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Clean cosmetics: How beauty brands are setting a new standard for clean makeup and inclusivity
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The conventional fashion and beauty industry has struggled with shade inclusivity for decades. Supermodel Iman, who began her modelling career in 1975, launched her namesake makeup line in 1994, due to the lack of options for women of colour. She continues to voice her opinion and lend support through her social media assets. On a video dated June 10, Iman said, “I’ve been in the game of beauty since 1994. Pre-IMAN Cosmetics, as a supermodel being strewn to all luxuriant pockets of the world on location with access to the most coveted innovators nothing should have been off-limits when it came to beauty. However, I would show up to a shoot fresh-faced, ready to be primped into divineness, and the makeup artist of the moment would greet me with what was a commonplace opener at that time: “Did you bring your own foundation?”. And we all knew what that meant. “There are no foundations for your skin tone”. Ouch! This is not the uniqueness I was going for.”

“When I launched IMAN Cosmetics in 1994, we were touted as the prestige brand for women of color, which in marketing speak was really just a PC way of saying Black. And even though our brand positioning and advertising shows a vast array of skin tones from what people identify as Hispanic and Asian, I was admittedly comfortable with IMAN Cosmetics being identified as a the beauty brand that filled the gap for Black women because it was deeply personal for me. It was more than foundations and powders for me; it was appealing to a deep psychological need that I think all Black women needed at that time: To be told that they were beautiful, invited to sit at the table, and courted in high style: women of all skin tones want to look good when they rule the world.”

“Everyone is hip to the fact that if you want to be in business, you clearly have to be in bed with the multicultural consumer. It would be an exercise in foolishness to not invite this customer out to play. But the playground mentality has been industry standard for longer than it needs to be, where someone new rolls on the scene and all of the attention goes to that new person.”

“I wasn’t going to wait for a seat at the table… I just build my own table!”

Iman’s fellow supermodel and legend Naomi Campbell has long been a vocal critic of the lack of inclusion in the beauty and fashion worlds. Campbell, who during a 34-year career became the first Black model to appear on the covers of French Vogue and Time magazine respectively, believes there would be more opportunities for Black people as designers, stylists and make-up artists around the world.

In an interview to Reuters, Campbell also said that the worldwide protests about the treatment of Black people will also have its effects on the global fashion and beauty industries by creating job opportunities and products catering for all consumers.

“Now the whole world is on the same page. The voices are coming out now... and I look at that with optimism that we will get our change,” she had said.

In the recent years though a lot has been seen changing in terms of inclusivity in beauty. Popstar Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Foundation in 40 shades, which is now available in 50 shades. M.A.C.’s Studio Fix Fluid is available in 63. Even Estee Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup has 56.

Clean cosmetics or the products made without ingredients that are known or suspected to be harmful to the body have unfortunately lagged behind. Westman Atelier’s Vital Foundation Stick is available in 14 shades. The Skin Esteem Liquid Foundation from Antonym Cosmetics is currently available in six shades.

In the meantime, makeup artists such as Katey Denno have had to get creative. “It’s been a lot of scraping off the orange lipstick and mixing it with a concealer that’s almost the right colour,” she says.

Credo, the clean beauty retailer, recently announced a breakthrough: Its private label line, Exa, includes a High Fidelity Foundation that is available in 43 shades, double what most clean cosmetics offer.

Credo chose the name Exa, which is the largest unit of measure, as a nod to the notion of inclusivity as an endless thing. It took the team two years to develop the breathable, yet buildable, foundation. It’s made with micro algae (an anti-pollutant), maqui berry, cocoa fruit powder, and peach leaf. The primer, which has a blurring effect on the skin to the point where the foundation may not be needed, is formulated with anti-oxidant-rich raspberry seed oil, CoQ10, and cocoa fruit powder.

With nine stores in such cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, servicing a diverse customer base is vital to Credo co-founder Annie Jackson. “I come from beauty, so I come from a world where matching everyone that comes through the door is a prerequisite,” Jackson explains. “‘I’m sorry, we don’t have anything here for you’ is the worst possible outcome.” Credo carries around 135 lines—Rituel De Fille, Kjaer Weis and W3LL People are just a few—and none are owned by large corporations or conglomerates.

And clean beauty is booming. “We know that six out of 10 beauty consumers want to buy clean beauty—and especially Gen Z,” reports Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer at Ulta. According to Euromonitor International’s Beauty Survey 2019, 24% of global respondents said “all natural ingredients” influenced their colour cosmetics purchase.

Growth is promising, but small brands struggle with high costs. Annie Lawless, who founded Lawless Beauty, says sourcing clean colorants and the research and development process required to cover a wide shade range requires a bigger financial investment than conventional brands face. “It is more complicated, with the limitations clean presents,” she says, “from an inventory perspective, with a higher cost of goods, and minimum order quantities per shade.”

Companies are expanding their shade range. “Balancing business with being socially conscious is a constant challenge—and one that I’ve learned, after a decade, does require capital in order to execute properly,” Ilia founder Sasha Plavsic says. The line will expand its roster of 18 foundations next spring. Lawless Beauty will debut additional products next year. “We have two exciting complexion collections, and with them will nearly double the number of complexion shades available,” says Lawless. 

Jackson is confident that the clean category will continue to trend positively. “Like, 2 1/2 years ago, the average range in a clean brand was 10,” she says. “Now, it’s 15. They get it, and they know that this is socially the right thing to do. It’s just a real financial barrier.”

According to Vapour co-founder Krysia Boinis, whose brand is sold at Credo, finding the money isn’t the hardest part. “The bigger challenge is finding strategic investors who recognize and appreciate brand values and come to the table as true partners with industry experience, a wealth of relationships, and who can add tangible value beyond just dollars.”

-- with Bloomberg inputs

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