When she graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in May, Jaylen Marie Block had already been working on opening her mink-hair eyelash business for about seven months.
On July 11, J-Baby Lashes officially opened for business. Block, who usually goes by Jaylen Marie, said she’s close to turning a profit, and the J-Baby Lashes Facebook page has gotten almost 900 likes since its creation on June 4.
“Something I’ve always wanted to do is have (a) cosmetic business,” Jaylen said.
Jaylen came out as transgender during her sophomore year at DLHS, and started experimenting with makeup, investing in top-notch brands. She tried a variety of false eyelashes and eyelash extensions, but couldn't find a pair she was happy with.
That is when her cosmetics business idea really started to take root.
“There’s been times in my life where I was like, ‘I think I’m ready to do it,’” Jaylen said, but she felt truly ready at age 18.
At that point she said she felt like she had matured and had enough money saved. In the winter of 2018, Jaylen was finishing her high school classes and took serious steps towards starting J-Baby Lashes. She started with eyelashes because she, “felt like that was the biggest need in the area, and I felt the most connected with that,” she said. They also serve as a gateway product to other cosmetics later on.
Jaylen has always felt like makeup is a way of expressing who she is. She said it helped her find herself and her identity.
“Makeup was kind of my escape,” she said.
Jaylen experienced bullying in high school, and was featured on local news channels for pushing DLHS to have a gender-neutral bathroom. This made the bullying worse, but Jaylen pushed on and, eventually, both the Detroit Lakes and Frazee high schools designated gender-neutral bathrooms.
According to transequality.org, bullying is common among transgender students, from kindergarten all the way up through grade 12. A reported 79 percent of transgender students have experienced some form of mistreatment. Transgender youth are also nearly four times more likely than non-transgender students to experience depression, according to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
As Jaylen advocated for gender-neutral bathrooms and endured bullying, she continued to put her business plan together. Once she decided to create the business, she needed a name for it.
“I’ve always had names kind of in my head, but I was like, ‘They don’t seem fitting,’” she said. “I was talking to (Samantha Lucero) … and she was like, ‘Why don’t you do J-Baby?’”
Jaylen loved it. Her most natural eyelash style, Samantha, is named for her friend.
Jaylen said she did "heavy, heavy research" with eyelash vendors, testing at least 10 companies and many different styles of lashes. She decided on a vendor in China, which Jaylen said is common since it is a less expensive option. Her vendor makes the eyelashes from mink hair, which is what she wanted.
“I thought mink lasted the longest, (and) they had the best length and quality that I wanted to put my name on,” she said.
Cruelty-free products were also important to her. The FDA has no legal definition of what cruelty-free really means, so it was up to Jaylen to find a vendor that met her requirements. She also made a distinction of testing on animals versus using animal hair.
When Jaylen receives her five styles of eyelashes, she does the quality control herself. She makes sure every pair is one she would wear herself. After she approves of the products, she ships them out by hand from her home.
“Every lash you buy goes directly toward my transition, if not back into the brand,” Jaylen said. “People don’t know how expensive it is being trans.”
Transgender women may get a number of different surgeries, she said, such as breast augmentation, feminine facial surgery, gender reassignment and others. There also are hormone pills. The total cost can be hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.
Jaylen was assigned male at birth, but has known since she was a kid that she "was different." She said she played with Barbies and had more girl friends than boy friends, and just always had this underlying feeling but wasn’t sure how to label it.
It wasn’t until her early teens that she heard the word, "transgender."
“It’s so hard to explain to people … I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t trans,” she said.
Jaylen is very open on her website, clearly stating that the majority of the J-Baby Lashes proceeds go to help pay for her transition.
The future for Jaylen and J-Baby
For J-Baby Lashes, Jaylen has many ideas for future products. She is releasing a natural line of eyelashes later this month, as well as a lip gloss line later this year. Eventually, she wants to release a synthetic line of eyelashes for her vegan buyers.
“Already working on other stuff is crazy for only being a month old in my business,” Jaylen said.
The lip gloss is what she is most excited about, as she is making and testing the formula herself.
“I want everything to be 100 percent. It’s got to be the best it can be,” she said.
If J-Baby Lashes continues to be successful, Jaylen plans to continue her business throughout and after paying for her surgeries.
She is looking forward to starting school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes, where she will study business. What she learns will be applied to J-Baby Lashes. She also plans to go to school for cosmetology, again to benefit her and her business.
“It’s crazy to look at how far I’ve come … Three years ago when I was still closeted I never, ever, ever thought I would be where I am today,” she said.