When Charlotte businessmen Kenny Kahn and Brian Anderson founded Level Beauty Group in 2014, they say, they were eager to create a socially conscious brand-building company.
But hiring Katie Meade made waves they didn’t anticipate.
Meade’s a 32-year-old woman with Down syndrome, from Des Moines. And since Kahn and Anderson announced her as product spokesperson for their Fearless Hair Rescue Treatment on April 1, the national media have clamored for interviews and appearances.
First, People magazine’s website ran an article on Meade. By Sunday, Kahn, Anderson and Meade had interviews with Glamour and Teen Vogue websites. Next came media coverage by the Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Shape, Buzzfeed, U.S. Weekly and Self. In recent weeks, Meade also guest-hosted beauty reality show “Global Beauty Masters,” which airs on Discovery Life and TLC.
Level Beauty Group believes she is the first person with Down syndrome to become the advertising face of a beauty product. (Australian model Madeline Stuart appears to have done a campaign for U.S.-based lipstick brand GlossiGirl last year, but isn’t in its most recent postings online.)
Kahn and Anderson met Meade when they forged an alliance with Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In July 2015 Level Beauty Group introduced its Beauty & Pin-Up brand of hair products at the CosmoProf North America beauty trade show in Las Vegas. They decided to invite a Buddy, and the organization chose Meade, who works as an office generalist for the Polk County Treasurer’s office in her Iowa hometown. She’s been involved with Best Buddies for 13 years. “I love everything about it,” she said last week.
Meade was a sensation at the trade show. “To watch Katie communicate was an unbelievable experience,” says Kahn. She talked to industry buyers about how she likes to feel pretty, and how she loves to pick her outfits for work.
“We watched as she captivated people,” says Kahn. “We watched people internalize that beauty belongs to everyone.”
As the Charlotte company continued to develop the Beauty & Pin-Up brand, its team talked about what historically characterized a Pin-Up girl. “If you posed that way in 1938 you had to feel incredibly empowered, have a sense of your sexuality, and have a sense of confidence and courage. We thought that was a very powerful message for a young brand,” says Kahn.
Illustrations of Pin-Up girls adorn the packaging of the seven original Beauty & Pin-Up products, which have saucy names such as Flaunt Silkening Shampoo and Fierce Firm Hold Finishing Spray. Priced between $20 and $30, they are sold in salons and are categorized as “affordable luxury” products.
When Kahn and Anderson decided to launch the Fearless Hair Rescue Treatment, they considered how to promote it. Kahn says he thought of the most fearless person he knows: Katie Meade. Meade agreed to be the face of Fearless and the ambassador for the brand.
Meade loves being a model. “I like the clothes. I love the awesome products. I feel I have changed a lot of people with disabilities,” she says. “I want people to follow their dreams, like I did. I know that people with disabilities can have abilities.”
Indeed: Elsewhere on Meade’s resume is a gold medal in the 1999 Special Olympics in Raleigh (balance beam) and introducing Bono and U2 at the 2003 World Games in Ireland.
“It’s been a life-changing event for Brian and I,” said Kahn. “We’ve been longtime friends. This was the easiest decision of our lives. We are a local Charlotte company, and to be in the middle of the pacemakers in the center of the beauty world in New York was surreal. To see the pure joy and enthusiasm of the writers has been one of the most endearing things I’ve ever seen in my life.”