IT Cosmetics Founder Jamie Kern Lima on Overcoming Setbacks

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“Rejection’s part of the journey”

IT Cosmetics founder Jamie Kern Lima has arguably one of the most compelling success stories of the beauty boom. L’Oréal acquired her skincare and makeup line IT Cosmetics for $1.2 billion in cash in August 2016, marking the French conglomerate’s biggest acquisition in eight years. Kern Lima acquired $410 million from the sale, and became the first female CEO of one of its brands in L’Oréal’s more than 100-year history.

Under L’Oréal, IT Cosmetics went on to double in size and become the second-largest luxury makeup brand in the U.S., according to the company, with more than 300 products and distribution in nearly 20 other countries. After departing the company in 2019, Kern Lima has since invested in more than a dozen women-led businesses and Forbes currently estimates her net worth at $460 million

But it all began with what seemed like a career setback. Kern Lima, who currently promoting her debut book Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable, got her start as a morning news anchor. On camera, she struggled to find the right products to cover her rosacea, a hereditary condition that causes blotchy, red skin. 

“I would hear in my earpiece from the producer, there’s something on your face, there’s something on your face — you need to wipe it off, and I knew that there wasn’t actually anything to wipe off,” she recalled. “It was kind of the setback happening to me that I later realized was like a setup for what I was supposed to do next.”

In 2008, Kern Lima left her career in journalism and started bootstrapping her problem-solving beauty line with her husband, Paulo Lima in the living room of her Los Angeles apartment. The couple went on to face three years of what Kern Lima remembers as “crazy painful rejection.” At one point, they got down to under $1,000 in their bank account. 

Looking back, she said the initial rejections helped her confront her own fears of failure — something she said holds many budding entrepreneurs back, and she believes this is especially true among women. Instead of seeing at a negative point, she emphasized that rejection should be looked at as a “badge of honor” on the path to becoming successful. 

“I feel like if we don’t talk about this stuff, then people feel like they’re alone in it, then they don’t realize like, “‘Oh, rejection’s part of the journey,’” Kern Lima told KCM. “That’s so important.”

But Kern Lima said what’s important as an entrepreneur or whatever dream you’re chasing is to remember “the why” or what’s driving you to pursue your ambition. According to Kern Lima, that includes turning down the volume on our own self-doubt — and doubt from others. After being repeatedly told by beauty brands that her idea wasn’t the right fit, she continued to push for a makeup line to help other women like herself who are struggling with skin issues and don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical beauty mold. 

“I’d never really seen models with skin issues,” she said. “And I had this moment where I thought, ‘Oh, wow, if I can actually figure this out, it can solve my challenges, but also there must be so many other people out there, like me who like can’t find something that works.’”

Kern Lima also went against the grain when it came to starting a business venture with her husband. Though the pair successfully helped run a business together for 11 years, she candidly revealed that it wasn’t easy, saying boundaries and communication were both key. 

“It was a blessing that he supported me taking that huge risk because everything was on the line and if it didn’t work, we would have gone bankrupt,” she said. “But there were so many moments where we really were supportive of each other and of our own intuition and everything else.”

Since both of their departures from L’Oréal, the two have been able to start a new chapter in their lives — the pair has two children. But the experience fundamentally changed Kern Lima’s view of what it means to have a work-life balance (something that didn’t exactly exist in their 100-hour workweeks in the first eight years of their business). 

The former beauty businesswoman said the problem of getting too attached to the idea of balance or having a goal of being more balance is it makes people feel like they’re failing, adding that “something has to give.”

 “I believe that balance of a lie,” she said. “I believe that it is this concept that — especially for women — just makes us feel like we’re failing all the time.” 

Instead, she recommends being more intentional about how you spend your time — whether you’re working or taking a break for some self-care (for Kern Lima the latter includes enjoying some wine in a coffee mug). 

“Shifting our mindsets around balance is really important,” she said. “We have to be intentional with how we want to spend our time.”

Part memoir, part manifesto, Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable is officially out on Tuesday. 

Written and reported by Tess Bonn.