Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye, Founder & CEO, Ami Colé


“I’ve always been interested in connecting to consumers via the internet. At L’Oréal, I was doing social media, marketing, and strategy. I was able to see different products and try to figure out how to make math out of the influencer world. When I left, I consulted for a month before Glossier reached out, which was crazy. I’d been an ITG girl—I was in the comments, super obsessed with beauty, naturally. I had years of social media marketing experience, but not product development and innovation, which is what they wanted me to do. I was like, ‘Great, but am I the right person?’ I took the opportunity because at the time and even now, something special was happening within the beauty community, and what it meant to shop for beauty was changing. Steep, steep learning curve. But I definitely had my scholar hat on.

I knew eventually that Ami Colé would be my North Star—a brand for women that look and feel like me. I had been thinking about it, I kid you not, since 2014. But I just kept tabling it, thinking I wasn’t ready, and who was I to create a brand? When I came back from a solo trip in the summer [of 2019], I decided to go to this huge event in Vegas called Cosmoprof, where anyone who’s anyone in beauty contract manufacturing would be there. I went with two ideas: I knew I wanted to do lip oil and a complexion product. I was literally at ground zero walking up to people like, ‘Hi, I need to make a skin tint that looks like this and feels like this. Can you do it? How much is it going to cost? When can I see samples?’ I had a whole brief on what it should smell like, feel like on the skin, and they were able to bring that to life for me.

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When you’re building a brand, especially when you don’t have a plethora of wealth and savings, you still need to make money. So l freelanced. I was doing social media marketing, working for a brand in Ghana called Max Cosmetics, and I was working with Jenna Lyons to get her brand’s Instagram up. That was really fun. It was never too far away from what I wanted to do. But it all stopped when Covid hit—nobody had the luxury of spending the consultant’s fee for storytelling. So I was at home, and I knew that it was really time.

The only thing I really needed was a team and money. Also, around the time Covid hit, people were having different conversations about opportunities, especially for Black founders, and I jumped in headfirst. Finally, people were answering their emails; finally, people were ready to have a conversation without making it personal or about them. And I want to make this very clear, because people were like, ‘Don’t raise money! Raise from your friends and family.’ I’m a first-generation Senegalese girl in Harlem. My aunties and uncles are driving cabs, no shade. My aunties are in the salon trying to create a livelihood for their families, not only here, but back home. I had no one to turn to. So very quickly, that ‘friends and family’ idea didn’t make sense to me. What I did end up doing was going back to my resume, to the CEOs and CFOs of places where I had worked, to see if they maybe had extra cash to invest or at least, from an advisor perspective, people who I could tap into. I think being pretty vocal on Instagram really helped me make my case. That caught the eye of one investor, Imaginary Ventures, who had also backed Glossier and a few other brands like BeautyPie. So by the time they came, we thought maybe we needed to raise a little more money, and we eventually ended up going the venture and angel investor route.

I had a whole brief on what it should smell like, feel like on the skin, and they were able to bring that to life for me.

My mom has had a salon in Harlem for 35 years, and Ami Colé is named after her. The genesis of Ami Colé, the heart and soul of it, is creating a safe space for women of color to just be. When you see Black beauty, it’s fierce. It’s beat to the gods. But what about the girl that’s just been waiting to excel, who wants to go outside and look like herself? We wanted to create this foolproof, fuss-free product that also helped women see themselves as-is and celebrate that. It’s very early, but our Skin Tint has really resonated, almost shockingly, and the Lip Oil has been a breakout—it brings more surround-sound to our franchise. Those have created some great traction and conversation on every platform, especially Twitter.

When I get up, I either wash my face with water or just swipe over it with a toner depending on how sweaty I was overnight. I use the Darphin Intral Toner. I actually learned about that on Into The Gloss—I think Liya Kebede uses it. So I use that or my typical Bioderma. On the days that I need extra love, I’ll usually use a hyaluronic acid, the Klur Immersion Serum. It’s so beautiful. It has a little niacinamide in there, so it’s both clearing, balancing, and also hydrating at the same time. Then, I go in with my cream. Right now, as we’re going into fall, my moisturizer has been the Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Barrier Cream. It’s really thick, but it does what it says and protects your lipid barrier. I’m always trying to put in the hydration and protect as much as I can. Can’t forget SPF, so right now I’ve been using the Paula’s Choice Youth Resist Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF. It is a physical sunscreen, so it does take a little bit of elbow grease, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.

