Let down by lip balms, Ellicott City model creates own line

Howard Neighbors

September 15, 2006|By Janet Gilbert

The Web site for My Sexy Lips lip balm features a sultry female model with soft, full lips and cascading curls wearing an expression that somehow says three things: beauty, intelligence, confidence.

My Sexy Lips owner and Ellicott City resident Shelissa Kearney sits at her kitchen table for an interview about her new product for children, Little Lips for Kids. Even with her hair in a ponytail and no discernible makeup, her resemblance to the woman on the Web site is uncanny.

Sure enough, it is Kearney, 31, who has been modeling since she was in middle school. Kearney enjoyed her work, describing it as "acting without speaking."

"You can be there [on a shoot] for 10 hours, it could be 102 degrees, but you have to be `on,'" she said. Kearney's long days on the job served as the genesis of her lip-balm product line.

"When you have to wear makeup all the time, your lips can get very dry," Kearney said. She tried to find a lip balm that used high-quality natural ingredients and wouldn't need constant reapplication. She was disappointed time after time.

In 2001, Kearney set out to develop a product for her own use, and found a manufacturer who would partner with her and allow a minimum order of 50 tubes.

"I lined up every major brand [of lip balm], and wrote down the ingredients. Then, I researched every single one and found out which elements were hydrating, which were smoothing, which were fillers."

If ever a person could dispel the image of the empty-headed model in the 2001 film, Zoolander, it is Kearney. While modeling all over the world, Kearney took courses through the University of Hawaii system, at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore and at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Kearney would like to pursue a career in teaching, and she expects to graduate with a liberal arts degree from Harvard Extension School in May 2008.

Kearney went to the Internet and the library, reading everything she could on subjects from skin care to marketing. Over a six-month period, Kearney developed her lip-balm formula. "It took me two or three tries," she said. When she had one she was happy with, she tried it out on family and friends, and it got rave reviews. She named it My Sexy Lips, and brought it with her on modeling jobs, passing out samples to makeup artists and friends in the fashion industry.

Her 50-tube inventory quickly started to disappear.

Jim Buckley, 44, a director and cameraman for Brick-Brown Productions in Columbia, said, "I met Shelissa and her family on a shoot, and she gave me a sample. I tried it and thought it was really nice."

Buckley says women always notice the product when he is using it. "I have to confess," he said, "when they ask what it is, I can't resist asking them if they would like to try `my sexy lips.' I've had seven or eight [tubes] taken away from me."

Kearney kept getting requests for more of the lip balm, and people wanted to know where they could purchase it. At the time, Kearney had an online store selling natural beauty products. So she put the product up in August 2001, and it sold. My Sexy Lips is a vegan product (meaning that contains no animal products) and retails for $6 to $7. It comes in vanilla bean, peppermint patty and coffee latte, as well as Naturally Naked, which is unflavored for sensitive individuals, such as those undergoing chemotherapy.

Phyllis Clark of Ellicott City has volunteered at charity events for the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource and Image Center, which carries My Sexy Lips. "When you come into the center," said Clark, "you're not feeling very sexy, you're feeling the opposite. The product does work, and it makes people feel better."

She added: "I started getting e-mails and calls - the biggest compliment is that people liked it.

"You can only do so much with marketing," Kearney said. "People have to like the product."

Kearney sold her online store in 2005 to focus more on "My Sexy Lips." When she moved from Clarksville to Ellicott City last year, her new neighbor, Julie Lee, suggested she develop a line for children. Lee suggested the name, Little Lips for Kids.

Kearney began working on the product in August last year and launched it in July. "The formula is different," Kearney said, "because kids lick their lips so much and are always snacking." Neighborhood children served as her "focus group" for flavor testing; as a result, Little Lips for Kids comes in orange, grape, raspberry and natural. It retails for about $3 a tube.

Jenny Lee, 11, one of the "expert testers," said, "I don't like the ones [lip balms] that come out in chunks. This is much better - it goes on really smoothly."

"It has a better taste than other ones," said Olivia O'Connell, 7.

Lucy Belcher, 3, said, "Little Lips tastes yummy." Kevin Brock, 4, likes raspberry the best.

The focus group abruptly disbands to chase Kearney's bichon havanese, which happens to be the mascot on the Little Lips for Kids label. Kearney is unruffled. She's going to be a model educator.

My Sexy Lips and Little Lips for Kids can be purchased by calling 886-468-2515, or by visiting stores listed on www.mysexylips.com and www.LittleLipsforkids.com.

Neighbors

Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? If there is, Janet Gilbert, our neighbors reporter, wants to know about it.

E-mail Janet at janetgilbertsun@verizon.net, or call 410-313-8276. Janet also has a Web site: www.janet gilbertonline.com

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