School bus driver turned beauty boss—how the CEO of Mink Envy scaled her lash and cosmetic business in under two years.
If you had told Ashlee Sarai she would be the founder and CEO of a minority-owned lash and cosmetics company
featured in the top beauty magazines in the country, worn by A-list celebrities and mega-influencers, and sold in locations along the East Coast, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.
A former school bus driver and a long-time fan of false lashes, she loved the way that wearing fake lashes made her feel but struggled to find her ideal set so Ashlee set out to create the perfect pair for herself. Once she dipped her toe in the lash production process and came out with the “Sarai
” (the original Mink Envy lash set that’s still available on the website!), she wanted to share the confidence false lashes gave her with other women.
So she quit her job as a school bus driver, government benefits and all, and took a leap of faith to start her own lash company. At first, she and her husband packaged and hand-delivered each pair of fake lashes to her customers. Packing lashes by night so they could deliver to customers across and around Baltimore during the day, the pair eventually became known as the “Lash Uber” in the city.
While her lashes were gathering buzz in her hometown, Ashlee harnessed the power of social media marketing to grow her business on a larger scale. With lashes and a brand identity that integrated seamlessly with the trend-obsessed and fast-paced platforms that dominate the mediascape, Mink Envy quickly found its audience. The viral power of social media personalities like comedian Jess Hilarious and mega-influencer Ari Fletcher helped the brand really take off.
After Sarai launched the e-commerce side of her business, manually delivering orders proved to be overwhelming and unsustainable, so Mink Envy transitioned almost exclusively to online sales. But Sarai still wanted her customers to be able to get Mink Envy lashes day-of and on demand. Taking on the overhead costs of a brick-and-mortar store, the obvious choice, would have meant sacrificing the affordability of her product.
That’s when her idea of “lash vending machines” was born. “What if we got a vending machine but filled it with lashes?” she thought to herself late one night. Sarai wanted to install vending machines in mall locations near where large portions of her customers lived to provide them with a fast, easy way to get their favorite lashes whenever they want. Now, Mink Envy boasts 11 locations all along the Eastern Seaboard, from New York to Sarai’s home state of Maryland.
But what keeps customers coming back, and sometimes driving miles out of their way to the nearest vending machine, is Mink Envy’s signature product: quality false lashes known for their volume and length. Sarai believes that the key to their success is their singularity. “They just look so different than anything else you can find on the shelf,” she says. You’d be hard-pressed to find falsies as long or with as much curl in any of the big box stores, much less some of the more avant-garde looks Mink Envy offers. Their embellished or sequin-adorned sets
concur perfectly with viral makeup trends on social media.
And though the brand has exploded (Mink Envy has over 100k followers on Instagram and counting!), Mink Envy boasts the same impeccable quality that it started with. The Mink Envy guarantee is that if a set is not perfect, it doesn’t ship. Sarai still inspects every single pair of her lashes. Even if there is the slightest discrepancy in quality—take, a tiny gap in between the strands of a lash—the pair is moved to the defective pile. Because Mink Envy knows its customers are big on a smart bargain, they sell the lashes that have small imperfections for a discounted price of $2 per lash.
But it’s not just how Mink Envy lashes are made that contributes to their quality, it’s what they are made out of
. Mink Envy only uses the highest quality, luxury materials, like genuine mink fur, in their lashes. And even though select lashes
are made of genuine animal fur, the company has proven their commitment to animal rights and cruelty-free production. Unlike other fur products, genuine mink lashes are made from the loose fur strands that shed from the animals’ tails when brushed. In fact, all of Mink Envy’s lash and cosmetic products are completely cruelty-free, and their newly released lip gloss collection
is 100 percent vegan.
Mink Envy lashes are so high quality, that a single pair can be worn up to 25 times—an unheard-of quantity for false lashes at Mink Envy’s price point. And it all comes down to the lash band. The point of application, Mink Envy bands never break or bend when they’re removed from the package, which can make application challenging. They don’t just withstand 25 separate wears, but the washes that are recommended in between. Mink Envy is so confident in its products that it offers a full refund and return policy.
Mink Envy is not the only one with faith in its products. Mink Envy lashes were recently featured in Allure’s Best of Fall 2022 list and have made their debut in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour Magazine, as well as on celebrities like Ciara.
So what’s next for Ashlee Sarai? Sarai wants to empower women to believe in themselves and find the confidence to chase their wildest ambitions, even if they start with one pair of lashes. She hopes to inspire women to make the same decision she did and quit their day job, not their day dreams.