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One listens to Marvin and Kristen Speller talk about their married life, about Doubledown Cosmetics, the work they do in the community and Kristen’s music and you are immediately struck by how supportive they are of one another and the warmth of their love for one another.

The seeds were sown a long time for their cosmetic line, as Marvin explains, “I will give the shorter version of this. Almost nine years ago when we first met, I was in North Carolina and I had custody of my daughter and she had a dance recital that weekend. As a guy I knew nothing about makeup. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I put my thinking cap on and I called Kristen up and I said I need help and lots of it.  She knew a lot about makeup and I thought she was an expert. She was always so passionate about it.

Fast forward down the road and she was always sharing makeup tips with people and always watching people and the gurus. I have always been of the mindset that when you are with someone that you love, a close friend or family member and definitely a significant other you try to help them make their dreams come true.

Kristen and Marvin Speller Photo OneI kept saying to Kristen you really need a product, because this is something that you are so passionate about and you are so great. She was a guru from my perspective. She was really into it. Last year (2018) we just decided to go for it. The first product was a makeup bag. It is vegan and cruelty free and it coincided with what we do with wellness. It was a great product and there was a market out there for that.”

Kristen picks up the story about why makeup has been so important in her life, “When I was dealing with neurological trauma, as a domestic violence survivor I lived in hiding for four years, while I worked at my job in corporate America. I was tired, I was taxed and I had a very demanding high management job. Then I was promoted to be a department administrator at a hospital. I was the youngest department administrator in the hospital’s history. There was a lot of responsibility on me, while I was in hiding. While I was dealing with the trauma from ten years of domestic violence, I also figured out that I had injured myself by using so many toxins on my skin from the makeup that I was using. I started putting two and two together once I moved out of hiding and Marvin is the one who moved me out of hiding and into my first apartment.”

They started looking at whether or not there was a link between Kristen’s mood swings and the makeup that she was wearing. They were not sure what the cause of the mood swings was at first, because she was dealing with a lot of different things.

“I would always ask Marvin when I take off the makeup are my moods better? Do you notice anything? There were times that he did. Marvin said maybe it’s the makeup. If I went without the toxic makeup for five days I would feel better. I noticed that I didn’t get as many headaches. There were things that I started to notice. When I put it back on I would feel myself becoming off hormonal. I was very aggressive at times. During that time my mother was very sick. There was a lot of stress.

In 2012 when I was traveling back and forth to my mother that is when I thought I needed to make the full shift with makeup, because I noticed the difference. I started looking into cleaner brands. We changed everything, deoderant with no aluminum, no fluoride in our toothpaste. We switched all of the chemicals in the house. It was really a movement for the Speller household. I was able to find some clean makeup brands and I would blog about them. I felt better. I didn’t feel so aggressive and I didn’t feel the mood swings.

On our wedding day, which both of our mothers attended, I wore nontoxic makeup. At that time it wasn’t one hundred percent nontoxic, but ninety percent of my wedding makeup was nontoxic. That was such a huge thing for me, especially on my wedding day, because a lot of the clean beauty brands five years ago, weren’t living up to the standard that traditional makeup was in longevity of color and pigmentation in color. Those are things that are indicative of creating a long lasting makeup brand.  That is what I was testing and what I was learning. I was my own guinea pig.

In 2017 we developed our first makeup bag. We want to make sure when we develop these products that we are using the best ingredients that we can. If for some reason we can’t then we don’t do it. We are testing a lot of new products right now. A lot of them have corn starch and we won’t use corn starch in our products, because they are GMO. Although, some of the corn is organic, I don’t full trust it, because I don’t know the entire lab science behind the corn industry,” says Kirsten.

As for how the products are sourced she continues, “I am involved with the testing and we always make sure that the ingredients are verified. Whether it is through analysis or labs and things like that, it is how we make sure. If Marvin and I can’t be involved and know where everything is sourced from then we don’t do it. It is as simple as that. I can’t risk our own health and let alone our customers’ health.

