The year is 2018. Beyonce delivered one of her most historic performances as the first Black woman to headline a set at Coachella (err, Beychella). Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians premiered to fanfare proving that, contrary to popular belief, films with a leading cast of color have global appeal. Yet even though 2018 was a landmark year for representation in various industries, the beauty industry missed the memo.
At the top of the year, Tarte unveiled its new 15-shade Shape Tape Foundation range, where only two shades were designed for darker complexions, a negligent move given that Fenty Beauty debuted just months before with a revolutionary 40-shade collection that was ultimately dubbed #TheFentyEffect. It Cosmetics, BeautyBlender, and several other brands missed the mark, too. How, in 2018, were Black women still fighting to reform the beauty standards that continually fail to recognize consumers beyond “medium tan,” “warm honey,” and “almond?”
In August 2018, I asked seven Black influencers—Monica Veloz, Ofunne Amaka, Jessie Woo, Tiara Willis, Armanda Tounghui, Shanygne Maurice, and Cydnee Black—the same question I’d been pondering for years: “Why is it still a struggle to find foundation for dark skin?”
“When you walk into these beauty corporations, you’ll most likely see a white-dominated office space so, because there aren’t a lot of black voices at the table, there isn’t anyone to say, ‘Hey, this launch is not okay,’ or ‘You need to do something different because these shades are not diversified,'” Willis, founder of the popular Twitter and Instagram account @MakeupForWOC, told me at the time. Transparency in companies’ hiring process and leadership board is just as important as delivering a diverse shade range.
Now, two years later, the beauty industry is in the midst of a reckoning. Following an outcry from consumers and influencers, a slew of brands began broadening their offerings and campaigns to be more inclusive. But sometimes their efforts verge on the performative: In June 2020, as the nation broke out in protests in response to the senseless killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and other acts of violence by police and white supremacists, brands flocked to social media in droves to lend support to the Black community, issuing statements of solidarity and pledges to be more inclusive in the name of being “woke.” There were also many brands who remained mum in the face of social injustice, revealing that if they didn’t care about Black consumers before—both on shelves and in boardrooms—why would they start now?
Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter launched Pull Up for Change in response to the brands’ silence, an initiative demanding that companies come forward with a demographic breakdown of their employees to demonstrate they’re more than just talk. Once a buzzword brands used to hide behind their shortcomings, will inclusivity move beyond trend to become an ongoing movement? I caught up with Willis, Veloz, Amaka, Maurice, and Woo two years after our initial interview to discuss if the beauty industry has been doing its homework, and how much further we have left to go.
Would you say the beauty industry is still failing people with darker skin tones?
I would say no, it’s not failing us but I feel brand are getting a little bit too comfortable. With everything going on with Black Lives Matter movement, we’re seeing an uprising happening, and within that uprising demanding for basic human rights, we’re also seeing a lot of calls to action for black creators, creators of color. And in that, you’re seeing so many disparities that still happen behind the scenes that haven’t been addressed.
On the surface, yes, we’re getting more foundation shades and better campaigns, so brands have made a lot of progress. But that’s not to say Black people can relax now. No, we have to keep demanding that if you’re going to launch something that has 60 shades, make sure all the shades are available in-store and that people know how to find their shade—that’s one of the areas of the makeup industry that almost never gets talked about, the in-store experience. Retailers will say, “Oh, we can’t have this many shades because of the space,” or “These units don’t sell.” That relationship between the brand and the retailer, and that relationship between the retailer and the consumer needs to be worked on more.
When you put out products for people, you have to realize that there’s actually people on the other end of the buying process that will be introduced to your product for the first time. Having only select shades in stores or not enough deep shades to begin is frustrating. Is that the first impression you want to give?
This call for diversity in beauty extends beyond shade ranges to opportunities for Black creatives, too. As an influencer, what has been your experience trying to obtain opportunities and ensure you’re being paid fairly?
I do all my deals on my own and it’s hard to not get taken advantage of because there isn’t a lot of transparency in terms of what’s the going rate for X, Y, Z type of project. Sometimes, people just don’t want to pay my rates. I have decide to not pursue opportunities from brands that don’t value what I’m doing, or don’t want to pay what I’m worth.
