Ask A Brand: Donnie Hue, Founder at Cafe De La Hue – A Black-Owned Skincare Brand
Cafe De La Hue is the brainchild of Founder Donnie Hue, who used his entrepreneurial mindset, instilled into him as a child, to start his skincare brand.
The LA-native is focused and determined to succeed with no plans to stop. We discussed his products through are mutual while supporting other Black-owned businesses in the historic Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, CA.
How did you come up with the name ‘Cafe De La Hue’ for your brand?
Donnie Hue: Initially, I kept thinking of “The Hue Cafe,” which didn’t have a melodic ring. After three nights of waking up at 4:44 am with epiphanies for starting a brand that would allow me to express myself creatively, the name came to me.
Cafe De La Hue is a coffee shop-themed empowerment brand. I wanted to pay homage to the culture of coffee shops for artists and people who get their inspiration while sipping coffee and people watching. I have always loved the essence of the safe space created in coffee shops.
I chose to use my middle name Hue, which is something that I didn’t grow up proud of. What’s wild to me is that my excuse for my lack of adoration for my middle name as a child was that “everyone else can use their middle names for something.” I think of all of my siblings and cousins, and their middle names are names they could use as an alias of some sort.
I didn’t think I could do that with mine at that age. Little did I know that this bit of my name would mean so much to me as I got older. Now I rarely say Donnie without the Hue. I had no idea it would be included in the name of my brainchild, which houses so much of my creative production.
What inspired you to start your business?
Donnie Hue: I was working in a non-profit agency fresh out of college. I had just graduated with my BA in Sociology and Psychology with a concentration in Human Services, so I worked as a counselor and advocate for HIV prevention. Fighting this cause is an angle of work that I will always hold near and dear to my heart.
Having an older cousin pass away from AIDS when I was younger shifted so much for me, and I found purpose in using my vessel to raise awareness. While working at this organization, we raised money for the AIDS Walk in my first year. I failed in fundraising because asking for money is not something I was very good at.
The following year, we had the same challenge. I was preparing for the new year and wanted to exercise many of my talents this time. In 2014, I declared this as my year to be “Fearless.” I took a list of things to my mentor at the time, and he said, “Donnie, you can NOT do all of these things in a year!” Anyone who knows me knows that a very sassy “why not?” followed.
So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and create something to sell to help raise money for the AIDS Walk. That something was: bow ties. A portion of each bow tie went towards my personal AIDS Walk donation. That was the beginning of Cafe De La Hue.
I recognized that I was in complete creative control, and, as long as I stayed within the Coffee Shop theme of things, I could do ANYTHING. So I had many pivots, from merchandise with bow ties to handbags and ponchos.
Cafe De La Hue also housed the services of my talents, where I created my wardrobe styling portfolio, which got me on set as a stylist and led to me being inspired to be in front of the camera.
I wrote and produced my own one-man show, “Roux’s Blues,” which is now a feature film with an entire cast, hosted a talk series (Coffee Table Talks Live!), and am now in the lane of self-care products through my skincare line délicieux. SKIN. Cafe De La Hue is genuinely a brand of freedom and possibility.
I’m a big fan of your body butter and serum. They are clean without the ‘heavy on your skin’ feeling. What ingredients do you use?
Donnie Hue: Thank you so much for that. I appreciate you investing in these products and giving such great feedback. “BUTTR” and “SYRP” are two of my favorite products that I use daily.
For “BUTTR,” I use shea butter, mango butter, and avocado butter as the base. “BUTTR” is also infused with rich oils that help maintain moisture in the skin and has notes of lemongrass and sandalwood.
When I created “SYRP,” I wanted to make a product that would help eliminate dark spots and hyperpigmentation and calm down hair bumps and heal acne.
“délicieux. SKIN” is not only a branch of the brand but an empowerment campaign. I want people to FEEL as delicious as they look. There was a time in my life when I had scars that would not go away that impacted the way I saw myself. I did what most artists do, create to heal and reflect on the times.
After using other products and finding out what works for me, I decided to expand my own brand and use natural, organic, and raw quality products. So I started with myself, and I made magic. I want people’s scars to fade away, dark marks to disappear, and a natural glow to enhance.
Running a small business has its challenges. What are yours, if any?
Donnie Hue: The biggest challenge was finding balance. I have put a lot of work into finding balance in my life in all areas. I had to find the balance between business and art/storytelling. How do you tell your story as an artist in a way that makes sense for a company that is not inauthentic or overly done?
