Chemist in Storm Lake Creates Global Make-Up Brand

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Photo by Tar Macias
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By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa

During a trip cross-country, a snowstorm left Miavan Feliciano and her family stranded in Iowa. The kids begged her to stay and that’s how an east-coast-born, Havana-educated chemist made a home in Storm Lake. With a degree in organic chemistry and time while her kids were in school, she enrolled in online business courses, hoping to open a boutique. That vision became a reality in 2014, when she opened a small shop that sold various cosmetics brands. “It was difficult creating a balance between the prestige brands and those found in drug stores.” It was the only place dedicated to cosmetics for miles and drew people from all cultures looking for items the local stores didn’t carry. “People didn’t want to travel so far to get make up.” Her vision was to offer full lines of high-quality cosmetics in the middle of a small town. Dissatisfied with what was on the market, Feliciano used her chemistry background to experiment in her kitchen. “I wanted to start my own brand that was affordable but had the same quality as the prestige brands.” After a few years of work and some failed attempts, she created a lip balm, and it sold fairly well in the boutique. Her husband invested in more lab equipment, and she produced a lipstick. “It took three years to make a lipstick I was happy with. It was like birthing a baby, it was such a relief because I struggled but when it came out, I was so happy.” 

Feliciano got an assistant, another chemist to help create eyeshadows and soon had her first palette. “We went viral for one of our palettes called Dura Magaly. It’s a Cuban phrase meaning somebody that’s tough.” It refers to someone who defies the odds, which was what Feliciano had done with her boutique, lipsticks and now eyeshadow. “It was a three-book palette with nudes, colors, and glitters, and people when crazy over it because it had 72 shades for forty dollars. That’s when we started selling a whole bunch.” Her next palette, which launched during the 2020 shutdown also went viral because it used a glow in the dark formula. When the pandemic forced places to close, including her boutique, Feliciano focused exclusively on her brand and MMKL Costmetics was born. “When we moved online, we got way more sales than in the store.” While growing her business on her website she set her sights overseas. She used her connections from her time as a college student in Havana to learn about the cosmetics needs in Cuba and used that knowledge to grow her business in Iowa in ways that extended to the Caribbean.  

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Photo by Tar Macias

The pillars of MMKL Cosmetics are affordability and accessibility. Feliciano believes this comes from how the products are produced and packaged. “If we can control packaging, the product is going to be affordable. Most of the prestige brands are so expensive because you’re paying for the packaging, the name, and the label. We don’t want you to pay for the label. We just want you to pay for the quality.” This mentality allows her to make profit selling lipsticks at less than ten dollars that clients rave about. “Having five children and running a business and a brand, it’s a lot. What motivates me is the people. They tell us the products are amazing, they’re so pigmented, and easy to apply. Getting good feedback, that’s the best part. That’s what motivates me to keep the brand going and growing.” Feliciano grew from lipstick and eye shadow to other products. “Me and my assistant put our heads together and made a full black, waterproof eyeliner that doubles as lash glue. I had black tint everywhere, all over my kitchen for months.” That led to purchasing a space to hold inventory and move her lab out of her home.   

2023 was a huge year for MMKL Cosmetics’ expansion. Feliciano ran a promotion matching lipstick sales to a lipstick for someone in Cuba, creating access in a country where cosmetics are scarce. “We sold about 18,000 lipsticks in two months. It was a really big hit.” Each lipstick that made it to Cuba included an empowerment message from Feliciano and her team. “When we went to Cuba to deliver the lipsticks, we started a program called the Las Bellas de Cienfuegos,” an organization dedicated to making cosmetics accessible in Cuba where it is often hard to find, expensive and considered a luxury. Not only were thousands gifted free lipstick, but she also began selling her cosmetics around Havana. Feliciano spent hours hosting workshops for professional makeup artists from all over the island. They were so excited that the artists asked Feliciano to create a makeup competition to showcase all they had learned. “We took a bunch of our own inventory leftover from my store to start GLOW Cuba in Cienfuegos. We grouped the makeup artists together to compete. I contacted newspapers, photographers and they helped get it on television.” Feliciano chose two other judges who were well-known professional makeup artists in Havana, Loe Makeup and Carlos Makeup a top makeup influencer. “It was so amazing. We laughed together, cried together, and shared our struggles, la lucha. We built a big family. I can’t wait to do it again. We’re going to do it in Havana in November 2024.” Her goal is to sell the reality TV competition to Netflix so it can be shown throughout the world. “I want everyone to see what makeup artists are doing and how they use makeup in other countries. You can see the creativity they have, especially without the resources we have in the US.”

All the while, Feliciano was applying to get MMKL Cosmetics on shelves at ULTA and other major retailers. Finally in 2023 Walmart called. They began selling her cosmetics online and are in talks to carry it in 50 stores as part of their small business support program. It will be sold in stores throughout the southern part of the US, close to the largest concentrations of Cuban Americans. “This is the first Cuban brand they carry in the north.” Feliciano currently manufactures all her products out of her lab in Storm Lake but hopes to change that as her brand becomes more popular in Cuba. “My goal is to open another factory on the island so we can sell the products more economically. For more Cubans to purchase our products over there we have to fabricate it there.” 

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Feliciano credits memories of her mom using coconut butter as primer for how her culture influences her dream. “Your foundation sticks so well, especially a matte foundation because those can really dry out your skin. It really balances the pH in your skin. Those are some of the tricks we use. Latinas are very creative using basic ingredients to enhance our beauty.” With that in mind, Feliciano plans for MMKL Cosmetics to become a trusted beauty brand across cultures and oceans. 

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