Tag Archives: Rihanna

K-Commodification

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Debbie says:

K-Pop is not my thing, but I am more and more aware of friends who follow it, talk about it, think about it, and care about it. So Joanna Fuertes’ essay on “K-Beauty” at Medium, which turns out to be a few months old, caught my eye this week.

Playing a starring role [in the all-things-Korean culture explosion] is a glorious onslaught of Korean beauty products, with the K-Beauty market now valued at over $13 billion, and $7.2 billion of which is from facial skin care alone. Serums, acids, oils, cushion compacts, CC creams, BB creams, masks that bubble on your face, masks to sleep in, volcanic clay, and snail slime are seeing improbably explosive popularity, and they’ve done so with accessible pricing and cute packaging that has grown women reaching for panda face masks.

Fuertes is interested both in the consumer appeal of the K-Beauty products …

So how is the Korean beauty industry seemingly light years ahead of us in the first place? One explanation is they’ve just been doing it longer. “The philosophical and cultural underpinnings have been in place for centuries, long before it was ever commercialized, and Koreans valuing their skin is not a new phenomenon” [Jude] Chao [whom Fuertes describes as “somewhat of an oracle on K-Beauty”] explains.

There is also an inadvertent appeal to a Western audience that is becoming more interested in natural ingredients. Most recently, K-Beauty has had snail mucin fever, using slime collected from garden snails crawling around on a mesh net in a dark, humid room. Once beautifully packaged in a glossy jar, it’s easier to overlook the ick factor and aspire to dermatologists’ claims that it encourages effervescent, aging-resistant skin.

… and the commercial factors driving their success:

“What people don’t see is the amount of government support and PR that drives interest around everything from Korean food to Hollywood buying the rights to Korean dramas,” says Chao. “Skin care is another form of popular culture that’s proved to be a powerful export. So, if you go to beauty trade shows, it’s not unusual to have a Korean government presence supporting at least some of the homegrown brands.”

The involvement of the Korean government is no surprise to anyone who has lived in New York City, where the “Korean deli” — a mom-and-pop convenience store with little or no Korean products — is found everywhere. Korean delis thrive in part  because the Korean embassies help immigrants through every step of the process, including advising them on what to stock and how to display — which is why they all look so familiar and are so easy to navigate.

In her analysis of the appeal of the products, Fuertes digs into Korean history, western Orientalism, and the deep-seated conviction in so many cultures around the world that fair skin is better and more desirable. In her analysis of the commerce aspects, she exposes Western appropriation, and readiness to repackage inexpensive products in costly trappings.

In sharp contrast to Fenty Beauty,  Rihanna’s cosmetics line, which I wrote about early this year, the K-Beauty craze is less about people of color finding and promoting their own style for people with skin like theirs, and more about the monetary value of everything from snail mucin to skin lightening, with (of course) the money flowing towards the oligarchs of the white western world.

At the same time, the music and drama explosion of K-artists does seem (to the extent I understand it) to be a genuine import of Korean aesthetics and preferences; here’s hoping that the less expensive, more genuine products Chao is promoting make their way into Western hands, and the money flows to the people who make them, not the Westerners who repackage them.

And I am always happier when there’s less skin lightening and more encouragement of satisfaction with your own skin of any color.

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Black News: Rihanna Changes the Makeup Landscape

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Debbie says:

from Popsugar’s article analyzing all 40 shades Fenty Beauty sells

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.