The evolution of black beauty

Richard phibb

This has long been overlooked, but now it is impossible to deny the enormous global impact that black beauty has had over the past century. For too long, many have been quick to stomp, take credit for, or ignore entirely the efforts of black creators, artists, and business owners. It was exhausting and caused disruptions in the beauty industry.

Growing up in a predominantly white area, my darkness took hold, making me immediately “different”. This was made even more evident by the lack of products available for my skin. Every Saturday shopping with my school friends, they would buy loads of different foundations and concealers, while my experience has always left me empty-handed.

After a fiscal year for black and ethnic minorities in 2020, the UK government’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities has determined that ‘structural racism in the UK does not exist’, although ‘outright racism persists “. The commission focused on education, but it is undeniable that racial prejudice exists within many large business structures, including the beauty industry.

A Guardian Last year’s article stated that “Black business owners often have a harder time accessing the funds they need to keep their businesses afloat – and are twice as likely to have their loan applications rejected as business owners. white companies ”. This prompted eight UK-based black-owned beauty brands to collaborate on the #pullupchallenge and call on the beauty industry to do better to ensure they give black-owned businesses a place to be. Table.

Slowly, more and more black-founded and black-owned beauty brands are gaining the recognition they deserve through initiatives such as UOMA Beauty Pull to change, by Sharon Chuter, who uses her Small Business Fund to support black businesses.

The beauty industry has made huge strides in recent years in terms of diversity and inclusion. When browsing any high street store, your eyes are now faced with a plethora of shades to suit almost any skin tone. But, while it’s always encouraging to look to the future – and there’s still a lot of work to do – it’s important to look back on the evolution of black beauty to lead us to this moment.

The idea of ​​a monolithic beauty ideal is so far from realistic

Most of the black-owned beauty founders I’ve spoken to started their brands out of a need to make space. “How do you create a safe space for everyone? How to change this monolithic vision of beauty and make it varied? Fall questioned. She is right, the idea of ​​a monolithic beauty ideal is far from realistic. In fact, even the term “black beauty” is reductive, when it actually encompasses a wide range of skin tones, hairstyles and textures. Emolyne Ramlov, founder of the beauty brand Emolyne echoed Chuter, telling me, “I also felt vastly under-represented as a person of African heritage where the majority of the beauty market is focused more on a single notion in terms of color.”

Despite the fact that the number of black-owned brands we see on the shelves today has grown rapidly, many founders faced quite similar challenges in getting there as black entrepreneurs. Dr Esho, founder of Esho Cosmetics, tells me, “In many ways, I felt like a unicorn – isolated. Statistics show that it is more difficult to obtain venture capital investments for black-owned businesses. Our brands often do not meet investment criteria, so you have to ask yourself why. Makeup artist Joy Adenuga Okay, saying, “The biggest challenge from the start, and it’s always a challenge, is racing. I lost count of how many opportunities were presented to me, but was taken out once they realized I was black. These words hit me with a sharp sting; this feeling of being judged by race is all too familiar.

These brand founders having all faced such specific challenges, it would be naïve to put this down to chance.

“What was in the talcum powder on your face in the 90s ?!” exclaims Fall. The 90s were truly the birthplace of ethnic makeup brands. The first pioneering black beauty brand was Fashion Fair, which was launched in 1973 in America, at a time when black women were mostly neglected and downsized in popular culture. The brand has opened up new territory; previously there was no way to find foundations with darker undertones, and many darker people used formulas with crushed chalk and dangerous ingredients. The 90s saw a boom in “ethnic aisles” in American drugstores thanks to the popularity of models like Naomi Campbell and Iman, but these were often pushed to the back of stores and there were no offers of. luxury. Chuter said to me: “If you wanted to belong to blacks [in the Nineties], it had to be cheap. Even the biggest brands made products for darker skin tones that looked – and were – cheap, like that was how they thought they would get to us. ”

However, it’s fair to say that the aesthetic black women were aiming for was a lot more chic than cheap. Adenuga describes the black makeup trends of the 90s as “a predecessor of what we now call a natural, soft and glamorous look”. She continues, “Celebrities like Lauryn Hill, Halle Berry, Naomi Campbell and Aaliyah wore more subdued lip undertones like plums and browns, naturally thick eyebrows and a more subtle smoky eye.” Liha Okunniwa, founder of Liha, adds that the look was to “always make sure you shine from head to toe.” Glowing skin, now, is universally considered the holy grail. But during the ’90s there was still a serious lack of shade for everyone, with Okunniwa noting that she must have used dark brown eyeliner for her lips during the decade.

Then came the Noughties, which truly saw their own evolution within the realm of black beauty. Emolyne tells me, “Pat McGrath has always been a driving force, but especially during this time when she won the L’Oréal Pro-V Makeup Artist of the Year award two years in a row. Iconic British makeup artist Pat McGrath Labs was one of the most anticipated releases of the decade, featuring sleek, luxurious packaging and inclusive shades that really set the bar higher in the beauty industry. at large. Adenuga describes the look of the 2000s as “a little more glamorous, playful and experimental. We’re talking emerald green and blue eyeshadows, delicately plucked eyebrows, and heavily glossy lips edged with a brown or plum pencil. McGrath’s products really provided all the tools for this look, and black women didn’t have to compromise on quality.

black beauty evolution

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Keisha East notes that one of the biggest transformations in the beauty world was the creation of Fenty Beauty in 2017. “It was a game-changer again, making it super accessible for finding all types of shades in mainstream stores. . ” From its inception, it was announced that Rihanna’s eponymous brand would launch 40 shades of foundation. Until this point, many brands would post about half that number with only about three shades darker, assuming darker skin tones would have to fit that one size or go somewhere else. Since then, we’ve seen a dramatic push to incorporate deeper tones into baselines across the board.

“There is no such thing as multicultural beauty,” Chuter believes. the diversity.

For something to be truly inclusive, it has to start from the inside out. Beauty companies need to have diverse teams for this change to be organic and able to point out specific flaws in shades and products before they hit the shelves.

The beauty world has made giant strides, but let’s face it, there’s still work to be done – and it’s not just Pat McGrath and Rihanna who are pioneering change. Fall is right, “the world is a bad place just because we don’t want to accept each other’s differences.” So let’s start accepting; we can’t stop now.



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