Diarrha N’Diaye-Mbaye reflects on the conversations that led to the launch of her makeup line, Ami Colé, last year. “I’ve had all these black women say to me, ‘I wish I had my skin but better,'” says N’Diaye-Mbaye, born and raised in New York City and a former marketing and product development professional. These women, especially those with darker skin, found the products on the market to be too light, too powdery or too sheer.
His answer is Friend Cole, a cosmetics line that created “no-makeup makeup” for black women. The range is full of coveted items. Standouts include the award-winning Skin-Enhancing Tint ($32) and Lip Treatment Oil ($20), an item so popular that one website asked, “Is this the Telfar lip gloss bag?”
N’Diaye-Mbaye has shiny skin and Harlem charm as we talk over lunch at one of his local haunts on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Her hair is neatly pulled back from her face and she wears a chic, all-black outfit: the perfect canvas for Ami Colé’s signature “rich but not overdone” makeup that she sports. We are a stone’s throw from her mother’s hair salon (which gave her name to the brand). It was in the living room that N’Diaye-Mbaye first observed black women cultivating their relationship to beauty; some of them have appeared on Ami Colé’s poster campaigns.
“It’s about representation: being able to take out a campaign and stick our girls all over New York,” she says. “It’s our version of beauty and we actually see you. We’re literally on your block. Indeed, much of the credit for Ami Colé’s success can be attributed to the community. “We built this together… this is what differentiates us from a Fenty,” she says. “We ask [our community], ‘What are we doing next week? Next year?'”
It took time for N’Diaye-Mbaye to find its direction. After majoring in English at Syracuse University, she branched out into social media and marketing, including a position at Rebecca Minkoff, hence the ghostwriting (“I would wake up pretending to be a white Jewish woman who had just had a baby,” she laughs). The brand’s social media strategy warranted an article in the New York Post; it also means that N’Diaye-Mbaye’s work caught the attention of L’Oréal Paris.
Continuing to work at the beauty giant was a dream come true, but she explains, “I soon realized that I was a very ‘hands-on’ girl.” She also understood that it was important for her to “advocate for change in terms of our stories and what we offer from the products”. After a stint in product development at Glossier, N’Diaye-Mbaye eventually developed the confidence to launch her own brand.
Early on, N’Diaye-Mbaye was often told by investors to drop out or tie up with an existing cosmetics maker. The Black Lives Matter protests have totally changed the conversation. “I didn’t change the name, I didn’t change the product line, I didn’t change the price, literally it couldn’t have been more the same. And the exact same investors came back, saying, “You know, we’d love to invest a million dollars. ‘It’s a double-edged sword, because I’m here.’
The brand will soon be available on Net to wear and is looking for a major business partner to launch with this year. It’s a far cry from the girl who once rushed for an internship. “Since 2019, I’ve never looked back. Every day, whether it’s an email, a meeting, a slide on the pitch deck, I kept going, I kept trying. And with that , she raises a beautifully manicured hand for the bill.