Only Rihanna will have me watching Instagram live when queuing for a flight and devouring every bit of information about her Fenty Beauty launch. I’ve seen so many tweets stating the fact that teens today can skip the dream matte mousse and have a range of foundations to choose from. Well, I didn’t even have a my-face-is-a-different-colour-to-my-neck phase. Firstly there weren’t many affordable shades to choose from and I also spent most of my teenage years makeup free (though still obliterating my eyebrows with £3 threading).
Even though I wasn’t a fully paid up member of the Navy (though we did make up our own version of Umbrella on a Croydon night out once), I was all kinds of impressed with the launch. 2017 has been the year of beauty brand fails and it’s become crystal clear that latching onto the word ‘diversity’ is not enough. There needs to be a genuine commitment, an understanding of the various issues and it needs to be reflected everywhere, from the boardrooms down to the selfies displayed on social media accounts.
Since we’ve had a few months to recover from the blinding nature of Trophy Wife, I thought I’d share a few ways that Fenty Beauty has wiped the floor with other brands ‘inclusive efforts’ and how I hope the industry will change.
Pictured (a combination of gifted and purchased) – Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear in 430 & 440, Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer, Killawatt in Ginger Binge and Moscow Mule, Matchstix in Cocoa and Espresso, Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer
Inclusivity is not an afterthought
Shopping for beauty and haircare as a black woman is an interesting experience. For example, I’ll stock up on avocado and sweet almond oils in Paks to try and nurture my afro, that are positioned opposite dodgy skin-whitening products. On a larger scale there are brands that will have conflicting messages, ‘Sure we love your skin colour in this market, but we’ll sell lightening creams elsewhere, because $$$.’
Brands need to be consistent. Of course this is easier for startups who are able to establish this from the outset, rather than older companies that previously never had to look outside their target market. Consumers can be sceptical when a token ‘Cocoa’ shade is added years after a range launching. Although Rihanna is a lighter-skinned black woman, she’s put her heart and soul into the launch and wanted to have something for everyone. There’s numerous undertones and the choice of faces shows that paler shades don’t have to just be represented by white models.
It’s true that there could be improvements, such as a darker contour shade and models varying in age, size and ability. No brand is above constructive criticism but there is the danger that Fenty Beauty is being held to a higher standard than brands that wouldn’t even bother. I hope that they are taking on the feedback and working on it.
It decided to innovate, rather than ‘test out the market’
This is what we hear all too often from brands. ‘We’re testing out the market to prove that there’s demand.’ ‘Darker shades won’t sell.’ In a similar way to plus size fashion (Callie explains things perfectly), if something hasn’t been presented as an option or marketed properly, then customers can be wary about trying it. You have to prove something with your purchasing, without being aware that your decision could affect the range being stocked in the future. Launching a new range goes beyond just changing a few surface factors, but also reprogramming our mindsets.
Like this Adweek article states, ‘If we’re trying to be truly innovative, no data exists to tell you what will work. Data only measures what’s been done before.’ Thanks to a strong campaign featuring a diverse range of models and a founder who is passionate about inclusion, there are still queues outside Harvey Nichols three months after the launch. Starting off with 40 shades of foundation in a range of undertones, shows that women of colour are valued. Brands, advertising and magazines ‘have the power to shift cultural perceptions’ (take note Alexandra Shulman) and the beauty industry should be empowering, rather than making us feel like we don’t matter.
What I’d buy again
The main thing I loved about the initial range, is that the ‘Fenty Face’ doesn’t seem unattainable. Sure the models look flawless, but not unrecognisable with just a hint of a natural glow. If you forget the queue (though there was a lot of camaraderie), the shopping experience was positive. Sometimes you can feel like an inconvenience when you ask for a sample elsewhere, but staff here were understanding and attentive, even though obviously busy. These are some of my favourites so far:
Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear in 440 – Usually the word ‘matte’ scares me, but Pro Filtr is light, easy to blend and the most accurate colour match I’ve ever had. I probably wouldn’t have been able to figure this out online because of the lighting used on the models, plus a makeup artist at Harvey Nichols explained that the undertones can mean the opposite (440 is cool but I’d usually call myself warm). My tip is to get to the queue early, ask for samples and test out your colour matches over a few days. I can also use 430, which is a little warmer and probably closer to what I’d been wearing before.
Killawatt in Ginger Binge and Moscow Mule – This is the only product that I knew would suit me after spying it online first, a beautiful highlight that blends rose gold and copper. Most of the time I treat it as a blush, it reminds me of Taj Mahal by Nars and only needs a light application.
Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer – Although the colour of this is pretty subtle on me, the sweet smell makes this a joy to use. Seriously, Rihanna if you bring out a range of sweets, it will be the end of my teeth. I love the fact that she brought out a universal gloss as her first product, but I’ll be hoping for some deeper shades soon.
Match Stix in Espresso – I love how versatile the Match Stix are, depending on the colour you can use them to correct, conceal and contour. I’m still yet to attempt a full glam look, so I just use Espresso carefully to emphasise my cheekbones. I think I’ve finally been converted from powders.
This has probably been one of the most exciting launches of the decade and I hope that instead of throwing shade, other brands realise that an extensive, well-crafted range should be a given. Beauty is such an emotional subject and a lot of us are still trying to unlearn all the messages sent out by the media.
I’m sure existing brands will see the money on the table and scramble to create new shades but I hope that this will encourage new brands to be disruptive, create societal change and shift the power balance. We need to erode the cycle of ‘such and such won’t sell, so we won’t even bother producing it’ becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though social media has its downsides, the freedom has allowed marginalised groups to empower themselves and create products that work for them. I’m optimistic, but also hope that those without the financial backing of Kendo and star power of Rihanna will be able to achieve success too.
Liked this post? Check out my interview with MDMflow founder Florence Adepoju.