foremost.

What’s the biggest lesson you've learned so far?

CGE: When our content producer, who finalized the launch video, was out of the office as we searched for an editor, I started looking at the candidates. I ended up hiring someone who wasn't one of her final candidates. When she returned to work, she was confused. I assured her it was fine and the person I picked could do the job. But it was a total disaster and a great example of why you shouldn't micromanage and when you should just relax. We ended up going with her selection, and I had to pay someone for work that we didn't even use. It was a pricey lesson to learn.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

CGE: Because influencers selected the products for GeenieBox, I took a back seat and told myself that they were carrying forth the brand ideals and showcasing what it means to be Geenie. When we switched over to our new model, a friend of mine said, "Chana, you need to be visible. People need to understand your point of view.” I was hesitant, but I've taken an intentional front-facing stance, and been clear about sharing my vision for the world. Geenie is founder-led in a lot of ways that GeenieBox wasn't.

What’s your advice for other Black women itching to start their own business?

CGE: Get on your own side. Black women think about impact and how we can grow our businesses in a way that serves our customers and our communities. We think about all these external pieces, but we have to think about getting on our own side, first and foremost. Hiring an embodiment coach was my commitment to being on my own side, to investing in myself so that I could do the work that I want to do in the world. You can't build anything from a depleted place.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.