Princess Weekes, writing at The Mary Sue, provides some history of black and brown makeup, setting the stage for her article about the huge success of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line, launched not even six months ago.
From the beginning of the makeup industry, there has been a bias and leaning towards catering to white women. Skin lighteners and skin bleach were frequently advertised in African-American magazines and it wasn’t until the 1970s that makeup lines began to actually start embracing different skin tones as being beautiful. This was mostly done by black-owned beauty businesses. …
As a tan-to-medium-toned girl with olive/warm undertones, it is hard to just go to the drug store and find a foundation that doesn’t completely wash me out or turn me orange. Going into Ulta, I once spent an entire hour swatching every single bronzer in that store to find just one that was dark enough to be a contour shade for me. I couldn’t find a single one that had enough pigment to be dark enough for me contour within either the low-end or high-end brands, that wouldn’t just look way too dark on my skin tone. Considering I am nowhere near as dark as other women of color, I can only imagine what the struggle might have been if I were darker.
Makeup isn’t something I personally care about it; I don’t wear it and I effectively never have. That doesn’t change my respect for Rihanna for meeting the needs of a huge range of people (mostly women) who do care, and it doesn’t diminish my applause for her success.
WWD reports that Fenty’s sales in its first month alone were five times that of Kylie’s—and 34 percent higher the following month and that if this trend continues Fenty will be outselling both Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner’s beauty lines. As has been reported on Popsugar, Jenner’s brand and KKW Beauty have caught some criticism on the web from reviewers who don’t think the shades work for them. Not to mention those who feel like both of them heavily appropriate off of the style and looks of black women.
Fenty’s success isn’t just great for Rihanna, it is great for beauty diversity. It shows everyone in the industry that consumers are not to ignore the lack of shade range offered anymore and they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Teen Vogue reports that “Fenty Beauty fans reportedly spend an average of $471 per year in the makeup category, compared to shoppers of Kat Von D who spend $371, KKW shoppers who spend $278, and Kylie Cosmetics shoppers who spend $181.”
To break this down just a little further,
As Weekes goes on to point out, diversity is not only good politics, it’s good business. The big firms in any field will put some time and energy into getting their share of that business, but they are almost always shamefully slow to recruit and then listen to folks who live in that diverse landscape, so their racism and conventional assumptions always keep them behind the curve. The smaller firms, in this case often vehicles for stars, tend to follow one person’s or one limited group’s tastes and treat that as if it was universal. Thus, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, both also famous, can’t play in Rihanna’s league, because they wear too many blinders.
And thus, a black-owned business with a genuine vision, can drop in and, in less than half a year, walk away with market share just by giving people what they are looking for.
The fact that privilege makes you stupid is not a good thing. But every once in a while, it leaves an opening for someone with less privilege to do something smart, do it well, and profit from it. That is a good thing.
Why is this a black history month post? Because black history begins with black news. Just as Princess Weekes contexts her article with black and brown makeup history, in ten years, people will be contexting their articles with how Fenty Beauty changed the landscape long-term.