Meet Kristen Noel Crawley of KNC Beauty
Whether she’s front row at Louis Vuitton, working with the Wests, being hand-selected as a muse for the CFDA, or simply pops up on your Instagram feed—it’s impossible to miss KNC Beauty boss and fashionista, Kristen Noel Crawley. The “beautypreneur” learned the ropes of networking as a buyer for the Chicago-based conceptual retail experience store RSVP Gallery. With no solid beauty industry connections, months of research, and her “Just Do It” attitude she launched the Instagramable KNC Beauty lip masks deemed worthy by celebrities Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian West, and high profile beauty bloggers.
Crawley’s dare-to-be-different style, niche for networking, and hustler motif have attracted collaborations, campaigns, and endorsements from distinguished brands such as Dior Makeup, Valentino, YEEZY, and Tiffany’s, to name a few. Not your average influencer, this beauty guru has a mission to create a product for everyone and has big drops in 2020. Milk spoke with Kristen Noel Crawley about her background, how she broke into beauty and fashion, and her ideologies on being a woman in business.
You have a unique sense of style! What is your background and where did you grow up? Do these factors influence your style today?
In a sense, because I grew up in a small town in Illinois with animals and I loved being outside– super tomboy. I think with my earlier style my environment influenced my style because I dressed boyish and I still do. I tend to dress up a bit more going to special events, but the fact that there wasn’t much fashion around made me crave that outlet–because fashion was something that I would only see in movies and magazines. I always wanted to stand out and do something different instead of going to local shops and conforming to the similar look of peers. It influenced my style by encouraging me to want to stand out and look different from everyone else.
You use to model for American Apparel did this help you break into the industries of beauty and fashion?
American Apparel was definitely a staple but my husband and I have a store in Chicago called RSVP Gallery. We were both buyers for the store and that’s what really helped me get into the industry—by networking and meeting people. It wasn’t really modeling that showed me the business aspects of beauty and fashion.
KNC Beauty hit the market booming. What was your inspiration behind lip masks?
I visited Tokyo with Dior and I was exposed to lip masks there—this was about six or seven years ago. I tried different types and although I really liked the concept, there were a lot of chemicals in the masks. When I returned to the states I looked for a natural version and that didn’t exist so that’s when the light bulb turned on. KNC Beauty wasn’t the first to market but we were definitely the first natural lip mask and to be honest I didn’t know the feedback would be so positive. The power of people in your circle supporting you, social media, and marketing contributed to KNC Beautys’ growth. One major moment for us was when Emma Stone wore a lip mask before the Golden Globes and she actually won that night.
Wow! That must’ve been exciting!
Yes! Her make up artist posted Emma Stone wearing a lip mask as a joke but the photo went viral. That was huge for us.
As a woman of color, what have been your obstacles and benefits entering the beauty industry?
I’m not sure if it has to do with me being a woman of color but when I first entered the beauty industry I didn’t have a lot of connections. I had to prove myself—I had to have product, I had to have sales, and I had to have people involved. Now, the world has changed so much it’s actually a benefit to be a minority in the beauty industry. Even from just a few years ago companies weren’t really making products and pushing products for women of color. Now across the board, I would say companies are bringing in brands and people of color. Which is like … Finally!
Do you feel any sense of obligation to change the norm of European beauty standards?
Definitely! I try to use different types of models. We have a new shoot coming up where we are including men. My whole thing is that KNC is for everyone so I want everyone to feel included!
You often speak at summits most recently with Teen Vogue. What are some of the ideologies you push to audience members about being a woman in business?
I think the main advice at summits is “Just Do It” like Nike. You have to go for it. I think a lot of young women, we make excuses—I made a lot of excuses. You just have to put yourself out there. No one who has ever been truly successful has not failed. I know for myself, I have a huge fear of failure and I had to get over that. When I have a new product I am about to put out I have anxiety but you just have to push forward otherwise you’ll stay complacent. What’s worse than regret?
I agree. You can’t be fearful of flying otherwise you’ll stay where you started.
It’s 100% true. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have someone telling me how to make it—I had to figure out any problems on my own. Another thing I tell the audience at summits is that we have the greatest resource at our disposal: the internet. When I was researching lip masks, I found the factory online, contacted them, talked to them for about eight months, and then finally ordered a product. I literally did everything on my own. I wasn’t comfortable with graphic design so a friend named Louis De Guzman who use to work at RSVP helped with the creative but yes I pretty much did this on my own. Starting something is what you have to do to get your foot in the door because everyone has an idea right? You need the physical form of that. An idea isn’t impressive anymore. I can have a million ideas but if I have nothing to show for it then I have to get it done.
Congratulations on being selected as a muse for the CFDA! Do you feel it solidified your grind?