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Nighttime is when things get a little bit wonky. If I’m wearing makeup, I either do the Bioderma again to take that off, or I do the Tatcha Pure Camellia Cleansing Oil. I’ll use that along with Klur’s Gentle Matter Cleanser in the shower. After that I have two ‘nights.’ One where I have all night, and I get out of the shower with my skin clean, and use a mask of sorts. Usually it’s the Kora Organics Turmeric BHA Brightening Treatment, which is a 3-in-1. It’s basically a turmeric mud mask, but it also has these tiny exfoliants. It’s so beautiful once you take it off. Or I’ll use the Klur Supreme Seed Mask. That mask is almost like a basic clay mask that’s kind of chalky. It’s very balancing—there’s a little bit of a different slip to your skin when you wash it off, but it’s still very supple and doesn’t feel stripped at all. If it’s a regular night, I’ll come out of the shower and I either spray my face with some type of mist, like my La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water, or toner. I’ll do the Darphin one if my skin needs a nice sweep, or I will do the P50 on my problem areas if my skin is really acting out.

There’s one oil that I always find myself grabbing, Vintner’s Daughter. I’m one of those. [Laughs] I’ll skip it if I’m doing an active routine pre-sleep. If I’m doing an active routine, I’ll do something from Hugh and Grace—their serum has grapeseed and almond oils, and it’s just the right blend for my combination skin. It’s very hush-hush and they’re pretty new, but I’ve been using their body oil, too. It’s pretty pricey, especially the body oil, but it’s very lovely and luxurious.

I’m always trying to put in the hydration and protect as much as I can.

Every two weeks I dry brush. My legs can get flaky no matter what I do, and when I do dry brush I see all the flakes go away. That’s the only reason why I do it. Once in the shower, I use a loofah, which is called a nappe in Senegal. You basically scrunch it up and put your soap in it, and wash away. That’s a light exfoliator that I use daily. In terms of soap, I use the Nécessaire Body Wash or, and I’m probably using this the most, just Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint.

If I have an extra minute or so when I’m done, I use this Moroccan in-shower gel that I got in Senegal. It’s nameless—I found it in the airport. You drip it over your body so you don’t really have to moisturize when you come out. It’s so beautiful, smells like amber and hazelnut, and feels so luxurious, like a hammam. When I don’t do that, I’m using body creams. A lot of whipped creams, like the Hanahana Beauty Shea Butter, and a tub of shea butter that I got from Senegal—a concoction of cocoa butter, almond oil, and shea butter, raw. I love a good lotion, though there aren’t many I use. I’ve actually been using Flamingo’s lotion. It’s so good! The way it slips on the skin, the way it dries down, the way I’m not ashy afterwards… I’m on tube three.

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I start with my brows. I’ll do the L’Oréal Paris Brow Stylist Pencil, or the Benefit Brow Microfilling Eyebrow Pen, just to get those hairs in, because I have a pretty short tail. If I’m going to an event, I’ll do the Glossier Brow Flick. I’ve always been a no makeup-makeup girl, so I’m really happy we have Skin Tint now—I use it in Rich 2 as kind of a base right down to my neck. We’re fundraising right now, and it can be a little bit time-consuming and grueling, so I’ve been using concealer, too. Right now, I’m using the Nars Soft Matte Complete Concealer. I think my shade is Deep 2 (Cacao). It’s the right hint of a little bit of orange, a little bit of peach, and a little bit of goldenness that can bring out the chocolate-ness of my skin without it feeling like a corrector.

I’ve been trying our mascara for the past year. I discovered it when we were about to launch Skin Tint—I fell in love after three submissions.

