Location: Los Angeles, by way of NYC and Honolulu
Astrological Sign: On the cusp of Scorpio/Sagittarius
Book that changed your life: The Power of Now for its wisdom and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats for its beauty
Beauty product (or treatment) that changed your skin: Retinol FTW! I started using it as a teen to help with acne, and I think that early and consistent use has helped stave off the effects of serious sun exposure from growing up in Hawaii.
Podcast you can’t stop listening to: How to Save a Planet to stay informed and Tara Brach to stay grounded
Instagram account you love to follow: @25_bwb, which works to elevate and celebrate Black women in the beauty industry. And of course @versed
It’s not everyday you get to meet someone that’s made Fast Company’s list of Most Creative People. Well, today is your lucky day. Meet beauty founder Melanie Bender, president of Versed and certified creative. Their non-toxic, effective, and affordable skincare line has quickly become a consumer favorite (no surprise there). We chatted with Melanie about how growing up in Hawaii influenced her beauty philosophy, how to stand out in your career, and how she keeps her skin healthy and happy.
I’m an engineer, scientist and optimist whose field of work is making beauty better for the many. I grew up in Kailua, Hawaii as the child of a marine biologist, and spent most of my teenage years exploring the beautiful world and putting on tanning lotion instead of SPF. In university I studied Aerospace Engineering and Global Environmental Science – clearly with the objective of getting into beauty! (JK.) In my early 20s I started working in sustainability consulting and moved to New York. It was there that I discovered the creativity and emotional connection of beauty and fashion. With my non-traditional background it took a lot of persistence and entrepreneurialism to pave my way into those industries. But I did, and used my data-driven mindset and experience in sustainability to my advantage.
I spent several years working with one of the leading contract manufacturers of beauty in the US. It gave me a huge amount of access into how products are made, and one of my big lightning bolts was that most prestige and mass skincare formulas were essentially the same — the only thing that changed was the packaging and markup. A few years later I began working for Katherine Power at Who What Wear. I learned that she wanted to build beauty brands and literally wrote that into my job description. She gave me the opportunity to pull together a small team within the organization and co-create what was missing from beauty with Who What Wear’s super-engaged community. Versed — and its mission to make clean skincare for everyone — is what came out of that.
I tend to think and work very unconventionally, and that led to a career path that was anything but traditional. That became really hard at times, because on paper I was never the right candidate for the jobs I wanted — I didn’t have a beauty pedigree, know all the editors or go to an Ivy League school. It taught me to be resilient and to lean into my strengths, finding leaders that embraced unconventional approaches and really thinking through how I could bring value to what they were doing.
Talk about it! Most of the women I respect most deal with it, and it’s amazingly freeing to hear, “Hey, I’m going through that, too.”
Pursue your own path, not someone else’s. Know your strengths and what you’re curious about. By leaning into that, you open yourself up to see the opportunities that everyone else is missing.