By Rhea Cartwright
he triad of being an avid beauty lover, consumer but also an industry insider can be complex, especially when you’re Black. Whilst there is so much I love about the beauty industry, the unavoidable reality is that Black people are still embarrassingly overlooked. From shade ranges to job opportunities, the billion-dollar beauty industry has not progressed enough.
Systemic racism is by no means a new phenomenon but the tragic event of George Floyd’s murder last year was the catalyst that sparked global protests. I may not be American but the UK has its own vicious history with race. This is the country that likes to believe racism doesn’t exist but then acts aghast when racially aggravated offences increased in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests or when Black footballers faced a barrage of abuse after missing penalties.
Visibility can no longer be the metric, as visibility alone doesn’t bring change - economic power does.
Within the beauty industry, racial ambivalence manifests as the “universally flattering” makeup product that Black people instinctively know won’t suit our skin tone from the name or press release alone. It’s having to call up a hair salon and ask whether there is someone that can confidently work with Afro hair. It’s knowing that despite there being one Black model used in a brand’s social media campaign, there is probably not a single Black person within the executive leadership team.
Black culture is pop culture and that extends to the trends we see within beauty. The “ghetto” nail art is now coveted by all, cornrows are now commonplace on catwalks (and too readily appropriated) and people are lining up for a delicate sprinkle of filler to boost their pouts.
After last year's arbitrary posting of black squares on #blackouttuesday and the proposed “listening and learning” so many beauty businesses promised to do, the effective change has been embarrassingly minimal. Over a year on, and as UK Black History Month 2021 came and went, I, like so many others, was left so disappointed with the efforts displayed. While brands such as Depop, Uber Eats and Bumble launched highly engaging campaigns celebrating Black culture, the beauty industry left behind a deafening silence.
It’s easy for a brand or retailer to say they are committed but to prove commitment is far harder and I intend to change that. Last week, I launched the Black Beauty Council which is an initiative striving for the continued equality, equity and empowerment of Black people within the beauty industry. I will call on all facets of the industry to bring a measurably improved experience to Black beauty consumers and employees working within it. Opportunities are not equally distributed and everybody within an influential position of power within the beauty industry needs to understand that due to inherent bias and systemic failure, real work has to be done for Black people to thrive and succeed.
Opportunities are not equally distributed and everybody within an influential position of power within the beauty industry needs to understand that due to inherent bias and systemic failure, real work has to be done for Black people to thrive and succeed.
Beauty is an omnichannel ecosystem which therefore needs a broad strategy to drive change. Visibility can no longer be the metric, as visibility alone doesn’t bring change - economic power does. The percentage of Black-owned brands a retailer stocks cannot be the only barometer for showing commitment because it has to extend to the retailer’s marketing and communication departments too. There is no point in ranging Black-owned brands if the message isn’t then adequately publicised to consumers who can then purchase.
So what will success look like for the Black Beauty Council? First on my agenda is partnering with brands that align with our values and want to build systemic change. Education is the key to empowerment and access to internships, mentorships and supporting current in-house talent is vital. Brands need to be audited beyond merely their employee diversity demographics and will require an investigation into their company culture. A brand may have a large BIPOC workforce but are those people happy? Do they feel seen and respected? Are opportunities readily available for them?
Next, will be building an accelerator programme with a leading retailer to nurture and support the next generation of Black beauty founders. Having just launched my own course on “How To Launch A Beauty Brand”, I want founders to have access to expert knowledge and advice to further their vision.
Beauty journalism is another top priority as there are only a handful of Black beauty journalists and that needs to change. Beyond mentoring schemes, I want publications to hire young, Black talent. I want the writers of the future to know that this industry welcomes and values them with open arms because far too often I am the only non-white face at press events.
And lastly, I will be building my advisory board. A council is a collective of people all striving for a shared goal and I know that together, we will achieve true change. Among the collective will be leading beauty industry experts and allies that will help push the agenda to create positive change through economic empowerment and education.
Learn how the Black Beauty Council will push for continued equality, equity and empowerment for Black people within the beauty industry.
By Rhea Cartwright