Women of color are now more informed, and we’re demanding more from the brand.
Is diversity the new standard in beauty? Even as beauty brands expand makeup lines to include shades for black and brown skin, consumers are scrutinizing products closely to see if inclusivity, empowerment, and a true understanding of the needs of women of color are baked into the product lines—and becoming increasingly vocal when they are not.
In January 2017, Kimberly Smith launched Marjani Beauty, an online boutique to showcase beauty products that celebrate women of color. Below, Smith discusses the “Fenty Beauty effect,” online backlash, and how consumer expectations are changing.
Why did you start Marjani Beauty?
Being a woman of color who is very interested in beauty trends, I realized there wasn’t a destination where someone like myself could go and get the level of service they require. Last August, when I was doing my regular beauty run, the sales associate informed me that the product I was looking for was sold out and they would no longer carry that particular shade or any of the darker shades in the store anymore. I live in DC and it’s pretty diverse, to the point that the demographic of women of color is huge, so how can we go to the neighborhood beauty store and not find products for ourselves?
There wasn’t a business similar to Sephora which was targeting women of color, which is a huge demographic that spends a lot of money on beauty products. I decided to start my own platform and was surprised at how many brands I had never heard of before, because I had never taken the time to see what existed beyond department stores, drugstores or boutiques. Yes, I am the founder, but I am also the consumer. What is it that I want to see that I haven’t seen as a black woman when it comes to beauty?
Is the beauty industry approaching diversity in a different way than it did several years ago? How?
I call it the “Fenty Beauty effect.” Prior to Fenty Beauty, there weren’t brands that were targeting women of color. As diverse as our country is, you don’t see as much diversity on magazine covers as you see on TV, walking down the street or in the workforce. While there have been some strides made, I don’t feel like we’re in a space now where it’s an important topic to discuss. The Fenty Beauty effect will help things going forward, with existing companies getting more attention and new brands launching with a greater range of shades.
The issue is that if a white woman needs 20-30 shades of foundation, which you’ll see at the store, a woman of color also needs 20-30 shades, because we come in a spectrum. We are light and we’re also dark and all of those colors in between, and you have our undertones as well to take into account.
We have just hit the beginning of true conversations, but those topics aren’t reflected in what’s being offered. We’ve had spokespersons who are women of color when those products don’t actually speak to people of color. I think everything has to come full circle where the products are also leading, but I don’t think we’re there yet. There’s still a long way to go.
How does Marjani choose which products to feature?
In the last couple of years, you can go into the mall and see beauty stores with more diverse images and models with darker complexions and tones. However, this is not reflected in the inventory carried in the store. You might have the pretty pictures when you walk around the store, but I’m still not seeing a product that is for me.
When I’m sourcing different brands, it’s about what the product is and if a woman of color can actually use it. When someone’s coming onto the website, there has to be a variety of options. When it comes to foundation, you would need about 50 shades for women of color, from fair-skinned women of color all the way down to someone who is that deep, dark brown shade. I want that to be reflected when we do live events – we ask women of color to come and shop products for them of that variety.
When a brand is targeting a woman of color, they’re relegating us to one thing. For example, they’re creating a brand but only selling it in a drugstore, but not everyone will go to a drugstore to buy their foundation. There are a lot of us who like the boutique experience. There are days where I want full coverage and days where I only want light coverage, but brands don’t offer such a diverse spectrum of shades.
I’m trying to take a well-rounded approach with Marjani–I’m shopping and curating these products and making sure there’s something you can find on the site that really speaks to you. I take time to speak with brands and highlight the people who are making these products, so that we’re giving more of an intimate experience when you come to the site. We want you to feel like you’re part of the story.
How do you choose what companies to partner with?
In January, I started with 12 brands and am now up to 26. I wanted to service all categories–makeup, hair care, and skin care. While I want to keep things personal, I also want products to be in stock so partners can fulfill the orders as they come in. It’s both a business perspective and a relationship that I like to develop with the brands. I pick brands that are independently owned, owned by people of color or have a mission of being inclusive and putting women of color at the forefront, and source international brands. I use a global approach. As a woman of color, we’re not just in the States, but we’re all over, and I want women of color to be able to get the best products in one place, no matter where they’re from.
Where do you see the industry going next?
I foresee another product launch like Fenty Beauty, where the complete line comes with a more inclusive approach. What you see happening now is a backlash on Make Up For Ever—right after Fenty Beauty, they started posting about how they’ve always had 40 shades. Existing brands are going to find out that women of color are now more informed and we’re demanding more from the brand. You can’t be an existing brand and talk about your 40 shades without having a genuine marketing push to target that customer and really understand them.
Existing brands have a long way to go and should get their message across in a way that speaks to women of color and doesn’t get us to buy because of frustration, but because we’re feeling empowered and want to buy something exciting. That’s what Fenty tapped into: “Buy this because it’s great because we’re celebrating you and that your dark skin is beautiful.” That’s the approach newer brands are going to come out of the gate with, but older brands are going to have to play catch up.