Do you remember when Carol’s Daughter launched in 1993? At the time, creating high-end hair care products just for people of color seemed to many in the beauty industry like a novel idea for a “niche” market. The next year, supermodel Iman debuted her groundbreaking IMAN Cosmetics with colors for every shade of skin.
The staying power of these beauty pioneers prove something that the rest of the industry has come to know: the beauty standard has evolved, and catering to as wide an audience as possible is not only necessary in today’s world, it’s smart business.
Look at Fenty Beauty, which multihyphenate entertainer Rihanna brought to market in 2017. With its 40 shades of foundation, the company racked up $570 million last year. That doesn’t sound “niche” to me.
Beauty is a $532 billion industry, and its growing as it becomes more inclusive. Given this, it’s unsurprising that multicultural beauty entrepreneurs are driving exciting new businesses forward into the market.
I saw it in person last month, when I helped to judge L’Oréal USA’s 2019 Women in Digital NEXT Generation Awards. The competition supports female leaders who are building technologies that have the potential to revolutionize the beauty industry.
L’Oréal USA’s Women in Digital hosts an online community at helloalice.com that supports every award applicant with digital mentorship. And the collection of founders participating tells a story of a many-shaded future for the industry. Only 20 percent of members identify as white. At 36 percent, significantly more say they’re black or African. An additional 14 percent are Asian, and 13 percent are indigenous or native. The rest of the members of the group are Hispanic (9 percent), multiracial (7 percent), Middle Eastern (1 percent), or Pacific Islander (1 percent).
What do these statistics tell us? The future for beauty is bright, but it’s also as diverse as the people who use cosmetics and other enhancements. And as the owner of a business that supports the new majority — previously underrepresented entrepreneurs — I couldn’t be happier. It’s my goal to help the people for whom it’s harder to raise funds get the money their businesses deserve.
The winners of the L’Oréal competition got a boost with $25,000 to put toward the growth of their business. The three companies that won include Baalm, an online community for beauty founded by Mandi Nyambi and Lanya Olmsted; Rosebud AI, founder Lisha Li’s technology that lets users virtually try on makeup, hairstyles, and clothes from any social media photo; and Seknd, a smart beauty discovery platform for personalized product recommendations created by Alyssa Min and Sunny Kim.
What do these businesses all have in common, other than a commitment to making people feel their best? They’re founded by a diverse group of women.
You know what that means for the rest of us? More options. The hope is that never again will a person of color have to go into a store and find only products formulated for white skin. We’re all beautiful for who we are, and it’s important to make sure that we all have the opportunity to enhance our assets to the utmost. That means not only options for people of every shade, but also technologies that go beyond old-fashioned ideas of what it takes to be beautiful. It’s all about accentuating the positive, however you choose to do so.
The L’Oréal winners are an accomplished group. Nyambi and Olmsted, for example, both hold Harvard degrees, one in biological science, the other in psychology. Li is a data scientist who completed her PhD at UC Berkley. Min and Kim are both Google alumni.
But guess what? Everyone who entered has an impressive backstory and a business worthy of attention. Choosing just three winners was incredibly difficult. And as their companies grow, so will the beauty world. Thanks to their contributions, we’ll all have a little bit more of a spring in our step when we get ready in the morning, no matter what shade of foundation we’re smoothing onto our well-cared-for skin.
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