Back in 1999 I started making my own skincare masks with my own ingredients.  I was always a great chemistry student, so a lot of people started asking me what they could use on their faces. It’s funny that I always went to natural ingredients. I would make these masks from scratch, because I knew ratios and I knew what to use. I knew how to formulate that.

I mix things up all of the time, whether it is food spices or juicing products. I love what the mind can create and so I always try to challenge myself. The cosmetics were the next natural step. I know what I want to put in, the colors that I want to see and the payoff that I want to provide for women and men.”

“Kristen’s wants to create something that will make a difference in (a person’s) life. She is always the first one testing it, before she gives it to someone else. She is so passionate about that and I am passionate about different aspects of the mind and also the health of people. This is what makes us perfect partners, because we are so passionate.

It is easy for me to work with my wife. It is not always easy to work with your significant other, but for us, everything we do is our strength and everything that we both are very passionate about we get to do,” says Marvin.  

After creating the cosmetic bag it seemed like the next natural step was to create products to put into the bag, so two lip balms followed. The first was a nude earth tone pink, which they named The Punk, as Kristen’s mother had given her the nickname Punkie, as a child. They also wanted to pay homage to her mother who had passed away. The color that Marvin and Kristen created was also the same color that her mother would put on, so she could look dignified, while she was going through cacner and her COPD illness.

“We also created a Berry Golden Red and it is called The Future, which looks great on all skin tones. We are West African and we wanted to make sure, especially with challenges within the beauty industry for the past few years that all skin tones were inclusive. There is a story behind the name for each product.  The Future is an ode to our past and we are also paying tribute to our magnificent future and what can become,” says Kristen.

Names for other products include a highlighter called The Status and a blush named The Dimension.

For the guys reading this who may not know what a highlighter is, Kristen takes a moment to explain, “A highlighter is a makeup color that is used to create dimension on the top cheekbone of the skin. For example if you were to turn to the light, typically in the sun you would radiate off of the natural skin and what the highlighter does is it reflects that even if you are not in the sun. It is mimicking a very dewy skin glow.”

Now guys, you can go out and buy your lady some Doubledown Cosmetics highlighter and you can even tell her why you bought it! She will be impressed.

Marvin talks about another quality of their products, “All of our face products are vegan and our lip products are not vegan, but they are vegetarian because we did add bee’s wax. Bee’s wax is also a stabilizer.” Kristen and Marvin Speller Photo Three

Kristen adds, “Part of what we created was (due to) my exzema and bee’s wax helps to heal and that is why we did not create vegan lip products. That may come down the road, but right now we use bee’s wax for the lip products.

Some companies may not use bee’s wax, but they use parabin. In Europe GMOs are banned. Parabins are listed as a category one priority substance, because it is a carcenogenic and you are dealing with hormones, you are dealing with neurological disorders and you are dealing with endocrine disruptors.  That is just one and then you continue with lead, BHT, BHA and formaldehyde, which are unhealthy ingredients. They are preservatives that are found in (food), but they are also found in lipsticks, foundations, moisturizers, perfumes and eyeliners. Those are things that again in Europe are in category one. It is allowed here (America) unfortunately.”

She also provides a warning that some cosmetics (not Doubledown) may also contain metal and / or amonia.

For those who are wondering Doubledown Cosmetics products have a recommended shelf life between fifteen and eighteen months.

Marvin wants you to know however, “Our products may have a slightly shorter shelf life, but they are better for you. Don’t take our word for it. Here are the ingredients, which we are bound by law to put on the products. You can go and research it yourself and you will come to the same conclusion that we are talking about. While you are doing that (look at) the ingredients of the products that you have and research them, then tell me what you found out. I guarantee you that you will be mortified.”  

“We are actively testing and we realize (vegan) products are a small niche, but it is a niche that is growing,” says Marvin.

“We work in the domestic violence community and we need our community healthy. I don’t want to take a chance and Marvin doesn’t want to take a chance on injuring someone who is trying to survive. All I did was to injure myself again, because I didn’t know (about the toxicity of some products). Now that we know about that we are going to do better by everyone in the community,” she says.  

