If you’d asked Lesley Thornton 10 years ago about her career dreams, makeup artistry would have been top of her list. Launching a sustainable skincare brand likely wouldn’t have even been a consideration. But it was a destiny determined to find her no matter what she did to pursue other passions.

Growing up in Compton, her mom tried to get her involved in as many activities as possible to keep her out of trouble, including pageants and fashion shows. So from as little as 6 years old she was dabbling in smoky eyes and red lips, holding her own amongst the slew of grown women who also walked the shows. It’s no surprise that as a teenager she began a career in beauty, doing classmates’ hair for money, and eventually moving on to makeup.

“I just knew that I loved beauty stuff. I grew up in a mostly Asian community, so I was pressing Asian girls’ hair. There were no flatirons. There was no YouTube. My dad was watching the football game in the living room and I was in the back pressing girls’ hair,” she remembers fondly.

She got her first retail makeup job at 18, and soon parlayed that into positions at Laura Mercier, Estée Lauder, and MAC, where she truly sharpened her makeup application skills. With a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, she ventured out on her own as a freelance makeup artist, perfecting faces for weddings and other special occasions. At one point she even landed a gig on the TLC show Randy to the Rescue as the resident skin and makeup expert. But there was still more in store for Thornton, who was unknowingly making small moves towards the inevitable launch of her brand.

Young Thornton in a fashion show
(Courtesy Lesley Thornton)

“Around 2010 I realized a lot of people were doing makeup but nobody was really talking about skin. I would sit down with someone in the makeup chair for an editorial or for a wedding or whatever, and clients were asking me how to take care of their skin. I just did not have the answer,” she said.

“I didn’t have the education. As a makeup artist I didn’t understand formulations. I didn’t understand ingredients. I didn’t understand how they worked on the skin. So I went back to school to become an esthetician, and I realized, when I do makeup someone goes home and washes off my work. [With skincare] they could actually be coming to see me over and over and over.”

Fast forward to 2012 and Thornton is opening up her first shop in Los Angeles, treating skin and slowly phasing out her makeup gigs. She was frustrated with the lack of knowledge by most people on how to properly take care of their skin, and also the bad information being disseminated on social media. As part of her practice, the 37-year-old began formulating products so that her clients could care for their skin at home in between their appointments with her. And naturally, people wanted that good thing in abundance. That was the catalyst for launching KLUR, a clean and ethical prestige brand formulated for everyone, and especially inclusive of melanin rich skin.

For three years Thornton worked with chemists on the formulations. She sourced ingredients locally so that she could keep the cost of production and retail as low as possible without cutting quality, and she worked on how she could even make the packaging eco-friendly and sustainable.

“I love CVS, but sometimes I want that experience of indulging myself, or finding something that has a higher-quality ingredient, or has beautiful packaging. So I thought how can I possibly meet all these targets? How can I actually set this up in a way that is fairly priced?” Thornton told ESSENCE.

“It doesn’t have to be outrageous luxury for nothing, because with skincare you’re not going to get any results if you can’t afford to use it again. And how could it be beautiful, how can it be a beautiful experience, how can it be clean and sustainable? I wanted it to be intentional and thoughtful because if I was going to do it, I had to do it right.”

The result is a 7-piece collection that includes serums, face oils, a cleanser, and an exfoliating powder called Skin Soil that mixes into your cleanser to unclog pores and stimulate cell turnover, an important element for hyperpigmentation sufferers. And they’re products that Thornton can truly stand behind as a skincare expert.

KLUR Skin Soil, $36, klur.co

“There are a lot of brands that do not have good intention. I think this is such a well thought out, well curated brand, and it’s well considered in every single way. Klura is a Swedish expression where they say ‘this is thought out. This is pondered.’ I just dropped the A.”

While the brand just officially launched as the KLUR it is today (she started selling the line as bespoke products solely for her clients back in 2014 but admits that the packaging left much to be desired), Thornton has big plans to grow this baby she just birthed. She’s achieved a lot in such a short amount of time, but she’s still working on what she wants the brand’s longterm impact and legacy to be.

“I think Black women were never given permission to dream let alone aspire to create legacies. I’m not sure what a future legacy looks like for KLUR,” she said. “But I do know in order to achieve a legacy one must be fully present for each and every moment in the building process, and this is where I am.” 

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