The future of makeup: Akosua Nyarko and Créme de la Créme

by | Apr 6, 2023 | Arts & Life

When Akosua Nyarko, a NAIT Optical Sciences grad, wanted a pair of eyelashes she’d seen online for an event, she couldn’t find them anywhere in Alberta. Understandably, she was frustrated after all her searching. But this frustration would lead to the idea for her beauty-based business, Crème de la Crème

Though Nyarko studied optical sciences at NAIT, her passion has always been beauty. As a child, she played with makeup, making her own concoctions using household items. “I remember being a kid and making my own eyeshadow and it basically consisted of baby powder and food colouring, and then I would make a little paste,” she shared.

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From the very beginning, Nyarko wanted Crème de la Crème to be an experience in beauty. For her customers, it’s more than just buying makeup—it’s about the process of creating and customizing a unique piece. 

Most drugstores offer ready-made makeup products, but Crème de la Crème is all about customization. Nyarko offers fragrances, various types of lipsticks, eyeshadows and more. The business model offers make-up lovers a chance to become involved in the making of their favourite products. 

Starting a business is challenging, and when Nyarko told her loved ones she wanted to become an entrepreneur and start a beauty brand, not everyone supported her. At first, Nyarko was worried about creating a beauty business in Alberta. “You know, Alberta, we’re really blue collar,” she said. 

“Once wedding season passes, you’re not going to get clients. So you really have to think on your feet.” 

But more than breaking into a reluctant market, she was giving up what she went to school for and had a career in. Nyarko has always been interested in the beauty industry, but cosmetology school wasn’t an option. “[My mom] didn’t bring me all the way here [from Ghana] just to do people’s makeup,” she explained. “Back then, that wasn’t something that my mom was going to allow me to do.” 

But her passion for art and creativity was something she couldn’t ignore. “When you’re in a career that’s very black and white, it doesn’t give you the ability to think about things that are abstract,” she explained. “It’s optical sciences, so there are no gray areas … that was something that didn’t really interest me, even though I did spend six years in it.” 

When she decided to leave her field, she expected her loved ones would support her decision. And some did—she recalls her brother and husband were supportive, but some of her other family members had reservations. 

“Some people just won’t support you because they’re scared that you will fail. And it’s a reasonable fear. Most startups fail but maybe that’s also because they do not have a good support system,” she said. 

“There’s no malice behind [your family] not supporting you. A lot of the times it’s fear, you know, that you’re going to fail … like how are you going to pay your bills? How are you going to financially support yourself without having an income coming in?” 

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Nyarko started with lashes—her brand was the first to introduce mink lashes, the same ones she couldn’t find, to Alberta. She sold products online and did trade shows, where she got a lot of positive feedback. The biggest thing customers wanted to know was where they could find her in person, which inspired her to open a physical store. 

“To all of a sudden go from an e-commerce company to wanting a physical brick and mortar store, that’s even a bigger step than wanting to start your own company. There are expenses that you are responsible for, every single month.” 

To ensure she was making revenue, Nyarko expanded her product line to include customizable cosmetics, retail cosmetics and a large variety of lashes. “I remembered having conversations with my girlfriends who traveled a lot, and they would go to Paris, they would go to L.A., they would go to Miami, they go to these cute little boutiques in Europe and these boutiques would be like, make your own pizza, make your own wine, make your own gummy bears,” she explained. 

“And I’m like, you know what? We don’t have anything like that in Alberta. We don’t have a place where you could just come and create your own nail polish, create your own anything.” 

Explaining her product to customers was difficult at first—customers didn’t understand the product and Nyarko had to work hard to explain what Crème de la Crème was. As an entrepreneur, hiring an extensive marketing team simply wasn’t feasible. So, she did it herself. 

“Bootstrapping was something that really helped. When you start a business, you’re not exactly financially fluid. You don’t have all this money to hire marketing teams, to hire someone to create a business for you … you have to do that on your own.” she explained. Pitching an indie beauty brand to celebrities and makeup artists wasn’t easy. “I got a lot of doors slammed in my face in the beginning,” said Nyarko. 

“All I needed was one person to be like, ‘Sure, I’ll give your stuff a try.’ And once you get your foot in the door, it’s up to you to create that momentum.” 

Since then, Nyarko has had a lot of success. She’s managed to get her products into the hands of celebrities like Queen Latifah, Rihanna and the Kardashians. She even recently did makeup for one of the judges at the Junos. 

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Nyarko credits her education at NAIT, despite not being in the same industry, as the reason she’s had so much success. Her higher education allowed her to create a realistic plan and think towards the future. 

“I owe a lot of who I am today to having a higher level of education … [it] allowed me to think forward, allowed me to think into the future of what it’s going to take for me to create a business, start a business, grow it.” 

Her next step is to open more locations and grow her brand. She’s had talks with Sephora, but she wants to keep the brand Canadian. 

“I’m really proud that I am one of the few Canadian brands that are out there that are owned and led by women of colour. Women that look like me in this industry, we’re really far and few between, especially in Canada, so I want to keep it Canadian.”

Ultimately, Nyarko hopes for more growth in the beauty industry. Although things have changed, there’s still not a lot of representation for women of colour. There’s also a lack of options for varying skin tones in general. 

“My biggest vision is that the beauty industry continues to grow, and I’m hoping that the future for cosmetics has more women of colour, has more women, and that customization, I’m hoping that’s going to be the future,” said Nyarko. 

“And if it doesn’t, I don’t need the beauty industry to lean towards that. I can lean towards that, I can create that change … if that change is not happening and I don’t see it happening, why can’t I create my own seat at a table?” 

To check out Nyarko’s products or learn more about customizable makeup, visit Créme de la Créme at 150 Chippewa Rd #182 in Sherwood Park. It’s open 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and NAIT students can receive 20 per cent off. 

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