Date: Thursday, 10 December 2020
They really try not to, but twin sisters and beauty entrepreneurs, Feven and Helena Yohannes, can’t help but finish each other’s sentences. Their laughs overlap, too, especially when describing the moment they learned that their brand, 2·4·1 Cosmetics, a line of hypoallergenic lip and eye makeup, had been chosen for this year’s Oprah’s Favorite Things list.
“I’d just moved into my new apartment in downtown Los Angeles, so I was breaking down boxes by the dumpster and had left my cell phone inside,” says Helena, the younger-by-15-minutes twin. “When I came upstairs, I had like 100 messages from my sister!”
“Helena and I have always wanted to be on the list,” Feven adds. “We didn’t know what it would be or how it would happen, but we had the vision.”
Their story began in Sudan, where their parents fled to seek refuge during the civil war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the early 1980s. (Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993.) Before they were born, in a hut at a refugee camp, their mother believed she was having a boy. Instead, the couple was blessed with two girls (the sisters have an older and younger brother). In 1984, when Feven and Helena were four, the family arrived in the States—via a green card lottery, with sponsorship from Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester—and made upstate, New York, their home.
Early on, they found their passion. “We’ve always loved makeup,” Helena says, “and when we were growing up, it was our way to forge connections. We used to give mini-makeovers to the girls in our neighborhood, at our high school and sometimes, even to our mom. It was just a natural thing for us.” Their weapon of choice? Eyeliner…always, eyeliner. “Eyeliner originated from ancient Egypt, a country very close to Eritrea, so I think our appreciation for beauty is connected to that part of the world.”
With the launch of 2·4·1 Cosmetics in July of 2019, Feven and Helena have found a way to share their favorite things with the masses. And they’re as focused as they are determined. “Our mom says, “You’re a small business with a mighty heart,” Feven notes, “and that’s really who we are!”
Oprahmag.com caught up with the Yohannes twins—via Zoom—to talk about brand-building, holiday gifting, and the family ties that bind them.
Helena: The people who make decisions about our everyday lifestyle choices—including the makeup we wear—don’t look like us. For over two years, Feven and I were constantly pitching to investors. Some were referrals, others were through cold emails, and they were primarily men…and not men of color. We spent a lot time trying to convince them of our value. That was in 2017.
After being rejected, we decided to take our own money to create a brand that we didn’t see in the world. We worked on the idea for three years before launching because we really wanted to understand, and meet people in, the industry. In short, we bet on ourselves!
Feven: Growing up as twins, people would compare us and ask questions like, Who’s the smart twin, who’s the pretty twin…or are you two-for-one? Our dad thought that was really unhealthy, so he’d always tell us, You can both have brains and beauty. There’s no discount on your self-worth.
We believe it’s important for women to know that they can embrace all facets of themselves and their various attributes. They don’t have to choose one or the other; they can be two-for-one. That was the idea behind the name.
Feven: You can’t live without eyeliner, though! As Helena once said, “There’s more than meets the eyeliner.”
Helena: Right! We have two eyeliners—Wing It [a black liquid eyeliner with longwear formula and easy-to-use marker-tip applicator] and Black Caviar* [their inaugural black gel eyeliner known for its rich color and creamy consistency].
*Black Caviar will be restocked in mid-January but try Double Trouble Mascara.
Helena: Our mom and dad are our heroes, every day. And we talk to them every day, too. They raised four children—including our brothers Thomas and Nate—while learning a new language and earning higher education. We had a front-row seat to their journey from struggle to triumph and they’ve taught us so much. There’s a photo of my dad waiting outside of the refugee camp in Sudan that Feven and I keep on our phones, just as a reminder of how far we’ve come.
Helena: Supporting Black businesses is not just a moment, it’s a movement. And it’s about time! It shouldn’t stop after this holiday. It should be year-round.
Feven: Yes, during all four seasons! Women of color spend nine times more than their non-Black counterparts. So, I think it’s really important that we support each other—100%!
Helena: Because Black women have largely been overlooked and underfunded as entrepreneurs, when we find out that a Black woman is behind a business, we’re definitely spending our money.