Model and entrepreneur Roger Dupé was taught early that skin care was a form of self-love. Now, he’s passing that learning along through Melyon, his new inclusive beauty line from Stockholm. Operating with a “less is more” approach, Dupé has launched with four products to start. All are vegan, ecological, cruelty- and paraben-free, and have a base of nutrient-rich baobab oil, which pays homage to Dupé’s roots in Ghana and Togo. The baobab also inspired the dramatic design of the recyclable glass product bottles.
With Melyon, Dupé wants to expand the definition of beauty and uplift those who have often been ignored by the industry. Designed for dark skin tones, Melyon products are unisex and can be used by anyone. “I think beauty has different shades and should speak to everybody,” says Dupé. He talks to Vogue about being scouted, his dreams for the future, and the need for top-down change in the fashion and beauty industries.
Let’s start from the beginning: How did you start modeling?I grew up in a small town called Västerås. It’s like 15 minutes out from Stockholm. My dream was to become a soccer player. When I was 18 or 19, I injured my knee, and after that I didn’t feel the same energy to continue. I always went to Stockholm because I have an interest in clothing. So I went to a store called Top streetwear and I had two people following me. I thought in the beginning that they thought I was stealing something, but they came up to me and they were asking, ‘Are you a model?’ It was so strange because the model industry was so far away from me as a soccer guy from the suburbs. I didn’t have any references about that, so it was kind of weird for me, but they insisted, so I took the business card and after I couldn’t leave the thought. I called them back around two months later, and then from there it’s history. I’ve been in the industry now for 11 years, and am like the first Black model from Sweden to make a successful international carrier. I mean, it’s fantastic, and it’s a blessing, of course.
What is it like being in the modeling industry?For me it was weird because it was something I didn’t know when I was young. Also, I got bullied because I looked different. I was in a really, really white school when I was young. So I always had that kind of feeling that I didn’t fit in anywhere. When I came into the fashion industry I thought it was opposite. I was like, maybe I fit here because I look different. But there were other issues under the surface, like the white privilege and the idea of white skin [being] more beautiful and the main subject of what beauty is in the fashion industry. So then I felt it was a bit strange because they wanted me, but…. And I didn’t see many Black people in the shows as well; I didn’t see diversity. I can also see that there’s been a change, but there needs to be a change in the whole pipeline. You cannot start to build the roof, you need to start from the ground.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?When you say that you’re a model, people always put you in a box. They think models are arrogant, that they are stupid, all of those kinds of things. I just wanted to prove a point. Modeling was not my dream from the beginning, but it opened my eyes when it comes to creativity. I’m really happy and thankful for what the fashion industry has done for me, but like any industry you’re in, you want it to develop to be the best it can.
Why beauty?I think it was easy for me to go there because I have experience from the fashion industry, but also knowledge through my mother. When I was young she’d tell me, ‘Roger, it doesn’t matter if you can buy the fanciest clothes and things like that, you always need to take care of yourself and be fresh.’ That was a kind of luxury self-image from my home country Ghana and Togo. So I had a [an idea of] self-love that I got early from my mother and I’m really thankful for.
I think everybody can relate to beauty, and I think it should speak to everyone. But it was also a strategic move because I saw a gap in the industry. Fashion is moving faster than beauty when it comes to diversity. You cannot find makeup for every shade: I mean, we’re in 2020. After Rihanna launched [Fenty Beauty] people started to pick it up, but still there have been Black people on the planet before that. So for me, it was like there was something to do in that industry.
I was always shopping [for beauty products for my mother] when I was abroad, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, we have [big department stores] in Sweden, why can’t you find the products? She was like, ‘You don’t understand, they’re not developed for us.’ And I was like, ‘I need to dig into that.’
How did you come up with the brand name?From the English word melanin, and the Togolese/Ghanaian expression enyonam, meaning “it is good for me.”
What products have you developed?The four products are milk cleanser, a detox serum, a day and a night cream. My philosophy was less is more. I’m a traveling model so I need to have my kit with me and I also need to check in, and I was thinking about that when [making] my products. Every bottle is 60 milliliter, so you can carry them with you. Also, you don’t need to have so many different products, it’s also about what you eat, how you sleep; it’s a routine that creates the whole magic for your face and your body, it’s not just the products. And I was like, okay, how can we scale that and make it more tight and convenient for your body, but also for the environment.
Who is Melyon for?Melyon is unisex. When I developed the product I had darker skin tones in my mind, so it’s darker skin, but suitable for all. I’m talking about diversity and inclusion and you cannot exclude certain people, but I want to lift up the ‘minority’ that everybody calls them, that actually is the majority, because 90 percent of the world’s population has darker skin tones. Why is nobody focusing on them? I was like, okay, let them focus on the 10 percent, and I’ll focus on the rest, [while] still including [the 10 percent]. My vision [is also to] lift up and showcase the society that we’re living in. In our campaign, you see people with different shades of skin, but also different religions, all kinds of ethnicities to show that we are inclusive and also that we see and lift up the kinds of people [who are not usually seen] as the ideal of beauty. I think beauty has different shades and should speak to everybody.
You traveled to Africa when developing the line, what did you discover there?I thought the beauty industry was from the Western world, but it’s actually from Africa in the beginning, and that’s super interesting. So I went back to Africa and when I saw this baobab tree it was blowing my mind because it was so beautiful and it was so huge. When people were talking about what it can do for your body, and what it can do for your skin and what it can do for your hair, I was like, This is magical. Why is nobody telling us this tree is like holy? The baobab has a really, really nice history. I was like, this is something I need to have in my product. [Baobab oil] is the base to the whole collection.
What do you wish for the future?My biggest wish is that the new generation can see themselves in visuals, in campaigns, and also in products that are made for them; that everybody feels included. That is my vision. I have sisters who, growing up, were trying to flatten their hair; in Africa, people are bleaching their skin because they want to reach another ideal. I would love if people stop with those kinds of things and embrace that you are good as you look, you cannot change that. It’s really nice when we are different, when we look different.
Do you have any tips for building a better future?I think it’s super important to understand that things take time. And also to do something beyond yourself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.