The face of beauty is changing; and this should be of no surprise. The U.S. population is set to become majority minority by mid-century. Minorities are increasing the population, expanding their education and income levels, and growing businesses–altogether amplifying their buying power and prowess. African American women in particular are rapidly filling in the voids in beauty. From wet lines for curly and coiled hair to cosmetics that accommodate darker skin tones, black-owned beauty brands are growing the market. Their successes build upon the work of their predecessors and spotlight the booming beauty segment and its constituents’ tremendous buying power.
BUYING POWER AND INFLUENCE
Black consumer spending is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2021, according to the Nielsen 2017 Diverse Intelligence Series report. The report also notes that black women (24.3 million people) control the vast majority of spending power among black consumers. These factors may partly explain why some beauty giants are now seriously expanding their beauty offerings for women of color. For instance, L’Oréal has established a New Jersey-based Women of Color Lab, and Unilever recently snapped up SheaMoisture in its acquisition of Sundial Brands–one of the largest black-owned beauty companies. These developments signal change and opportunity within the beauty sector–two factors that beauty retailers should pay attention to.
“Beauty retailers, if they have not already, must take heed of the immense impact black women can have on their bottom line by stocking the products we prefer and recognize as culturally relevant,” says Cheryl Pearson-McNeil Grace, senior vice president of U.S. strategic community alliances and consumer engagement for Nielsen. “In doing so, these retailers can tap into the $1.2 trillion in black buying power, while also tapping into the influence we have over non- black consumers. If you look at what’s hot at any given moment, its origins can often be found in the preference of black consumers, which has huge implications for businesses looking for growth in an increasingly multicultural U.S. population.”
It turns out that 73 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 67 percent of Hispanics believe that African Americans influence mainstream culture (according to Nielsen). Black people have had to creatively pursue advancement and provision in a society historically and contemporarily fraught with disadvantages and biases against them; and they’ve had to do so within the context of possessing inherently distinct characteristics. These factors are a breeding ground for creativity–and influence upon those who are watching.
“I noticed luxury beauty brands didn’t speak to me. From model choices to pigments and undertones, I didn’t see myself [represented].”
–Kristen Elise Brown, creator, Gold Label Cosmetics
As seen in the beauty sector, if a black woman can’t find what she needs, she’ll make it herself. Indeed, black women are excelling in entrepreneurship. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners reported in 2015 that the number of businesses primarily owned by black women grew to more than 1.5 million (a 67 percent increase) between 2007 and 2012. Nielsen specifies that these businesses collectively have earned more than $42 billion in sales, and their growth is in contrast to 13 percent for white women and 27 percent for all U.S. women.
Kristen Elise Brown, creator and owner of Gold Label Cosmetics, which offers cruelty-free and paraben-free beauty, says that she launched her line to help
fill the void in luxurious beauty products for women of color. She says, “I noticed luxury beauty brands didn’t speak to me. From model choices to pigments and under- tones, I didn’t see myself [represented]. I wanted some luxury [in which] women of color could say, ‘Wow, they really included me when they made this product.’ Or, ‘That model looks like me. How nice!’”
Vera Moore, founder and CEO of Vera Moore Cosmetics, which offers 157 SKUs across skin care and cosmetics for women of color, launched her brand after experiencing the void in quality cosmetics while portraying nurse Linda Metcalf on NBC’s Another World. Not only was the makeup the wrong shade for her skin but it rubbed off on everything, including her white uniform. “I needed help. I [knew that if] I was experiencing this, then other women of color were also. Thus, the genesis of Vera Moore Cosmetics,” she says.
Nielsen highlights a few characteristics of black female consumers that surely play a role in their trendsetting savvy and influence on mainstream culture. Forty-two percent of black women are influenced by what’s hot and what’s not (57 percent higher than non-Hispanic white women); 82 percent say it’s important to be well groomed. They’re also younger than their counterparts, with a mean age of 35.1 (versus 42.8 for non-Hispanic white females and 39.4 for all U.S. females). Black females are avid social-media users (69 percent use YouTube) and are prone to sharing their experiences with services and products via social media (43 percent). Fifty percent regularly seek advice before making a purchase, and 47 percent say others regularly seek their advice before making a purchase. All of these factors play a huge part in their impact on mainstream culture.
THE BLACK BEAUTY CONSUMER
Black women spend billions of dollars annually on beauty products. Essence Smart Beauty Research found that African American women were spending as much as 80 percent more on beauty than other women. One of the factors at play is that the average black woman has to contend with much trial and error to find the right products. “Women of color are extremely price conscious, but with focus on quality,” Brown says. “If it costs $65 but her skin looks like baby skin, it’s well worth it.”
Black women also become loyal to a brand when they find what works for them, says Lake Louise, founder of Plain Jane Beauty, which offers eco-friendly, organic, nontoxic cosmetics. The brand’s extensive color range accommodates a wide array of skin tones, such as the Crème Minerals foundation, offered in 17 shades. Louise says that her customers are overjoyed to find products that are both clean and a match. Her customers with darker skin have been especially happy to share their discovery of her brand with others. “We’re the only clean brand that has the color range, especially in liquid [foundation]. Black women come to us for ingredients, quality, performance and color range,” says Louise. She is also the CEO (chief eco-beauty officer) of Skin, Mind, Body Essentials, a beauty and wellness company. Louise is responsible for all of its brands, including Plain Jane Beauty, Lotus Moon (skin care), DetoxRx (wellness) and SON (for men). She says her educated demographic does their own research and knows what they’re looking for. “Whenever we get calls or emails or any kind of information from customers, they’re like, ‘I’m changing my diet, so now I want to change my beauty,’” Louise says.
