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Oui The People's Karen Young is changing the conversation around shaving

"The wonderful thing about it is that we took the slow road to get there."
Oui the People

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Karen Young has built an uber-successful beauty brand, changed the conversation about body hair and is working to eliminate triggering marketing language like “flawless” and “perfect” from its brand vocabulary.

But before she accomplished all of that, Young started the same place many of us who shave do: struggling to find a product that wouldn't cause inflammation, hyperpigmentation and razor burn.

Young, who grew up in Guyana, told us she would watch her uncles use safety razors to shave, a staple product in the men's luxury shaving market.

“Their skin was beautiful,” Young told Shop TODAY in an interview.

But for women, Young said use of the single-blade razor was less common when she was growing up.

"[The safety razor] is something that had been denied us, in a sense, for decades," Young said. "Women were actually using that razor in the '50s and '60s. And then, as a result of cheaper manufacturing, plastics became the default. And so marketing sort of led us from the quality product to the cheaper product that you had to come back to more often, that had more of a subscription model and much higher margins than the safety razor or stainless steel quality-made product."

This idea of a subpar shave prompted Young to launch Oui the People (originally Oui Shave) with the idea that women deserved a better shaving experience.

However, in an industry dominated by these cheaply manufactured goods, Young was initially nervous that the high price point of her product might deter some customers (The Single Sensitive Skin Razor retails for $75). But she pushed through that fear, and in 2015 the brand released its first product: a safety razor that the brand says delivers "the closest, smoothest shave ever."

"There are certain times that you want a very, very particular experience, or a very, very particular result or product and we will go towards the higher end," she said. "We have mascaras that are priced at like $38, we have body creams that are $500. And so, I felt that I would end up having the right conversation with the right people at the right time and I just trusted in that."

And it's clear that the strategy worked. Oui The People's The Single razor still repeatedly sells out and has won multiple prestigious beauty awards.

Since the debut of that single razor, the brand's lineup has expanded to include other areas of body care, from serums to bath soaks, with many of its products repeatedly selling out and racking up waitlists in the thousands. Its Sugarcoat Shave Gel-to-Milk has sold out more than eight times.

I think the beauty arbiters are changing, they are actually people who look like people.

"It's been great," she said of the demand. "The wonderful thing about it is that we took the slow road to get there. And I mean that from the perspective of, we made sure that the brand and the product, and the results were top-notch first and foremost. And then we kind of let it speak for itself. And so, when we got there, it was definitely a shock to the system, yes. But when we got to the point where we're selling out and we really had to also to keep up with the demand for it, it was kind of like it felt right, it felt right in the moment. Even though we weren't necessarily prepared with the products in stock at the time in order to move the demand, we also felt like we had earned our place there."

And that interest continues to grow. Just last week, it was announced that Young had secured the largest round of funding to date, raising more than $3 million for the brand, letting Young continue to grow her brand and further her mission of empowerment and inclusivity — something that Young didn't always see in the beauty industry.

"I remember walking into Sephora and I honestly would say the first time that I ever felt like I was seen was around the time of Becca Cosmetics and Bobbi Brown — to which I will give the credits to Estee Lauder, those are both Estee Lauder-owned companies," she said. Young is a former employer of the brand.

"Those were the first companies where I saw my shade and was very cognizant of that. Now, I was never big on beauty. So, saying out loud that, I definitely may have missed a number of them. But it was the first time that I looked up on major, grown-up ads and saw people who looked like me."

But beyond visibility and what her brand looks like — using models of different genders, races and ages — Young is equally as dedicated to what her brand is actually saying in its messages. At the heart of the Oui The People lies its mission, the reConstitution of Beauty, which the brand describes as its commitment to "watch our language." It stems partially from Young's own childhood, where beauty magazines were banned from her home by her mother.

"She was just like, we should be the one to set your sense of self, and not necessarily an industry that makes money off of telling you that you're less than, in order for you to buy a particular product," she said. That, paired with her psychology background — she has a degree in psychology from Fordham University — drove her to switch up the typical beauty narrative, eliminating words like "flawless" and "perfect" from the brand's vocabulary.

But she acknowledges the tides seem to be shifting across the entire industry, for the better. "I think the beauty arbiters are changing, they are actually people who look like people," Young said. "It's sort of taking that ownership out of the hands of these large companies, and now they're the ones actually setting the tone for what beauty looks like. And so, any company that isn't inclusive and any company that isn't thinking about she, they, them, him, her and neither, that's a company that's not moving forward with the pack."

Top products from Oui The People

The below products are from Karen Young's own brand.

The Single Rose Gold Sensitive Skin Razor

Oui The People's single-blade razor was the product that started it all, so it's not surprising that it's one of the brand's bestsellers. Made for those with sensitive skin, the brand says that it provides a close shave without all the typical hair-pulling and razor burn of a plastic razor. First time using a safety razor? The company has plenty of instructional videos on its site, so you can learn the ropes quickly.

Sugarcoat Moisturizing Shave Gel-to-Milk

This product is made to transform from a gel to a milky texture as you rub it in, to help the razor effortlessly glide over your skin when you shave. It includes ingredients like dandelion root extract, aloe vera leaf juice and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, which are said to help calm inflammation, reduce hyperpigmentation and soothe the skin.

Cheat Sheet Resurfacing Body Serum

The serum features a mix of glycolic and lactic acids, which may help exfoliate skin and improve texture. While it's not recommended that you use this product post-shave, the brand says that it's great for any areas that need a little smoothing.

Big Mood Bath Soak

Turn bath time into a spa-like experience with Oui The People's Big Mood Bath Soak. It features what the brand calls a "detoxifying mix" of magnesium, potassium and calcium along with bergamot essential oil.

Around The Bush Hydrating Bikini Sheet Mask, Pack of 5

Masks aren't just for your face! Your bikini area needs some TLC, too. These hydrating masks are made with cellulose material, so the brand says they biodegrade six weeks after you throw them out. They're infused with skin-friendly ingredients like honey extract and niacinamide, which may help prevent ingrown hairs and razor burn.

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