It didn’t take much for me to figure it out because one thing about me is I’m going to keep it real. The parts of my story that I share are from the heart. I understand that people say emotions and business “don’t mix,” but as an artist and entrepreneur with a brand that focuses on empowerment, it’s very emotional.
As a creative person, it is vital to understand the business. It is also important to understand values and the time invested in the creative process. I use this model to determine how I operate the company, and at the end of the day, the freedom of my brand is to allow myself to have work and life outside of it.
Another challenge of mine is trust. Some of my business has gotten to a place where it took for me to develop a team, specifically so that I did not one-man-show everything. My film Roux’s Blues: Promise Me, You’ll Be There helped me with.
Having an entire cast and hiring a team of crew members took me to develop a lot of trust in myself, the vision of my project, and other people. I used quite a bit of my therapy sessions to get to the root of my challenges with trust and safety.
I have the idea that every artist/business person should explore and discuss trust with a therapist. I have big goals, which require a team and trust.
Do you have any plans to go into the retail space, or are you staying strictly online?
Donnie Hue: Honestly, I LOVE having an online space where people can go and purchase. The orders come through, I process and ship them, they receive, and it’s simple. I do enjoy vending in person; however, my schedule doesn’t fully permit that right now, with other projects in the works.
My launch actually took place in Leimert Park on Sunday, November 1, 2020. I like being able to see what’s happening. I like meeting my clients and seeing their faces when they smell my products. Retail does sound great for when my business grows more significant. Still, as long as I have my products, material, labels, packaging, computer, and printer, I’m just incredibly grateful that the manifestation of this idea I once had, has even been birthed into fruition.
Where did you grow up? Tell me about your upbringing?
Donnie Hue: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I grew up in The Jungles and lived so much of my life moving from place to place. However, “The Jungles” has always been home. When I was younger, we moved a lot, so we lived almost everywhere from LA to Inglewood, Compton, Bellflower, and more.
I was actually born in Inglewood. It was an emergency. My soul needed to be here at the exact moment I came. My natal chart makes so much sense when I think about that story. I am a Libra sun, Aries moon, Scorpio rising, and my midheaven is in Leo. It was destined.
I grew up in the quintessential Black South Central LA household in the 90s. At first, it was my mom, my dad, my older sister, and our dog. I grew up watching my parents make things happen. They were so young but doing so well for themselves and our family. Of course, things changed. I have six siblings – I am the 2nd oldest.
We are all so different, and it’s crazy. I couldn’t be more proud of where I come from or my upbringing because I think it made me an exceptionally down-to-earth person. A very special and unique form of humility exudes from people born and raised in Los Angeles.
We are very proud of our city, and most of us made it through some tough times. Growing up, everyone always believed in me and that I would do great things. I was honored for so many things as a child, and I think that affirmation is motivational for people to succeed and believe in themselves.
I was raised with the mentality that I can do anything I put my mind to, as long as I apply myself. I have carried this with me my entire life, and I think it is vital to instill it in children.
What other businesses do you run outside of Cafe De La Hue?
Donnie Hue: Aside from Cafe De La Hue, I am an actor, and I also operate as a public health consultant, speaker, and host. I am expanding my talents through another company of mine, Shades of Hue LLC., which houses more of my entertainment work and content outside of my empowerment brand Cafe De La Hue, and my self-care line “délicieux SKIN.”
Shades of Hue LLC. is the company where I produced my first film through. I thought it would be necessary to distinguish some things with my other lanes under Shades of Hue because I give myself the discretion of wearing several of my many different hats every now and then.
If you could be in one retail store today, who would it be and why?
Donnie Hue: I’m going to keep it G and say Sole Folks or Nappily Naturals in Leimert Park. It’s Black-owned, local to our community, and for our people. When I think about it, it’s so beautiful to think I almost said ULTA because they have their own retail store and are now in the center of Target with their new partnership.
I almost chose them for the viewership of the brand. However, can you imagine if I took the same philosophy that Tracee Ellis Ross did with her company and sold my products exclusively in a Black-owned retail store like Sole Folks in Leimert Park? If people wanted my products the way I wanted Tracee’s leave-in conditioner, they would go to Sole Folks or Nappily Naturals, the way I took my tail to ULTA.
Any growth plans for 2022?
Donnie Hue: Yes. I want to do a lip balm and lip scrub for Cafe De La Hue délicieux SKIN. This year I am premiering my film Roux’s Blues, and it’s a story that our community really needs. It’s Black, it’s Queer, and it’s authentic. I think this is important.
As much as I am about expansion, I am serious about BALANCE and grounding myself in the truth of the work that matters most to me. As far as growth, I believe that my businesses, endeavors, and projects will only be as big as I continue to grow.