Recent events around the world have shed light on the inequalities and injustices affecting millions of people in regards to race, gender and sexual orientation, disability, and mental health. Efforts across the beauty industry have been vast—though there is still plenty of work to be done—and therefore impossible to summarize within these pages. We can, however, spotlight some of the brands leading the charge, and the steps they’re taking to elicit change for the better.
Raising awareness of racial injustices in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement not only captured global attention in 2020, but also made a lasting impact on the beauty industry. In the retail sector, several leaders jumped into action:
Expanding on its “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign for diversity, equity and inclusion that was established in 2019, Sephora has since announced its mission to “drive seismic change” in its representation and service of clients of color. “We took the 15 Percent Pledge to dedicate 15 percent of our brand assortment to Blackowned companies,” says Deborah Yeh, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Sephora. “We also commissioned a first-of-its-kind national study on Racial Bias in Retail today. Based on this research, we’ve begun to implement an extensive set of changes, from staff training to monitoring incidents of racial bias and improving client service.” The retailer also relaunched Sephora Accelerate, a six-plus-monthlong internal incubation program dedicated to building a community of innovative BIPOC founders in beauty, and this spring, it announced the program’s first eight brands.
02. Ulta Beauty
In February, Ulta Beauty announced a $25 million investment to elevate, honor and amplify diversity and Black voices in beauty, and introduced mandatory quarterly in-store training for all store and salon associates to reinforce inclusivity and address unconscious bias. It also recently brought on actress Tracee Ellis Ross as its Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, a new role in which she will provide counsel and inspiration on diversity best practices, including enhanced support of Black-owned brands, and even offering leadership for the retailer’s employees. In addition, the retailer has promised to double the number of Blackowned brands within its product assortment by the end of 2021. “This work requires commitment and accountability from Ulta Beauty to ensure measurable goals are achieved, and I am hopeful and optimistic our work together will create foundational change,” says Ross.
CVS announced its very first Beauty Inclusivity Consultant, YouTuber Nyma Tang, in May. As one of the industry’s most prominent advocates for racial injustice, Tang will provide a unique point of view as the drugstore seeks ways to make actionable change and better serve its diverse range of beauty customers. “This new role is so important to me because there was always a lack of representation in beauty, which impacted my self-esteem and the way I showed my beauty to the world,” says Tang. “Companies have realized consumers aren’t naive and will do their own research for inclusive brands, and CVS has a lot of power within what’s being seen within the imagery, as well as shades being stocked properly in stores and online. My goal is to change the way people feel when they walk into the beauty aisle—they should know that someone thought about them when they created this space.”
More brands are pivoting toward an “All Are Welcome” ethos, which means their products won’t be targeted at one gender or sexual orientation specifically, but rather all people. It’s a movement Gen Z has not only spearheaded, but also demanded. One poll making headlines earlier this year, conducted by U.S. ad agency Bigeye, revealed that half of Gen Z and 56 percent of millennials think traditional gender roles and labels related to the gender binary are outdated.
Back in 1994, LGBTQ-supporting MAC Cosmetics shattered stereotypes with the launch of VIVA GLAM, a campaign benefitting the MAC AIDS Fund by donating every penny from the sales of its limited-edition lipstick to the cause. Since then, dozens of celebrities, from Christina Aguilera to Lady Gaga, have collaborated with VIVA GLAM to help fight the disease. Additionally, MAC’s iconic black packaging has always been considered genderneutral and a makeup artist mainstay, and some of the biggest names in the business credit MAC with setting the stage for “universal” beauty.
Some brands, like ONE/SIZE and Fluide, are embracing the concept of gender fluidity outright. “Growing up gay, I struggled to figure out my identity,” ONE/SIZE founder Patrick Starrr says. “It wasn’t until I discovered makeup that I was actually able to express myself. I’m a gay, plus-size, makeup-wearing, Filipino man. And I wouldn’t change a damn part about that, but getting here wasn’t without challenges. Before finding my voice, I was unheard. Without realizing my beauty, I was unseen. This is what compelled me to create ONE/SIZE, a beauty brand that stands up for every brand of beauty. It encourages you to be confident in your own skin and have a strong sense of self, and inspires you to live your best life. This is bigger than beauty. This is a movement in acceptance, kindness and humanity.”
