“Imagine a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. One where difference is both valued and celebrated. Together, we can forge women's equality.” — These are the words at the heart of a movement founded over a century ago, and one which still rings true to this day.
International Women’s Day has been an integral cog towards the path of women’s equality, with our voices proving an essential tool to accelerate its progress. By sharing our stories, our narratives, and our ideas, we can fill the spaces where once we were silent, and in doing so change the current cultural and industrial narrative into one where we’re included—even celebrated.
One such voice that heralds in the success of WOC, is our very own CEO and co-founder, Noelly Michoux. Her journey towards success hasn’t been an easy one, but it has been an inspiring one. And it can serve women everywhere as a cause for celebration, as well as inspiration to take control of our own realities, and shape them as we always wanted.
What’s the story behind 4.5.6 Skin?
In 2013, way back when I was working in New York City for an e-commerce agency specializing in French beauty and perfumes, I had a light-bulb moment. The struggle to find skincare products that satisfied my darker skin needs, was a global challenge that uncovered a much larger issue at hand. Seeing women of colour face the same issues in the US as I’d faced in Europe, I realized that, shockingly, there was a lack of diversity on a worldwide scale. Although in its infancy, the movement of inclusivity within the beauty industry was focused on makeup, rather than skincare.
Today, while it does feel amazing to say that the beauty industry has come a long way on this issue, inclusivity does continue to concentrate on makeup; predominantly skin tone shade ranges for foundation and representation in marketing campaigns. This is a great move in the right direction, but research-based skincare for darker skin is still lagging behind! Mostly because the question of inclusivity in skincare is a bit more complex than releasing deeper shades of foundation, it requires a much more profound industrial and cultural shift within the industry.
So, skincare to me was this space where the status quo had to be challenged, simply because there was still a huge struggle for people with melanin-rich skin to find products that fit their skin. That’s not to mention the huge gap in both education and knowledge surrounding how melanin-rich skin functions, and the serious lack of melanin-driven research and development. That’s why my business partners and I chose to dedicate our time and resources to helping close that skincare race gap, and creating the solution. I mean, I experienced first-hand what it’s like to bury my skin under makeup because no products could fix my skin issues, and I was frustrated with the struggle, the trial, and the errors. So this decision was something that inspired me, it fulfilled and challenged me, and it was by far the best decision I’ve made for my life.
How did you go from seeing a need for an underserved segment, to actually launching 4.5.6?
When I decided to start 4.5.6, I was a first-time entrepreneur, a mother of two—under two, with a lot of emotional baggage to sort through. After a year of failure; potential co-founders bailing, a lot of people telling me that big conglomerates owned the market, rejection… I finally applied for the Cosmet’Up program at the French Cosmetic Valley, and ended up meeting my now co-founder, Imen Jerbi, who is a doctor in Pharmacy and a Formulator. We got incubated at the LVMH Research Centre through the Cosmet’up program, where we had a fully-functioning laboratory, access to suppliers, and support from the whole network. And that’s how we were able to start our research and development process.
As a founder, why is 4.5.6 so important to you?
Beyond the fact that we’re writing the play book for melanin driven skincare science and creating customized formulations (which is a first for our audience), 4.5.6 means so much more to me because it’s sparked a new conversation around melanin-rich skin. Western ideals of civilization have historically heralded white skin as the epitome of beauty, which continues to dominate the mainstream beauty industry today. As a result, the industry is marginalizing the genuine consideration and representation of melanin-rich skin women.
But, beauty still matters to all women. And this matters to me on a deeper level, because I grew up in an environment where I never saw myself represented—anywhere—and I developed a feeling that I didn’t matter, and didn’t belong. To me, this feels like the beginning of a new conversation about melanin-rich skin beauty. My hope is to see a skincare industry that’s inclusive in its conception of beauty itself, as well as being inclusive in its focus, product creation, and not just surface-level marketing.
How do you balance life, motherhood, and running a successful business?
Starting 4.5.6 very much felt like having a third baby. It began with the seed of an idea, and then went through so much labour to bring it to life. The energy and dedication required to grow and nurture this company is also quite similar to how much you would invest emotionally and physically into growing a family, so doing both simultaneously can be incredibly challenging. I had to give up on the idea that I could be the best of both at all times, and I had to accept that some days, one part of my life would be overshadowed by the other.
Women tend to carry such a mental weight, but with practice you learn tricks, such as setting up priorities and routines, being effective versus being efficient, and getting the help that makes balancing life easier. I’ve also learned that neglecting myself and my own mental wellbeing only makes the role of entrepreneur, mother, and partner, much harder. So whatever it takes, self-care through sleep, exercising, having great skin, eating well, seeing a therapist, and making time for things that replenish me, is a must. I’m also fortunate enough to have the best life partner who understands what I’m going through. As an entrepreneur himself, I can always count on him to listen, support, advise, show perspective, and cover with our children when I’m not able to. Having that support system makes all the difference.
What advice do you have for young WOC looking to become founders?
To me, entrepreneurship is the perfect social equalizer, where anybody (regardless of their backgrounds and circumstances) can create value, financial independence, and personal fulfilment. The representation of WOC is severely lacking, and it doesn’t help when we’re most often fed the narrative of the ‘elite entrepreneur.’
As a young WOC looking to become a founder, this can be quite daunting. So my advice would be to never let your circumstances limit your dreams, because you’re more than your circumstances. Our society tends to look for the proof that one can achieve based on what they’ve done in the past, and this is even more so for women. Connect to your own desire and aspirations; with self-belief and consistency in your work, you have the inner power to create a vision, and actually make it a reality.