When Feven Yohannes ’04 was writing product descriptions for 2.4.1 Cosmetics, the makeup company she owns with identical twin sister Helena, she asked herself: What would Oprah say? The media mogul has long been a role model for the sisters, political refugees from Eritrea who grew up in Rochester, N.Y. Now, a lip gloss collection from 2.4.1 has landed on Oprah’s Favorite Things annual holiday gift list.
The path from the refugee camp in Sudan where the sisters were born to the pages of O, the Oprah Magazine led Yohannes to the Hobart and William Smith campus, where she was known for styling and doing makeovers for friends. “For me, beauty has always been a vessel that can inspire deeper conversations,” she says. That idea would become a focus of 2.4.1 Cosmetics.
While the liberal arts environment allowed Yohannes to explore art, psychology and peer education and human relations, it was the women’s studies courses that “instilled and enforced a confidence in me,” she says. After graduating with a degree in media and society, Yohannes explains that “I didn’t know where I was going — I just knew I was going to go far.”
The sisters eventually settled in Los Angeles, Calif., where the idea for 2.4.1 was born. While there are thousands of companies selling eyeliner and lip gloss, Feven and Helena wanted their products — cruelty-free, paraben-free, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic and fragrance-free — to do more than simply enhance a woman’s outer beauty.
“Helena describes the world of social media as this weird virtual beauty pageant where people are being acknowledged solely for their exterior,” Yohannes says. “Our brand is a mini-protest, saying you can be recognized for having substance. We’re instilling a level of confidence — beauty and brains.”
The path to Oprah began in July, when the sisters were featured in an article about the challenges of Black-owned businesses in In Style magazine. Two of the twins’ mentors, Urban Zen CEO Helen Aboah and renowned makeup artist and author Bobbi Brown, sent the article to Adam Glassman, creative director at O, the Oprah Magazine.
Glassman’s team quickly connected with Feven and Helena and eventually asked them to design a lip gloss collection. After working quietly on the project through the summer, the sisters were informed at the end of August that the collection was going to be featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things. For 2020, most of the products on the list are created by Black-owned or Black-led businesses.
Like all 2.4.1 products, the Oprah-approved Holiday Lip Gloss Collection features meaningful names with substantive descriptions. Wearers of Glass, a clear gloss infused with peppermint, are encouraged to remember that “glass ceilings are made to be shattered,” while those who choose the sheer red gloss Champion are told “you were born a winner, so silence the noise and step into the ring.” Yohannes credits her HWS education with understanding the importance of connecting and communicating through the language she uses when she writes the product descriptions.
As Yohannes and her sister celebrate their recent success and record-breaking sales, they continue to look forward to what comes next. “We don’t know where we’re going, but we know we’re going to go far,” she says. “We just have to stay focused, silence the noise and follow the path.”
Read more about Feven, Helena and 2.4.1 Cosmetics in O, the Oprah Magazine here.