Welcome to the “Work It!” column, where we take a look at business innovation of every kind.
Sometimes being an innovator is as easy as paying attention to what others ignore. Iman is best known for serving fierceness. She blazed runways and magazines during the 70’s and 80’s. She was a muse to Saint-Laurent, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Versace. She’s David Bowie’s wife! As if all that fabulousness wasn’t enough, you have to give her props for being an innovative businesswoman as well.
If you’ve walked through a department store or picked up a magazine for black women, you know about Iman Cosmetics. But you may not realize how the brand has made history. There was a time when being a supermodel wasn’t enough for a black woman to find foundation in her color.
Iman still remembers make-up artists asking her if she brought her own foundation when she showed up for shoots, and the grey shade her face took on when those same artists mixed concoctions to make due.
Where There’s A Need, There’s A Check
In 1994, after she retired from ripping the runway, Iman founded Iman Cosmetics. From the start, Iman was confident in her venture because she knew there was a need for her product. Women constantly approached her on the street asking what products she used, and where they could buy them. Her products, sold on the Web and in chain stores, do about $25 to $30 million a year.
Iman’s business strategy is still effective today. In every industry and area of interest there is bound to be a group that is underserved. Being the first to cater to their needs will inspire unparalleled brand loyalty.
I was admittedly comfortable with Iman Cosmetics being identified as a beauty brand that filled the gap for black women because it was deeply personal for me. It was more than foundations and powders; 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 cool table and courted in high style.
Serve, Don’t Pander And Never Abandon
The main pitfall with this strategy is alienating your intended audience by stereotyping them. As Iman says, “Multicultural markets are nuanced, but not alien.” Know your audience and their culture, but don’t pander in a way that be can perceived as offensive. Show your allegiance with subtle nods to social cues that someone not part of that group would miss.
This innovation strategy isn’t limited by race. Any trait that makes a person unique can be translated into a business’s differentiator. Appealing to a niche market is a great way to build up to serving a larger market. Iman Cosmetics slowly shifted to a more holistic vision that served women of all skin tones. That doesn’t mean when you get on leave your base for the mainstream. Never forget the customers that supported you first.
C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).
We’re highlighting Pioneers in the Game every day here on Madame Noire. Click here to meet all of our salutes.