Darian Symoné Harvin

Natasha Campos

For Darian Symoné Harvin, the most important characteristic of a successful newsletter is having a very specific idea — and her independent publication on Substack, Beauty IRL, definitely hits that mark. Launched in October of last year, Beauty IRL is focused on the intersection of politics and beauty, meaning it is very often centered on Black women. Beauty IRL was Darian’s solution to a constant cycle of bouncing back and forth between working for media companies in order to pay the bills and working on passion projects with a subject matter she really wants to engage with.

“Consistency is also really important, I didn’t really see my subscriber base grow until I got really consistent,” Harvin remembered, in a recent phone interview. “And I think being willing to experiment with form and with subject matter within the niche topic — so you can figure out what resonates with your audience, and what you enjoy, too — is equally key for success.”

Though she grew up surrounded by beauty and feminine culture while hanging out in her mother’s at-home salon, Harvin only recently made the connection between her childhood experiences with her mother and the impact those formative years had on her career’s direction. “It really wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized beauty has always been a part of my life,” she said. “And now, I want it to be a part of my work. I’ve really been around beauty and hair, and learned a lot about myself as a Black woman, through beauty.”

Prior to kicking off the newsletter, Harvin already had an eclectic career path as a journalist, a news curator, a writer and a reporter, and a social media strategist. Born in Long Beach, California, but growing up in Buffalo, New York so her parents could be closer to family, she remembered that when it came to choosing a career, or even a college major, her tactic was to go with what she was already good at.

“As a kid I was always a big reader and a big writer — and a big talker,” she said.  “When I was in college and trying to pick a major I asked myself ‘what do I actually enjoy doing?’ — which looking back I think is wise as fuck. Everyone is like ‘be a lawyer, be a doctor.’ And I was like ‘you like to talk, be a journalist.’”

After attending Emerson College in Boston to study broadcast journalism, Darian figured she’d go work at a local news station somewhere, be an on-air reporter, and work her way up. But like plenty of writers, she just couldn’t shake the dream of living in New York City, and followed her heart to Manhattan after college. Once in the city, though, the hope of being on-air all but faded, since New York is pretty much the most competitive market for that — “I knew that I wasn’t going to be on air, I just really wanted to be in New York,” she explained. 

Passing through the age-old ritual of lying on her resume to get a waitressing job, Harvin gave herself until the end of the summer to get a real job. Miraculously, she pulled that off, and transitioned from working in the service industry to media in just a few months. Her first gig was at Dateline NBC, where she got interested in social media and news curation. Next, she worked at HRDCVR — which is now a Substack newsletter, too — but then was a culture magazine focused on highlighting diversity in culture, created by the legendary hip-hop power couple Danyel Smith and Elliott Wilson.

Natasha Campos

“It was all about re-examining who and what we cover in the media and diversifying that,” Harvin explained. “And just thinking more deeply about these stories that we deem as important, and expanding that lens. It was really amazing because I learned how to put together a magazine, and it also really helped with my own editorial taste and developing my own taste as a person.”

After a stint at Yahoo News, where she focused on mobile curation, and another gig at Buzzfeed as a News Curation Editor, Harvin had been in New York for four years, and that was long enough for her. “I was stressed out being in New York,” she said. “And once I finally got over the shame of wanting to leave, I moved to LA, and I started doing freelancing work.” Toward the end of her time at Buzzfeed, Harvin had already been getting more into writing about skincare and exploring her place in the beauty industry, and that only continued as she settled in Los Angeles. 

After toying with consulting and other ways to be involved, Darian landed on the newsletter as an ideal outlet to express herself personally while still writing, reporting and maintaining her interest in news curation. “I started the newsletter because I needed to create a space that was specifically mine on the internet,” she said. “A place where I wrote personal content for the people who subscribed versus at one outlet. And, as a way for me also to collect emails and data and people who follow me for it continue to be in touch with those people.”

Creating the newsletter helped Harvin define herself, what her focus is, and how she wants to move forward in the media landscape, on her own terms. “There were so many times that I didn’t know how to introduce myself or explain what I do — because it was all over the place,” she remembered. “Now I can tell people: I report on beauty at the intersection of politics and pop culture.”

And the political element, or grounding her reporting specifically in Black beauty and on other cultures and communities that are historically left out of the mainstream beauty conversation, is one of the most important aspects of Harvin’s perspective. While the rest of the world might be focusing on the Black experience in America and the voices of otherwise marginalized people with a renewed fervor following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this past June, Darian has been doing this work all along, and a lot of her reasoning for that is rooted in spending power, impact, and the cultural importance of Black women.

“Why do I focus on Black beauty? Because Black consumers spend a total of $473 million dollars in the beauty marketplace,” she said. “Within the ethnic hair care category alone, Black women make up 85 percent of the spending. We contribute so much to the beauty industry with our dollars that it makes sense to cover how we approach what we are fed by the beauty industry. “

Clearly, Harvin has been doing something right with her project — even though it’s less than a year old, she was selected by Substack to receive a fellowship as part of a new initiative the platform launched to support independent creators. Their financial support includes a $25,000 advance and a $3,000 stipend, which is exactly the kind of financial support that a freelancer like Darian needs to be able to hone in completely on her still-emerging, one-of-a-kind newsletter. 

“This was a huge moment for me because it gave me an option,” she said. “For the next few months, I don’t have to consider a full-time job, or a freelance gig I didn’t truly want. Instead, I can focus my energy on building my newsletter. I can take the pitches I normally send to publications and just write them for my subscriber community, an audience that is just as interested in understanding the beauty industry as I am. I can show people the benefits of investing in an independent journalist during such a tumultuous time in media. It’s a really exciting feeling.”

Because of trademarking issues with the title Beauty IRL, the name of Darian’s newsletter will soon be changing, but all the ideas and framework she’s already built out for this project will remain the same. To learn more about the publication and read past issues of the newsletter check out the Beauty IRL hub on Substack, and to keep up with Darian herself follow her on Instagram.

This profile first appeared in shortened form via LA streetwear company The Hundreds’ blog for our Hint of Cinnamon monthly collaboration.

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