After immigrating from Romania to Los Angeles in the early '90s and finding a job as an aesthetician, Anastasia Soare started a brow business that operated out of a rented salon room. Soon, supermodels, fashion magazines and even Oprah Winfrey herself discovered the beauty guru, and her billion-dollar brand Anastasia Beverly Hills was born.
Now, the self-made founder and CEO and her daughter (ABH President Claudia Soare, who also goes by Norvina) are focused on paying it forward and helping other female entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
On Friday, ABH announced eight recipients of the company's $450,000 Grant Initiative to support and mentor Black-owned small businesses during Black History Month. The news comes after ABH pledged $1 million to the fight against institutional racism, oppression and injustice amid Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year.
"In June of 2020, we pledged as a brand to use our voice and influence to fight against systemic racism," Anastasia tells PEOPLE exclusively. "Listening to considerable feedback, we realized that while speaking out is appreciated, one of the best ways to support a community is to support their thinkers, innovators and leaders financially. We decided in that moment to pledge $1 million across organizations for mental health, and social initiatives, and of course, the Black-owned business grant to get funding directly to individuals making a difference."
In the video below, winning founders of Mary Louise Cosmetics, 54 Thrones Beauty, Shea Yeleen Beauty, Paula Brown Performing Arts Center, Naasakle International LLC, Heritage Socks, Anne's Apothecary and The Nourish Spot Juice Bar share their stories and express how thankful they are to receive the donation.
Claudia says there were 854 video submissions in total, so the ABH grant committee went through a "quite a thorough" process to decide the winners. After weeks of reviewing the applications, business owners who were able to articulate "solid plans for their company, clearly identify their pain points and share how they would execute their plans for growth and/or sustainability if grant money was awarded" were selected.
"What also stood out about the awardees was their commitment to Black community growth, concern for safe and responsible business practices and their openness for mentorship which will hopefully result in accelerated growth for their businesses," Claudia explains.
Along with monetary support, the eight recipients were also awarded "direct access" to Anastasia, Claudia and ABH's diverse grant committee. Anastasia says she and her daughter will stay connected to the winners through quarterly check-in meetings. "[We] are excited to support them with marketing strategies, brand exposure, access to retailers and any other areas in which they need support," she adds.
The initiative was formed in the wake of George Floyd's death, which launched months of protests across the country and highlighted the Black Lives Matter movement with calls for police reform and racial justice, but the beauty brand has always championed diversity and Claudia says ABH is not "chasing a trend."
"It simply was about wanting the brand to be for everyone, so naturally needing to create something for everyone. It started with an extensive range of brow product shades which expanded as we expanded into other categories," she explains. "The idea of beauty has seen tremendous growth for the individual in the last decade and a half. For such a long time, there had been such a one-size-fits-all mentality for what was considered fashionable, and everyone subscribed to that, even if it meant that it didn't suit them personally."
Claudia continues: "I think today the definition of beauty carries with it a breath of fresh air, a fluidity, and most importantly, an individuality. I want to see it continue to go radically in that direction."
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