Meet Stevonne Ratliff
Once unemployed and broke, Stevonne Ratliff turned her misfortune into a booming beauty business.
Stevonne Ratliff used her unemployment checks to start her own natural hair and skincare line.
Photo by Ashleigh Reddy
Stevonne Ratliff has an inspiring—and accidental—success story. Turning home experiments into a line of beauty products, she launched Beija-Flor Naturals in 2009 and her Oakland-based lifestyle shop Concept Forty-Seven in 2013. Her products have graced the pages of Vogue Japan and Essence, and she recently opened a second storefront in San Francisco’s Lower Haight. And none of it would have happened if she hadn’t lost her advertising job at a start-up during the Great Recession.
In 2009, Ratliff scraped by on unemployment checks, resorting to couch surfing to save on rent. At the same time, she was suffering from dry and blotchy skin, and learned she was allergic to mineral oil, a common ingredient in makeup.
To get her complexion under control, Ratliff mixed her own concoctions from a combination of Brazilian botanicals and extracts that she had discovered while living near Rio de Janeiro five years earlier. During her experimentation, she struck on the idea of starting her own beauty line—and she decided to take a risk. Using her unemployment checks as seed funding, she created Beija-Flor Naturals, named for the Portuguese word for hummingbird.
Happily, the gamble paid off. Ratliff’s former side hustle is now a six-figure business that’s enjoyed a 15 to 20 percent revenue increase each year for the past two years. Her all-natural products—including Crème Brûlée for Kinks Curls and Coils hair cream and Amazon Antioxidant Treatment moisturizer—are a hit with customers.
Even though Ratliff comes from a family of entrepreneurs, she never imagined she’d launch her own company one day. “It just kind of naturally happened,” she says. “I’ve been deep in the beauty game personally, but I never thought of it as a business.”
She credits her current success to her early struggles. “Starting out with zero investment has made me extremely resourceful and skilled at calculating risks,” she explains.
More importantly, Ratliff has emerged as a community leader, with Concept Forty-Seven selling goods created by more than 100 independent makers—many of whom are women of color—and hosting local artist events, book signings, yoga classes, fund-raisers, and other community gatherings at her stores.
Ratliff says she wants to support women of color because they are usually underrepresented in commercial spaces. “It would be hard to find a [Bay Area] maker of color who has not sold their products in the shop or partnered with Concept Forty-Seven in some way,” she says. “I love the East Bay, and I like to give opportunities to local people.” beijaflornaturals.com, conceptfortyseven.com.