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Black-owned beauty brands are getting more attention from big retail chains

The industry is trying to address criticism it centers too many products around whiteness, getting more items on shelves that represent the diverse women who are their customers.

Beauty retailer Sephora recently announced a commitment to devote at least 15% of its store shelves to Black-owned brands.
Beauty retailer Sephora recently announced a commitment to devote at least 15% of its store shelves to Black-owned brands.
AP

When Rose Ingleton launched her own namesake skincare line two years ago, she couldn’t break into the big chains.

She had to tap her own savings and get financial help from family and friends.

But things changed after the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests last year. Ingleton, a Black dermatologist in Manhattan with more than 20 years of experience, reconnected with beauty chain Sephora. Now, her products can be found on the retailer’s website as well as at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“There was this sudden awareness,” Ingleton says. “I am now at the top food chain. I’m now getting ready to approach deeper-pocket investors.”

As corporations continue to face a racial reckoning, the beauty industry is trying to address criticism that it centers too many of its products around whiteness, pushing more items onto shelves that better represent the diverse women who are their customers.

Retailers including Sephora, Walmart and Target have focused on increasing their offerings of Black-owned brands. They’re also developing entrepreneurship programs.

More than 20 companies, including Sephora and Ulta Beauty, have signed onto a nationwide campaign called 15 Percent Pledge, which aims to have companies from all industries commit to at least 15% of their products on their shelves to Black-owned businesses — in line with the U.S. Black population.

Target says it has its own plans. The company says it carries 50 Black-owned and Black-founded beauty brands and plans to keep increasing that number as part of its commitment to add more than 500 Black-owned brands by the end of 2025.

NPD Group found that Black-owned brands represent just 4% of sales in prestige makeup, but they performed 1.5 to four times better in May, June and July 2020 — peak months of the Black Lives Matter movement — than the rest of the market, reversing their declines and reflecting a consumer appetite to support such businesses.

Last year, Hispanic consumers spent 6.1% more on beauty and other items compared with 2019, and spent 5.4% more, according to NielsenIQ — a pace that exceeded the 3.5% increase for the total U.S. population.

Ulta wants to double the number of Black-owned brands it carries to 26 by year’s end, but that still will get the penetration to only 5%, says Monica Arnaudo, the company’s chief merchandising officer.

Ulta and Sephora say they want to help ensure that the brands are financially successful.

Black entrepreneurs say they continue to be pigeonholed by retailers and investors who think their products are only for women of color.

And beauty brands catering to women of color continue in some cases to be locked up in stores — even after chains including Walmart, CVS Health and Walgreens pledged last year to end that practice.

Taydra Mitchell Jackson, marketing director of The Lip Bar, a Black-owned brand based in Detroit that’s in more than 1,200 stores, including Target and Walmart, says some social media influencers have complained about Lip Bar items being locked up at Walmart, “creating a feeling of being inferior.”

“Merchandising is critical, but messaging and how I feel when I walk in the store are just as important,” Jackson says.

A Walmart spokesman says the company does “not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart.”

Beauty brands that cater to Black women have been around for years but struggled to get shelf space, says Tiffany Gill, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University who wrote a book called “Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry.”

“The fantasy of beauty has often been constructed around a celebration of white bodies,” Gill says. “And to even have makeup for darker-skinned women or to put them in campaigns in visible ways means to completely undermine the whole foundation of the industry.”

Even when brands created makeup for darker skin shades, those products would be sold online instead of stores, according to Gill.

“As a black consumer, you often do not have the opportunity to have the in-store retail experience,” she says.

Things began to change in 2017, when pop superstar Rihanna launched her Fenty Beauty makeup line. In two years, it became one of the top 10 selling beauty brands along with decades-old brands such as Mary Kay and L’Oreal-owned Urban Decay, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Other companies took notice, adding more shades for darker skin or promising more shelf space in stores for Black-owned brands.

Still, it wasn’t until last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests that Black-owned brands started to see more interest from investors and retailers.