I had a post on Instagram that basically was just alluding to the fact that it “diversity” has to go farther than just posting someone on your Instagram page. Are you paying them? Are you making them feel heard behind the scenes? Do they have a voice? That just goes for employees, too. Because there are sometimes the lone black employee on a team, and they might have an opinion, and it might not be heard, or they might not feel comfortable voicing it. So to answer your question, we’re in a great place with that right now. A lot of people are being offered things that look like opportunities, but they’re often exploitation.
Thankfully, there’s an Instagram page called I think it’s Influencer Pay Gap, and people send anonymous DMs to the Instagram listing their age, race, sexual orientation, and follower count is, and how much they’ve been offered to do a project. Accounts like these are providing some transparency in terms of what people are getting offered and what people are getting paid.
What’s your favorite foundation right now?
When I need a foundation that works right away, I’m going for my Urban Decay Stay Naked.
What’s your favorite Black-owned beauty product?
Coloured Raine everything. Coloured Raine has amazing eye shadows, lipsticks, and blushes. Coloured Raine has a lot of good stuff.
What changes have you seen in the makeup industry since we last spoke in 2018?
Two years ago, it seemed as if every brand was in a race of who could put out the most foundation shades. And people got lost in the idea that just having a lot of foundation shades means they’ve cracked the code on diversity when, really, if the rest of your brand isn’t consistent then you didn’t do anything meaningful. There are brands that have gotten better since then. But there are some brands who either put out their inclusive shade ranges in the last two years, and didn’tkeep the same energy with concealer, bronzer, contour, etc.
Especially right now in 2020, it seems it’s the year of bronzers and every brand is putting out their own bronzer. I did a video swatching the latest bronzers and a lot of them—between their advertising and what the product actually looks like—there was a disconnect there because the shades didn’t match IRL. It goes to show how genuine some of these brands are, because if you have to Photoshop a color to make it look dark online but ashy or lighter in person, that says a lot about how a brand views us. We’re clearly not important enough for them to put any effort into making products for us.
Is there truly hope for brands to “keep the same energy” or do you feel like the same outdated outlook persists behind these launches?
Well, minimal effort was being put in before this whole “inclusive” wave. Before the Black Lives Matter movement that’s going on right now, it’s always been a thing. But before it became as widely talked about as it is right now, before George Floyd’s death, you could see that the inclusive marketing that some brands were using was already starting to die down. And I’m happy it’s been brought back up again because of the current place that we’re in right now.
You can look on a brand’s Instagram page and scroll back to 2019 and see what maybe one dark skinned person on there, maybe throw in a couple other people of color. But a brand drop 60 foundation shades and deserve a pat on the back? That energy wasn’t being kept until right now. And right now everyone with Pull Up or Shut Up, putting out their business, brands are reaching out to black creators. Even now some people have already said that that energy has started to die down. It’s a matter of if a brand genuinely wants to do better, they’re going to. It will become clearer to see which brands hop on for the moment and then go back because championing diversity is too much work for them.
What’s your advice to the Black consumers who are finding it hard to trust any brands these days?
Write down the names and take screenshots of how brands are responding to the current climate and Pull Up or Shut Up. In a few months, revisit those brands to see if they stayed true to their words, especially since right now, we need 18 new releases. So it really puts these brands in a competitive place where they’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is, because if brand A and brand B release something, but brand B does better, then brand B is probably going to get that person’s purchase. Spend your money on brands that support you year-round, not just for the moment.
What is your favorite foundation now?
NYX Born to Glow, and it’s only $10.
What’s your favorite Black-owned beauty product in your makeup collection?
Uoma Beauty Contour Stick.
What do want to see more of from brands moving forward?
Transparency and dialogue. In the past few weeks, there were brands that have called me and said, “Listen, we just want to hear from you and how you’re feeling.” I’m Black and it’s been awful but I’m glad brands are trying to do the work to make Black influencers feel seen and heart. I’m talking huge brands that were like “Listen, whatever it is, whatever concerns you have, whatever you need from us. We’re trying to show our support. How can we show our support?” So I want to see more brands trying to be completely transparent because I only align myself with brands that align with me as a person.
