Cosmetics Queen

In November 2022, Camille Bell, KLN  ’15, stood on a stage in Virginia and collected a $1 million check from music producer Pharrell Williams. It was a breakthrough investment into her burgeoning cosmetics company, Pound Cake. Just a year before, she had nearly given up.

Camille Bell poses for a photo.
Photo credit: Joseph V. Labolito

Making it up

Bell and fellow co-founder and Temple alum Jonathan Velazquez, KLN ’18, started working on the company in 2016 to cater specifically to people of color, who often struggle to find adequate products in a world where most cosmetics are designed for lighter complexions. Progress advanced in fits and starts. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues with suppliers, repeatedly pulled out the rug from underneath the duo’s side hustle, as they also juggled the stress of full-time jobs. They were strapped for cash getting to the launch—Bell took a chunk out of her 401k to help finance the company—and with setbacks accumulating, she was eyeing the exit signs by the summer of 2021. “I was talking to my friends about almost doing a quiet quitting,” Bell said. “Maybe putting out a statement saying, ‘Thank you for following me on this journey,’ and kind of packing it up.”

The statement stayed a draft, and in 2022 Pound Cake’s fortunes dramatically changed. In rapid-fire order, good news arrived in triplicate. First came a $50,000 award from MUSE, a business accelerator program sponsored by cosmetics industry giant Ulta Beauty. Then, TIME magazine named Pound Cake’s products to its Best Inventions of 2022 list. And finally came the biggest of all: the million dollar check from Pharrell’s Black Ambition business pitch competition, which saw the company emerge on top from an original list of more than 1,000 competitors.

Foundational adversity

Growing up in a rural corner of Berks County, Pennsylvania, Bell was one of just a handful of Black students in her public school district. At the best of times, it was a lonely experience. In the worst cases, Bell faced repeated instances of racism, including a lynching threat. When it came time to apply for colleges, Bell visited Temple and “fell in love” with the hustle and bustle of the campus and reveled in the opportunities it afforded her to participate in communities of color. Once enrolled, she joined the National Council of Negro Women, attended NAACP chapter meetings at Temple, minored in African American studies, and even researched her Liberian roots and searched out family members there. “I tried to ingrain myself and surround myself with as many Black and Brown people as I could … just getting a better understanding of my culture,” Bell said.

Camille at a Glance

Pounding powder

Bell’s life experiences converged with the idea for Pound Cake. She notes the company’s name is not a noun but an action. In the early 20th century, cosmetics were sometimes referred to as pancake or cake batter, due to their light and creamy colors. Bell wanted to “pound that” legacy by making products designed for darker complexions. The project got an early boost via a $10,000 Fox School of Business pitch competition in 2018, as well as a $20,000 crowd-funding campaign. But then the company struggled to launch, with several cosmetic laboratories failing to produce a product matching expectations and one pulling out of its business agreement when the pandemic struck.

Eventually, Pound Cake found a dependable supplier, launched its first lipstick in fall 2021, and had its breakout 2022. The $1 million prize will allow Bell and Velazquez to pay themselves salaries for the first time, and agreements to bring Pound Cake products to retail stores are in the works. Bell credits the adversity she faced during her school years for preparing her to push through. “If you’re always meant to feel like an outsider growing up, you look at the world differently,” she said.