It wasn’t long ago that women of color had limited choices if they wanted to buy prestige cosmetics designed just for them.
For decades, Fashion Fair cosmetics, founded in 1973, was the go-to brand for a generation of African-American women. It remains the largest black-owned cosmetics brand in the world.
But in recent years, the brand — a division of the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines — has had problems delivering the goods. Inventory at department stores has been depleted and is slow to be replenished.
While it is unclear exactly what is happening with Fashion Fair cosmetics, it is clear that the tastes of women of color have changed. Competition has grown as prestige brands increasingly offer options to complement richer skin tones.
One of newest entrants in the U.S. beauty market is Black Up Paris, an independent brand of cosmetics for women of color that recently landed at 10 Sephora stores nationwide. U.S. operations for the line, created 16 years ago by a makeup artist, are based in Atlanta.
“Black Up is the only (beauty) brand that is solely focused on women of color out of the luxury brands,” said Valerie Saint Amand, the Atlanta-based International Trainer and US Sales Director. “We are going to a level to create shades that some of us haven’t seen before.”
Black Up cosmetics features saturated colors such as eye shadows and eye pencils that run the gamut from light metallic gold to vivid metallic green. There are 18 shades of the popular Matifying Fluid Foundation and lip-colors ranging from pale pink to deep purple. Blush colors include highly pigmented fuchsias as well as more subtle tones that emulate the flush of dark skin.
Even the nudes are designed with women of color in mind including a line of nude lip balms in shades that match the darker coloring of their lips. A new collection of 10 nail polish colors features seven nude tones from the deepest coffee to cafe au lait.
Prices range from about $20 for eye and lip pencils to $44 for a skin primer. The products, which are made in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland, are dermatologically and toxicologically tested. They are not tested on animals and comply with European and U.S. standards.
“Black Up provides our clients with a dynamic range of high quality products for women of all colors. Through their thoughtful point of view, they’ve created an amazing assortment of professional quality products for all skin tones and types, quickly becoming a top rated brand and one of the most comprehensive collection of shade ranges on Sephora.com in just a few short months” said Alison Hahn, Vice President of Merchandising at Sephora.
Before it was beset with troubles, Fashion Fair was the brand that offered women of color a similar experience. Most other brands designed for ethnic skin tones including Black Opal, Iman, Zuri and Milani are exclusively mass market.
Women of color who wanted prestige cosmetics but didn’t find a fit with Fashion Fair were forced to consider other options such as MAC, Bobbi Brown and Estee Lauder, all of which are owned by beauty behemoth Estee Lauder brands.
Many of these companies have made diversity a priority as demonstrated by expanded color lines and advertising that embraces beauties of all ethnicities.
As an indie brand, Black Up, which has been largely dependent on word of mouth instead of advertising, faces a few challenges.
Seven years ago, when the company took on investors, Saint Amand said they reformulated all the products to make them less heavy on the skin. Working with a team of makeup artists, they upgraded their formulas and added more colors — a necessity to meet the needs of women in the U.S., who are more focused on color than their European counterparts, Saint Amand said.
American women also like to shop online, which can be a challenge when you’re trying to color match foundation with a new brand, Saint Amand said. The company hopes to continually evolve to meet these cultural changes, she said.
“For us, it is something we need to adapt to and adjust. We need to think about how on our website to balance this,” she said.
Another online phenomenon that is only just growing in Europe is product reviews from bloggers and users, which can be a huge help or hindrance for a new company.
Sande Stevenson, a beauty vlogger in St. Louis, recently reviewed Black Up on her YouTube channel, TheSocialiteLife.
The blogger was hesitant at first, because the products came with stipulations, she said. But when requests came in from her followers, she ignored the guidelines and did an honest review.
“My experience was a mixed bag,” she said. “As a makeup reviewer and beauty vlogger I felt like that was my responsibility to share that and be honest about it.”
Stevenson noted that some of her followers had a different experience.
“Some people said it was a good product for them and they had a good experience with it. I love to see other people’s take on it,” she said. The beauty market, she said, needs companies that cater to women of color.
“There are issues with brown skin that other cultures don’t have and there are skin tones in brown skin that aren’t represented in other companies,” said Stevenson.
For now, Black Up is focused on expanding the number of doors it holds in U.S. Sephora stores and continuing to spread the word about the brand.
“We want to really break into the market and get people to understand we are taking care of women of color and that we are listening to our customers,” Saint Amand said. “We are creating more shades and making sure clients understand what Black Up is.”