In a society that’s saturated with every skin colour imaginable, it’s hard to comprehend that in 2016 we’re still discussing appropriate representation within the beauty industry. As a pale-skinned ‘English Rose’ I can’t imagine not being able to walk into a store and just pick up a foundation, concealer or powder that works with my complexion tone – but that’s still the issue for many women of colour across the UK. Not only are they underrepresented in parliament, soap operas and the police force, but they’re being partially ignored by many of the major beauty brands who’ve yet to wise up to the huge value this passionate-about-makeup and ever increasing part of the population has to offer. When it comes to shopping for high street beauty it’s clear that there isn’t the plethora of product choice for women with darker skin tones, or Afro hair. Many foundation shades offer a spectrum only from red head to ‘slightly tanned after a week in Marbella’, forgetting to create products that our Asian or Black friends can enjoy too. The majority of hair care brands focus on mild frizz and a touch of hydration, rather than understanding the more intense treatments women with thicker European and Afro hair may require. Although there are specialists shops and some amazing online destinations, isn’t it about time the high street made changes too? Why should a huge proportion of women be forced into department stores to spend twice as much as their Caucasian friends, just to find a product that matches their skin tone?
Rather interestingly, Superdrug have just announced the launch of the ‘Shades of Beauty’ campaign – which has been launched to tackle
this issue and aims to make ethnic beauty more accessible and affordable. Taking on board consumer comments (dating back years I can imagine,) the power retailer has promised to make ‘some changes in its product range’ and offer a wider choice specifically for Black and Asian beauty lovers. To help shape the campaign and act as an ambassador of sorts, Superdrug has appointed June Sarpong to help them make these changes and ensure their stores are a destination for all women – no matter their skin tone. (If you don’t remember June, she was the slightly wacky one with a dirty giggle from T4 who moved to LA, only to return a kind of feminist-come-politician. She’s been all over our screens during the Brexit campaign, proving she’s a women who’s using her influence to make a positive difference.) She comments: “As a black woman I know how hard it is to find affordable beauty products. I can’t wait to get going and be a voice for black women and I’m delighted that Superdrug is listening to customers and is going to help make a real change.”
Looking at the Superdrug website right now, there’s a whole section for Black and Asian hair products encompassing a multitude of brands and over seventy individual choices; this is the first stage in their campaign and definitely is a step in the right direction. However, when it comes to makeup there’s no easy way of finding out which brands cater to darker skin tones without manually trawling through the hundreds of bottles and tubes on offer. According to Superdrug, this is the next on their list to tackle as they want to ‘create an area specifically for Black and Asian beauty products’ and ensure they’re accessible to all – even if they’re not available in each individual store. (However, it’s worth noting that everything online can be ordered for collection in a local
store, or loyalty card members can have their order
delivered to their home free. Bonus.) But what of the products that aren’t even actually available online?
According to Superdrug, they’ve “met with all the UK’s largest makeup brands to challenge them to help offer a wider collection of dark shades of foundation, concealer and powders.” From my experience working in beauty marketing, brands are often constrained by not only the shades made available from their HQ (often in Paris or the USA) but by the floor space they’re given by the retailer. I’ve written before about the stores themselves need to lead the way and make change, rather than relying on the brands alone to revolutionise the mass beauty market. Self selection cosmetics (when you pick up your product yourself, rather than having to buy at a counter) is big business and constantly trying to squeeze even more out of the limited floor space in stores. Until the likes of Boots and Superdrug make a commitment to offering more space to allow brands to showcase their full spectrum of colour, the makeup masters themselves will still be forced to showcase their best selling shades only. Until now this has been the main issue; however, with the growth of online beauty sales and the ability to pick up your order in your local store the next day, it seems the industry is running out of excuses.
Sarah Gardner, Head of Beauty at Superdrug said: “We know that we’ve not offered all our customers the products they need in the past, but we are going to do our best to address this issue once and for all. It is crazy to think that in 2016 women with darker skin may have to spend twice as much for a foundation to match their skin tone or have to go to a specialist stores to find suitable haircare. The first step of the Shades of Beauty campaign will be online, and we’re delighted to say Maybelline, L’Oreal and Revlon have all risen to our challenge and will be launching an additional 23 shades for darker skin tones by the end of July. September will also see more shades launch. We know this is a small start, but we’re determined to see this through and ensure that when women with darker skin come into our stores they will find a good choice of shades, and find the perfect match for them.”
Superdrug were the first store to embrace brands like Sleek (which if you can remember that far back were originally developed as a brand for Black skin tones,) and have definitely been growing their Afro hair shelves in the last few years – so it’s no surprise they’re the first to make big changes to the way every ethnicity is represented in their shops. With Rimmel coming under fire for offering only one ‘nude’ shade suitable for Black skin tones in their latest Kate Moss lipstick range, and Maybelline causing quite the stir by slashing the six darkest tones from it’s UK Dream Mousse foundation launch (when rather ironically the model for the campaign in America was the British Jordan Dunn) it seems enough is enough. Why hasn’t the UK caught up with the US and commited to offering variety within cosmetics? According to a 2009 Mintel report, the market for black or Asian beauty products in the
UK is valued at only £70million (or just 2% of the total market
for women’s haircare, skincare and makeup) which well below the percentage
of the population. Blamed partly on the fact that there’s a
“lack of commitment by mainstream companies to ethnic beauty needs and a
lack of availability of ethnic brands in mass-market distribution”, surely this proves to brands the huge opportunity that lays in front of them?
I’m so incredibly pleased that finally Superdrug are actually encouraging brands to offer a wider spectrum of colour, so affordable and effective cosmetics are available to all. It seems to be an issue we’ve been discussing for the best part of a decade, but finally change is on its way. However, I want to know from you – is this enough? What would you like to see happen on the high street? What are your frustrations when shopping, or what do you think the likes of Superdrug should be doing? You never know, they may be listening…
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