A few weeks back, Vivid Research attended an event at Selfridges as part of their Beauty Project. The panel was facilitated by beauty writer and journalist, Sali Hughes with Thandie Newton, Anita Bhagwandas, Gemma Cairnery and Kay Montano debating beauty for non-white women. As you’d expect with a panel of brilliant, inspiring women, the debate was passionate and feisty, providing plenty of food for thought: Thandie and Anita touched on their childhoods growing up as the only non-whites in Devon and South Wales respectively, contrasting with Kay’s much more multicultural inner-city upbringing.
However, their stories unite – Gemma hardly wore make up until she entered the media, in part due to a lack of makeup aimed at black and mixed race women; Thandie and Anita both had horror stories about wearing the wrong foundation which made them look like they were wearing some kind of mask. Which begs the big question – are we doing enough to support non-white women in the beauty industry? And the answer is largely, no.
And it’s a story that starts when we’re young and feeling part of something is so important – the experiences shared when discovering make up and beauty products for the first time. For a young white woman the experience is comparatively simple, discovering products in places like Boots and Superdrug where seemingly there’s a product for every skin tone or hair type. If you’re black, it’s a different story, and suddenly you’re “ghettoised”.
When beauty brands launch new products and colour ranges, stores generally tend to stock these wider ranges for up to 6 months, during which time the product has to prove its worth. If it’s not selling after 6 months, it is pulled from the shelves and relegated to “online only”, isolating its audience and making them feel like they’re not good enough for mainstream shops. The problem is, it takes time for word of mouth to get around and for people to discover that the shops (that they don’t usually go into, because they only appear to cater to their white counterparts) are now stocking colours, shades and products that work for them too.
Not all beauty brands get it wrong of course – Bobbi Brown and MAC are well known for their inclusive approach, but these are largely out of the budget of teenage girls getting their first taste of the beauty industry. And herein lies the problem, through neglecting an increasingly savvy and demanding audience at the start of their journey, the big high street beauty brands isolate the very people who will become brand loyalists as their beauty journey progresses.