“Constant education is key. [Consumers] come to you. They trust you and expect an answer. Let them know you care.”
–Vera Moore, founder, Vera Moore Cosmetics
Moore, on the other hand, has made it part of her brand’s mission to educate her customers about the importance of skin care in conjunction with makeup. The Vera Moore Cosmetics’ mantra is “skin care is the true foundation, makeup is an accessory.” She promises her customers that if they tend to their skin, they’ll see the results. Both Louise and Moore champion health and skin care, respectively, as chief components of their brands. And both of their approaches are right on target with black beauty consumer interests. Research shows that black women are increasingly educated about ingredients and what they need and want in a product; they’re invested in skin care (52 percent have a strict skincare routine, reports Nielsen); and they’re proponents of both natural and organic beauty products (63 percent buy natural products for health reasons, while 46 percent regularly use natural/organic beauty products).
Brown adds that although women of color are extremely price conscious, quality trumps price for them. She explains that they desire quality in every aspect of a brand, from ingredients to design and packaging. She says, “To me, the most important quality women of color look for in makeup is packaging. A great product in a crappy tube won’t move off the shelf. There have been times when I couldn’t move forward with a product because the packaging I had in mind just wasn’t hitting its mark.” Gold Label Cosmetics features minimalist, all-gold packaging to catch the eye of the discerning.
THE RETAIL CONUNDRUM
Black women are avid beauty users with needs and money to spend; so, why aren’t they buying the beauty products you’re offering? Industry experts agree that the top two reasons are ...
Your store doesn’t have what she’s looking for. If you are interested in attracting women of color to your store, you’ve got to offer color range. You can’t offer three shades (light, medium, dark) and think you’ve done due diligence. Black skin tones range from the lightest of hues to the deepest, darkest browns; and multiple shades can be found on her face alone. “As black women, we’ll have two shades on our face. Our forehead might be darker than our cheek. You can’t find one shade [and put it all over the face],” Louise says.
There is also undertone to consider. Two black women can have the same skin color but different undertones. Is she cool, warm or neutral? “There are three undertones,” Moore explains. “They never change. Blue veins equal cool undertones, green veins equal warm undertones and neutral is sort of a mixture of both. That’s the basics for starting a conversation and getting a more perfect foundation color. It’s not about just mixing colors to accommodate our array of complexion.”
Retailers should also be educated about color correctors, Louise explains. “[Retailers] offer concealers because that’s what people know. For darker skin, we use color correction in the oranges, the reds ... because it’s about color correcting and neutralizing those areas–tricking the eye as the light bounces off it. When I learned color correcting, that threw concealers out the window,” she says. “That’s why we don’t have 16 concealers, and why we push color correction, because that will change your life.”
“Black women come to us for ingredients, quality, performance and color range.”
–Lake Louise, creator, Plain Jane Beauty
She doesn’t know that your store is carrying what she’s looking for. Your store might already be carrying products that offer customers an extensive color range, yet maybe consumers aren’t buying them. If this is the case, you need to evaluate what you’re communicating to your customers. Your store’s imagery, advertising, marketing and promotions, need to convey inclusivity. When black women launch makeup brands, their offerings generally speak to the diversity of women, not just the women who look like them. Retailers should follow suit.
“[In your marketing, you want to say] ‘darker, browner skin tones ... rich shades,’” Louise says. “Women with darker shades don’t think they’re included in ‘women of color’ [because that phrase is usually marketed to lighter skin women]. Who comes into your store is [determined by] who you market to.” She explains that others refer to Plain Jane Beauty as a brand created for women of color because it includes brown shades and the creator is a woman of color who understands that need. But the launch of the brand was about “inclusivity,” says Louise. “... From vanilla to ebony and all the undertones underneath, I have colors that are better sellers than others. But, there are people who are that match and who are hard to match, so I keep [those shades]. I just don’t make a whole lot of them.”
Experts offer the following additional suggestions for retailers: For one, be vigilant in maintaining the quality, appearance and condition of your products. Women aren’t interested in counters “where the foundations have separated, the eyeshadows are crumbled and the lip products are mushed all over the place,” Brown says. Second, don’t send her off to an isolated area of the store to look for her cosmetics within a designated area; integrate them throughout.
Nielsen’s report also highlighted a few attributes that will come in handy for retailers seeking to attract women of all skin tones. Sixty-two percent of black women enjoy wandering a store looking for new, interesting products (10 percent higher than non-Hispanic white women); 43 percent like to change brands often for the sake of variety and novelty (57 percent higher); 45 percent tend to make impulse purchases (20 percent higher); and 85 percent will gladly switch brands to use a coupon (19 percent higher). And, African American women still favor the brick-and-mortar experience, since 70 percent like to smell products in-store before buying them (5 percent higher than non-Hispanic white women).
Some retailers may face a learning curve to catch up with the evolving beauty market, but success is simply a matter of decision and education. “Constant education is key,” Moore says. “[Consumers] come to you. They trust you and expect an answer. Let them know you care. It’s not about the sale. It will come. Initial sales don’t make a business. They must believe and trust you.”