“You can make something vegan, but you could also reintroduce some things that are really not that good. A lot of vegans and vegetarians in the nineties started taking soy products to offset not having meat, but there have been a lot of health problems with taking soy products.

We are competing with toxic products, so we have to be able to deliver and develop. We are testing a lot of new formulations for new products and seeing if they can match up to Maybelline to Cover Girl and Mac Cosmetics and that is what we are working on right now,” he says.  

When we asked Kristen Speller at this moment time, which brings her the greatest satisfaction, her music or Doubledown Cosmetics, without hesitation she says,”Cosmetics. I was born a musician and I wasn’t born a makeup artist. Gifts are ingrained in you and you always have those gifts. I feel that you develop gifts along the way at different stages of your life. Makeup has been such a gift during the latter part of my life. It became a lifeline to me as a domestic violence survivor to cover up my wounds. It was during that time that I wrote my first album, but I also knew what I needed to have to survive and that was makeup. I couldn’t walk into my job in corporate America with wounds on my neck, because I would have lost my job. It became a lifeline of sorts. I knew one day I wanted to have my own makeup line. It was not because I needed it, but because I loved it. That is why I am so passionate about it and I think when you have a plethora of different gifts, whether you are born with them or whether you receive them later on I believe that they are all intertwined at some point.  Cosmetics became my lifeline and a way of life for me.”

Kristen and Marvin Speller Photo FourWe tease Marvin Speller a bit reminding him that Doubledown Cosmetics does not have any products for men and he replies, “Expansion long term is the key and at the end of the day more women buy products than men by five to one. You have to cater to whatever market has the highest need at a particular time. Trust me when I tell you that we are going to do things for guys down the road. In fact, I would say sooner than later.”

As for Kristen Speller’s music career, she comes by it naturally, “My family is from the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of) West Africa. My father was a musician for fifty years and in 1995 he was inducted into the Smithsonian Museum for Cape Verde musicians. My cousins in (the group) Tavares won the album of the year in 1979 at the Grammy Awards (Editor’s Note: During the group’s career Tavares had twelve top ten hits and seven more that charted in the top forty.)

I ended up moving to California in 2004 and Tiny Tavares from Tavares  was very instrumental in making sure that I stayed here, because when I wrote “Sunny September Rain,” I thought I had something, but I wasn’t a traditional songwriter, so I didn’t know if it was good or bad. I felt like it was a gift, so when I took my song to him he said Hollywood was going to come knocking on my door and that I needed to stay in California. I talked to Tiny a few weeks ago and I thanked him, but he said you do not have to thank me, because you did the work. He has no idea how instrumental he was in creating a mindset for me to stay here, because I was dealing with a lot of domestic violence. My first album is about my freedom from domestic violence and it is called Misguided Dignity. That was released in 2011 and the first single off of that album was released in 2009. I wrote “Bruised,” while I was in hiding.

In 2012 we had plans for a new album and my mother became very sick and very quickly. They had her in chemotherapy (right away), because she had a rare form of stage two cancer. They took her case to the American Cancer Board in Massachusetts, because they had never seen anything like this. There was a lot of anxiety. There was a lot of pressure to find out quickly what type of cancer she had, so it could be treated correctly. There was no way I could do another album.

In 2013 we decided to come out with a single and if my mother got better we could do the album the next year. We came up with “Phoenix Rising Up,” in 2013 and my mother died in 2014. We released all of my music under Kristen Speller in 2016 and we re-released “Phoenix Rising Up,” as Kristen Speller.

In 2017 we released (the song) “Addiction,” and it is the first song that Marvin produced with my producer Greg Buckwalter.

My new album Entering Taunton is coming out in 2020

This album is my journaling process, while my mother was dying and it is dedicated to her.  It is my best work to date.”

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This interview by Joe Montague  published February 20th, 2019 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of Kristen and Marvin Speller unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved