Multicultural Approach Charts Future of the Beauty Business

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From its reboot in 2000, when the brand changed hands and re-emerged with a focus on high-impact color, Milani consciously sought a wide customer base. “We always try to keep it as inclusive as possible even though it was specifically designed for women of color,” stated Laurie Minc, co-owner of Jordana Cosmetics, which produces the Milani line, adding it’s beneficial that the name doesn’t allude to any group in particular. “We really looked at being a MAC for the masses. MAC has done a nice job of including every demographic and women of every color. And that’s what we’re doing now.”

Being inclusive also means showing up where these women shop. Lafayette Jones, president and CEO of SMSi-Urban Call Marketing, said emerging and smaller companies are making successful bids for the ethnic market based on their alternative distribution model. While stores like Walgreens, CVS and Sally Beauty Supply blanket the country, he said even they don’t have a lock on this demographic.

“There has been a seismic retail shift. OTC stores—Korean-owned stores that chiefly offer wigs, hair pieces and extensions—are increasingly moving into cosmetics,” Jones said, adding that there are 11,000 locations nationwide, concentrated in African-American areas. “OTC stores have the largest amount of consumer traffic looking for products for women of color. These stores are seen as the emerging convenience stores. Already, hair care companies do about 60 percent of their volume there.”

Jones admits that while these proprietors are willing to devote space to this new product category, they often lack expertise in the product. This could be a drawback. As Mintel stated in its Beauty Retailing Study, African-American women, more so than women of other races, want help and suggestions from sales associates.

Boone sees that as an advantage for Flori Roberts. “It’s convenient, but what you’re not going to get in the Korean market is education,” she said. “You have to read the label and hope it works because they’re certainly not going to give you a refund,” she said. Her line, which exited department stores in 2002, is now sold through a network of entrepreneurs who have the option of throwing home parties, setting up mall kiosks or opening freestanding locations. “We train [our sales people] to train the consumers.”

Laying a Foundation

Unfortunately, no matter where customers are shopping, there’s no guarantee that she’ll find shades to complement her skin tone. Patrick Tumey, a makeup artist for Celestine Agency who counts Anita Baker, Sara Ramirez and Jordin Sparks among his celebrity clientele, recognizes that more brands are attempting to address women of color, but he said many of them lack the fundamentals in color matching. “Most companies do not seem to know skin tone in America. They are so busy selling color like lipstick, eye shadow, and highlighter when the most important, top-selling thing is foundation because most woman want to look like they have flawless skin and don’t have makeup on.”

The problem, experts agree, is the lack of products that address the breadth of undertones present in our society, which include golds, reds, oranges, yellows and blues. While even Caucasian women may feel that the quest for the perfect foundation requires a bit of trial and error, for women of color, it can also require an art school degree.

Frustrated by the lack of products that address their complexions, many of these women take matters into their own hands, mixing colors to make a flattering shade. The issue is of special concern for consumers with darker skin tones because often even if a color looks dark enough in the bottle, it leaves the skin looking ashy or gray because the undertone is incorrect. Even with lines that were originally designed for black women, understanding undertones has been a learning curve.

“The most significant change [in our products] has been in the foundations and powders because at the time Flori Roberts launched, it was about reds and oranges in the foundations,” said Boone, explaining that in the 1960s the product was designed for women with mid to deep skin tones, since they were the market that was most underserved. “So the change has been going from red to orange to picking up the golden tones and yellow bases that are in our skin.”

Saisha Beecham, an African-American woman who is a makeup artist for the Mark Edward agency, has seen the evolution in the market firsthand. ”[Makeup companies] are starting to make really dark colors, when before the darkest color was a tan or if it was darker, it had too much red in it,” she said. “I remember my mom would always wear Fashion Fair, and that’s what I wore when I started wearing makeup but I always felt like I was orange. But now even Fashion Fair has great colors.”

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