Schreyer Scholar alumni build business based on skincare, scents, nostalgia

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Asia Grant and Alejandro Cuevas began their friendship when they were members of Penn State’s Presidential Leadership Academy. Some of the earliest memories of that friendship served as the genesis for what has become a flourishing small business.

Asia Grant and Alejandro Cuevas Credit: Photo provided by Asia GrantAll Rights Reserved.

The Penn State and Schreyer Scholar alumni founded Redoux, a scent and skincare company that aims to put consumers in touch with memories through scent, in 2019.

“At best, it does well,” said Cuevas, Redoux’s chief operating officer, of the pair's mindset at the time. “At worst, it’s an excuse for us to catch up and stay in touch.”

Grant, who graduated in 2017 with honors in marketing, and Cuevas, who graduated in 2018 with honors in security and risk analysis, had always talked about skincare, and she made homemade soap for friends as a Penn State student. Redoux’s chief executive officer and founder developed a love of gardening at an early age thanks to being in a “foodie family,” she said, and her father used to have her identify which herbs he had in his hand simply by smell. At some point, Grant discovered she had synesthesia — stimulation of one of her senses caused involuntary experiences in another.

“I didn’t know (most other) people don’t see the color purple when they smell violets,” she said.

The friendship is at the core of Redoux’s main products; its signature scent, “529” was inspired by a visit Cuevas had paid Grant in the summer of 2015, when she was an intern in New York. It was also important to Grant that all products be vegan and environmentally conscious. 

“It should just be the basis of how people operate,” she said. “There shouldn’t be anything that’s not clean in your process.”

As 2020 began, Grant was still working a full-time job and Cuevas was continuing doctoral studies at Carnegie Mellon University. They were forming partnerships and doing small craft fairs and were focused on building in-person experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on that strategy but, during the summer, Redoux was featured in Vogue magazine in a story about Black-owned businesses. More media coverage followed, and things began to move quickly. The company was also recently featured on a Facebook Live #BuyBlack Friday Show.

“We went from selling one bar of soap a day to selling 60 bars of soap a day,” said Grant, who wrote her honors thesis about the cosmetics industry. “We had a bunch of stores reaching out to us and saying, ‘We want to stock you.’ “It was exciting and also very stressful.”

This past fall, Redoux was the recipient of a $30,000 grant from Glossier, which helped the company scale its business for the holiday season, boosted its brand recognition, and allowed Grant to make Redoux her full-time job. Nicole Keller, a 2017 Penn State graduate who was also a member of Grant’s Presidential Leadership Academy class, joined the company as partnerships lead.

The college friends, who all live in different cities, tackle new challenges daily and are learning the business as they go.

“There’s all these things that came into play that didn’t necessarily tie back to our coursework,” Cuevas said. “But I think what really came in was the grit that you still had to learn to thrive — at Penn State, in the Schreyer Honors College, PLA, you were assigned a hard problem and you had to run with it, had to find a way to pull through, regardless of the topic. And so I think that determination, that skill in particular that you don’t get taught in a lecture, but accumulates over the years, that is what’s kept us pulling through this.”

Grant said she likes to write out gift notes that accompany the products by hand and saves them to share with her team. Often, they are about a memory the giver shares with the recipient.

“Those are the pieces that are the most rewarding,” Grant said, “because it gives people emotional comfort and gives them a sense of connectivity, both with their past and others.”

Credit: Photo provided by Asia GrantAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated February 03, 2021