Motherhood created the necessity.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In my case, motherhood made this invention necessary!
As a practicing attorney and mother of two, my mornings were, put mildly, frantic. It seemed no matter how early I woke up I was always time crunched. Instead of starting my mornings with a yoga class or quiet cup of coffee, I usually started them by answering emails, dishing out bowls of cereal and searching desperately for everyone’s shoes. Mine included. Racing out the door to make it to work on time, I’d give a longing glance to my bathroom vanity. I just didn’t have time for beauty. I’m sure you know how this feels.
On the mornings I did have time, I noticed my entire day went much more smoothly. No toddler tantrum or workplace worry could phase me. There is, simply put, a magic to beauty. The time you spend in self-care is magic, and practicing self-care helps put you in the right mindset for your day. The self-confidence you feel when you beautify is magic, as are the autonomy and creativity beauty allows you to enjoy. And the way communities are built around beauty is truly magic. As the granddaughter of a beautician, this was something I learned early. Beauty is uplifting and helps form bonds that transcend barriers of language, age and politics.
In search of a shortcut to beauty.
I needed a shortcut! A way to apply my cosmetics more quickly at home or on the go. I tried using my fingers but hated it. It was too messy, the results were patchy and after a few breakouts I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to apply product. I bought brush after brush thinking each one would be “the one”. Like the brushes we all have on our vanities, each of these had a long handle like a paintbrush. In form they were really no different from what a house painter would use on a wall. They make good sense for makeup artists to use on clients, but most of us don’t have that luxury – we do our own makeup. And when you take those same paintbrushes and turn them towards you they just don’t work the same. And they’re a pain to travel with or use on the go.
I shopped every retail store and online outlet but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I even went to cosmetic trade shows and spoke with friends in the industry. “Why do we need handles at all?” I asked around. “Because that’s how they come” was pretty much the answer I got from everyone. I refused to accept it. Finally, sick of hearing me complain, my husband made a suggestion: “Why don’t you just make it yourself?”
Hot Glue Guns and Robots.
I gathered all the brushes I owned and a few others I bought specifically to experiment with. Armed with a hot glue gun, bits of ribbon and plastic and wood, I spent weeks in my basement at night creating prototypes. They were mostly disasters. But when I finally had something that came close, I took it to an engineering firm on a lunch break one afternoon.
Guys, this place was not what you think. I always imagined beauty products being made in some all white lab. Actually, I had a summer job once at a large cosmetics manufacturer, and that’s exactly where those formulas came from. This was not that. The good folks I worked with had a large, very clean but very not chic lab in a cute section of Columbus near The Ohio State University. When I walked in I was greeted by artwork made from upcycled gears, dissected racecars, robots and some stuff I honestly couldn't identify. Think beakers and lab tables and also wood shop tools. Very cool, but not very “beauty.”
I sheepishly pulled my prototype out of my purse and put it on the table. “I want to make this, but like, better.” Concerned they would laugh at me or turn me away for proposing a project that did not involve batteries or lasers, I started babbling away about the importance of this product. How I wanted everyone to be able to feel beautiful and accomplish beautiful things during their lives. The importance of having something lovely like this to look forward to every morning, especially in emotionally challenging times. And how I hoped to support the expression of identity and creativity through beauty by making it simpler and faster for everyone.
The head engineer listened, turning my prototype around in his hands. “This is an interesting engineering challenge” he told me, “and it will give me street cred with my teenage daughter. I’m in.” I was thrilled, and they became the first of many great partners I’ve had while developing Yubi. Together with his team we geeked out over the structure and mechanics of brushes, hands, wrists and fingers. We dug in to the project excitedly, ideating and creating and testing multiple rounds of prototypes. Months later we finally had a final prototype we all felt proud of. It was the first real Yubi.
What’s in a name?
I named Yubi the way I named my other babies! I had a list of names I kicked around, but it wasn’t until I saw Yubi in real life that I knew exactly the name it needed. I knew I wanted a Japanese name for this product. Having spent many years studying Japanese language and culture in college and while living in Tokyo, Japan still feels very much like my second home. Yubi is Japanese for finger, the perfect name for a brush designed to be an extension of your hand. And, importantly, it’s a cute word that everyone can pronounce. I also dare anyone to say “Yubi” and frown. It is impossible.
The Test Results Are in.
I felt like we were on to something with the final round of protoyping. Earlier ones just didn’t cut it. When we finally had something I loved, we set out to test it. Testing was easy – I just gave them away to friends and family and used them myself religiously. There were times when coworkers would spot me in my car applying makeup with my Yubi in the office parking lot. After a while, they hardly noticed because it became so frequent! I knew I loved it and it worked the way I had hoped. But when friends and family shared their positive reactions, I was elated. Moreover, when I got the first positive feedback from strangers, I was blown away. One woman told me she had switched from fingers to brushes due to breakouts, but never felt comfortable. She was thrilled to have a brush that let her feel comfortable again while applying makeup, without worrying about breakouts. Other women raved about how soft it was and that they looked forward to using it in the mornings. It was amazing to see the vision come to life.
Here's where I will overshare. When it came time to decide whether to actually launch this company I was mildly terrified. Yubi was born out of necessity, but running a company was not what I was “supposed to do.” Still, I had the desire to take Yubi and make it into something beautiful, to bring joy to people through it. To do that, I would have to challenge the status quo and go all in. Hit pause on the law career I had spent a third of my life building, and effectively start all over. I pondered these things in quiet moments (usually in my car, while applying my makeup) and with my family. And after much thought it was clear that this path – where I get to connect with people in rich conversations about beauty, spend my days focused on supporting creativity and self-love and demonstrate to my own kids the value of living authentically – was the one I was being called to take, and I feel very blessed for it.
Yubi is itself a challenge to the status quo – the rule that cosmetic tools need to look, act and behave in a specific way. It is as surprising and delightful a tool as the journey to create it has been. I hope to put the magic of beauty literally at the fingertips of people everywhere. And in doing so I also hope to spread the word that challenging the status quo, while not easy, can lead to beautiful things in your life and the lives of others.
Yours in beauty,
Adiya Dixon Wiggins
P.S. I still can’t find my shoes most days, but my makeup is always on point.