Rhode And Tower 28 Beauty Donate To Female Founders

By Gabby Shacknai

Amy Liu was going about her usual Friday business and gearing up for the weekend ahead when suddenly, she received some bad news: Silicon Valley Bank, the financial institution which held all of her company’s money, had collapsed. “It was pretty alarming,” the Tower 28 Beauty founder and CEO recalls. “And I think it made me realize how tenuous the banking industry can be and how vulnerable we are to having access to capital.”

Within minutes of hearing of the collapse, Liu looked down to see her phone buzzing with texts—not from her investors or from her vendors but instead from her beauty-founders group chat. “Almost immediately, there were people in that chat talking about the different resources that were available and sharing banker information and what not,” Liu says. “And even though it was such a stressful situation at that time, having a sense of community with other people going through it and having the access to get your money out and find other places to put it was huge.”

In the days that followed, many of Tower 28’s investors and stockholders offered to give the company loans, and ultimately, Liu herself wound up making a personal loan in order to make payroll. But the week’s events made her realize just how difficult it would be had she, like so many other founders, not had the kind of access and support she did. Liu thought about the myriad founders she’s gotten to know through Tower 28’s Clean Beauty Summer School, a program launched by the brand in 2020 to provide education, networking, and mentorship opportunities to accelerate BIPOC entrepreneurs. “They’re small and early in their journey and are often totally bootstrapped,” she explains. “Access to capital is already so tough, especially for female founders and even more so for BIPOC female founders, so something like this collapse can be just devastating.”

Nearly two months later, on May 1, a second blow struck the community: First Republic Bank, another longtime partner of the startup world, collapsed. Once again, Liu’s group chat filled with helpful advice and joint commiseration—but this time, she also received a private text from her friend and fellow group chat member Melanie Bender.

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As the CEO of rhode skin and a veteran of the beauty industry, Bender already knew how challenging the funding landscape is for female founders of color, who receive just 4% of bank loans and 2% of venture capital, which is why the brand has made it a priority to address these inequities with the Rhode Futures Foundation. “This year, our focus has been on women in business, and a big part of that is closing that funding gap,” she says. “But we really believe that as a brand, you can’t just hold values; you really need to back them up with action, and that means continually looking for opportunities to bring that impact through the position that we’re in.”

With that in mind, Bender had the idea to create an emergency fund for BIPOC female founders, who were disproportionately affected by the banking crisis, and she knew Liu would make the perfect partner. “I have known Amy for a good bit, and I felt that what she has accomplished and continues to accomplish through Clean Beauty Summer School was so aligned with the overall mission and need that we felt to bring capital to BIPOC female founders, who are often left out of that funding cycle,” the rhode CEO explains.

Liu had felt compelled to help since the SVB collapse in March but wasn’t sure how, so when Bender proposed an emergency fund, it was an immediate yes. “We started doing the Clean Beauty Summer School back when we weren’t profitable, but I did still have my background and experience in the beauty industry and the connections that came with it, so that was a way of offering education, access, and membership to other entrepreneurs,” the Tower 28 founder says. “But we have grown since then and so when Melanie proposed a donation and putting money together, I realized that we’re now in a position to do that and it was the obvious route to take.”

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When it came time to identify the beneficiaries of the $75,000 emergency fund, Liu and Bender didn’t have to look far. Since advancing access for female founders and BIPOC female founders had long been a priority for both Tower 28 and rhode, the brands had existing relationships with two organizations focusing on such issues. The New Voices Foundation, a longtime partner of Tower 28, helps women of color business owners build, grow, and scale their businesses by increasing access to capital and providing critical funding, learning, and networking opportunities. As part of Clean Beauty Summer School, the organization has supported a number of brands, like Nopalera54 Thrones, and Pholk BeautyAccion Opportunity Fund, a partner of rhode, functions as a nonprofit lender working to upend racial and gender equities in the traditional financial sector so that business owners of all identities can thrive. Its success stories include Bushwick GrindWorld Empanadas, and Uli’s Gelato.

“This was really such a great opportunity to feed back into an organization that we already know, we love, and we believe in and that is an extension of our existing program in such an authentic way,” Liu says of the choice to donate $37,500 to the New Voices Foundation.

Rhode, meanwhile, had considered a few other organizations, evaluating them against a set of criteria. “It was very important to us to work with a partner who could prioritize specifically BIPOC female founders, who could work with smaller loans in the range of $10,000, and who served businesses across the U.S. and across industries,” Bender explains. “So, with that in mind, we felt that Accion was the strongest possible partner, and we’re so excited to make this specific grant with them.”

At Accion, the donation will support 19 BIPOC female-owned businesses through funding as well as through ongoing mentorship and providing technical expertise. “Women across our nation are critical drivers of our mainstream economy. Our work with entrepreneurs helps create a more equitable environment for entrepreneurs across the board,” notes Verónica Figoli, the Fund’s Chief Development Officer. “With this donation we’re able to help more women work to surmount the challenges in accessing capital.”

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On the New Voices side, six $5,000 grants will go to companies across various industries. “Lack of access to capital is a well-known ongoing issue for many companies founded by women of color looking to grow and scale their businesses,” says Richelyna Hall, the Foundation’s Chair and Chief Impact Officer“Donations like these help us continue to do the important work of expanding our New Voices Family community of entrepreneurs and their business networks, which can be transformative for their brands.”

Beyond offering assistance to female founders, Liu and Bender hope that this donation will call attention to the ongoing challenges that affect these entrepreneurs and will inspire others to help as well. “We’re an industry that predominately serves women and is predominately made up of women, but there’s still so much we can do as businesses to advance the issues that impact women as a whole,” says Bender. “So, we hope that by showing that a brand can do good while also doing well, it encourages everybody to get into that same cycle and resets the standard for what it means to be doing business in the beauty industry.”

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