Meet The Founders of Doubledown Cosmetics!


Welcome to the Doubledown Blog! Today we’re sitting down with our Founders, Kristen & Marvin Speller to chat about their journey with Doubledown Cosmetics – how it all started, their kismet love story, what it’s like being a black-owned clean beauty brand, their favorite products, and more about their work with the domestic violence community. 
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What did you both do before Doubledown? What do you outside of the brand?  

We’re Co-Founders of a non-profit called From Here to There which helps the domestic violence community and the ever-increasing homeless population here in LA.

Marvin: I worked in Corporate America for 30 years and then moved to the Education field, running private preschools in LA for the past 8 years. Now, I’m a Master Health & Life Coach. I’m able to bring all my experience into both our non-profit and Doubledown.

Kristen: Outside of Doubledown, I’m a Musician – I write about my experience with domestic violence and use my music as a channel for my experiences and emotions. I was in a film called Hanging with My Sisters last year – it’s about 4 female musicians and their stories.

How did you two meet?

Kristen: I was going to my Engineer’s studio to record my first album about domestic violence. I wasn’t feeling well and was actually going to cancel that day, but I knew we were under the gun to get the album recorded. When I walked into the studio, I immediately noticed Marvin. I introduced myself, went into the studio box to record, and he left soon after. 

While I was recording, I heard my mother in my head saying ‘punk, write him a thank you note’ - my mother did not play when it came to thank-you notes. 

So, Marvin and I friended each other on Facebook and I sent him a message thanking him for listening to my music. He asked me out for drinks, (I don’t drink so we went for tea, and then dinner afterward). So, there I was drinking my Shirley Temple and I asked Marvin what his goals were. I’ll never forget his response – he said, “I want to open a battered women’s shelter one day”.

There I was living in hiding from domestic violence and he had no idea! I was so shocked – I started to tear up and told him about what was going on in my life. It was the first time that I really shared my story. I just felt so comfortable with him, and now the rest is history.

Marvin: When we first met, I was living in North Carolina and I was in LA for a conference. I was just getting out of a very difficult marriage and I wanted to create a new life – to get custody of my daughter and move towards happiness. I realized that you have to prepare for the things you want in your life. So, I started getting very clear about what I wanted in a partner (I even carried the written version in my pocket). I’m big on crystals too and the day before I met Kristen, I went to the crystal shop in San Diego and I got a stone that’s meant to boost your intentions.

So, there I was, trusting in the Universe, and the next day, I met Kristen. And it’s funny because I wasn’t even supposed to meet her. I wound up in that music studio because my friend canceled our plans and left me in the studio all night. Had we kept our original plans, I probably wouldn’t have met Kristen.

So, Kristen walks in, we meet, and later we friended each other on Facebook. We went for tea and exchanged our stories and she really cracked the door open for me. I was leaving a day later but we stayed in touch and fell in love over the phone. Then several months later, after talking basically every day, I was coming back to CA for another conference. This time, I helped move her out of hiding and into her own place.

In between this time, my daughter had a dance recital that she was really excited about. I took her to MAC to get makeup for the performance with no idea what I was doing. I asked Kristen for help since she was a makeup guru. Kristen guided my daughter through that whole process and found her the most perfect products. It was a beautiful moment. I saw how passionate Kristen was about beauty, how much she knew, and I said “you need to have your own brand!”

I left again but quickly decided to start my life over for myself and my daughter in LA. Kristen and I have such a special partnership being servants to society together. We like to live in a space of giving without expectation.

How did you decide to launch the brand? When did you launch?

We launched the brand in 2017 and released our first cosmetics in Oct 2018.

Kristen: The impetus for this brand started while I was in hiding. I went to my physician with neurological trauma and he questioned if my makeup was affecting my physical health. Back then, clean beauty wasn’t really a thing but he was exploring every possible cause of my issues. So, I participated in a regional paraben study and that really got my wheels turning. It was startling to see how much ingredients can affect our health.

