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The World's Biggest Cosmetics Brands Are Finally Courting Minorities

For decades, most cosmetics brands didn’t go after minorities. That’s starting to change, with both mainstream and ethnic beauty lines going after a more diverse customer.
Cosmetics brushes | Source: Shutterstock
  • Bloomberg

NEW YORK, United States — For decades, most cosmetics brands didn't go after minorities. Instead, they made products catering to a narrow margin of skin tone and colour, and left a handful of companies dedicated to multicultural women to deal with the rest of the shades. That's starting to change, with both mainstream and ethnic beauty lines going after a more diverse customer. It's a profound shift: The women who were once all but ignored by the majority of the beauty market are now being wooed at every counter.

Mainstream lines such as L'Oréal-owned Lancôme are adding more complexion colours, tweaking their products to make them more appealing to nonwhite customers, and signing up nonwhite spokeswomen or models. Meanwhile, lines that have always been dedicated to multicultural women, including Cover FX, Fashion Fair, and Iman Cosmetics, are touting that they have more shades than ever before.

In the US, the multicultural demographic comprises over a third of the population, and their spending power is growing more quickly than the country’s average, according to a study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. Global beauty behemoths, like Avon and Procter & Gamble, have seen fewer profits in part because women are gravitating to brands that work better for multiethnic women, according to the Business of Fashion. “Today a woman almost expects to go to a brand she wants to buy and find her shade," says Sharon Collier, Cover FX’s president. "It's offensive to her when she can't find her shade. It makes her feel like she's not being recognised by the company.”

This year, L'Oréal bought Carol's Daughter, the natural beauty company that specialises in products for black women, after its stores filed for Chapter 11. Lancôme also named actress Lupita Nyong'o its brand "ambassadress" in 2014, a first for the company (although it has used nonwhite models in past campaigns). "Hopefully it's a symbiotic relationship," Nyong'o told Women's Wear Daily earlier this year. "That I benefit from being associated with them, and they benefit from being associated with me, as well." Nyong'o's first print advertisement for Lancôme, for its Teint Idole foundation (which comes in 35 shades), was universally praised by fashion industry watchers. Actress Zoe Saldana was also named a L'Oréal Paris spokesperson in 2014.

Over the last five years, L’Oréal had generally trailed Estée Lauder when it came to brands that appeal to diverse customers. Estée’s Clinique makes its Even Better Makeup SPF 15 in 30 different shades, from “very fair” to “deep” (with 16 colours from “medium” to “deep”), and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics sells its foundations and powders in 20 shades, half of which range from tan to espresso. Most experts say M.A.C. Cosmetics, the Estée Lauder-owned company which opened its first store in New York in 1991, is the only beauty brand that’s seen as equally appealing to all races, and point to its diverse spokespeople, from Lil’ Kim to Miley Cyrus to The Simpsons family, as proof.

In 2014, the multicultural beauty products market grew 3.7 percent in the US, outpacing the growth of the overall market for cosmetics and toiletries, according to market intelligence consultancy Kline. New brands are cropping up all the time. Mixed Chicks, a hair brand lauded by celebrities like Halle Berry, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Ciara, expanded to makeup in May—its first product is a dual foundation-and-bronzer stick. Tyra Banks has Tyra Beauty, a line of 14 products she plans to grow, and even Rihanna has registered a trademark for a beauty line.

The stalwart beauty brands for women of colour, which once targeted only black women, such as Fashion Fair Cosmetics (launched in 1973), Iman Cosmetics (founded in 1994 by the Somali-born supermodel Iman), and CoverGirl’s Queen Collection (started in 2006 and named after rapper Queen Latifah), have also been trying to expand their appeal to women of all skin tones. Cover FX (launched in 2000) now has 40 colours of foundation, up from 28 a year ago, and Iman has begun using Asian, Latina, Middle Eastern, and Native American models in its ads and testing its products on a wider range of women. “I was admittedly comfortable with Iman Cosmetics being identified as a beauty brand that filled the gap for black women because it was deeply personal for me,” Iman wrote in WWD. “However, as we gathered more information about the game we were in, we started to shift into the more holistic vision that we are known for now throughout our positioning and advertising: Women of all skin tones want to look good when they rule the world.”

Going after the same customer has created some tension between ethnic makeup lines and mainstream brands. Critics say companies starting to target women of all skin tones aren’t expanding their lines enough. “There are more women of colour in ad campaigns,” says Aretha Busby, a stylist and the former beauty director of Essence magazine, “but what's always been my gripe is that when it comes to the actual foundations and concealers they're not going dark enough. Most companies seem to stop at Kerry Washington. Any women darker than her seem to be out of luck.”

Others question whether these brands are truly creating a more universal collection of products, or just making it look like they are. Lionel Durand, the chief executive officer of Paris-based Black|Up, a brand for ethnic women, thinks that some of the non-ethnic brands that sign up nonwhite celebrities as spokespeople or faces “are fake a little bit,” he says, “because they aren't specified for women of colour. They say, ‘We deal with and treat all types of women,’ but when you look carefully at the range, it's not right.”

Eye shadow, blush, and lipstick tend not to look as bright, or look like a completely different colour (bright blues might look purple), explains Durand, whose line is sold at Sephora in the US Nudes also usually have to be made bolder to pop against darker lips and nail beds.

But he does agree—in this new age of trying to reach everyone— the demographics brands used to market to matter less than the products they have today. “There are no boundaries anymore,” he says. “We have a huge community of Arab people using our products because we have the right shades. At the end of the day, the woman in 2015 is looking to find the perfect shade.”

By Kayleen Schaefer; editor: Alex Dickinson.

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