From Sweden to New York, USA Edwina Kulego is making her mark in the beauty industry with a vegan, makeup collection designed for women of color.
After Edwina Kulego moved from Sweden to New York, she interned at various companies, but one internship changed the game for her beauty line. Now regularly featured on Essence platforms, Edwina went from being an intern to holding a partnership with Essence. After struggling to find a nude shade that fit her skin tone, Edwina launched Essentials By Edwina in 2017 with products for women of darker shades.
Beyond serving as founder and CEO of her brand, Edwina has become a force within the fashion and beauty industry. She is frequently apart of brand collaborations, public speaking engagements, and strategic partnerships. She developed her career in international sales at Informa Markets, where she helped launch its first international trade show, PROJECT Tokyo.
After that, she created the International Business Development Department at Informa Markets before joining Liberty Fairs. While juggling her busy career, Edwina is also a mom. Although her schedule is demanding, transcending barriers within the beauty industry continues to be a major objective throughout her journey.
Tyler: I am so eager to learn more about your journey as a businesswoman and the brand you’ve created through Essentials By Edwina.
You were born and raised in Sweden, what brought you to the United States?
Edwina Kulego: After graduating from high school, I decided to take a year off to gain some work experience before college. I took a job as a sales assistant at Zara in Copenhagen. After a few months, I became a manager and began growing within the organization. One of the directors at the company who saw potential in me encouraged me to study fashion instead of working in retail. Her exact words were, “You can always come back and work at Zara, but you are young and should focus on education.” Between her encouragement and my mother’s desire for me to go back to school. I decided to apply for college in New York City and attained a partial scholarship to study fashion at Berkeley College. I decided to go to New York because it is the fashion capital, and I had always wanted to live there. So, at the mere age of 19, I took a leap of faith and moved to the big city to pursue my career goals.
You earned your degree in international business from Berkeley College and had the remarkable opportunity to intern with Essence magazine. What was your experience like interning at Essence? How did you develop within the fashion and beauty industry?
The experience at Essence was incredible! As an African girl growing up in Sweden, I was frequently the only black girl in many settings. Walking into the Essence office in Manhattan and seeing women who looked like me in executive positions, impacting real change was incredibly inspiring to me. I learned a lot about work ethic and the hectic facets of the fashion industry.
That’s such an impactful experience! It is always inspiring to be surrounded by Black women who are flourishing and leading their various industries.
Today your products are regularly featured in Essence magazine. That has to be a surreal experience for you. How has your brand been able to expand by working with Essence?
The support from Essence has been amazing. I began working with Shop Essence in 2018, which is Essence’s e-commerce platform for Black-owned businesses. The partnership has really helped strengthen Essentials By Edwina as a brand and expand our consumer base. As a result of our collaboration, we have also been featured in their magazine! That was always a major goal. Essentials By Edwina is now Bestseller on the Shop Essence platform. I couldn’t be prouder of that accomplishment. #GOALS
You have spoken about launching your lipstick line because of the lack of nude lipsticks available for your skin tone. How common is this issue for Black women around the world, and how vital is Black representation within the beauty industry?
Without representation, we cannot adequately express ourselves, and black women deserve that. Fashion and beauty are all about expression, yet black women have such a hard time finding products that are made with them in mind. This inequality needs to change. Brands like Iman and Fenty in the beauty space have challenged the norm in powerful ways, and the fight must continue. That passion is what drives Essentials By Edwina. The desire to launch the brand was personal for me. Many of my black girlfriends and I couldn’t find our nude, whether in shoes or makeup. The shade was always pasty and off, it bothered me. After months of complaining, I decided to do something about it; basically, creating products with black women in mind first.
Your lipstick products are vegan and cruelty-free. Why was that so important to you when creating your lipsticks, and why should it be important to women buying makeup?
As a business owner, I believe that it is my responsibility to create products that are as healthy and harmless as possible. There are so many beauty products in the market that neglect that essential point. Ethically made products resonate with our customers and align with our goals to make beauty more friendly.
I have to know. What is your favorite lipstick in your collection? What’s Edwina’s pick!
Wow! I have so many, but I must say that the shade I use the most is “Ghana” from our Legacy Collection. It’s a rich creamy Nude that has a velvet-like finish. That shade, in particular, is actually what gave birth to the nude collection. Our customers loved it so much that we expanded the ranges based on it. It is still a bestselling shade.
The life of a businesswoman is a busy one, I am sure! How do you stay sane and practice self – care amid your busy schedule?
I will tell you that this pandemic has challenged me as a businesswoman and mother to prioritize, multitask, and more importantly, practice self-care. It’s hard, to be quite honest. I am the type of person who wants to get everything done fast, which isn’t a reality. Great things take time, and everything won’t fall into place when we want them. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and stick to 3-5 tasks a day to manage my expectations and avoid stress.
Looking back to when you first began your business, what is one thing you wish you would have known then that you know today? What advice do you have for those interested in starting their own business?
Ask for help!!! I missed the mark on this crucial part. We all have people around us who are skilled with various expertise. Many of our friends, acquaintances, and family are more than willing to help us, and many of us don’t ask. Starting a business isn’t easy, and in the initial stages, a lot of investment goes into building a brand. It’s vital to look at the resources you have around you and ask for support. Most of the time, people are willing to help in more ways than you think. Go for it!
What’s next for both Edwina and Essentials By Edwina? Where do you want to go from here, and where do you want to take your business?
I am currently working on expanding the product offering at Essentials By Edwina. Many of our customers challenge us to create a broader range of nudes, so that is the first priority. My goal is to also expand into new categories such as lip liner and gloss. For now, we are sticking to lip products, but that may change in the future. The goal is always to grow with our customers in an organic and meaningful way. In addition to Essentials By Edwina, I recently became the Vice President of Liberty Fairs, a contemporary trade show events company. I feel blessed to be able to continue to drive change in the fashion and beauty space.
All images are credited to Essentials By Edwina