Then when I met Marvin in 2011, he coached me to a 100-pound weight loss which I’ve kept off for the past 8 years. We went wheat-free and started a non-GMO, organic lifestyle. After working with the non-GMO committee, I learned there were 1300 ingredients banned in Europe and only 11 banned in the US. I began to research more and committed to cleaning up my beauty routine as I had my diet. 

People always say “girl, good for you. You’re doing it – you have such vision”. I appreciate the support so much, but I also want to give Marvin the credit he deserves. Though I’m a visionary in many ways, it was Marvin’s push and belief in my abilities that motivated me to start this brand. Doubledown wouldn’t be here it wasn’t for him.

Marvin: I believe in taking risks in life - sometimes you just have to get out there and make it happen. We all have a section of our brain that slows us down when it comes to decision-making – we wind up in analysis paralysis. So, when it came to Doubledown, as with many big decisions, we had to push through that mental stop sign and just do it. 

What is your favorite product on the site?

Kristen: I have to pick two! My first favorite product is the Punk Tinted Lip Balm – ‘Punk’ is the name my late mother used to call me. The shade feels like me all the way – me from 10 years ago and the me I am today.

I’m also obsessed with our Highlighter Duo – it really fills the gap for melanated skin tones in clean beauty. I love that I’m able to use them along with all the women in the family. It’s been really hard for them to find a flattering highlight up until now.

Marvin: I love the BabsGlo Eyeshadow because it symbolizes both of our mothers and there’s something so significant about the color purple. It feels like beauty and strength.

My second favorite is our French Green Clay & Rosewater Face Mask - Kristen has been perfecting this mask over 20 years, and she still makes every mask by hand. I can’t use many of our products as a guy, but I love the ones I can use – it makes it special for me.  

Kristen: I’ve been with Marvin with 10 years and he has never had even 1 blemish! Unfairly perfect skin!

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French Green Clay & Rosewater Face Mask

What did you hope to accomplish with Doubledown?

We started Doubledown to accomplish several things:

  1. To support melanated skin tones – this was such a gap in the beauty industry, and especially in clean beauty.
  2. To expand our vision of health and wellness – you should never have to compromise health for beauty.
  3. To further support the domestic violence community.

Everything we do is ultimately about health & wellness. With our non-profit, it’s about the health and wellness of society. And Doubledown is about the health and wellness of the individual.  

How did you come up with the name Doubledown? Does it have any hidden meaning?

One day we were brainstorming names and we both turned to each and said ‘Doubledown’ at the same time! It was a great moment. The meaning behind it: we’re a husband and wife team so we double down and get it done. Also, in terms of our community, we take victims to survivorship in the one on one equals two model – it’s very powerful.  

What was your first product(s) you ever launched?

We launched with a vegan faux leather makeup bag – it had a vector image of the foundation I used to cover up my wounds to keep my job in Corporate America when I was going through domestic violence. The message meant a lot to us.

We learned so much with that first launch – mainly that you have to start somewhere, anywhere. If you can just start, you’ll be able to navigate through the next path, and continually grow and expand. That’s what the bag did for us.

What are your bestselling product(s)?

The Punk Tinted Lip Balm, French Green Clay & Rosewater Face Mask, and The Cosmic Blush - our customers are obsessed with this blush, we actually took it off the site for a while and we received an overwhelming amount of messages asking for it back! 

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The Cosmic Blush

How do you work with the domestic violence & homeless communities?

Our non-profit is called From Here to There, and we work with domestic violence victims, members of the homeless population, and youth in the community. 

Kristen: If a woman is beaten or battered, I’ll go into their homes/cars, I’ll get them ready for work. I’ve been doing this for many years, since about 2010. 

When Marvin came into my life, we officially started the Glam Up Program, where we get women ready for work, help with impact statements and advocate statements, accompany them to court, help with filing for custody or restraining orders. Marvin also often goes to court with these women to further support them through the process.  

Marvin: It’s been a real challenge with COVID – we’re the most closed-down state right now, so it’s been extra challenging to carry out our programs. We’re constantly working with local officials to change some things and make resources easier to access.    

Ultimately, we’d love to have something every couple miles – whether it’s a place to stay, resources, or just a hub to point people in the right direction.

What’s it been like being a black-owned brand in the clean beauty space? Is that changing now?

Marvin: Black people in the makeup space (especially clean beauty) are extremely underrepresented. Being underrepresented does provide a vast challenge, but it also makes you not want to quit. You just keep trying to find new doors. Instead of looking at it from a victim mindset and thinking it’s impossible, you just keep trying.

This incident with George Floyd opened a small window where people started supporting black brands. We don’t know how long this window will last to be perfectly honest, but we do see a small window.

And in this window, we hope that people can see us not just as a black brand, but as an interesting brand founded by cool people. Oh, and by the way, their products are pretty awesome. We want people to recognize the talent, and be open to providing that support because it’s deserved, not just because they feel that they should.

Kristen: Diversity is severely limited in clean beauty. We’re in 2020, and the fact that a person with a deeper hue of melanin like my husband can’t find a foundation is absolutely unacceptable. And even for me – I have to take 3 or 4 brands to create a shade match. We’re very marginalized when it comes to clean beauty – not just in shade ranges, but in products and pigments that can last on our skin.

I actually used to work as a clean beauty influencer – I had many conversations with brands about their lack of representation and diversity and I received mostly dismissiveness. This was back in 2013, and I’m hoping it’s changing for good. We still have a lot of work to do in this space.

What other products did you see were missing in the clean beauty space for black women?

Black women love color. I love color – I’m a color fanatic. Being from Cabo Verde, West Africa, we’re all about bright, vibrant colors. That’s lacking in the clean beauty space for melanated skin tones. That’s a point of frustration for me and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Highlighters are another big gap, and that's where we started. I’m all about that glow and I could never find any clean highlighters that I loved. 

highlighter-duo

The Status & Equation Highlighter Duo

Are your customers strictly clean beauty buyers or is there a mix?

Some of our customers wouldn’t even have clean products if it wasn’t for us. Many bloggers who weren’t in the clean beauty space tried our products, and now they’re now using more clean beauty.

And that’s aligned with our core belief: it all starts with one small change. You shouldn’t feel pressured to tackle your whole makeup collection at once – just choose one clean product and one healthier choice at a time.

What do you love most about what you do?

Kristen: I love creating – it’s the passion of my soul. I have a whole chemistry lab at home and I love mixing, formulating, adjusting, getting and trying samples from the lab. I live in a constant world of creation and it’s perfect for me.  

Marvin: To me, it’s about facilitating the growth of a brand that means something not just to us, but to other people. I love the accolades and support we’re getting – we’ve been highlighted by so many people in the past few months, and it means so much to us. This time last year, we were out doing Farmer’s Markets and trying to get people over to our booth to have a look.

I remember this one lady at a Farmer’s Market said “I see what you’re doing, don’t give up”. That meant so much, it helped us to keep pushing. 

What’s coming next? New launches?

Right now, we have our acne line in the works which we’re very excited about!  It includes:

  • Aloe & French Green Clay face mask – I’ve been making this for many years – it’s transformative for the skin.
  • Cucumber Hydrosol – this was highly requested and is so soothing for the skin.
  • Wild Cherry Bark Delight Hydrosol – this ingredient is very rare and makes the most incredible hydrosol – it’s antibacterial and helps with inflammation and puffiness. I use this in place of eye cream or serum.

Also in October, we’re launching a collaboration with Medeaij, a UK beauty blogger – it’ll be our biggest color collection ever. We did a lot of sustainable things in this collection which we’re very excited about.

Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

We’d love to be a global brand – to expand our brand sustainably in tandem with our non-profit. We want to expand our Glam Up Program to every state in the country.

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What are the most exciting moments in your brand’s history?

It was really exciting being featured in Essence Magazine recently! Also, when Kat Collings, Editor in Chief of Who What Wear loved our Punk Lip Balm and featured it online – that was really exciting! Kat’s such a wonderful human being.

Getting into the Southern California Farmer’s Market was another highlight - we were the first independent, black-owned, clean cosmetic brand to be in that farmer’s market.

What’s your formulation process like? How involved are you?

Kristen: I usually start by trying to create formulas at home – I figure out my desired tone and texture, the color structure, underlays, overlays, different types of bases, and what’s missing in the market.

We have very close relationships with our lab – we let them know what we’re looking for and what we’ve already created. We’re always sampling, changing, fine-tuning, and perfecting until we have exactly what we want. 

Our products must be representative of all, and most important to me is texture. Texture in a product will increase the texture in your skin, so that’s always where I start.

Where do you get your inspiration for new products?

Kristen: I get a lot of inspiration from my ancestors. Our Ancestral Collection is based on one color from my Cape Verdean flag. We thought about the struggles, the slavery, the freedom, what they must have felt like during that time. That collection was very intentional towards my heritage, but every product is intentional in a different way.

I’m very attracted to plants and plant life, and I think a lot about the life of a product. So, before thinking about a highlighter or eyeshadow, I think ‘what would have life in our brand?’ I want our products to inspire that feeling of being truly alive. Next, I think about color, what’s missing in the market, and what can be done better.

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The Find Eyeshadow from The Ancestral Collection Vol. 1

What are your everyday go-to products from your own collection? What about night-out faves?

Kristen: I use the Present Organic Vegan Lip Balm morning and night. And I always wear blush - it lifts me up and brightens my energy. I alternate between all of our shades but my go-to is the Dimension Luminizing Blush.

If I’m going out, I’ll rock the BabsGlo Eyeshadow. I’ll work it into a smokey eye, and wear the Standard Satin Blush, the Renegade Lip Gloss, and use the Rose Hydrosol to set my makeup. I love to vamp it up on night’s out! Sometimes I come around the corner and Marvin’s like ‘wooah!’ I put the glam on, I vamp it up – all ready to out for my Shirley temple!

Marvin: My go-to products are the French Green Clay & Rosewater Face Mask and the Present Organic Vegan Lip Balm.

Sum up the Doubledown philosophy in a few words.

Organic, wellness, community, color.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for their help with Doubledown?

Kristen: Our mothers. My late mother has been a force in our brand through her ancestral spirit. And my mother-in-law – she’s been a tried and true champion. My sisters are also very supportive.

Our music publicist, Beth Hilton has been a force with us – she tries every product and is an incredible support. She and Marvin work really well together. She’s my West Coast best friend.

And the domestic violence community – they’re at the core of everything we do.

Marvin: All the people Kristen mentioned plus our daughter – I wouldn’t have had the inspiration to push Kristen had I not seen her helping my daughter with makeup.

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What’s it been like running a brand during COVID?

Marvin: We’re very mutable in our thinking so we can easily change things up instead when needed. And COVID has really reinforced that for us – sometimes you need to take a step back and move in another direction – even without knowing how it’s going to turn out.

What’s it like living and working together 24/7?

Kristen: Living and working with Marvin is great. Of course, we have disagreements, but our differences always lead to growth. We both want to continually grow and evolve and never stay stagnant. 

Also, I’m a textbook linear Virgo, so Marvin balances me out as more of a global thinker. When you’re partners, you learn to recognize and celebrate what you each can contribute. We’ve also gotten very good at compartmentalizing our personal life and our work life which really helps.  

Marvin: We have our own lanes which really works – I’m more the ops guy and big picture thinker. I’ve had a lot of success in business and I believe it comes from the mindset that success will come in everything I do. So, my job is to hold the space and the potential for growth. It’s about moving from being comfortable to uncomfortable – that’s how you grow.

My intention is always love for people – I want the best for everyone. I love helping people stretch beyond their boundaries and realize their greatest potential.

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