Everyone from Christian Louboutin to MAC Cosmetics and Target are cashing in on products for women of color
Beauty comes in many shades, the most important of which is green.
Chasing profits in an era of demographic change and demanding consumers, the fashion and beauty industries are increasingly expanding their offerings to accommodate different skin tones. Christian Louboutin recently released two high heel sandals in the seven different skin tones of its Nudes collection. On the less pricey side, Target recently began selling four new shades, from cocoa to caramel and mochacinno, for its flesh colored intimates.
Nude or flesh colored garments once meant a certain hue of peachy white, but fashion is finally imitating real life. When Louboutin, the fashion world’s favorite cordwainer, initially released five “nude” colored flats –ranging from caramel to off beige– four years ago, that was seen as a sign of progress. The privately held French shoemaker didn’t return a request for comment on sales, but the expansion into different styles and addition of new shades suggest it’s more than just a fad. An Instagram post announcing the new styles got over 150,000 likes– tens of thousands more than the average Louboutin photo.
Of course, companies that target women of color have long known that there was a large pool of customers frustrated with the lack of choices in department stores. The Somalia-born supermodel Iman launched her own cosmetics line in 1994 to cater to women of darker shades and by 2010, had $25 million in annual sales. Black Opal has thrived as a skincare provider of choice for African-American women. Half of MAC Cosmetics customers are women of color, while Bobbi Brown has been working with chemists to accommodate a wider variety of skin tones since its inception.
But now, the mainstreaming of “ethnic beauty” is really well under way. “Frankly, a lot of larger companies are seeing dollar signs,” Cassidy Blackwell, director of brand engagement at Walker and Company, which makes hair products for people of color, tells Moneyish. In America, MAC sold $1.17 billion worth of color cosmetics in 2015, up almost 20% from 2013. Though it only launched this past January on an investment of less than $13,000, English intimates startup Nünude has sold out its $49 nude bra-and-panties set– which come in five hues from sand colored to chocolate brown– and recently inked a distribution deal with fast fashion retailer Forever 21. Walker & Co. has raised over $33 million since 2013 and earlier this week announced a tie-up with Sephora.com, the prestige beauty store.
The vogue-ization of mixed beauty is occurring because the average American consumer is getting browner as the Hispanic community booms – they accounted for over half of U.S. population growth between 2000 to 2014. “In beauty, people gravitate to products that reflect people like them in the marketing,” says Blackwell, who adds that beauty companies previously made the faulty assumption that “ethnic” meant African-American. “There’s a huge white space and our intention was to build something inclusive from the outset” for South Asian and Latina customers, she adds. Indeed, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc, which owns MAC and Bobbi Brown, repeatedly stressed in its 2016 annual report that the millennial generation was the most diverse ever and that it was key to keep them engaged.
This change comes as the traditional gatekeepers of power in the fashion and beauty industries like magazine editors, who tend to be white, are seeing their influence seep away to influencers and social media mavens, who come from more diverse backgrounds. For instance, Nünude has accumulated almost 100,000 followers on Instagram, many of whom were originally attracted by a viral photo shoot it organized of women of color in their foundation garments.
“There’s a message of inclusivity and diversity a lot of people resonate with that has been missing from the fashion industry,” says Vabyanti Endrojono-Ellis, the company’s cofounder. “In this day and age, you don’t need a lot to start a business. Social media has made it really accessible.”
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