It was 1985 when Michael Cox—then, a high school sophomore—decided to come out to his friends. “Hey!” he said one day as they sat along the wall just outside their school, “I have something to tell you. I’m gay.”
“Cool,” everyone responded. “Where are we going for lunch today?”
Fortunately for Cox, growing up in Southern California in the ’80s meant he didn’t face a lot of adversity in light of his sexual orientation. “It was the age of Boy George and Duran Duran,” he says, “that whole androgynous, new romantics movement… I’m really fortunate.”
After spending 25 years working in the retail cosmetic industry, Cox is ready for his next journey. His new venture, called Randell O’Neill Organics, is the culmination of the knowledge and experience he has gained over a lifetime.
“When I was fourteen,” Cox says, “my mom took me to the cosmetic counter in our local department store and plopped me at the Clinique counter and said, ‘Set my son up.’ My mom was very big on skincare. It wasn’t a woman’s thing, it was for everybody. That was my first cosmetic bug bite.”
Cox’s initial leap into the industry came at the same department store six years later. He got a job working in men’s apparel and fragrance, but was soon offered a job at a cosmetics counter where he would learn the ins and outs of makeup.
Eventually, Cox earned a position at Chanel working as a market artist who traveled to stores across Southern California. But he never lost his passion for skincare. “I just always loved that part of it,” he explains. “My belief is that makeup can make you pretty, but your skin is your canvas, so focus on that.”
In 2001, Cox took an interest in wellness practices involving botanicals and herbs. He began infusing oils and even studied existing skincare brands, taking note of the ingredients he liked most. By the time he moved to Miami in 2003, Cox had a binder full of original formulations that would later become the foundation for his own product line.
But for another 12 years, he continued working in retail, eventually relocating to Nashville to manage a storefront for a well-known skincare brand. Cox continued his formulation research, and after a period of bad health, says he began to truly understand the importance of using naturally derived cosmetics.
“We expose ourselves to so many chemicals on a daily basis just by using beauty products,” Cox says. “What we use and put on our skin is absorbed… so why not make sure it’s as healthy and clean as possible? The one thing that I can bring to the table as far as helping people live better and healthier lives is what they put on their face and their body.”
In August 2015, the store where Cox was working announced it was closing. But he saw this turn of events as an opportunity, not an inconvenience. “To be close to 50 and to get a chance to shift roads and take another path?” he asks, “I think that’s amazing. How could I not?” He adds, “You can’t live in fear. Fear-based decisions will only bring about more things to be fearful of.”
So, in the six months before the store’s closing, Michael dusted off his binder and reworked his formulations. He took classes on essential oils, aromatherapy and wellness coaching. He started making test batches in his kitchen, and now his product line is almost ready for challenge testing.
According to Cox, his ultimate goal is to produce small-batch, handmade botanical- and essential oil-based skincare products so good they’re almost good enough to eat. “I’m not doing this so I can get bought out by a big corporation,” he says. “That’s the farthest thing from my mind.” Rather, Cox hopes to organically grow his business and eventually open a retail space of his own.
When asked about his experience as an LGBT entrepreneur in the South, Cox says his experience has been good. “I love living in the South,” he says, “and people look at us and think we’re behind. But we’ve got so much going for us. Nashville is a great place for an entrepreneur. This city is growing. And I think, having Nashville and Atlanta as these entrepreneurial hubs, it’s going to spread. Because we’ve got more people coming in from places, bringing in a new mentality.”