2017: The year the… cosmetics world WOC up to diversity

2017: The year the… cosmetics world WOC up to diversity

It’s almost surprising that, in 2017, we’re talking about multiculturalism as a year-defining trend – and one of Euromonitor’s megatrends, no less. But here we are, and even if it took longer than expected, the beauty world IS finally taking diversity seriously.

And for all the diversity campaigns and high-profile product launches we’ve heard throughout the year, the message has hit home thanks to one woman, and her impressive range of foundations. Yes, we’re talking about Rihanna and Fenty Beauty. If you’ve been hiding under a rock since September, then this is the 40-strong range of foundations that met with such a joyful reception, you’d think no one had ever catered for women of color before.

Oh wait, because, actually, hardly anyone had. At the time of the Fenty launch, we looked at the number of shades on offer from big brands, and all in all, it was woeful (with a few notable exceptions, namely MAC, Lancome and Estee Lauder). No wonder the excitement verged on adulation as consumers discovered ‘their’ shade among Fenty’s line-up.

“I think for multicultural communities it’s all about the color tone match. Over the years I’ve searched hundreds of foundations and powders and the key problem is it doesn’t match our skin tone,” revealed one consumer we interviewed for our Streettalk series this year

Why is the million dollar question? Make that a several billion dollar question – figures from a recent Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland Roundtable suggest that UK ethnic spend is set to increase tenfold over the next decade, from £32 billion to £300 billion. As many commentators pointed out – Fenty’s popularity proves demand was there. So why weren’t the big brands on it? Does the problem stem from suppliers? Are the retail buyers just not allocating shelf space to products at the far end of the spectrum? What’s the story here?

Of course, where big brands have failed, new brands have emerged, catering specifically to women of colour – such as Mented, which specializes in nude lipsticks for darker skin tones, and Stellar, which is a foundation brand targeted at Latin, Middle Eastern, biracial and Indian consumers now stocked by Sephora. The co-founders of the former became the 15th and 16th African-American women EVER to raise US$1 million in venture capital in a recent funding round.

And therein lies the change we need for a truly diverse beauty industry. For while beauty may be skin deep, diversity needs to start from within. And we are starting to see change in that direction, with more women and women of color smashing that glass ceiling during 2017 and several companies signing up to diversity initiatives. We’ve also seen important acquisitions in this space – Unilever’s purchase of Sundial Brands is a case in point. As Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP and COO of Unilever North America Personal Care puts it, “Female consumers, and especially women of color expect realistic and diverse images reflected in advertising and communication, products, and shades that work for women of all shapes, sizes, skin/hair types, and tones.”  In 2017, many brands talked the talk, but in 2018, they’ll have to well and truly walk the walk too.