René Graham holds a Renzoe Box in one hand a traditional makeup bag in the other. Photo courtesy of René Graham

Any woman who travels frequently immediately understands the appeal of the Renzoe Box. 

It’s basically a makeup organizer customized to your palette and specifications—and it’s refillable, so no more carting around six eyeshadow shades when you only need one, or are struggling to fit a powder compact into your makeup bag (or bags, more likely) and basically playing a game of Jenga to do so. 

It was precisely these frustrations that led René Graham to create the Renzoe Box, which breaks down your beauty routine into Lego-like makeup pods. An architect by training, Graham says she views problems and their solutions spatially. And so one day when the contents of her makeup bag spilled out on a moving train, she got to thinking—and to work. 

“It is, quite frankly, a disaster to try to put on your makeup,” she says. “So it was about the makeup bag, but it was also about this lack of efficiency when it comes to products for women. This should not be the thing that’s causing me more stress and anxiety when I’m getting ready in the morning and when I’m getting ready for my work day. It should be an experience that makes me feel more confident in what I’m about to do.”

Featured on Epicenter’s Disruptors panel in Houston, sponsored by UBS, Graham represents disruption in multiple ways. I spoke to her about this and broke down her approach: 

René Graham speaks with Epicenter’s publisher S. Mitra Kalita during the Disruptors panel. Photo: Epicenter-NYC

Headquartering in Austin instead of fashion and beauty centers like Los Angeles or New York: 

“I spent three months in L.A. and I spent three months in New York because I thought I was going to be moving to one of these places in order to build this business. I realized I’m disrupting an industry, which by definition means to not follow the path that everyone else has followed. I want to give myself breathing room and space to be creative and to do something different where I don’t feel shackled by everything that’s going on around me.

Austin is this creative hotbed that is very much fueled by innovation and young minds and technology. There is a support group and network of not only entrepreneurs, but women entrepreneurs that are building incredible things.”

On creating sustainable and scalable products

“It’s about elevating the experience and creating something beautiful, right? That’s what architecture is, a beautiful object that is also functional and we live in it and we interact with it as humans. Renzoe Box is very much like that. 

It’s just like a miniature piece of architecture. It’s so beautiful—to think of the skills that you use to design buildings being applicable, not just to day-to-day objects, but something as intimate as what you’re putting on your face. 

We also want architecture to be timeless. We want it to last a lifetime. When I think about a building, I think about it for 100 years. I want this to still be standing, generations from now. In order to do that, it has to be something that’s flexible, right?

Renzoe Box is very much the same. This is my Renzoe Box and it’s customized to me. For your Renzoe Box, your routine is going to be a bit different from mine. Flexibility and hyper-personalization, where it can mold to the user,  is very much something that was important to me.”

Graham, who was the host of a female founders house at SXSW last year,  creates new spaces when there are none designed for us: 

It’s very difficult to secure venture capital dollars. I didn’t realize how horrific the numbers are for women. I profoundly love the discipline of architecture, but I despise the industry because it is so male-dominated and it’s so difficult for women. You can imagine me walking into a construction site, and it’s hard to get taken seriously. 

In the back of my mind, I was thinking the beauty industry will be so much easier. Then I get into it, and recognize that it has very little to do with being in the beauty industry and more with being a founder and going after venture capital dollars— and the numbers are so minuscule, as you know, it’s less than 2% of women getting funded. That’s less than the number of people who get admitted to Harvard. I wish I had known that.

I’m running around everywhere trying to find all these women that are leaders in their industry. How do we all get together? I just was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to find these women and connect with them. 

So this year at SXSW, I thought I have this new startup in the beauty space and I had been pitching and pitching and doing the VC thing, and I had been wondering ‘why am I having such a hard time with this?’

So it was these two things combined where I decided we need a space for women. There are these incredible women who are leaders in their fields  coming to speak at SXSW. There are all these entrepreneurial, tech-focused women who are starting companies at SXSW. Female venture capitalists will be here as well. Let’s bring them all together into one space. 

Why not? I’ll just do it at my house. I didn’t know what the turnout exactly was going to be,but as I formulated this idea, I reached out to Ann Taylor and they loved it. Kendra Scott did the same. Renzoe Box donated, of course. A couple weeks later, I have 42 women speakers that are gonna be coming to the house. All these women who have made these connections and it’s continuing and we need to grow that more and more.”

René Graham shows attendees the Renzoe Box. Photo: Epicenter-NYC

We also asked Graham what questions she still had about startup life or wealth creation. We then posed those questions to Rajas Desai, UBS senior vice president of wealth management, for answers. 

Graham: I come from a very humble background. My mom is an immigrant and my dad is from a very small town in East Texas and grew up on a farm. My relationship and understanding to wealth, to money, is very limited. I wonder how do we bridge the gap between a different frame of mind or the knowledge set around money. How to approach money as simply a tool or a resource? Now that I’m building and have been building Renzoe Box, I see it as something much different.

Desai: As an immigrant myself, and as a child of immigrants, my early relationship with money was very similar. The question is always: Do we have enough? 

But that’s a relationship with scarcity. The way to really move beyond that is to go from accumulation and ‘do we have enough?’ to thinking: what am I missing? Financial literacy is something that we don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on. But if we have a little bit of extra income, we can think how we can save, how we can invest, how we can grow? 

Financial literacy helps to essentially change the paradigm of ‘is this enough’ to ‘what am I missing’ and ‘how can I grow this for not just me, but for my children and my grandchildren?’ And that can be a pretty powerful way to have generational wealth really grow.

Graham: As the once little girl who grew up with an immigrant parent, mom just scraping by and trying to make ends meet, I wonder: Is there a relationship with building financial wealth and financial freedom for, not only myself, but for generations beyond me?

Desai:  The statistics are that if you accumulate wealth, within three generations, without proper planning, there’s a significant loss of wealth.

So it’s never that wealth remains static. You’re either accumulating it or losing it. With proper planning, you can increase the chances that you can have a generational wealth for a family, for your community, that really lasts the test of time. 

That gives you the ability to really focus on liquidity, longevity and legacy. We try to think about wealth in these three major buckets. 

If you can focus on your liquidity, your immediate needs, your expenses, big purchases, then you can plan for longevity, which is how long you’re going to be alive. You can have a much longer time horizon from that perspective.

If you can think about longevity that way, then comes legacy, whether that legacy is for your family, for your community, for charity. It gives you the ability in a structured way to think about how wealth can grow and last significantly longer than we may be alive.

When you look back in history of how these families have been able to create names for themselves, whether it’s in terms of charitable reasons or just broadly creating wealth, structuring and planning is the only real way to think about how we can have generational wealth and create financial freedom. 

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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