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More major retailers are carrying Black-owned beauty brands

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When Rose Ingleton launched her own namesake skincare line two years ago, she couldn't get her products into big retailers and was forced to use her own funds or get help from family and friends.

But things changed after the Black Lives Matter protests last year. Ingleton, a New York dermatologist, who's Black, reconnected with beauty chain Sephora and 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 said. "I am now at the top food chain. I'm now getting ready to approach deeper pocket investors."

Ingleton has experienced newfound exposure at a time when the beauty industry is trying to address criticism that it centers too many of its products around whiteness. Retailers are pushing more items onto shelves that represent the diverse women they serve. Sephora, Walmart and Target are just some of the companies now increasing their offerings of Black-owned brands.

Merchandising and the message

Retailers embracing makeup of color is happening just as women of color are buying more beauty products.

Last year, Hispanic consumers spent 6.1% more on beauty and other items compared with 2019, while Black Americans spent 5.4% more, according to NielsenIQ

Data from NPD Group found that Black-owned beauty brands represent just 4% of high-end makeup sales, but they performed between 1.5 to 4 times better in May, June and July 2020 — during the peak months of the Black Lives Matter movement — than the rest of the market. 

Even with performance that outpaces other brands, Black entrepreneurs argue they are pigeon-holed by retailers and investors who think their products are only for women of color. Still, efforts are underway to boost Black entrepreneurship in many industries, including sneaker shops.  

Beauty brands catering to women of color, in particular, find themselves in some cases to be locked up in stores — even after stores including Walmart, CVS Health and Walgreens pledged last year they would end that practice.

Retailers need to be careful not to think of adding merchandise from Black owners as a token gesture, said Taydra Mitchell Jackson, marketing director for Detroit-based makeup company The Lip Bar. 

"Merchandising is critical, but messaging and how I feel when I walk in the store are just as important," she said.

Jackson noted some social media influencers complaining about Lip Bar items being locked up at Walmart, "creating a feeling of being inferior." Walmart responded that it does "not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart." 

The Fenty effect

Problems facing Black-owned beauty brands aren't new. The products have been around for years, but they've struggled to get in stores, said Rutgers history professor Tiffany Gill, who wrote "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 said. "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."

And when brands finally did create makeup for darker skin shades, those products would be sold exclusively online.

"As a black consumer, you often do not have the opportunity to have the in-store retail experience," Gill said.

Things began to change in 2017, when singer Rihanna launched her Fenty Beauty makeup line. In two years, Fenty Beauty became one of the top 10 selling brands, alongside decades-old companies such as Mary Kay and L'Oreal-owned Urban Decay. Competitors took notice and started adding more shades for darker skin or promising to give more shelf space to Black-owned brands.

As of mid-2020, a study from digitalundivided identified 183 Black and Hispanic women founders who had secured at least $1 million in investor backing for their businesses, more than double the number in 2018, said Lauren Maillian, CEO of digitalundivided, which has a database of more than 800 Black and Hispanic-women-founded companies.

Black entrepreneur Monique Rodriguez, who co-founded natural hair care company Mielle Organics, saw her sales increase at a faster rate last year over previous years. This year, she secured a big investment from Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners.

"I don't think it will fade," she said of the efforts to diversify beauty. "It is here to stay, but we have to put forth an effort that our voices continue to be heard. "

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