Dillon Peña was working at Bobbi Brown cosmetics when he began developing his products, starting with a facial oil. Seven years later, he has a clean skincare range that reflects his lessons from nearly two decades in the beauty business—and he aims to make it plastic-free and suitable for men and women of all skin tones. .
Born and raised on a farm in Oklahoma, Peña pays homage to his roots by naming the company after his great-grandfather, Leland Francis. “For me, it’s an extension of who I am. It’s my Mexican roots and I grew up in an environment centered around nature,” he says.
In 2015, as a celebrity makeup artist, Peña made several bottles of face oil to give away to clients. He then had no ambitions to build an extensive skin care line. While working in New York, however, he dropped off a bottle of his product at Brooklyn-based Shen Beauty, a spot known for pure beauty brands, to get some feedback.
“Thirty minutes after I got the bottle off, I got a call while I was at lunch and they said they’d like to buy some bottles to keep in the store. I didn’t have a box yet, or a company set up properly,” he recalls.
With the first order secured, Peña not only registered his business, Leland Francis, but began thinking about branding, packaging and working with more independent retailers. He sent dozens of e-mails; many rejected it.
However, he continued this, doing makeup for artists, models and musicians as his day job and working with Leland Francis in his personal time. It was a passion that turned into a business because Peña realized that in order to get the clean, fresh, dewy look that many of his clients were after, a healthy foundation was required – and that started with skin care. Plus, many of the models he worked with were aware of what they were putting on their skin. “They would often circle the bottle and read the ingredients. So I knew pure beauty was important to them.”
The pandemic played a major role in his business. As filming was canceled and filming and shows stopped, Peña had to retire as a freelance makeup artist. Instead, he used that time to develop Leland Francis.
Using his savings and profits, he invested in more inventory and a small team of consultants primarily to help him grow the company. With sustainability and pure beauty becoming more and more popular over the years, Peña felt his business was more relevant than ever.
“As a makeup artist, you see the amount of plastic that is generated by the beauty industry. And I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to bring plastic into my home. I avoid it if I can. So I did the same with Leland Francis even though it meant higher costs in packaging and more work on our end trying to find the best suppliers.”
The company’s products are all packaged in glass with aluminum lids, if necessary, and thus the containers are reusable and beautiful. Packaging is kept to a minimum with only the essentials, along with a nod to Peña’s Oklahoma roots. It’s a classic, luxurious approach to pure beauty that Peña was striving for. “When I first started creating Leland Francis, I noticed that most pure beauty brands could only be found in the Whole Foods beauty section, which is great. But they didn’t have that luxury experience that I wanted to provide to my clients and customers.”
It is also not willing to compromise on the durability of its packaging. For example, the company’s Body Radiance product was delayed by two years because they couldn’t find an environmentally friendly solution to deploy it.
Furthermore, Peña, being Mexican himself, was more conscious of how his formulations would fit black men and women. Working with a chemist who is herself a black woman, he says, has helped tremendously. “I ask her to try the products herself and if it doesn’t work for her skin, we don’t continue with it.” I want this brand to be for everyone, not just a select group of people who already have a lot of options to choose from.”
So far, Peña has turned down investment and yet has relied on his mentors, including Bobbi Brown herself, to create a curated selection of products that are premium, he says, but not completely “unaffordable.” However, with costs rising during Covid, he admits, he has had to raise his rates to reflect issues in supply chains, like many businesses.
Tamanu oil is very much in its line. “It’s a versatile ingredient that works for many different purposes,” he explains. “It’s brightening, helps with clarity, clearing blemishes. It’s just a great all-rounder for the skin.”
Peña refers to his collection as plant-based. So much of the clean beauty industry, he says, is unregulated due to lax government restrictions, so he prefers the term “vegetable” or “plant-based,” and that applies to his addition. newer: fragrances and candles. Most fragrance brands, he argues, don’t disclose ingredients with true transparency: “They’re unlikely to list all the ingredients and names of each fragrance. We use only natural oils and organic sugar cane alcohol.”
He has more products in the works that will allow him to further share this makeup knowledge. But he’s still not interested in setting foot in major cosmetics retailers across the country. He likes his small business approach and prefers to support mom-and-pop businesses himself. “I just love the idea of supporting a little something done with thought and kindness. I try to be kind myself. And I think that’s an important value in business today,” he says.