Thank you! But it’s so funny because six years ago I couldn’t even get an invitation to the CFDA Lunch. Honestly, for a long time it impacted my mental health just the feeling of not being accepted by this world and that’s why I say you just have to do your own thing, stay true to yourself, and whatever industry you’re interested in you will thrive but those running the show are usually late. People can rarely see a vision before it’s executed—that’s why I feel so grateful for Dior because they really saw me before anything popped off. That’s why I’m just like they’re my people.
You’ve collaborated with designers such as Dior, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, and Yeezy. What was your role for these collabs?
With these designers, I’m a friend of the house so they invite me to special trips or to be included with projects. I’ve been all around the world with Dior, a few places with Louis Vuitton, Tokyo last year with Valentino and it’s essentially going to the show, taking beautiful photos in their pieces, it’s very glamorous and something I never ever thought I would have the opportunity to partake. Christian Dior is my longest and closest relationship. I’m a beauty ambassador for Dior Makeup and I really have a soft spot for them because they were working with me when no other brands were. They saw the potential in me and for that, I’ll forever be loyal. Yeezy as well. Kanye asked me to model. The same with Virgil and Matthew Williams—they’re all friends and it’s really cool to see your friends when they’ve been grinding for 5-10 years to finally be ruling the fashion space; it’s really awesome. So when they have an event or show I try to make myself available.
With the designers you mentioned like Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Valentino did they reach out to you as an influencer?
It’s interesting because I don’t consider myself an influencer—primarily due to me owning a business. Whereas with most influencers, their business or job is their social media. I’ve noticed brands shifting toward collaborating with creatives who have a brand attached to their name—people who not only have an awesome online presence but also something positive like a product or some type of business.
You’ve also worked with Dolce & Gabbana, Moose Knuckles Canada, and Tiffany’s. How did you become the face of these major campaigns?
I didn’t do a campaign for Dolce but I was attending the Harper’s BAZAAR Icons Party in NYFW and I was looking for the perfect outfit. I haven’t really worn Dolce before but I was looking at their runway and saw this gorgeous dress and I was just like “I have to wear this” so I asked my agent to reach out to them and they were happy to dress me. They actually flew that dress in with a person from Milan.
Aw! That’s so exciting!
Yes! I know! I guess because of the feathers they couldn’t ship it so they hand-carried it from Milan which is major. So I was very excited about that. Tiffany’s reached out to me a year or so ago. I’m really happy to work with them because who doesn’t know about Tiffany’s? Tiffany’s is like…everything. It’s really cool to be working with them. Moose Knuckles—I believe my agents facilitated that. That was a really great campaign because they let us create the content for the shoot and the concept was the seven deadly sins. Each look had a different environment, a different look, a different feel—I thought that was cool. It wasn’t just photos of me in a coat. They are a really cool brand to work with and it was enjoyable to have creative freedom. Usually the brands I work with contact me via Instagram, through a friend of a friend, or through my agency.
Who are your favorite up and coming designers?
Equihua—she’s a Hispanic woman who makes these amazing coats based on her culture and her heritage. I actually wore one of her coats to Tokyo last year and it’s crazy because this big brand is now copying her which really sucks. I love Laquan Smith, Kim Shui, and Danielle
As a beauty and fashion entrepreneur, what ambitions do you have to bridge the gap between those industries?
I’ve never seen fashion and beauty as a gap. For me, they go hand and hand. Beauty is fashion and fashion is beauty in a sense. When you think about your outfit you want to feel beautiful. Whether you’re in sneakers and jeans or a dress and heels, right? So for me, they’ve always run together. I try to incorporate makeup looks to my personal style so it feels seamless but I don’t think of beauty and fashion as two separate things. If you look at 90’s supermodels they always had amazing outfits in addition to their hair and makeup. Beauty and fashion are two different industries but they compliment each other.
Would you be interested in collaborating with a designer or dropping limited-edition merch?
We have two collaborations coming out for KNC Beauty next year but one of them will include wearable merch.
What can we expect from Kristen Crawley and the KNC Beauty team in 2020?
With KNC, I’m really stepping it up. Like I said, I really do everything myself so it took me a while to learn the process of creating a new product and now that I have that process down I’m able to get more ideas out. We are launching four different masks in addition to our collaborations. I don’t want to put out a lot of product because I do feel like the beauty industry is oversaturated and brands tend to push products just to sell them. When I do put out products I want them to be the best in the market that I can make. For myself, I’m going to continue to work with the brands I have relationships with, give you guys as many fashion looks as possible laughs, I’m going to try to step up my beauty game, I’m just going to keep working and keep grinding.
Stay tuned to Milk for more about our favorite beauty icons.