If I am doing a powder, I’ll do a setting powder over my complexion makeup. Right now I’m using the One/Size Ultimate Blurring Setting Powder by Patrick Starrr. That’s something else. I’m shocked, myself. I’m not a powder girl, I love the dew. So when that came out, I was like, ‘Patrick’s onto something.’ I’ve been using that recently in the shade Deep. I love a berry blush, so I toggle between the Tower 28 Beach Please in After Hours and the Ilia Multi-Stick in A Fine Romance. Then, sometimes I’ll throw in the Merit Flush Balm because it’s easy to apply on the go. The Deep Berry one is really nice.

I love mascara. I can be simple, but I love a little dramatic eye to open everything up. I’ve been trying our mascara for the past year. I discovered it when we were about to launch Skin Tint—I fell in love after three submissions. This mascara is so interesting. One, in the way that the brush is tapered. There’s a little bit of a full body, and then the tip of it is more tapered so you can get into the corners. It just gives them an automatically dramatic look. And the formula is natural, which was really hard to achieve. I used to be a Voluminous girl, a Pat McGrath girl, or It Cosmetics, so I had a very high standard. It needed to get the right amount of fan and the inky blackness that I love, with no smudging. So I’ve been using that for the past year, and I’m so happy it’s coming out! [Ed. note: it launched today]

When you see Black beauty, it’s fierce. It’s beat to the gods. But what about the girl that’s just been waiting to excel, who wants to go outside and look like herself?

After mascara, I use my highlighter because it’s the only thing that can catch the light on Zoom, on the tops of the apples of my cheeks. Then, of course I’ll use my lip oil. All the time, over and over again, all day.

Hair is just an evolving thing. Even from my last Top Shelf, I look at it and I laugh because it’s kind of insane the way I’m experimenting. But my mom is still my hairstylist. I’ve fully transitioned into natural, now I’m in this phase where I can achieve an afro, so that’s exciting. In terms of products that I’m loving, I discovered 4C Only. Their Too Clean Shampoo and Too Thicke Conditioner are actually really impressive. I have 4C, low porosity hair, so that means that my hair needs moisture, but it takes a lot for it to get the moisture, so it needs to be exposed to heat or steam to open up and get in that hydration.

In terms of leave-in conditioners, I’m in love with the Mielle Organics Pomegranate and Honey Leave-In Conditioner. That one is really nice to my hair. And I’ve also been using the Ceremonia Guava Leave-In Conditioner. It smells good and works. After that comes a bunch of styling products, which I’m still trying to figure out, but I’ve been using the Bread Hair Cream to blow dry my hair, and then the Ceremonia Guava UV Protectant Spray. If I’m not doing that, I’ll have my hair in braids or a wig. [Laughs] I’m not too experimental when it comes to braids. I usually have cornrows that go straight back with a really long tail. Or, I’m doing box braids. Right now I have knotless braids. These tend to be a little bit more healthy for the hair follicles, because it’s a little bit more tension-free. It looks older quicker, but it’s better for your hair.

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This sounds gross, but I try not to wash my hair as often when I have braids in. When it gets funky, I’ll wash it. Other than that, I try to treat the scalp because it’s exposed. I use another Mielle product, their Rosemary Mint Scalp and Hair Strengthening Oil, because it can get itchy, especially with braids. Bread has a new Scalp-Serum that I’ve been using too. So I do that, and at night I stuff as many braids as I can into a silk bonnet and go to sleep.

I use Le Labo’s Gaiac 10 [Ed note: Tokyo store exclusive], especially in the wintertime when I want to keep it light. When I want to keep it really really light, I’ll use Jo Malone’s Sea Salt. I love that one. I recently have been experimenting with the Fenty perfume—I don’t hate it! It’s so interesting on my skin. I never go for fruits, but it’s a very sophisticated fruitiness that feels very fresh, with a newness that I really appreciate. Occasionally, I’ll go to Carnal Flower and bring that back into the fold, but I love fragrances.

Also, I like incense for household fragrance. It’s a big part of my culture in Senegal. When the incense is burning, you know something is happening: mom has cleaned the house and dinner’s done, or guests are coming over. It’s a really nostalgic beauty touchpoint for us and I think that’s really special. A lot of mine are from places in Harlem on 116th Street. Or, I’ll just ask my mom and she’ll get it from my auntie, straight from Senegal.”

—as told to ITG

Diarrha N'Diaye-Mbaye photographed by Alexandra Genova in New York on October 8, 2021.