Also a breakthrough in the makeup world: makeup artist Jessica Blackler, who started the Jecca Blac studio as a safe space for transgender women to experiment with makeup, and in 2015, launched her genderless makeup brand Jecca Blac to the masses. Now, her Correct & Conceal Palette is considered a cult-favorite, not only by the trans community, but also for many others who consider it a must-have for covering everything from dark circles to a beard shadow.
In 2018, Andrew Glass noticed an industry divide between products for men and women, which led to the creation of his own skin-care brand, Non Gender Specific, which he says is “for all humans” regardless of gender. Last fall, cult-favorite hair-care brand amika introduced its “All Hair Is Welcome” campaign with the tagline “A friend to hair, hairstylists, to her, him, them and you.” The brand is focusing on the concept of human friendship—amika means friend in Esperanto— as it celebrates diversity and welcomes people (and their hair) from all walks of life.
For those who are visually impaired, selecting the right skin-care product from a sea of similarly shaped tubes and jars can be daunting. For those suffering from A.L.S., Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or another condition that impairs motor function, twisting off a tight cap may be impossible. And that’s just the beginning.
Degree’s new Degree Inclusive deodorant—it’s still in the prototype phase—is the world’s first for people with visual impairment and upper limb disabilities. Design features include a hook for one-handed usage, magnetic closures for easy cap removal, Braille labeling, and a larger rollerball applicator. “Degree believes no one should be held back from experiencing the transformative benefits of movement,” says Kathryn Swallow, global brand vice president. ”More than 60 million people in the U.S. live with a disability, yet products and experiences are still not designed with this community in mind. With Degree Inclusive we hope to inspire bold action across the industry to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal playing field.”
For the visually impaired communities, one brand leading by example is Frenchfavorite L’Occitane, which has been labeling 80 percent of its products in Braille since 1997 to make them accessible, as well as raise awareness around visual impairment. Herbal Essences has also joined in the effort, making all of its shampoos and conditioners distinguishable by including tactile differentiators (different than Braille) on its packaging. According to the brand, the hope is that this action will pave the way for more beauty companies to do the same.
In the makeup department, Terri Bryant founded Guide Beauty after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and realizing there was a lack of accessible cosmetics. The brand’s patent-pending tools—everything from eyeliner and mascara to brow products—were developed with the help of industrial designers and ergonomic experts, and are made to be easy to grip and steadying, and allow for precise application. Bryant says, “This allows for the tools to become a natural extension of the user’s hand, to make it easier for everyone.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the U.S. suffers from mental illness, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression. In an effort to make skin care synonymous with self-care, brands are formulating with a larger purpose: Erase the mental health stigma in this country and focus on positivity and healing.
Cult-classic beauty brand philosophy was one of the first to spearhead the mission, launching its hope & grace initiative in 2014, which has since donated $5.7 million to more than 79 mental health charities, focusing particularly on community-based efforts that empower women. The following year, in 2015, The Dr. Brandt Foundation was established in loving memory of the late Dr. Fredric Brandt, who took his own life following a severe, largely silent struggle with depression. Today, the Foundation continues to work to destigmatize conversations around mental health, and provides $1 from the sale of each #SayILoveYou product to the Foundation.
A few other brands taking big steps in this area include LOUM, which has partnered with NAMI to increase education and support around the impact of stress (its products help counteract the various effects of stress on the skin).
Erno Laszlo recently announced a partnership with mental health activist Poppy Jamie, who is serving as the brand’s global wellness advisor and helping to improve the well-being of the brand’s consumers through various initiatives.
Strange Bird was founded by life coach Tina Chow Rudolf and designed with women’s mental health in mind. “We simplify skin care with natural ingredients and multipurpose uses to seamlessly incorporate daily moments of wellness for even just five to 10 minutes to experience long-lasting physical, emotional and spiritual benefits,” she says.
Lastly, Bioré Skincare launched a new campaign, Get That ShT Out, in partnership with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to provide Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trainings on college campuses. “We always encourage people to get that sht out of their pores, and we’re taking that same approach with mental health,” says Leah Stone, associate director of Bioré Face Care. “MHFA training teaches the skills needed to identify and respond to signs of mental health challenges.
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