Also, diversity isn’t only a 40-plus shade range. What about the LGBTQ representation? Don’t support the LGBTQ community for just one month and then move on. I’m definitely am seeing a lot more diverse campaigns but it has to be the standard. The current uprising in beauty and the black lives matter movement forced brands to really step up and realize that they need to make a change. I’m sure it scared the hell out of a lot of brands. Good for them.
As a frequent makeup shopper, where else do you see brands missing the mark?
Undertones. I think a brand came out with 100 shades but where are my undertones? To find your perfect foundation shade, you have to understand undertones. Understanding undertones makes it easier to shop online, especially now that we can’t go in stores and play in makeup or swatch. A foundation range is only as good as the undertones it offers. I’ve played with several different foundations and I still reach for my Fenty Beauty foundation because she understands my undertones. It’s lazy to throw out foundation with limited undertones because not everyone is warm or golden honey or orange. Brands need to get specific with these shade ranges because black women, black people are not just one shape. We’re not as red. We’re made up of a range of beautiful colors and tones that should be reflected in the products we spend our money on.
What’s your favorite foundation right now?
Fenty, obviously. But my other love is my Nars Natural Radiant Longwear foundation.
What has the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign revealed to you about some of the beauty brands you’ve supported?
Basically what we already knew: There’s a real lack of diversity in the boardrooms of our favorite brands. If there’s lack of diversity, there’s going to be a lack of faith, you’re going to see a lack of ideas and a lack of understanding. If there was a black woman at that board meeting, or a black cosmetic chemist who was in there making those formulas, they would obviously be like, “Oh, I have black family members. I’m black. These shades don’t actually work on us.” And they would actually be that voice to say something.
Diversity in boardrooms is one thing, but where else are brands lacking?
It’s easy for brands to create an extensive range, but they’re not doing the necessary work to actually try it on black skin. Chemists are putting strong green undertones or pink undertones that would normally work for others, but that’s not realistic for darker skin tones. When it comes to bronzers and blushes, and the other steps of makeup, there is a lack there with finding colors that suit dark enough. Think of influencers like Nyma Tang. She had a whole video where she spent hundreds of dollars buying all the bronzes before trying them all and none of them worked for her. It’s 2020. It doesn’t make any sense.
What’s your favorite foundation right now?
Anastasia Luminous foundation.
What has the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign revealed to you most about some of the beauty brands you’ve supported?
It’s not enough for the black community that these beauty brands want to expand the shades. We want to see us represented in the offices too. We want to see black people represented on the executive board. Who are decision-makers? We want to know that you are being inclusive all the way around, not just with your shades. We want to know that black people actually have opportunities within your company. I think that this is what this movement is all about. Black women spend the most money in the beauty world, so if we’re spending the most money we need to be represented. We need to have a say so in what’s going on in these companies.
How has finding your foundation shade become easier?
Finding my shade has become easier because I’m purchasing from black beauty brands more than before. UOMA Beauty, Juvia’s Place, Fenty Beauty, there are a lot of different black owned beauty brands that are coming out and cater to us. Who can speak to our shades better than us? Shopping for my complexion is easier because I’m supporting products made for us, and by us. Just keeping it real. Pro tip: find brands that represents me and you won’t get disappointed.
What’s your general advice to brands that want to do better?
Look around your office then you’ll know where to start. See who’s not there, you know where to start. It’s that simple, really. When brands or companies try to make it seem like it’s so hard, no it’s not. Just look around. Look around. Are there black women here? No. Hire them. Where they at? Be intentional about being “inclusive”. You can’t be inclusive without being intentional. Initiatives like Sharon Chuter’s Pull Up For Change are needed. It’s going to change the hiring process. It’s going to change how these companies look at us. They’re going to have to finally look at us and say, “Okay dang, we really got to listen to these black women. We really have to listen to them because not only do they have these platforms. But then they have these platforms that can influence the buying power.”
What’s your favorite Black-owned beauty product?
I have to give it to Juvia’s Place—their shadows are everything to me. Juvia’s Place show up and they show out. Plain and simple.