Vera Moore took the lessons she learned on Broadway to create a cosmetics and beauty empire
Running a business is like performing on Broadway, says Vera Moore, president and chief executive officer of Vera Moore Cosmetics. “You’ve got to have tenacity, you’ve got to be disciplined, and you’ve got to be able to take rejection.”
Moore should know. Not only did the entrepreneur once serve as an understudy to Melba Moore in the Broadway musical Purlie Victorious, but she broke barriers as one of the first African American women to land a contract role on a soap opera when she portrayed nurse Linda Metcalf on Another World in the 1970s.
It was while working on Another World that Moore was bit with the entrepreneurial bug. There were no makeup products for women with darker skin, so she sought to create a foundation that wouldn’t rub off on her character’s nurse uniform on national television. “I realized there was a void in the market for a quality product for the ethnic market, people of color, especially of a darker hue,” she says. “That was the genesis of Vera Moore Cosmetics.”
Launched in 1979, Vera Moore Cosmetics has expanded from makeup products sold in 2 stores to 52, including the national retailer Walgreens. Today she continues to be an advocate for women-owned businesses, as she grows her brand. Most recently, her company became the official makeup sponsor for Miss Black Illinois. Her products are used on stage, screen, and television.
Diversity Woman spoke with Moore about breaking barriers, evolving as a businesswoman, and her desire to uplift others.
Diversity Woman: You started your career as an actress. Was acting your initial career dream?
Vera Moore: A lot of us young black ladies started in the church. I was a singer in my church choir. I always had a desire to be in the theater. I got an opportunity to do Broadway. Then I had an opportunity to audition for Another World, and it wasn’t easy. A lot of people were auditioning for the role. But eventually, you keep throwing things against the wall and something sticks. And I was able to get it. It was exciting because they were starting a black family. It was the first black family on Another World.
DW: How did your acting career prepare you for your role as a businesswoman?
VM: In theater, you audition, and you know what they say to you? They say, “Oh it’s not what I’m looking for, thank you.” Meanwhile, you prepared weeks and weeks for this audition. So you have to have tenacity. You have to be passionate. You have to say, “Look, I want to do this no matter what.” And you have to be disciplined and consistent. Well, it’s the same thing in business. As an entrepreneur, you have rejection, and you need the patience and the passion and the tenacity. You have the highs and lows just like with acting, but in a different venue. It’s a process: you hear so many “nos,” but eventually those “nos” turn into “yeses.”
DW: How did you learn about business?
VM: I learned about business by doing it, and then I honed my skills. I went to Hofstra University. I’m not a graduate, but I’ve been in many classes and small-business development centers, and I participated in [the business development program] SCORE and American Women’s Economic Development courses. Did I formally graduate from a college? No, but I’ve got 20 years of experience. I knew what I had to do, I rolled up my sleeves, and I did it. And I surrounded myself with people who knew more than I did.
DW: You were the first African American retailer in Green Acres Mall. How did that come about?
VM: The Green Acres Mall was a very luxurious, beautiful mall on Long Island in Valley Stream, New York. And that’s where we shopped. There was never a black vendor in the history of that mall. But black folks shopped at that mall. And I said, “You know what? I’m going to try to get in this mall.” We couldn’t afford a store, so we took the second best thing, which was a kiosk. A kiosk is stationary and has to be built. It was only about 150 square feet, and it cost us. So how did we do that? We mortgaged our home. We went to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a loan. If I didn’t pay back this loan, they were going to take my house.
DW: Was it a difficult decision to
risk your home in order to grow your business?
VM: This is where the entrepreneurship comes in. It’s not for everyone. If you’re not an entrepreneur, that’s OK. You have to really want to do this. You have to be thirsty in the desert, looking for water. That kind of drive and passion cannot be taught.
DW: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced while growing your business?
VM: When I got into the mall, they didn’t give me what I wanted. They were supposed to give me the first floor. Then they changed management, and they said, “OK, we can give you the second floor.” The second floor was the food court. Lipstick and french fries are not a great match. But I did it. Was it what I wanted? No. But you don’t always get what you want. It was an opportunity to get my foot in the door. It was an opportunity to break down a barrier that impeded our growth, so I took it. And they left me up there for 10 years. But that’s OK. I continued to grow the brand, and then eventually they moved me downstairs.
DW: How did you expose people to your brand?
VM: We did trade shows because no one knew who we were. You have to go out to the market; they don’t come to you. We’d rent a booth and stand on our feet for 10 hours saying, “This is Vera Moore, try the product.” And we did things for free. Someone would say, “Vera, do you want to do this fashion show? They need someone to do the makeup.” I’d say, “Yes, I’ll do it.” And that’s how we created our following. We didn’t get paid, but we became valued to our customer.
DW: What advice do you have for women who feel limited by a barrier or glass ceiling?
VM: There’s always a ceiling, but so what? If I worried about that, I would have said, “I can’t do that. I’m black.” I don’t even deal with that. If you are born black, you’re going to die black—get over it. You want to hone your skills so when you walk in that door, no matter where you are, you’re walking in as a professional person. You say, “This is how I can add value to your merchandising mix.” If you want to do something, you can do it.
It’s the same with the old boy network. You can’t worry about that either. Do you know how many meetings I’ve gone to and there were only men and no women? I don’t even think about it. You keep your eyes on the prize.
DW: You do a lot of speaking to women about entrepreneurship, and you have said that you enjoy empowering women. Why is that important to you?
VM: It’s important to me to share information about economic empowerment. It’s important for me to empower women even with the cosmetics. It just felt good to me that I would empower them. A woman would say, “Oh my God, I didn’t know I can wear red. Oh my God, Vera, this looks gorgeous.” And they felt good about themselves. So this entrepreneurship thing was not only about economic empowerment. It was about self-esteem. It’s not just about buying lipstick or mascara.
DW: What was the last great book you read?
VM: The book that I’m reading right now that’s directing my path is Ephesians. That’s a book in the Bible. And I’m reading Psalms and learning to be grateful, and to be thankful. And not to get discouraged. And knowing that challenges are opportunities. You have a little rain before you have the sun. That’s what I’m reading. That’s my focus right now.
Tamara Holmes has written on business and health for Essence, Black Enterprise, Real Simple, and Working Mother.