“If you spend more than like 50 bucks, you’re gonna get this free mini oil,” Christina Piazza explains. “People were like, I just want the oil, so I was like okay, five bucks, five bucks…”
Christina Piazza is the owner of Cicada Skincare and started experimenting with natural ingredients to make a product for herself. Her goal was to have a great smelling oil that would serve a purpose for her face and body.
The oil, which is unisex, would later be called ‘Lieu.’
“It’s a mature fragrance,” says Piazza. “… like vanilla, think amber, sandalwood, think musk, very sweet.”
Piazza had no interest in selling it or starting a second business. “I gave it to my friend and sister and they were like, you need to sell this right now,” Piazza explains.
At a time of societal reckoning and focus on supporting Black-owned businesses during COVID-19, Piazza has been working on her brand since 2018 and focuses to ensure there’s inclusivity when it comes to ethnicities and skin types.
“I don’t want someone who might be Filipino or white [to] feel like [they have to] take that pity approach, like when we support Black-owned,” Piazza explains. “No support us because you like to support us because we’re inclusive… support us because we’re good.”
Black-owned businesses have seen major success since the worldwide protests of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders and the Black Lives Matter movement.
But many have wondered if buying Black was a trend or permanent and is here to stay.
Silvan Murray is the treasurer of Durham Region Association of Black Professionals and Entrepreneurs (DRABPE) and says he thinks buying black shouldn’t be a trend because they generally come and go.
“I hope that if people buy Black that it’s not just a trend and flavour of the day, but a sustainable movement whose ultimate goal should be that of giving Black businesses access to the mainstream,” says Murray.
Murray explains that Black businesses are no different from other businesses.
“They need to do what all businesses must do to win and keep customers: create a great product, market the product, treat customers with respect, and stand behind their products and services,” says Murray.
Piazza ensures she uses quality products in her ingredients even if it costs her more to make them and tries to make her costs reasonable so it gives her customers a reason to buy her products.
Piazza wanted to start Cicada last year. “I didn’t mean to wait, I just took my time, I kind of do regret it with COVID,” she says. “I wanted things to be right, but I learned things aren’t gonna be perfect, I just had to go for it… [and] launch it.”
Piazza realized, “I just said let’s make this fail, let’s scale it, let’s make this a thing.”
Cicada is an online brand based in Scarborough and the company has faced some challenges due to COVID-19, including getting the supplies for products.
“The down point was, what was a given of availability, wasn’t a given anymore,” says Piazza.
Piazza explains she needs to visit a supplier of the raw goods to make her products. It wasn’t closed but they didn’t carry the same quantity as they used to.
“One [there] were limited purchases… and two there were a lot of things out of stock because of import, outport,” says Piazza.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Piazza also faced difficulty getting bottles for her product.
“When we were initially on lockdown, their cash and carry were closed,” says Piazza. “So someone like me who wasn’t ordering in the thousands… ordering maybe 20 or 50 bottles at the time, I did not have access to them.”
Piazza was told by the bottling company they were trying to make service available but ordering bigger was the only way to get bottles and was only available through shipping.
They have since reopened and it’s been easy for Piazza to get the bottles she needs. “They’re actually in Toronto, so the cool thing is I can just run downtown, grab it and go,” she says.
The first time Piazza started selling her Lieu oil was at the Textur’d Hair and Beauty Show in 2018 and she refers to the shows she participated in as “bread and butter for the skin.”
Piazza recalls getting calls from customers the next day and asking about where they can purchase the oil. “It wasn’t until last year when I took it seriously… [the oil] has to be on its own company, its own liability.
“So as soon as people smell it, they buy it,” says Piazza. “So that was one thing about last year, any show I went to I was like sold out of Lieu oil.”
Since then Piazza was able to provide samples with other products from the skincare collection and swag bags for future customers.
Piazza explains that it’s different because of COVID-19 in 2020.
“How do we sell something they can’t smell?” Piazza explains. “That’s where I’m at right now where it’s like it kind of sucks for this year.”
Piazza was also able to improve her website just as she wanted because of the time she had during COVID-19. It really has its own identity right now, according to Piazza.
“A woman’s kind of entrepreneur group asked me to sponsor them for lip scrubs,” Piazza explains. Piazza had to invest in free products but says the best case scenario is someone’s going to like them.
Jacqueline Randle received the sugar lip scrub in November. The lip scrub was a part of a giveaway box her mother received.
“It was a really attractive smell, I found that it’s more of a scrub, but I still love the softness of the lips after,” says Randle.
Although Piazza is seeing success with the new second business, she says Cicada challenges her, but she’s willing to keep going.
“Regardless [of] what everyone wants to do, it’s like, I know what I want my brand to be and what I want to stand for,” says Piazza. “I’m gonna tweak it, I’m gonna modify, but I want to keep that essence of branding.”